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The Archivist: How Oklahoma counties got their names

Mary Phillips digs through The Oklahoman's archives to find out interesting facts about Oklahoma's history. Here, she finds out how Oklahoma's 77 counties got their names.
Oklahoman Published: October 14, 2013

Oklahoma has 77 counties. And, while some are familiar names, others like Roger Mills make us wonder how they came to be.

On April 29, 1919, The Oklahoman published an excellent article about how the counties got their names and for whom or what they were named.

Here is some of the information gleaned from that article and checked with the “2011-2012 Oklahoma Almanac.”

“The state of Oklahoma has grown by a series of additions to the ‘Unassigned Land' originally opened in 1889. Since the development has been gradual, the names of the counties reflect the sentiment of a people extending over a long period of years. Many of these names are connected with Indian history, while others commemorate many local and national statesmen.”

Oklahoma has 13 counties named for Indian tribes: Caddo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Creek, Delaware, Kiowa, Muskogee, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Pottawatomie and Seminole.

Rivers supplied names for several counties: Beaver, Canadian, Cimarron and Washita. And the railroad gave us the names for Woodward and Wagoner.

There are six counties named for U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland.

Prominent Indian families have provided the names for eight counties: Adair, Carter, LeFlore, Love, Mayes, McCurtain, McIntosh and Rogers.

Military officers have provided names for our counties: Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, Admiral George Dewey and Captain David Payne.

Sequoyah, Atoka, Pushmataha and Douglas H. Johnston are Indian leaders whose names are honored with counties.

Alfalfa, Coal and Cotton counties were all named for the products grown or mined in their land. Although, Alfalfa County has also been attributed to Gov. William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, honoring the great Oklahoma leader. Another governor so honored was Charles Haskell, the state's first governor.

Harper, Ellis, Major, Hughes and Latimer were named for members of the constitutional convention.

Pittsburg County is the namesake of the Pennsylvania town, while Pontotoc, Nowata, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Tulsa and Oklahoma are Indian words or place names.

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