The year 1898 was a monumental year for Poteau. The town was growing rapidly, business was booming, and residents had all they needed. Early in the year, a group of the town’s most influential citizens got together to discuss putting together a petition for Poteau to be incorporated. Throughout the next few months, these citizens worked hard to gather support from the community.
A petition was drafted and circulated throughout town. During this time, women still weren’t allowed to vote, so only men were eligible to sign. Incorporation of towns in Indian Territory had only become possible under the statutes of the state of Arkansas, as adopted by an act of Congress approved May 2, 1890. Since Oklahoma wasn’t yet a state, new cities had to be incorporated under Arkansas Law.
In all, one hundred and twelve men signed the petition for Poteau’s incorporation. At the time, that was nearly a third of the population of Poteau. Remember, women couldn’t vote, so almost everyone who could vote voted for incorporation!
In October, the petition was presented to Judge Wm. H. H. Clayton, Judge of the U.S. District Court, Cameron, I.T., asking that Poteau be an incorporated town. On October 8, 1898, Issued and ordered by Judge W. H. Clayton of Indian Territory Central District, Poteau became official.
After Poteau was incorporated under general law, G. H. Witte, who was elected mayor, was the first man to assume the duties of that office in the Indian Territory.
As a citizen of Poteau, Mr. Witte’s relations have been signally broad and intimate. He was the first man to be elected to a mayoralty in the entire Indian Territory and was the first executive of Poteau. He was elected in 1898 and held the office four terms—twice as the representative of the independent ticket and twice as a Republican. During his incumbency were made the first public improvements of the town and the chief event of his administration was the voting of bonds for the construction of municipal water works. He was also a prime mover in the erection of permanent school buildings, and was a liberal contributor of his private means toward the general welfare of the city.
Incorporation enabled Poteau to have a nationally recognized government, and came with all the benefits of that reorganization.
A list of the names found on the petition include many of Poteau’s early day founders, prominent businessmen, and pillars of society. Many of the names include the following:
Jerry McKenna, C. J. Stewart, J. B. Wear, C. M. Bagwell, J. S. Muse, George Lick, I. M. Fuller, Ed McKenna, W. A. Welch Jr., A. P Gaither, W. L. Neel, S. B. Ragon, John Roach, George E. Williams, Herman Gedosh, James B. McDonald, George W. Terry, A. Sidney Page, P. D. Jackson W. H. Pate, W. W. James, John Mack, B. J. Fry, W. R. Hogan, A. W. Kersey, J. J. Bagwell, S. D. Hanley, J. H. Brown, J. G. Duncan, G. D. Eichenberger, Walter Beard, W. J. Forbes, Robert Page, H. D. S. Gillum, H. E. Balay, L. M. Stowes, H. S. McKenna, B. R. Dubois, James F. Miller, Grant Lowe, John Hansard, James Oxley, A. S. Ryder, C. F. Evans, G. A. Poeir, W. J. McKinney, W. E. James, M. Plumlee, James Cromby, Ben James, B. H. Harper, J. R. McManamin, B. A. McDonald, Samuel Sergent, J. S. Terry, S. T. McKissack, T. E. McDonald, R. S. Bridgman, R. E. Steele, L. L. Smith, A. W. Smith, Joseph W. Sage, P. H. Green, E. H. Franch, D. J. Auslin, John F. Miller, J. G. Beard, L. A. Cannon, J. M. McBride, C. Dixon Hill, A. E. Coleman, M. Fleener (Melvin Fleener), W. O. Holliday, W. H. Pearson, I. A. Fry, T. J. Griffich, A. J. Macomber, R. D. Turman, W. T. Parker, Henry Ragou, Esquire Rich, G. A. Spaulding, James Lowe, H. J. Bett, J. J. Murray, W. E. Moore, E. T. Lick, J. D. Howell, W. H. ___, G. H. White, J. E. Beard, M. Duke, A. M. Miller, H. R. Kidd, S. P. Hmphrey, Jessee Martin, N. B. Gaither, E. H. Childers, Amit A Paul, G. R. Ralls, M. C. Caldwell, C. Y. Culp, R. Smith, W. Price, E. M. Emerson, J. M. Bagwell, E. B. Rattteree, James Barton, E. T. Hogan, H. C. Green, Mc. D. Brown, and J. H. Brooks.