Atoka was founded by the Choctaw Indians in the 1850s, and named for Captain Atoka, a leader of the Choctaw Nation and the signer of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which began the process of re-locating the Choctaw people from Mississippi to Oklahoma in 1830. The name "Atoka" is derived from the Choctaw word hitoka (or hetoka), which means "ball ground" in English. He is believed to be buried near the town of Farris. Atoka is the site of the oldest Catholic parish in the Indian Territory, the oldest chapter of the Freemasons in Oklahoma, and the oldest chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in Oklahoma.
Battle of Middle Boggy Depot
A small Civil War confrontation occurred on February 13, 1864, north of Atoka. Early in 1864, Colonel William A. Philips set out with some 1,500 Union troops from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, to cut a swath through Confederate Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Their purpose was to break Confederate control over the Indian Territory and gain the support and possibly recruits from the Native Americans.
"I take you with me to clean out the Indian Nation south of the river and drive away and destroy rebels. Let me say a few words to you that you are not to forget .... Those who are still in arms are rebels, who ought to die. Do not kill a prisoner after he has surrendered. But I do not ask you to take prisoners. I ask you to make your footsteps severe and terrible. Muskogees! (Creeks) the time has now come when you are to remember the authors of all your sufferings; those who started a needless and wicked war .... Stand by me faithfully and we will soon have peace ...." -- Colonel William A. Philips, to his men before beginning the campaign
Along the way, Colonel Phillips sent out an advance of about 350 men toward Boggy Depot, a large Confederate supply base located on the Texas Road with the intention of capturing the outpost. While en route, his command encountered a small Confederate camp on the banks of the Middle Boggy River, made up of around 90 Confederate soldiers.
In the ensuing skirmish 47 Confederate soldiers were killed. Among the dead were those wounded who had been left behind when their comrades retreated. They were found on the battlefield with their throats slashed. There were no Union deaths as a result of the battle.
The Confederate Museum in Atoka commemorates this battle.
Though the Choctaw Indians had inhabited the area since the 1830s with a small town located near the city today, the city was officially founded by a Baptist missionary named J.S. Murrow in 1867 and quickly supplanted the dying town of Boggy Depot as the chief city in Atoka County. A main contributing factor in the early growth of Atoka was the MKT Railroad, which came through the area in 1872. The railroad provided the economic lifeblood to Atoka that any isolated rural town needs to survive and flourish. Many businesses quickly moved to Atoka from Boggy Depot.
Also in 1872, Father Michael Smyth founded St. Patrick's Catholic Church. This was the first Roman Catholic church in what became the state of Oklahoma. About 1896, Robert L. Williams, who would become the third Governor of Oklahoma and first Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, moved to Atoka (then a part of the old Indian Territory) from Troy, Alabama. In 1898, land allotments were implemented and town lots were sold, as required by the Dawes Commission.
Despite being strategically located at the intersection of two major highways (especially U.S. 69, a major transportation artery in the region), Atoka is struggling to create a town attractive to both new business and new residents. Even though the town has experienced an economic upturn in the past few years, it still lacks the main thing that ensures economic prosperity and attracts new residents: well-paying jobs.
However, there is a beacon of hope for Atoka in the future. For the past several years, economic growth has been steadily moving northward along U.S. 75 from Dallas, Texas. Two towns located to the south of Atoka, Durant, Oklahoma, and Sherman, Texas, are experiencing tremendous economic and population growth. As this wave of development gradually moves north, the next town in line is the city of Atoka. If the growth continues, it is possible that Atoka could begin to see the type of expansion currently underway across the Red River to the south.
National Register of Historic Places sites in Atoka include the Atoka Armory Building, Atoka Community Building, Boggy Depot Site, First Methodist Church Building, the Indian Citizen Building, the Old Masonic Temple building, the Middle Boggy Battlefield Site and Confederate Cemetery, Old Atoka County Courthouse, Old Atoka State Bank, Pioneer Club, Joe Ralls House, Captain James S. Standley House and the Zweigel Hardware Store Building.