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Stilwell, Oklahoma
Defunct train station in Stilwell
Defunct train station in Stilwell
Location within Adair County and the state of Oklahoma
Location within Adair County and the state of Oklahoma
Country United States
State Oklahoma
County Adair
Incorporated 1897
Named for Arthur Stilwell
 • Type Mayor and council
 • Total 3.27 sq mi (8.46 km2)
 • Land 3.24 sq mi (8.40 km2)
 • Water 0.02 sq mi (0.06 km2)
1,089 ft (332 m)
 • Total 3,949
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,252.31/sq mi (483.48/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 539/918 (918 Exchanges:696,797)
FIPS code 40-70350
GNIS feature ID 1098544
Per capita income $12,872 per year
Adult poverty rate 37.2%
Child poverty rate 49.0%

Stilwell is a city and county seat of Adair County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 3,949 at the 2010 census, an increase of 20.5 percent over the figure of 3,276 recorded in 2000. In 1949, the Oklahoma governor and legislature proclaimed Stilwell as the "Strawberry Capital of the World." Stilwell also serves as a gateway to Lake Tenkiller and Adair Park, formerly Adair State Park


The town was named after Arthur Stilwell, noted philanthropist and founder of the Kansas City Southern Railway. It was built because of the construction of the railroad, and was incorporated on January 2, 1897.

As early as 1901, Stilwell and Westville vied for the role of county seat. When Adair County was formed in 1907, Westville was identified as the county seat, due partly to its location at the intersection of two major railroads: the Kansas City Southern Railway and the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway. After three intensely contested elections, however, Oklahoma governor Charles Haskell proclaimed Stilwell as the county seat on May 6, 1910.

During the Great Depression and World War II, strawberries became a major crop in Adair County. In 1948, the first Stilwell Strawberry Festival was organized. In 1949, the state governor and legislature proclaimed Stilwell as "Strawberry Capital of the World." The 2002 festival saw some 40,000 people in attendance.

Stilwell Oklahoma mural
Mural on a wall in Stilwell: "Strawberry Capital of the World"

The former Adair State Park in Stilwell has been taken over by Adair County, after the State of Oklahoma announced in 2011 that it would close the park permanently as part of a budget cutting move.


Stilwell is located at 35°48′55″N 94°37′53″W / 35.81528°N 94.63139°W / 35.81528; -94.63139 (35.815234, -94.631359). It is 8 miles (13 km) west of the Arkansas state line and 23 miles (37 km) east of Talequah, Oklahoma. Stilwell is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 51. Sallisaw and Little Lee creeks are nearby.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 3.2 square miles (8.3 km2), of which 3.2 square miles (8.3 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) (0.63%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 779
1910 1,039 33.4%
1920 1,155 11.2%
1930 1,366 18.3%
1940 1,717 25.7%
1950 1,813 5.6%
1960 1,916 5.7%
1970 2,134 11.4%
1980 2,369 11.0%
1990 2,663 12.4%
2000 3,276 23.0%
2010 3,949 20.5%
2019 (est.) 4,060 2.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 3,276 people, 1,269 households, and 809 families residing in the city. The ethnic makeup of the Stilwell is 48.41% Indigenous, 41.88% White, 0.49% African American, 0.21% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 3.45% from other races, and 5.53% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino residents representing any race are 6.99% of the population.

There were 1,269 households, out of which 35.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.7% were married couples living together, 17.6% had a female householder with no partner present, and 36.2% were non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.21.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 30.0% under the age of 18, 10.8% from 18 to 24, 26.9% from 25 to 44, 17.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.6 males. The population density was 1,033.7 people per square mile (399.0/km2). There were 1,434 housing units at an average density of 452.5 per square mile (174.7/km2).


Stilwell's economy is characterized by high rates of poverty, low incomes and a low standard of living. Residents of Stilwell are among the poorest and most impoverished in the United States.

The per capita income for Stilwell is $12,872 per year, and median household income is $31,637 per year, as of 2017. As of 2017, 37.2% of adults and 49.0% of children in Stilwell are living below the poverty line. Poverty in the town is increasing and 50.4% of residents do not have an internet subscription.

Agriculture has been the mainstay of the local economy for a century. Strawberry farming was particularly successful during the Great Depression and World War II. At its peak, the town had about 2,000 acres of farmland devoted to strawberries. Over time, the role of strawberries diminished significantly. Ranching became important around 1960 and the town's local industries were largely an outgrowth of agriculture. Employers included Tyson Foods, the Stilwell Canning Company and its successor, Mrs. Smith's Bakery/Stilwell Foods, Cherokee Nation Industries, and Facet Industries. As of 2022, the minimum wage in Stilwell is $7.25 per hour. For full-time students, tipped employees, farm workers, seasonal workers and people with disabilities, the minimum wage is $2.13 per hour.


Stilwell Public Schools provides education for children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. There is one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Technical and vocational studies beyond high school level are offered by the Indian Capital Technology Center campus in Stilwell.

Stilwell was briefly served by the Flaming Rainbow University, a private, baccalaureate university between 1971 - 1989. Despite being dubbed a "non-traditional university", it obtained accreditation from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in 1974 and was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. According to its founder, David Hilligoss, the school was created to "Provide an education to Isolated Indians and rural whites in this beautifully treed and poverty stricken section of the state". The Flaming Rainbow University was named in honor of a Sioux medicine man's vision, which featured a rainbow symbolizing knowledge and its power. The university lost all accreditation in 1989 and closed.




Painting Planes Airport is the primary general aviation airport for Stilwell. It has a single 1,084 foot (330 m) runway and is located three miles (4.8 km) southwest of the town. The airport is in poor condition and lacks basic facilities such as a wind cone. The runway's numbers and markings are faded and its surface is in disrepair with many cracks. The closest commercial service airport is Northwest Arkansas National Airport (often referred to by its IATA airport code, XNA) and is located 51 miles (82 km) northwest of Stilwell in Arkansas. Satellite imagery has revealed there is also a private air strip located at Elohim City, south of the extremist compound.


Stilwell sits at the confluence of two highways, U.S. Highway 59 and Oklahoma State Highway 51.

Pedestrian and cycling

There are minimal pedestrian facilities in Stilwell. Almost all city streets, aside from a few older streets in the downtown area, do not have sidewalks. There are no paved pathways (aside from in some municipal parks) and there is no cycling infrastructure in the town. Walk Score is an online, independently calculated walkability index that, based on a number of metrics, provides a score between zero and 100 on how walkable an area is. Stilwell's walk score is 23 and ranks in the lowest possible tier, meaning almost all errands require a private vehicle.

Public transportation

There is a limited on-demand transit service in the town, privately operated by the KI BOIS Area Transit System. Though the service is open to the public, it is not widely used and its primary purpose is to "fight poverty" by providing low-cost rides to disadvantaged, elderly and impoverished Stilwell residents. There are no fixed bus routes, intercity buses or passenger rail services in Stilwell.


Stilwell is situated on the Kansas City Southern (KCS) main line, it runs north and south through the east end of the town.

Notable people

  • Samuel Mayes, principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), serving from 1895 to 1899.
  • Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
  • Sam Claphan, Cherokee, former football player for the Oklahoma Sooners and San Diego Chargers of the NFL.
  • Markwayne Mullin, Republican U.S. representative for Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district and multimillionaire.

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