Lawton, named for U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Henry W. Lawton, was one of three townsites planned by the federal government prior to the 1901 land lottery in the former Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation.
Many people thought the new townsite in Southwest Oklahoma would be named Fort Sill, apparently as a civilian extension of the Army base that had been established nearby in 1869. The majority of people simply called it “Tent City.” Other first settlers called it “Rag Town” and “Last Chance,” due to the fact that it was the last big land opening and the last chance to draw a homestead.
However, taking a tour of the area was Oklahoma’s territorial governor along with a representative of the Interior Department and a territorial delegate to Congress. According to the “Oklahoma Almanac,” the official party “met Ransome Payne, a pioneer of long standing, who had just returned from Washington, D.C., where he attended the funeral of General Henry Ware Lawton, who had served in campaigns against the Indians. Payne suggested the new town be named Lawton, and this met with official approval.”
Before lots in the new town were auctioned off, a land lottery for the Lawton District was held in El Reno. The first name drawn from the Lawton box was James T. Woods, a salesman for a hardware store in El Reno. It was assumed that he would take a quarter-section homestead attached to the new townsite; however, he filed on a mile strip adjacent to the still vacant town lots.
The manner in which Woods filed prevented Miss Mattie Beal, a telephone operator from Wichita, Kansas, from filing a homestead claim adjoining the town. Miss Beal was the second name drawn in the Lawton District. A protest was immediately filed against Woods by 500 Lawton businessmen, waiting on the edge for the town lots to be auctioned. Woods’ land claim became tied up in court and he became known as “Hog” Woods since he “hogged the entire southern boundary of the planned townsite.”
A page one headline in the “Wichita (Kansas) Daily Eagle” on Aug. 6, 1901, noted that Wood “Might Hog All Snaps Near Lawton,” and the article speculated whether Woods would be “hoggish” or not. Many in the new town said that Woods had violated the spirit and the letter of the Homestead Act. In the end, however, it was determined that he had the legal right to claim the mile strip if that’s what he wanted.
“Woods really did Mattie Beal a favor,” said former Director of the Great Plains Museum, Steve Wilson, in a Jan. 22, 1984, article archived at the oklahoman.com website. “The Frisco Railroad ran through his property, so he wasn’t able to get as many residential lots on his land.”
Wilson said Woods became sick and died within the year. It was said that Miss Beal became a national celebrity and received more than 500 marriage proposals. She turned them all down to later marry Lawton lumberman Charles Payne in July of 1902. The couple established their home and converted their 160 acres to individual town lots.
Although a proclamation by President William McKinley set 9 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1901, as the official time and date for auctioning the lots in the new government townsite four miles south of Fort Sill, thousands of excited people ready to seize on a new opportunity had been in the area for several months.
A headline in the Aug. 6, 1901, issue of the “Wichita Daily Eagle” blared “Lawton – 10,000 people gathered there – Scores and Hundreds of Grafters are in town.” One definition of grafting is acquiring money in a dishonest or questionable way, notes the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Grafter is another word for thief.
“There are those who are here to enter their claims; there are the town lot speculators; there are hundreds of sight-seers; there are scores and hundreds of grafters … Of course, there are thousands of persons here who will become legitimate citizens of the town … It will be at least six months until the town’s future is assured. It will then settle down to business,” the article said.
Lawton had become a town overnight. Of the three towns (Anadarko, Hobart and Lawton) established in the newly opened KCA Reservation, Lawton was the most prominent. Although the town still wasn’t connected to the railways, the general consensus was that Lawton’s short distance to Fort Sill would make it a more prosperous town.
“The raw town had one street called Goo Goo Avenue, replete with tent saloons, gambling tents and fancy women,” wrote “The Lawton Constitution” columnist Paul McClung in the Aug. 4, 1966, edition. “Hugh Corwin, Lawton historian, says the street, now F, was named because a showgirl there belted out the song about those ‘goo goo’ eyes so loudly you could hear it for blocks. Some people have said they called it Goo Goo because of the mud.” Goo Goo was actually suggested for the name of the new town.
Lawton city government was established in October of 1901. “As many as 25,000 had come to the area for the land auction expecting a bonanza but instead found a pioneer city with many problems,” reported the “Oklahoma Almanac.”
Sources for this article also include: The Oklahoma Historical Society, okhistory.org; armyhistory.org; “The Lawton Constitution,” Aug. 5, 1976, page 83; “Oklahoma Almanac,” page 549; “Chronicles of Oklahoma,” Vol. 9 No. 4, Dec. 1931, “The Great Lottery: Aug. 6, 1901, by A. Emma Estill, Head of History Department, Central State Teachers College, Edmond, Okla.; “The El Reno Weekly Globe,” Aug. 2, 1901, page 1; “The Daily Oklahoman,” oklahoman.com, Jan. 22, 1984; “The Wichita Daily Eagle,” Wichita, Kan., Aug. 4, 1901, pages 1-2; the “Lawton Daily Democrat,” Lawton, Okla., Aug. 6, 1901, pages 1-4; www.merriam-webster.com; “The Lawton Constitution,” Aug. 4, 1966, page 1.