Though no longer bustling, Porum has rich history
Downtown Porum was once a bustling place with stores, restaurants and other attractions. Today, the population is approximately 700 people. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The town of Porum in Muskogee County is within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdictional boundary, and the tribe funds road projects and an elderly nutrition center for the community. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The Ross Elementary School building still stands about 4 miles east of Porum. The two-room school served children in the Porum area until 1960 when it closed its doors. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Paula Twist prepares a meal at CN-funded elderly nutrition center funded in Porum. The sign written in the Cherokee syllabary behind her reads, “Let’s eat.” WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PORUM – Porum is located about 30 miles south of Muskogee on State Highway 2 in Muskogee County in the Cherokee Nation’s old Canadian District.
It formed in 1905 following the merger of Porum Gap and Starvilla. The town site was platted in 1903 upon arrival of the Midland Valley Railroad, and the federal government established a post office there in 1890.
The area is rich in history and includes the Starr clan, which was a part of the Cherokee “Treaty Party” and took part in signing away what was left of Cherokee lands in the East. This group was immersed in troubles during the early days of the CN in Indian Territory. They were attacked by, and counterattacked, men of the Ross faction or those who supported Principal Chief John Ross.
Tom Starr was alleged to have killed 100 men. He was Irish and Cherokee and had five sons, one of whom was Sam, who married Belle Starr, an outlaw in the 1880s who lived at Younger’s Bend between Porum and Briartown.
Porum was named after CN citizen John Porum Davis, a rancher, Civil War veteran and Canadian District tribal councilor. He was born about 1822 in what was Mexico but is now Rusk County, Texas, according to research by CN citizen David Hampton. His family was Old Settlers, Cherokees who first settled in Arkansas in the early 1800s before being forced to migrate to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
His family followed Chief Richard Fields and later Cherokee leader The Bowl into Texas. In his early life he was simply known as “Poor” and sometimes David Porum. He was elected to represent the Canadian District on the Tribal Council in 1851 and 1859 and as CN solicitor in 1855. During the American Civil War, he was a captain in the Confederacy’s 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles under Gen. Stand Watie.
After the war, he was chosen to serve as a delegate to Washington representing the Confederate Cherokees. In 1867, he was elected to the CN Senate, in which he served four terms. In 1869, he was also chosen to serve on the CN Supreme Court. He died on Nov. 25, 1880, at his home in the Canadian District in present-day McIntosh County and was buried in the family cemetery in Texanna just west of Porum.
The Porum area became infamous for a range war that began in 1906 and lasted several years. The feud between the Hester and Davis families included other local families and resulted in killings throughout Muskogee County.
Other well-known Oklahomans who have lived in the area include Capt. John West, a CN sheriff (1894–96), and Capt. William Dutch (Tahchee), a Canadian District councilor who was known as the last Cherokee war chief.
In the town’s early years, the Porum Press was its first newspaper. Other publications included the Porum Journal and Porum Leader. Local citizens organized the Bank of Commerce and a National Bank. In 1922, there were public schools, two churches, four general stores, two cotton gins, two drug stores, two hardware stores and several small stores and shops. In 1931, outgoing railroad shipments consisted of cotton, corn, coal, hogs and cattle. The town had 150 telephones, an airplane landing field, two churches, a public school and library. The U.S. Census indicated a population of 393 in 1907, 533 in 1920, 471 in 1930, 573 in 1960, 851 in 1990, 725 in 2000 and 727 in 2010.
“I am 70 years old. I was born and raised here, and I was born at home. We’ve been here all of my life,” lifelong Porum resident Nancy Cowett, a CN citizen, said.
She said Porum was a bustling town when she was younger with four gas stations, a drug store, motel, laundry mats and “two big grocery stores.”
“Now we just have a Dollar General, and we’ve got two gas stations, but back then it was a happening place. We even had a dance hall and a movie theater and beer joints. They had like three beer joints, and I guess that’s what kept the town going on Saturdays,” she said with a laugh. “The dance hall was fun. They would open their windows and people could look in from outside. It seemed like every Saturday night there was a big ol’ fight going on. The kids would walk from one end of town to the other going to the restaurants. That was always fun too because there was nothing else to do.”
Cowett’s Cherokee ancestors, she said, are likely a mixture of Old Settlers and Cherokees who arrived following the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s.
Cowett said the CN has impacted Porum by building housing additions and single-family homes for Cherokee families. The tribe also helps operate a community center where elders eat lunch and fellowship during the week. Also, the CN Johnson-O’Malley Program assists Cherokee children at the Porum School, and the CN roads program has fixed and built community roads.
Today, Porum is part of Dist. 4 among the tribe’s 16 districts. Fifteen of the districts are located in northeastern Oklahoma in all or parts of 14 counties.
However, the busy town Cowett knew as child, when she could see a movie for 10 cents or buy a soda pop for the same amount, is likely gone forever. “It was all good, but it just slowly went away,” she said.
She believes things changed when a plant nursery closed about 30 years ago and left people without jobs. “After that…those who were still able to work had to go somewhere else to find work. The women, they went to restaurants here and there (to work). My family did restaurant work and ended up in Warner, and some of them moved to Tulsa. I don’t know why it’s all gone. It just is.”