McAlester is a city in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 17,783 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Pittsburg County. It is currently the largest city in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, followed by Durant.
The town gets its name from J. J. McAlester, who later became Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma and was immortalized as a character in the novel True Grit, which was then made into feature films in 1969 and 2010.
McAlester is the home of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, site of an "inside the walls" prison rodeo from which ESPN's SportsCenter once broadcast. Sometimes Oklahomans refer to the state prison simply as "Big Mac" or "McAlester," and the town is referenced in that manner in the opening pages of The Grapes of Wrath when Tom Joad is released from there. The prison was also the site of a 1973 riot that lasted for days and is generally regarded as one of the worst in American history.
McAlester is also the home of many of the employees of the nearby McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. This facility makes essentially all of the bombs used by the United States military. In 1998 McAlester became the home of the Defense Ammunition Center (DAC) which moved from Savanna, Illinois and relocated as a tenant on McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
McAlester is known in political circles for having been the home base of several noted American politicians - U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert, who was once a heartbeat from the presidency, and longtime Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe, whose career ended in a series of legal problems. Former Oklahoma Governor George Nigh and Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor also hail from McAlester. McAlester is still known in Oklahoma as the "Capital of Little Dixie," for its old-time Democratic politics.