Rock formations and trails can be found at Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton. Photo by Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World Magazine
Robbers Cave State Park takes its name from a void among some rocks where the bad guys may have been hiding, but it’s actually much more than that.
Located approximately 120 miles southeast of Tulsa in the Sans Bois Mountains, the 8,246-acre enclave has just about everything an outdoor enthusiast could want, whether to spend an afternoon or a week. Among the miles of mountain trails, there’s one to suit nearly every hiker’s endurance level, and all three lakes are available for fishing and boating. Some areas are open to seasonal hunting.
Campsites for everything from small tents to RVs are available, as are group camps, cabins and a 20-room lodge. Other accommodations include equestrian campsites and yurts.
Now, about that name.
There’s reason to think that a bit of marketing may have been involved. The park was originally called Latimer State Park, for the county in which it was located, and occupied 120 acres donated by Wilburton newspaper publisher Carlton Weaver.
A native of Texas, Weaver had been a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention in 1907 and had been elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1930. Somehow he managed to get himself chosen as Speaker of the House of Representatives during his one and only term.
Weaver, who died in 1947, is buried in the park.
By 1935, Latimer State Park had become Robbers Cave State Park. The origins of the name and the legends surrounding the cave itself are murky.
The general narrative is that bands of outlaws used the cave as early as the American Civil War. Situated at the top of a steep rocky slope, it is easily defended and somewhat hidden from view below.
Most popular legends have both Belle Starr and the James Gang hiding there, although there is no definitive proof that either was ever there. A painting on a wall of a pony and a six-pointed star is thought to refer to Samuel “Pony” Starr, a breeder and step-relative of Belle Starr. The names “Jack Pone” and “Pat Casey”, who were apparently known as outlaws in Territorial times, are carved near the cave. Until the 1930s, George “Pretty Boy” Floyd and his associates were known to hide in the area, though not necessarily in the cave.
Perhaps the best evidence that the park was once an outlaw hideout was found in 1952, not in the cave, but less than a mile away in a creek bed. There, a Boy Scout camp supervisor and his wife, while fishing for minnows, discovered over 180 gold wedding rings, presumably the spoils of a long-forgotten robbery.
• Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, 2300 Park Cabins Road, Wilburton. Swadley’s offers Southern comfort food and has introduced its Foggy Bottom Kitchen concept to several state parks, including Robbers Cave.
• The concept behind the ranch Simple Country Ranch jJust north of McAlester is to educate people on what it’s really like to work on a farm or ranch. There is also a petting zoo with sheep, goats, an alpaca and donkeys, and they also have birthday parties.
• The famous Italian market of Lovera95 W. Sixth St., Krebs, is a small Italian-style market that’s been around since 1946. This is where you’ll find handmade artisan cheeses and sausages.
— By Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World Magazine