Friday, January 18, 2019
Home > Members Area > A History of the First 10 Mayors in Poteau

A History of the First 10 Mayors in Poteau

J.M. (Judge) Harvey (1862-1945), Poteau’s Fourth Mayor

Poteau has had a fascinating history.  In this series, we’re looking more at the political history of Poteau by focusing on the early day mayors.

Prior to 1898, the town had been loosely held together.  Law was enforced through the U.S. Marshall’s service, but only barely.  The closest U.S. Marshal was located in a small town named Cavanaugh, between Poteau and Wister.  “Coon” Ratterree would ride through town occasionally, but it wasn’t enough to curtail the violence that plagued Poteau’s wild-west days.

Most decisions were made by those who had the most money or land.  As businessmen and investors, they wanted to see the young town of Poteau Switch grow.  Many of these early businessmen and investors became mayors and city councilmen.  After the railroads came through, railroad agents further helped to establish order.

The town finally incorporated in 1898 due mainly to the efforts of Walter Beard, C.M. Bagwell, and George Witte, all of whom became mayors of the town.  Shortly after incorporation, the three, along with T. T. Varner petitioned Congress to have the U.S. Federal Courthouse moved from Cameron to Poteau. The petition was successful due to two main reasons; first, Poteau Switch by this time had a much larger population than Cameron, and second, Poteau was the only town in the region that had a “brick block”.  In Cameron, the courthouse was located in a small, one story wood-frame structure.  In 1900, T. T. Varner loaded up all of the courthouse documents and furniture and, by mule team and loaded down on wagons, moved the entire courthouse to the McKenna Building in Poteau.

With the railroads and now the U.S. Federal Courts located in Poteau, the town was almost guaranteed to thrive.  The earliest functions of Poteau’s mayors were to establish laws to ensure safety and to make sure the town ran smoothly.  For example, Judge Day was the first to prohibit stock animals to roam freely on Poteau’s streets.  This caused quite a stir.  Other laws helped create and enforce sewer and water systems, electric systems, and traffic controls.

From the early days up through Statehood, Poteau was still a pretty rough and tumble town.  Mix in the politics of having the U.S. Federal Courts located there and you create an interesting mix of law and order.


Judge Jean P. Day, Ninth Mayor of Poteau

Poteau.Life A History of the First 10 Mayors in Poteau Members Area
Judge Jean P. Day, Ninth Mayor of Poteau

…He caused quite an uproar during 1906 when he enacted an ordinance prohibiting stock on the streets.

On the incident, Day stated, “The streets were muddy and dusty and wooden plank sidewalks and hoses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats and hogs ranged everywhere up and down the streets.  In fact, the merchants had considerable trouble in keeping hogs out of their stores.  So as mayor, I drove through the law prohibiting stock on the streets and brought down on my head the ire of the populace.  I was the most unpopular man in the whole country… in fact, they burned me in effigy but the law stood up and the stock were kept up.”

Where’s the rest of the page? Become a member and unlock the remaining content!Click Here

Do you want to see the content on this page?


Become a member!

Paid Member Benefits: 

  • Full access to historical documents, photos, maps and other materials that are exclusive to our members.
    • Photos include many that have not been published elsewhere.
    • Maps include early-day maps from the 1890s through the 1920s.
    • Includes a wide variety of documents, from written memories and out-of-print publications to tourist and railroad literature.
    • Over the next few years, we intend to put our entire collection online, consisting of over 10,000 old photos and more than 4 gigabytes of historic files.
  • Discounted advertising rates for those who have been members for over 6 months.
  • Discounted vendor fees for members; free vendor setup at events for members who have been active for over 6 months.
  • Social Media promotion for all members.
  • Free online advertising for members who have been active for over 6 months.
Give someone the gift of Membership!

Already a Member?  Sign in to your account.