Early Day History
McCurtain and Pushmataha Counties, in which Pine Creek Lake is located, have a long, colorful history. The two counties were once part of the old Choctaw Indian Nation. Present-day Pushmataha County was named in honor of a famous Choctaw Chief, Pushmataha, who served under both Generals Claiborne and Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. He was also a skilled negotiator and was instrumental in bargaining for lands in Oklahoma.
An early settlement of the area is Fort Towson, located in Choctaw County, a few miles southwest of the project. Established in 1824 by Colonel Matthew Arbuckle, it was named in honor of General Nathan Towson, Paymaster General of the Army. The fort was abandoned by the U.S. Army in 1854 and was used as a Choctaw Indian Agency until the Civil War. During the Civil War, the fort served as Confederate Military Headquarters for the Indian Territory, and it was here that Cherokee General Stand Watie (the last Confederate General to surrender) surrendered his troops to the United States in 1865.
Near the old military post is Oklahoma's oldest existing residence. This two-story log structure, known as the "Old Chief's House," was built in 1832 for the District Chief, Thomas LeFlore. Fort Towson and the "Old Chief's House" are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are managed by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The Alikchi District Court Ground is another historical site in the area. Located on the east side of the lake, it was used for executions and punishment of Choctaws who had broken tribal law. Choctaw punishment consisted of whipping or execution. There was no jail, so the condemned Choctaw was paroled on his honor and would appear on the execution day to receive his punishment. This last execution occurred in July 1899.
The town of Valliant, located a few miles south of Pine Creek Lake, is another early settlement of the area. It was named for F. W. Valliant, Chief Engineer for the Choctaw and Arkansas Railroad. Nearby is an old water grist mill. There was an academy for African American slaves located in Valliant, and it was at there that the spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was composed.
Located at Millerton, one of the first towns established in the Choctaw Nation, is the historic Wheelock Academy. The academy was established in 1844 by the Choctaw Council and was used for the education of Indian girls until 1955. South of the academy site is the Wheelock Mission Church, oldest church building in Oklahoma. The mission was erected by Presbyterian missionaries in 1842 and was officially organized as a church in 1932.
The Billy Bell Trail, which is located on the east side of Pine Creek Lake, parallels the lake for nearly its entire length. The trail was named for Billy James and his wife Bell who first marked and laid out the trail. This was accomplished at about the time of Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Billy and Bell James settled near the fork of Terrapin and West Terrapin Creeks at the northern end of present-day Pine Creek Lake. The trail they established passes by the site of the old Billy James School, which was located just across Terrapin Creek from the James homestead. The trail then continues on to the south where it connects with the Tom Taylor Trail, which leads to Wright City.