By Jonita Mullins
The picturesque Cookson Hills in the Cherokee Nation at times were a favorite hideout for outlaw gangs such as the Cook Gang and Cherokee Bill and the aptly named Cookson Hills Gang that operated in the 1930s. Law-abiding folks in the area occasionally fell victim to bullets as the gangs and law enforcement officers fought for control of the area.
The community of Braggs can claim to know a great deal about gunfire and drama. For such a small town, Braggs has been in the center of interesting history.
John Patrick, a Cherokee-Irish Civil War veteran, built a store and it housed a post office. The post office was established in May 1886 and was given the name Patrick. Mr. Patrick also operated a ferry across the nearby Arkansas River which was called Smith Ferry.
But the town actually grew from a railroad station established by the St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad that was called Bragg Station. The station took its name from a longtime area resident named Solomon Bragg who operated a grist mill in the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation.
The railroad station was built near the grist mill so the nucleus of a town formed there. The mill and railroad depot were landmark features for years and most people in the area knew the miller Solomon Bragg.
Patrick moved his store to be closer to the rail line and in 1888 the post office and town name was changed to Braggs. It was a prosperous town, having at one time three cotton gins, three banks and several other businesses. But the town never grew beyond about 400 in population until Camp Gruber was built in 1942.
About 30,000 acres of land in the area had been acquired during the Depression by the Department of Agriculture because it was considered unsuitable for farming. At the outset of World War II, an additional 32,000 acres were taken by the federal government for the purpose of building the army training camp. Some of the farmers who had their land seized found work in the massive, round-the-clock construction project.
Braggs thrived while the camp was used for training the 45th Rainbow Division and the 88th Cloverleaf Division. Many homeowners rented out extra rooms to soldiers’ families and the town greatly benefited from having the camp nearby. Though gunfire from the training camp could be regularly heard, it was a better sort of gunfire than had previously occurred in the area.
When Camp Gruber closed in 1946, it was a tough blow for the community, but it has survived. New training facilities at the old World War II camp continue to provide business (and gunfire) for Braggs.
Reach Jonita Mullins at email@example.com.