The refuge’s primary purpose is to preserve the bottomland hardwood forests for migratory waterfowl on the Central Flyway. It was established in 1987 and protects one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests found in Oklahoma. The refuge is characterized by low, wet habitat with old oxbow lakes and sloughs that wind their way throughout the bottomland habitat. Most of the Little River National Wildlife Refuge is forested with bottomland species such as willow oak, sweetgum, cypress, white oak, and holly. Some areas on higher ground support species such as loblolly pine, hickory, and walnut.
The History of this Land
Gaze long enough at the wildlands protected at Little River National Wildlife Refuge and you might be able to envision a prehistoric people who hunted and gathered here between 6,000 and 10,000 B.C., a time known as the Archaic period. Archeologists know that the culture began to change by about 100 A.D. Pottery shards point to the beginning of farming that became increasingly evident by A.D. 800. This culture emerged as the Caddoan speaking people, known for mound building and ceremonial burial practices. Mounds exist on the refuge but have been disturbed by forestry practices prior to the establishment of the refuge. The Caddoan people left this area by the time Europeans explored Little River in the early 1700s. A century later, in 1830, the Choctaw Indians arrived at the end of the “Trail of Tears.” Thousands of native Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi and relocated to southeast Oklahoma.
McCurtain County was named for a tribal member who became the Chief of the Choctaw Nation. His three sons each served as chief. The Choctaw and other settlers started clearing the forests to grow corn and cotton. By the mid-1900s, major timber companies like Weyerhaeuser, arrived to log forests and eventually start loblolly pine plantations. The bottomland forests preserved at Little River stand as silent sentinels to both land and cultural changes. Today, an extensive forest management plan has been implemented to maintain a healthy productive bottomland hardwood forest to meet the habitat needs of a diversity of fish and wildlife species.