Situated in southwestern Oklahoma between the ninety-eighth and ninety-ninth meridians, roughly nine miles from a small cavalry post, Lawton resulted from acts of Congress in 1900 and 1901 that eliminated the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Reservation by allotting every family 160 acres and opening the surplus land to non-Indian settlement under the provisions of the homestead and town-site laws. By March 1901 federal officials had completed the task of Indian allotment, and on July 4, 1901, President William McKinley declared the area ready for settlement.
To avoid the confusion and chaos that had previously accompanied the establishment of counties and county seats in Oklahoma Territory, the secretary of the interior was empowered to divide the former reservation into counties and to specify the names and locations of the county seats. The Interior Department was also vested with the responsibility for platting each county seat. In accordance with Congress's provisions, the sale of commercial and residential lots in Lawton was to be done by public auction under the direction of the Department of the Interior. The bidding for town lots began on August 6, 1901. The rapid, orderly sale of town lots spurred the formation of a local government. On September 28, 1901, Lawton became an incorporated city with a mayor-council system of government. In 1911 Lawtonians switched to the commission plan of government, but in the 1920s city government reverted to the mayor-council form. Finally in 1972, Lawton voters adopted the current structure of city manager, mayor, and city council.
Lawton's initial boomers never imagined that the nearby fort would have a decided impact on the future of the new town. They envisioned that Lawton would become mainly a commercial hub for the surrounding agriculture hinterland. However, the designation of Fort Sill as a field artillery center changed the outlook of the community. From 1909 onward, the city's population and economy have been closely tied to the level of activity of Fort Sill, and although some economic diversification has occurred, Fort Sill remained the biggest employer in the community in 1998. From 1940 to 1970 the city more than quadrupled its size, swelling from 18,055 to 74,470. Much of this growth stemmed from the expansion of Fort Sill. Subsequent reduction in military spending has halted Lawton's population explosion. After 1970 the city's population increased more slowly, reaching 81,110 in 1998.
Lawton did experience some economic change during this same period as it developed new industries. The construction of a Goodyear tire factory during the 1970s helped to wean the city from its dependence on Fort Sill; currently, Goodyear represents the second largest employer in Lawton. The city also functions as a regional health-care and higher education center and continues to act as a retail hub for surrounding counties in southwestern Oklahoma. In addition, the adjacent Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge draws thousands of tourists to the city each year.
See also WAR: Military Bases.
Suzanne Jones Crawford Cameron University
Crawford, Suzanne Jones. "L. M. Gensman: A Study of an Early Twentieth Century Western Attorney." Ph.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1980.
Stevens, M. David. Lawton–Ft. Sill: A Pictorial History. Virginia Beach VA: Donning Company Publishers, 1990.