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Exploring History: Historic Photographs of Shawnee, Oklahoma

Main Street in Shawnee, Oklahoma, looking west in the late 1800s

Main Street in Shawnee, Oklahoma, looking west in the late 1800s

The History of Shawnee, Oklahoma

The history of the town of Shawnee, Oklahoma, has its origins long before statehood. First settled before the American Civil War, the area was first populated by members of the Sac and Fox tribe during the Indian Removals. Later, they were followed by the Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Pottawatomie Indians.

Since the future town of Shawnee was located both on Fort Leavenworth road and the Fort Scott Military Road, it was inevitable that Shawnee would become a major town. Later, during the great cattle drives of the 1870s, Shawnee would become one of the most important towns in the future state of Oklahoma. Of the four major cattle trails that wound through Oklahoma, one of them passed directly through the young town. Known as the West Shawnee Trail, this trail crossing would have been located near present Main Street and Kickapoo.

Map of Shawnee, Oklahoma, 1900

Map of Shawnee, Oklahoma, 1900

By the 1890s, railroads soon began to wind across the future state of Oklahoma. Because of Shawnee's status as a flourishing town, it was inevitable that the railroads would reach the town, and with that, Shawnee's status as a first-class town was cemented in history.

Agricultural Growth

During the first years of the new century, the growth in Shawnee matched that of Oklahoma City. The town quickly became a major agricultural center. In fact, several sources claim that Shawnee had the largest cotton-seed oil mill in the southwest. Products from the region were shipped all across the United States. With this, Shawnee also became known as a major railroad town. By 1907, there was an average of 65 freight trains and 42 passenger trains arriving in the town every day.

As a testament to the towns growing status, Woodland Park boasted of many beautifully flowing fountains and elaborate formal gardens and was considered one of the most beautiful places in the region.

Oil Boom of the 1920s

During the 1920s, Shawnee experience another boom with the discovery of oil in Oklahoma. While there was no oil directly in Shawnee, the town was perfectly situated to host many newcomers who sought oil nearby. Added to this, the town had a good infrastructure that would support growth in the region.

Growth finally slowed in Shawnee after the Great Depression. During those hard years, times were rough for everyone in Oklahoma. Still, despite the economic struggle, Shawnee survived and is once more a thriving, flourishing city.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Eric Standridge