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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Spavinaw is located in northeastern Mayes County fourteen miles north of Salina where State Highways 28 and 82 converge. Spavinaw was originally situated in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory. In 1829 Lewis Rogers, son of Capt. John Rogers, who settled at the Saline Salt Works, came to Spavinaw Creek from Arkansas. He erected a mill, a distillery, and a salt works. Later, the Cherokee council outlawed all distilleries in the nation and dispossessed Rogers of the salt works and mill, which were damaged by a devastating flood. Rogers had built his home on the creek, and he remained in the area, turning to ranching.

Following the Trail of Tears in 1839 Eastern Cherokees began arriving in the Spavinaw area. They included names such as Wickliffe, Thompson, West, Lynch, Bell, Martin, Rogers, and Springston, among others. In 1846 Jacob Croft, a Mormon from Texas on his way to Utah with his family, decided to settle in Spavinaw. He was hired by Joseph Lynch Martin to restore the mill. Martin, a Cherokee cattleman and slave owner, lived in the Greenbriar area. His lease of one hundred thousand acres from the Cherokee Nation extended from Salina through Strang and Spavinaw to include Big Cabin, the location of his second spacious home. Before the Civil War Martin owned a general store, a blacksmith shop, and the mill in Spavinaw.

On July 4, 1855, a group of Mormon missionaries from Utah arrived at the home of Croft for the purpose of establishing missions among the Cherokee and Creek. Elder Henry Miller remained in Spavinaw, holding meetings and baptizing many of the local residents. When he urged those who were baptized to migrate to Utah, Lewis Rogers complained to the Cherokee agent in Tahlequah. In October 1856 Chief John Ross ordered all Mormons to leave the nation. However, Croft had already left in June, taking sixty men from the Cherokee and Creek nations on a journey westward.

After the Civil War ended, Joseph Lynch, brother-in-law of Joseph Lynch Martin, operated the mill and salt works. Lynch's Mill was the name given to early-day Spavinaw. The first post office was established May 9, 1878, as Lynch's Prairie. On October 10, 1878, the name changed to Spavina Mills. On March 14, 1879, it became Spavinaw. The post office moved when the town repositioned to its present site after the creation of Lake Spavinaw. The creek was dammed to create a lake for the purpose of supplying water to Tulsa. Completed in 1924, the $7.5 million dam was the first man-made lake in northeastern Oklahoma. The town was incorporated on March 17, 1930, and the 1940 census recorded a population of 255. It peaked in 1980 at 623.

Tulsa's wealthiest citizens built summer homes and clubs in Spavinaw. Boat races and water shows were staged on the scenic lake. Spavinaw became notorious as a wild town, boasting wide-open saloons. By the dawn of the twenty-first century the community had settled down to a small-town pace and sheltered a population of 563. The prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade public school system enrolled 195 students. The 2010 census recorded 437 residents. The April 2020 census reported 349. South of Spavinaw on State Highway 20 is the site of Spavinaw State Park, containing thirty-five park acres, 1,636 lake acres, eighty-six campsites, and a swimming beach. The lake annually draws thousands to fish. Spavinaw is also the birthplace of Mickey Mantle, Hall of Fame baseball player. The community remains the cherished home of many descendants of those Cherokee emigrants who traveled the Trail of Tears.

Betty Lou Harper Thomas

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Grant Foreman, "Missionaries of the Latter Day Saints Church in Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 13 (June 1935).

Historical Highlights of Mayes County (Pryor, Okla.: Mayes County Historical Society, 1977).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Betty Lou Harper Thomas, “Spavinaw,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SP006.

Published January 15, 2010
Last updated March 29, 2024

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