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History of Elk City, Oklahoma

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Elk City’s history dates back to the days immediately following the opening of the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in western Oklahoma Territory on April 19, 1892, when the first settlers made their appearance. Prior to this time, many early ranchers had driven cattle over the Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas to Dodge City, Kansas, the present townsite of Elk City being in the direct path of that famous trail.

The creation of Elk City was an idea conceived by land promoters from Weatherford, Oklahoma, when they learned that the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (CO & G) was coming to the area.

Probably the most important day in Elk City’s history is March 20, 1901, the date the first lots were sold by the Choctaw Townsite and Development Company. By this time, hundreds of prospective purchasers had built a tent city. On that day, the townsite company sold $32,000 worth of property and continued doing a good business for some time thereafter.

On August 13, 1901, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad laid its last rail on the so-called “Choctaw Route”, bringing rail access to Elk City. The first regular train service commenced seven days later on August 20, and city folk rejoiced, predicting that the dugouts, claim shacks, and prairie stables would soon disappear and be replaced by handsome residences, commodious barns, and granaries.

Originally called Crowe, then Busch, the town was officially named Elk City after Elk Creek

By January 1902, Elk City had more than sixty businesses and a population exceeding 1,000. Paving the streets with bricks also began in 1902. Though not yet a year old, the town had become one of the largest in western Oklahoma. Even with two devastating fires (one on October 28, 1903, which destroyed more than a dozen businesses, and the other in March 1906 which burned sixteen businesses to the ground), Elk City continued to grow into a major transportation and commercial hub, and by statehood in 1907, the population had more than tripled to 3,000 people.

On October 11, 1915, Elk City’s Carnegie Library opened, and Elizabeth Keen served as the first librarian. By 1918 Elk City also had a cotton compress, an ice plant, two broom factories, and two flour mills.

In the 1930s nine cotton gins operated. Residents found employment at six machine shops, a creamery, two ice plants, a meat packing plant, and a mattress factory. In August 1931 the Community Hospital opened as one of the first cooperative hospitals in Oklahoma.

During the 1930s two Oklahoma-based retail outlets, an Anthony store and a T.G.&Y. store, opened in Elk City. By the mid-1940s the town had two parks, two golf courses, and a swimming pool. On November 24, 1947, Shell Oil Company brought in a producing oil well that furthered Elk City’s economic development.

At the turn of the twenty-first century Elk City had a council-manager form of government. Residents supported two school systems that included grades prekindergarten through high school. An eighty-four-bed Great Plains Regional Medical Center, a municipal airport, and the Elk City Daily News served the community.

Excerpts From:

  1.   Wikipedia: Elk City, Oklahoma
  2. “Prairie Fire” a book published by the Western Oklahoma Historical Society
  3.   Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Elk City