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Early People

Evidence of prehistoric people on Rich and Winding Stair Mountains were discovered at campsites. The slopes were too steep for full time residents. At the end of the Ice Age, prehistoric people turned from the plains to these mountains for game and edible plant products. Chert, a rock common on these slopes, was valued by prehistoric people for tools and weapons. Ten thousand years ago, the Caddoan people inhabited the river valleys below the mountains. Research by archaeologists indicates the Caddoan people adapted over time from a nomadic hunting, gathering culture to a pottery making, horticultural society and, eventually, a settled farming community.

Talimena Scenic Byway - Grand View Vista Overlook

Indian Territory and the Choctaw People

Everything west of the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Line was known as Indian Territory starting in 1832. The Choctaws occupied much of the southeastern part of Indian Territory including what is now LeFlore, McCurtain, Pushmataha, Haskell, Latimer, and Choctaw counties in Oklahoma. Their ancestral home was central and northern Mississippi where, in 1776, they numbered about 12,000. The lived in well-constructed houses. Their schools and churches has missionary teachers and preachers. The Choctaws were quick to adopt new ideas and products introduced by Spanish explorers and French traders and trappers.

In the early 1800's the ancestral home of the Choctaw as flooded with white settlers who wanted them to eliminate tribal government and adopt state law. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, and the Indian Removal Act that followed, forced the Choctaws to move westward to preserve their tribal traditions and government.

Families who made the move and became prominent in the new Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma including the Folsoms, sons of an intermarried Englishman, and the McCurtains, Choctaws who took an English name. Peter Conser became a well-known and respected law enforcement officer. His family home, near Heavener, has been restored and is a proud reminder of the part played by the Choctaws in the early days of Oklahoma.

The Choctaws took an active part in the Civil war, siding with the Confederacy. They were proud of their part in this war and suffered great losses. In 1907 Oklahoma became a state and they accepted United States citizenship. The Choctaws still make up a large part of southeast Oklahoma’s population.


Peter Conser: Captain of the Choctaw Lighthorse

Other Settlers

Arkansas became a state in 1936. The earliest settlers in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas arrived about 1830 and were largely immigrants from the mountains of Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Georgia. Some arrived here from the lowlands of Mississippi where malaria and other infectious diseases were rampant. They settled in the fertile river valleys and lived a very primitive, self-reliant life because of the remote and isolated location. The railroads followed by the miner industry in the late 18002s and early 1900s, opened up the state and brought a great surge of immigrants. Towns and settlements sprang up seemingly overnight.

The long crest of Rich Mountain is fairly even, and at points wide enough for home sites, small fields and garden patches. Several prosperous farms existed on the mountain due to the uncommonly rich soil found there and springs that bubbled up to the surface just below the ridge. Through their numbers were few, Rich Mountain had residents from 1860 through 1949. Many secured a land patent from the United States Government under the Homestead Act of 1862. Visible evidence of these homesteads remain in the form of clearings grown up to thickets, old rock foundations and chimneys, log buildings and stone fences, rock terraces, traces of old wagon roads, paths to springs, trails down to the valleys, old fruit trees and graves.


If you come upon any of these remnants of early settlers, enjoy them but please leave them as you found them. By leaving these artifacts undisturbed, you may help preserve a part of our country’s heritage.

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