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
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!
In the late 1860’s, the pursuit and near banishment of these Indian
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
Sheriff. The Elisha Childress land and log buildings and cabin were
great-grandfather and grandfather of Bill Shields, who currently lives
on this land.
Some of the earliest settlers in this area were the Burnett’s, Bush’s,
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 place. Some “ladies of note” are Celya
and Annie (Gillison) Little Mitchell (from Scotland with two children).
Not too many years after the Childress and Slates and a few others,
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