McALESTER — Stadiums create history. Usually, they’re small moments of history — a win or a loss, a record-setting play or a newly dedicated addition to the field — but nonetheless what happens on the gridiron becomes a permanent part of a town’s history.
But sometimes a stadium’s history extends beyond its town. Sometimes a stadium’s history connects it to the greater history of our nation.
Hook Eales Stadium has such a history. As Tom Crowl, former president and current board member for the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society, said Wednesday, Hook Eales has connections to both the Civil War and the Great Depression.
What’s now called Pittsburg County was once Tobucksy County, an area controlled by the Choctaw tribe. Many Confederate veterans and widows of veterans lived in Tobucksy County, leading to a meeting on March 2, 1891, at First Baptist Church in McAlester at 1st Street and Grand Avenue.
Referencing a newsletter article published by the group at that time, Crowl said R.B. Coleman, a Confederate veteran himself, called the meeting.
“The purpose was to form an organization called a ‘camp,’ which of course consisted of former veterans, their families and widows,” Crowl said. He added that the camp was formed to “keep alive Confederate interests.”
“It was kind of like the Lion’s Club,” Crowl said.
Twenty attended the meeting, Crowl said, discussing among other things the creation of a campground on which they could celebrate the birthdays of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Combining the two names, the new campground would be called “Jeff Lee Park.”
Coleman went to the Choctaws, who granted his group the 20 acres of land that would one day include Hook Eales Stadium, the Jeff Lee Pool and the George Nigh National Guard Armory. The group commemorated their new grounds by exhuming 12 Confederate soldiers buried elsewhere in McAlester and reburying the bodies at Jeff Lee Park.