What and Where is Poteau?
In 1719, Bernard de la Harpe led a group of French explorers through this
area and gave the river its present name. The present day city was founded in
1885, its name being derived from the nearby Poteau River. During the late
1700s, there was a large French outpost at Belle Point (Ft. Smith). From there,
they would travel up the Poteau River to the base of Cavanal Mountain where a
secondary post was established. Because of this, the river was named the "Post
River", or Poteau River, and the outpost was simply called the post, or
"Poteau". A group of French explorers gave the river its present name during
the early 18th Century. Poteau is a French word meaning post.
The Poteau Chamber of Commerce has written that the community was founded in 1885 as a few houses and Bud Tate's general store. At the time of its founding, Poteau was located in Sugar Loaf County, a part of the Moshulatubbee District of the Choctaw Nation. It was incorporated as a town in the Indian Territory by the federal government on October 8, 1898. The first stone public building, a school, was built in the same year.
The Fort Smith and Southern Railway built a rail line through the Poteau area in 1886–1887, en route to Paris, Texas, including a station within the city itself. The Poteau post office opened in 1887 and the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad (acquired by the Kansas City Southern Railway in 1900) began serving the town in 1896.
In 1900, the Federal Court of Indian Territory was moved from Cameron, Oklahoma to Poteau. The Poteau News was first published in 1905. Other modern improvements during the run-up to statehood included: The Bank of Poteau in 1901 (which became a national bank in 1904), and the First Bank of Poteau in 1904. A telephone company franchise was granted in 1904, and an electric utility and waterworks system was begun in 1906.
After statehood, Governor Charles N. Haskell declared Poteau as a, "... city of the first class."