Located in what has been described as "the most historical section of Oklahoma", a bustling city of more than 7,000 population, Pryor is the county seat of Mayes County. MidAmerica Industrial Park, with more than 60 firms, is the largest rural industrial park in the nation. The original name of Pryor was Coo-y-Yah, Meaning huckleberry in the Cherokee language. The huckleberry was a favorite fruit of the Indians and abounded in the area.
PRYOR CREEK, OKLAHOMA, 1871-1964
Until the coming of the railroad no one apparently had even considered settling where Pryor Creek now stands. Traffic through the area either followed Grand River or Texas Trail, both of which passed several miles to the east.
Finally, in 1870 the MK&T railroad began building a line across Indian Territory and by 1871 the shining ribbons of steel had passed the point where the future city of Pryor Creek would one day be located.
In fact, the tiny section house built by the Katy stood completely alone on the prairie until James M. Gambill built his home near the tracks some two or three years later. He also dug the first well in the new settlement, approximately in the center of the present day U.S. Highway 69, just north of where Oklahoma 20 intersects.
Charlie Gambill, 64-year-old son of James Gambill, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service August 12, 1964 after 42 years in the Pryor Post Office, said his father's house was built on what is now the northwest corner of Graham Avenue and Mill Street, and the barn was located to the east on the present northeast corner of the intersection. He said the well was dug about half-way between the house and the barn.
It states that only two dwelling houses where in evidence when W.H. (tip) Mayes established the first store in the town in either 1874 or 1875 . Mayes was a brother of Joel B. and S. H. Mayes, both of whom later became principal chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. Their great-niece, Miss Mayme Mayes of Pryor, a retired English teacher of Tulsa Central High School, contributed much of the information contained in this account.
The little town wasn't called Pryor Creek yet, though a meandering stream just west and south of the settlement bore that name in honor of Capt. Nothaneil Pryor who had operated a trading post at Three Forks on the Verdigris River. Pryor had been a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Northwest and had distinguished himself in the Battle of New Orleans. before coming to the Territory in 1816 to enter the Indian trade. The first post office in what is now Mayes County was established at Coo-Y-Yah, but several miles to the south. It was called Pryor's Creek and was later to become the town of Chouteau. Another Post Office was then located on the creek banks some four miles northwest of Coo-Y-Yah and was called Pryor Creek, Without the possessive spelling. This post office was discontinued, re-established and discontinued, several times during the next few years, but was finally a permanently discontinued in October of 1884. Residents of the area were notified that all mail service was being transferred to Coo-Y-Yah where another office had been established to years previously.
But the White mans difficulty in both spelling and pronouncing the Cherokee name of the town soon forced postal officials to formally change the name to Pryor Creek on April 23, 1887. In 1909 the post office, for the sake of brevity, dropped the Creek From the name and shortly afterward both the Katy and the map publishers followed suit. So the city today known as Pryor, although officially it is still Pryor Creek and is so written on all legal documents.
Experience with Outlaws
Like all frontier settlements, Pryor Creek had its experiences with outlaws. Most famous of these perhaps, is the one described by the famous short story writer, O. Henry in his "Robbing a Train". It is the story of a Dalton gang train robbery scheduled for Pryor Creek, but which did not actually happen until the reached Adair, nine miles north.
James M. Carselowey, Adair author and historian in his book "Cherokee Pioneers", places the date as July 14, 1892 when the Daltons in a spirit of Braado announced in advance they would hold up the "Katy Flyer" at the Pryor Creek station.
When the train pulled out of Muskogee it was loaded with deputies and others were hidden around the Pryor Creek station, but when the train pulled in, not a Dalton showed up. At Adair, however, as the deputies were telling what they would have done had the gang attached, suddenly there was a burst of gunfire and the Daltons where there. The element of surprise carried the day and the Daltons escaped with a reported $27,000,00.
In 1888, Whitaker, with the aid of others, had built the first Church and school; the first telegraph office was opened in 1889; and in 1900 Graham had organized the first bank which today is the First National Bank of Pryor. Graham remanded president of the bank until his death in 1951, just under six weeks short of his 101st birthday. Whitaker left as his memorial the children' home which today is operated by the Oklahoma State Welfare Department as the Whitaker State Home. (Whitaker training center)
It was in 1888 that Pryor Creek was first surveyed and platted under the laws of the Cherokee Nation by I.P. Bledsoe of Chouteau. An indication of the value my be seen from an original deed for "a city lot" now in the possession of the Pryor Public Library. It is conveyance from S. H. Mayes to C. D. Markham and the price is listed at $22, but neither the location nor the dimensions of the lot are mentioned.
Under Cherokee law, Pryor Creek was in the COO-Wee-Scoo-Wee (White Eagle or Big Chief) District, but after the U.S. Government survey in September of 1902 it was place in the Fifth District of Indian Territory and made a court town. Shortly afterward the first courthouse was built. Pryor Creek was incorporated under Cherokee Law about 1889, with the bill being introduced in the Cherokee Council House by Councilman D. W. Vann (the old white rock house on the road to Claremore was his home), and in the Senate by Sen. Sam H. Mayes of Pryor. On October 13, 1898, Pryor Creek was incorporated under the laws of Arkansas.
Information from the book, Mayes County Historical Society