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Stilwell, Oklahoma

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Stilwell, Oklahoma
Former train depot in Stilwell
Former train depot in Stilwell
Location within Adair County and the state of Oklahoma
Location within Adair County and the state of Oklahoma
Coordinates: 35°48′55″N 94°37′53″W / 35.81528°N 94.63139°W / 35.81528; -94.63139Coordinates: 35°48′55″N 94°37′53″W / 35.81528°N 94.63139°W / 35.81528; -94.63139
CountryUnited States
 • TypeMayor and council
 • Total3.2 sq mi (8.3 km2)
 • Land3.2 sq mi (8.2 km2)
 • Water0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
1,089 ft (332 m)
 • Total3,949
 • Density1,234.0/sq mi (481.6/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)539/918 (918 Exchanges:696,797)
FIPS code40-70350[1]
GNIS feature ID1098544[2]

Stilwell is a city and county seat of Adair County, Oklahoma, United States.[3] The population was 3,949 at the 2010, an increase of 20.5 percent from 3,276 at the 2000 census.[4] In 1949, the Oklahoma governor and legislature proclaimed Stilwell as the "Strawberry Capital of the World." Stilwell also serves as a gateway to Lake Tenkiller and the former Adair State Park.[5] Residents of Stilwell have a life expectancy of just 56.3 years, the lowest in the United States.[6]


The town was named after Arthur Stilwell, noted philanthropist and founder of the Kansas City Southern Railway.[7] It was built because of the construction of the railroad, and was incorporated on January 2, 1897.[8]

As early as 1901, Stilwell and Westville vied for the role of county seat. When Adair County was formed in 1907, Westville was identified as the county seat, due partly to its location at the intersection of two major railroads: the Kansas City Southern Railway and the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway.[7] After three intensely contested elections, however, Oklahoma governor Charles Haskell proclaimed Stilwell as the county seat on May 6, 1910.[5][9]

During the Great Depression and World War II, strawberries became a major crop in Adair County. In 1948, the first Stilwell Strawberry Festival was organized. In 1949, the state governor and legislature proclaimed Stilwell as "Strawberry Capital of the World." The 2002 festival saw some 40,000 people in attendance.[8]

Mural on a wall in Stilwell: "Strawberry Capital of the World"

The former Adair State Park in Stilwell has been taken over by Adair County, after the State of Oklahoma announced in 2011 that it would close the park permanently as part of a budget cutting move.[10]


Stilwell is located at 35°48′55″N 94°37′53″W / 35.81528°N 94.63139°W / 35.81528; -94.63139 (35.815234, -94.631359).[11] It is 8 miles (13 km) west of the Arkansas state line and 23 miles (37 km) east of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Stilwell is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 51. Sallisaw and Little Lee creeks are nearby.[12]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 3.2 square miles (8.3 km2), of which 3.2 square miles (8.3 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) (0.63%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20184,044[13]2.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[14]

As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 3,276 people, 1,269 households, and 809 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,033.7 people per square mile (399.0/km²). There were 1,434 housing units at an average density of 452.5 per square mile (174.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 41.88% White, 0.49% African American, 48.41% Native American, 0.21% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 3.45% from other races, and 5.53% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.99% of the population. At 48.57% Cherokee, Stilwell is the most Cherokee community in the United States.

There were 1,269 households out of which 35.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.7% were married couples living together, 17.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.21.

In the city, the population was spread out with 30.0% under the age of 18, 10.8% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 17.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $18,555, and the median income for a family was $24,673. Males had a median income of $20,500 versus $17,351 for females. The per capita income for the city was $10,034. About 28.3% of families and 32.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 42.6% of those under age 18 and 20.4% of those age 65 or over.


Agriculture has been the mainstay of the local economy for a century. Strawberry farming was particularly successful. At one time there were about two thousand acres devoted to strawberries. Ranching became important around 1960. Local industry was largely an outgrowth of agriculture. Employers were such companies as Tyson Foods, Stilwell Canning Company and its successor, Mrs. Smith's Bakery/Stilwell Food, Cherokee Nation Industries, and Facet Industries.[5]

On June 5, 2015, 24/7 Wall Street listed Stilwell as the town having the poorest economy in Oklahoma. It noted that 32.7 percent of the residents had incomes below the U. S. poverty line, compared to the national rate of 11.3 percent and the state rate of 16.5 percent. The median income for residents was $24,452 or 54 percent of the median income in the state of $45,339 .[15]


As of 2018, Stilwell had the lowest life expectancy of any town in America at 56.3 years.[16]


Stilwell Public Schools provides education for children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. There is one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Technical or vocational studies beyond high school level are offered by the Indian Capital Technology Center campus in Stilwell.[5]


Stilwell has a mayor-council form of government, with five members on the city council. City departments reporting to the mayor include the police department, volunteer fire department, sewer and garbage service, natural gas and electric service. Health services include the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller Health Clinic (supported by the Cherokee Nation), Memorial Hospital, several home health care agencies, the Oklahoma Department of Public Health, and the Stilwell Nursing Home.[5]

Notable people[edit]

  • Samuel Mayes, principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), serving from 1895 to 1899.
  • Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
  • Sam Claphan, Cherokee, former football player for the Oklahoma Sooners and San Diego Chargers of the NFL.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on September 11, 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  2. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  4. ^ CensusViewer:Stilwell, Oklahoma Population
  5. ^ a b c d e Barker, Betty Starr. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Stilwell." Retrieved September 10, 2010.[1].
  6. ^ "Stilwell, Oklahoma, tops troubling list: shortest life spans in nation". Retrieved 2019-03-30.
  7. ^ a b Hill, Luther B. (1910). A History of the State of Oklahoma. I. The Lewis Publishing Company. p. 470.
  8. ^ a b Barker, Betty Starr. "Stilwell". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved June 13, 2010.
  9. ^ Oklahoma Almanac Online (PDF). Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 2005.
  10. ^ "All Seven Oklahoma State Parks Slated For Closure To Remain Open." News on 6. August 12, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  11. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  12. ^ Whitaker, Rachel. "Adair County". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2010-07-28. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  13. ^ "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  14. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  15. ^ Stebbins, Sam; Frohlich, Thomas C.; Sauter, Michael B. (June 5, 2015). "The Poorest Town in Each State". 24/7 Wall St.
  16. ^ Overall, Michael. "Stilwell, Oklahoma, has lowest life expectancy in the United States". Tulsa World. Retrieved February 6, 2019.

External links[edit]