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The French in LeFlore County: Focus on LeFlore County

In the late 17th century, the French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle boldly claimed all of the land drained by Mississippi River for France. The area was named “La Louisiane” in honor of his King, Louis XIV. Even though the Spanish were the first to explore the area around eastern Oklahoma, the French would have the biggest impact on LeFlore County.

Traders and trappers roamed throughout what would one day become LeFlore County. The trappers caught mink, beaver, bear, otter, fox, coyote, and raccoon. After the animals were trapped, they would then be skinned and strung up on a drying board. Once dry, they would be bundled into “bricks”, or pallets that could easily be transported down the Poteau or Arkansas River. These pallets would be carried on light canoes to New Orleans. In New Orleans, fur was in high demand. What wasn’t used there would then be shipped to France. The importance of New Orleans was paramount; so much, that in 1723, New Orleans was proclaimed as the seat of government for the Territory of Louisiana.

During the French occupation of the Louisiana Territory, the Osage Indian called the area around LeFlore County home. Generally, the French got along well with the Osage Indian. In order to supplement their income from the fur trade, the French would frequently trade items with the Osage to sell once they returned to New Orleans.

It was during this time that many of the landmarks in LeFlore County acquired their names. The Poteau River got its name from the French word for “Post”. When the early French explorers traveled up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico, they followed the largest bodies of water for transportation. The Arkansas River is the second largest tributary on the Mississippi coming from the Gulf. Most likely, the early explorers traveled down this river until they reached the point where the Poteau River diverges from the Arkansas. The French explorers and traders called this slate projection and its surrounding area Belle Point. It can be assumed that the Poteau River received its name shortly before this.

Belle Point, meaning “Beautiful Place”, had long been a popular gathering spot for trappers and traders in the area for many years. Before the area was named, it was simply referred to as the gathering spot, or post. After Belle Point was named, the smaller tributary flowing off the Arkansas River was named Poteau River. Another popular gathering spot for the trappers and traders was at the base of Cavanal Mountain. Cavanal means “Mountain with Many Caves”.

By the late 1700’s, French domination in North America began to wane.

Because of France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the country was forced to cede the eastern part of the Louisiana Territory in 1763 to the British and the western part to Spain.

France would regain sovereignty of the western territory following the French Revolution (1789–1799). In the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800, France once again came to control the Louisiana Territory. Strained by obligations in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte, having just assumed control of the France, decided to sell the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. This effectively ended French presence in Louisiana.

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