McAlester, Oklahoma

More history from the road…..

Welcome back. Perryville, Oklahoma will be my next stop this weekend and if the name doesn’t sound familiar it may be because it was 1838 when the town got its name and this part of Oklahoma was called Indian Territory back then. During the Civil War Perryville was a supply depot for the Confederate army until Union forces captured it and burned the town to the ground. This event became known as the Battle of Perryville, Indian Territory. Over the years the town was rebuilt and named in honor of the man who had discovered coal in the area and who played a role in bringing the railroad to town in order to ship the coal across a growing country.
In 1872 an official of the Katy Railroad named the railroad stop in his honor and the name McAlester stuck. It was also in 1872 that J.J. McAlester married Rebecca Burney who was a member of the Chickasaw tribe. Their marriage made it possible for him to become a citizen of both the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes which in turn made him the legal owner of the minerals under his now vast land holdings. Already the owner of the area’s two general stores, he became even wealthier selling coal to the railroad. In the 1870s hundreds of both skilled miners from Pennsylvania and immigrant Italian miners relocated to McAlester greatly expanding the population. Then in 1907 the advent of statehood and the establishment of an official Post Office put the town on the map for good.
Located about 30 miles south of I-40 in between Oklahoma City and Fort Smith, AR, nowadays McAlester is home to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary or “Big Mac” as many cons call it. The less well known Jackie Brannon Correctional Center which is a minimum security facility is here as well and of course the two prisons are major employers in the community. I’ve found that prisons frequently bring notoriety to the towns where they are located and McAlester is no exception. In 2004, because of the county where the crime happened, the trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichol was held in McAlester and more recently convicted killer Richard Glossip was in the headlines when his execution was put on hold there
Glossip had been convicted of murder by hire and was four hours away from death by lethal injection when his execution was stayed by the legal system. There had been a problem with the drugs administered during the previous execution at McAlester and all executions in Oklahoma were put on hold during an investigation. Glossip’s stay was received on September 20, 2015 and to this day he sits on death row awaiting his fate.
Of course McAlester is also famous for good things, including being the hometown of singer Reba McIntyre, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Carl Albert and two time Governor George Nigh. McAlester has also been featured in several movies, including the Grapes of Wrath and True Grit and is also home to the largest Army munitions plant in the country. The plant was merged with another facility in 1998 and today it’s kind of hard to believe but true, all the bombs used by the United States military are made there.
I’m going to be in McAlester Friday, Saturday and Sunday for another big gun show and book signing at the SE Expo Center. I plan on getting a closer look at this plant and the rest of McAlester including what I hear is some very good food so look for a report on all that coming soon.
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road………………………………

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