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Greetings From Small-Town America: Poteau, Oklahoma

A native son of this community in eastern Oklahoma shares what makes his hometown so special, including the world’s highest hill.

Cavanal Hill, just outside Poteau, Oklahoma; photo by Shevaun Williams
Credit: ©shevaun williams

I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood, growing up in Poteau, Oklahoma, a town of 8,000 near the Arkansas border. Dad was a state representative; Mom was a high school teacher; my maternal grandfather, Sherman Floyd, was the high school principal, football coach and a city councilman; and my maternal grandmother, Linda Floyd, taught first grade. Most everyone in town knew my family.

In a state filled with Native American place names (Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw words for “red people”), Poteau is French for “post.” French explorers established trading posts in the area in the early eighteenth century.

Poteau’s topography differs from typical Oklahoma plains. I spent my boyhood exploring Cavanal, dubbed the world’s tallest hill (elevation: 1,999 feet). I’m a country boy at heart, and nothing brings me closer to God than being in nature. The view from the hill of valley-nestled Poteau is breathtaking!

Another great way to get close to God is at Green Country Cowboy Church. Its motto? “Come as you are.” Jeans, boots and cowboy hats are welcome. The rustic sanctuary features beamed ceilings, and a steel horse trough was once a baptismal font. Pastor and founder Victor Sweet says, “We want people to know they don’t have to clean up or change their clothes, literally and metaphorically, in order to come to God.”

One of my favorite places to eat is Warehouse Willy’s. The steak house owner, Terry Williamson, a former highway patrol officer, couldn’t shake his love for restaurants after working at the Chicken Hut in high school.

“Some people thought I was crazy for giving up a state job,” he says. “When I said I wanted to open a restaurant in an abandoned building in a dying downtown district 25 years ago, they really thought I was crazy.” Warehouse Willy’s sparked the revitalization of historic Poteau. Now colorful shops are housed in buildings erected by early pioneers.

You’ll find more ancient history 25 miles away, at Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, on 150 acres along the Arkansas River. Grade-school field trips taught me about the Spiro people, who lived there from about 800 to 1450 A.D. They led the Mississippians, a Native American culture that flourished in the Midwest and Southeast.

Agricultural communities featured large earthen mounds, and extensive trade networks crossed much of what became the United States. “The Mississippian leaders presided over a confederation of more than 60 tribes, 30 language groups and over three million people,” says the center’s executive director Dennis Peterson, who has studied the Spiro for decades.

Our family moved to the state capital for Dad’s job after I graduated high school, but I’ll always consider myself a son of Poteau. Come see what a wonderful place it is!

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