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Deep Fork
National Wildlife Refuge

The scene of the bottomland hardwood forest can be viewed at the Deep Fork NWR boardwalk.
P.O. Box 816
Okmulgee, OK   74447
E-mail: lori_jones@fws.gov
Phone Number: 918-652-0456
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Deep Fork NWR is comprised of bottomland hardwood forests.
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Continued . . .

The Deep Fork River bottoms were likely hunted by Native Americans for hundreds of years. Between 1550 and 1800 European explorers documented tribal groups throughout the Southern Plains and eastern Oklahoma, including the Wichita, Caddo, and Osage. By 1800, the Osage had driven most of the other native groups of eastern Oklahoma out of the area.

By the early 1800s, Native Americans in the eastern United States were under attack. Congress mandated the removal of eastern Native Americans to the West. Oklahoma was designated Indian Territory. In 1820, an area of land in central Oklahoma was conveyed by treaty to the Creek Nation of Alabama and Georgia. The new Creek Territory encompassed all of the lands now contained within the designated boundary of the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge.

The resources of the Deep Fork River bottomlands were essential for the Creeks survival. They bartered pelts for merchandise at stores in the village of Okmulgee. Streams provided fish for the Creeks diet. Okmulgee was founded by the Creek Nation in 1868 to serve as its capital. The town remained a small trading center until the 1900s.

The sovereignty of the Creek Nation was terminated in 1899 when the Creeks voted to accept U.S. government jurisdiction. Under the resulting treaty, each adult was awarded an allotment of 160 acres of land. Deep Fork Refuge lands were among those included in the original Creek allotments. (Creek Nation sovereignty was gradually restored beginning in 1936 with the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act.)

In 1900, the town of Okmulgee was incorporated and railroad service was initiated. The completion of the railroad in 1900 and the discoveries of oil near Okmulgee and coal in the southern part of the county heralded a period of phenomenal growth that rapidly altered the face of the county. The height of the oil boom occurred from 1918 – 1920 when production in county oil fields reached 45,000 barrels a day. Many wells were located in the Deep Fork bottomlands. By 1920, the City of Okmulgee had grown to 17,340 residents. During its heyday, Okmulgee was reported to have more millionaires than any other city of comparable size in the world.

Petroleum reserves were soon depleted and production in the oil fields slowly dwindled. By 1935, production had fallen to roughly 5,000 barrels per day. The end of the oil boom signaled the beginning of a serious economic decline for the Okmulgee County area. Industry in particular was significantly affected as refineries, coal mines, and related industries gradually closed.

The number of farms and ranches increased and soon almost half of the Okmulgee County population lived on farms. Pecans and cotton were the major cash crops. Native pecans were abundant along river and stream floodplains throughout the county. Pecan orchards were established by clearing oaks and other trees and brush from the bottoms to create optimal condition for growth and harvest of the nuts. Pecan groves are still scattered throughout the Deep Fork bottomlands both within and outside the defined Refuge boundary.

Most of the timber in the Deep Fork bottomlands was removed after the arrival of white settlers. In addition to pecan production, the forest was logged for timber, cut for firewood, and cleared for grazing. Most of the timber left on the Refuge is second growth timber roughly 50-60 years old. Some of the inaccessible tracts are older but there are few trees greater than 100 years old.

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