HISTORY OF ATOKA
Presented by Bill Shields
Annual Homecoming, Saturday, 15 May, 2010
Atoka Cemetery and the Atoka town site, later just known as “Atoka Country” received it’s name from the Indians for “big
noise” or “place of water.”
Atoka Country in northwest Coleman County is a horseshoe or “U” shaped valley that heads the South Jim Ned Creek. This
creek begins in the south end of the valley at the curve of the “U” and flows 15 miles north to meet the main Jim Ned Creek
that headwaters near Tuscola.
Atoka was historically, a popular camping and hunting area for Indian tribes, with abundant flowing water, woods, flint for tools
and weapons, buffalo, deer, antelope, small game, birds and fish. A real paradise!
and other interests, led to the settlers, ranchers and farmers entering the area in the early 1870’s. One of the earliest,
perhaps the earliest, was the Rev. Hugh Martin Childress and family. He was the first official Circuit Riding Preacher in the
Atoka area. He came down from the Camp Colorado area. He was a very versatile man who was a Republic of Texas
Ranger before the ousting of Mexico. He was a rancher, farmer, and his son Elisha Childress was Coleman County’s first
Knights, Chastain, Bellew, Elliots, Parkers, Edenborough and Andersons. Later day settlers were the Murrills, Bates, Kegans,
Kinkaids, DePrangs, Bush and Hills. Also settlers included in the Novice area were the Shields, Grimes, Killingsworth, Crews,
Davis, Gorman, Cooper, McDaniel, Blackburn, Coats and Reeves. Ellen and Richard Johnson currently live on the old Bush
(Gillison) Little Mitchell (from Scotland with two children).
settled the east side of Atoka Valley. D.A. Parker built a fine two-story, native stone home in about 1880-1885, that has been
restored and is registered and marked as a State Historical home.
The Atoka Cemetery was probably the first community type service or place to come about in Atoka Country. Possibly, the
first person buried there was a Mexican child (only blank stones mark the early graves). There are about 50 unmarked graves
total. Another story says the first grave was a cowboy who worked for Rev. Childress or a man who was buried just west of
the present cemetery area. This was around 1870 (?).
A school building, which also served as a church, was thought to have been moved from the Midway community or built on site
in the southwest corner of the cemetery about 1875. The school continued there until about 1912, then moved to Novice. A
new school was also built in 1901 about halfway to Jim Ned Springs and named “Oak Grove.” Midway (Possum Trot),
northwest of Atoka, also had a school in the late 1880’s. The old stage stop at “Blue Gap” (west of Atoka) had a school in the
late 1870’s. An 1856 state law let any group or community establish a school.
As land sold and folks moved into the area, a store, school/church, Masonic Lodge Hall were built at Atoka. Later, a Gin,
picnic ground/horserace track were added.
In 1885 there was severe winter, then in 1886 and 1887 there was drought and some families moved out of the area. The
death rate, of course, was high during this time. A tornado struck the Atoka area in 1896 taking lives and damaging the store
and Gin. During the 1890’s the area really grew and things were better for most part, with new inventions, conveniences, and
better roads. Some cotton was being raised, but still most farms were diversified and raised gardens, corn, wheat, oats and
grazed livestock of various kinds (i.e., cattle, goats, sheep, mules, horses, hogs, chickens).
There was never a doctor at Atoka; the nearest being at Content or old Silver Valley. Still, country folks seemed to make do
and get by and be healthy and content.
By the 1900’s things were booming with many immigrants coming into the area. Large ranches were divided and sold to small
farmers. Coleman County’s population was over 10,000 in 1900 and over 20,000 by 1910. In 1910 the Santa Fe Railroad
moved west from Coleman and by-passed Atoka just a few miles to the east. This lead to the decline of the Atoka town site,
but the new town of Novice, a few miles east, brought new prosperity to all the families in the old Atoka Country.