The area was historically occupied by the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. European-American settlers established the town in 1887 after construction of the railroad to that point for shipping cattle to markets. The town was on the Great Western Cattle Trail. In the 19th century, it was one of the most important depots in the Oklahoma Territory for shipping cattle to the East. As an important cattle town, it had the rough frontier bawdiness of the time. The United States opened up much of the area to European-American settlement by the Land Run of 1893 and migrants rushed into the area.
Boiling Springs State Park, named for its artesian springs that seem to boil, has been established east of the city. After statehood, in 1911 Woodward was established as a court town for the US District Court of western Oklahoma. Annual federal dockets were held annually in November through 1948, and sporadically by need after that.
For thousands of years, succeeding cultures of indigenous peoples inhabited the areas along the North Canadian River. The Plains tribes adopted use of the horse from the Spanish settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, which greatly increased their range of nomadic hunting. Before the American Civil War, the historic Plains tribes of the Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapaho occupied this area.
Boiling Springs, near present-day Woodward, was a favorite campsite of the Plains Indians. A battle between the Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes took place nearby in 1838. The Kiowa and Comanche tribes also battled the United States Army in 1868 in this area, when the US redeployed troops after the Civil War against Native Americans in the West.
In the later 19th century, a wide area around the springs became the site of numerous battles between these tribes and the United States soldiers and settlers trying to push them out. After the war, US Army made various expeditions against the Plains tribes in Woodward County. These were led by the lieutenant colonels Alfred Sully and George Armstrong Custer, and General Philip Sheridan, who were stationed nearby at Fort Supply. In the 1880s, the Comanche considered this area as part of their "Comancheria," the unofficial name of their territory, which stretched from Kansas to Mexico.
After construction of the railroad to the area, in 1887 European-American settlers established Woodward at the junction of the Fort Reno Military Road and the Southern Kansas Railway (a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) on the south bank of the North Canadian River. The town soon became an important shipping point, both for provisioning Fort Supply and as a place for loading cattle grazed in the Cherokee Outlet for shipment to eastern markets. In the late 19th century before statehood, Woodward was one of the most important depots in the Oklahoma Territory for shipping cattle to the East and Northern tier of states. The Great Western Cattle Trail crossed where Woodward was developed.
On September 16, 1893, more than 50,000 migrants settled across the old Cherokee Outlet of northern Oklahoma in the greatest land run in American history. They founded cities that day from Woodward to Enid and Ponca City. In the summer of 1893, carpenters erected the first government building at the railroad depot called Woodward. By that time, Woodward had approximately 200 residents. Since territorial days, Woodward has served as the county seat of Woodward County.
In 1894, Temple Lea Houston, the youngest son of the Texas revolutionary and president Samuel Houston, moved his law practice and family to Woodward. After a personal disagreement in the Cabinet Saloon with the brother and father of the outlaw Al Jennings, Houston shot and killed the brother. Houston's close friend Jack E. Love joined him in the gun-fight. The events did not slow their careers. Houston was charged and tried for murder in Woodward, but he was acquitted on grounds of self-defense. Love was later elected to the office of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and served as its first chairman.
Houston won a reputation as a brilliant trial lawyer known for his courtroom dramatics. He delivered his "" in a makeshift courtroom in Woodward's opera house. His argument on behalf of a prostitute who worked at the Dew Drop Inn became famous and resulted in her acquittal by the jury after ten minutes' consideration.
On September 7, 1907, William Jennings Bryan spoke to 20,000 people gathered in Woodward, urging the ratification of Oklahoma's proposed state constitution and the election of a Democratic Party ticket. Two months later the proclamation admitting Oklahoma as a state was signed by Theodore Roosevelt with the quill from an American golden eagle captured near Woodward.
By a 1911 Act of Congress, Woodward became a designated court town for the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. A United States Post Office and Courthouse was constructed in Woodward in 1918. Federal court dockets were held annually each November in Woodward until 1948, and sporadically thereafter.
Tornado of 1947
On April 9, 1947, the deadliest tornado in Oklahoma history tore through Woodward, killing 107 people and destroying 100 city blocks. The family of tornadoes, known as the 1947 Glazier–Higgins–Woodward tornadoes, ranked as the sixth deadliest in US history. They caused many fatalities and much damage in other communities in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Tornado of 2012
On April 14, 2012, an EF-3 tornado struck Woodward causing six deaths.