BROKEN BOW, Okla. (KFOR) – As Choctaw land, most of what is now McCurtain County was once the last, big tract of virgin forest left around the time of statehood in 1907. There were small logging and milling operations going, but it took the Dierks brothers, mainly Hans and Herman, to usher in the era of logging on an industrial scale in Southeast Oklahoma.
“They harvested as much timber as they could,” says Calista Stephens, an administrator for Oklahoma Forestry Services.
There are a surprising number of photos from that time, now on display at the Forest Heritage Center at Beavers Bend State Park.
Stephens helped collect them and the personal histories of the people in them.
“Lots of people who come in here,” she says, “will have had family connections.”
The Dierks Brothers thought it would only take them 15 years to clear all the timber here, but the industry is still going.
“Thanks to sustainable forestry,” she states.
From wagon and team, to railroads, to early logging trucks, crews that lived in moveable logging towns like Clebit No. 2 slowly cleared the cypress in the lowlands and the pine on the mountainsides.
Stephens says of the tree varieties that grow here, “This is a very diverse area.”
Legends formed around people like ‘Doc’ Hamilton, who ministered to the logging towns on horseback.
Stories passed through generations of the Winship Branch Washout that caused a train wreck in 1929.
The virgin timber did run out, but the Civilian Conservation Corps, better known as the ‘Green Tree Army’, ushered in sustainable forest practices that kept timber as the number one crop in McCurtain County.
Fly around some of the preserved areas now and the trees are approaching a century of growth, enough to picture, in the absence of Broken Bow Lake (formed in the 1950s), what this region once looked like.
Trees as far as the eye can see, reaching for the sun, in the shadow of a colorful history.
The Dierks family once logged approximately 1.8 million acres in the area.
They sold their company to Wayerhauser in 1969.
Stephens quotes numbers from industry sources that claim a current $5 billion impact on the local economy.