Story by Anna McDougal, OSU Library intern
The Cowboys in Every County team enjoyed the scenic drive down to McCurtain County for their visit with Oklahoma A&M College alum Dr. Lewis Stiles. Lewis grew up in the Broken Bow area and returned after pursuing his education in good ‘ol Stillwater. This former veterinarian enjoys a good history lesson and spends his time researching the past and remembering the good times he had at OSU.
About McCurtain County and Broken Bow
Beautiful McCurtain County is located in the very southeastern part of the state and is composed of rolling foothills. Broken Bow Lake, a wonderful place to visit in the county, is surrounded by charming cabins and campsites that make for an excellent vacation spot. With most of the area being covered with forest, it is rumored that the elusive Big Foot can be seen from time to time. McCurtain County was previously a part of Arkansas before Oklahoma became a state and was home to very few towns or roads. When the railway came through, the population began to rise. Most roads were constructed ten years after statehood, so no wonder Sasquatches have flourished in the area!
Broken Bow, Oklahoma, home of our alum, has done well in recent years due to the increase in tourism. The city boasts a lake, state park, and Beavers Bend Resort, so the options are plentiful. Broken Bow is also home to Native American artifact museums, the Gardner Mansion, and the Indian Memorial Museum.
Lewis Stiles was born in Texas but is an Okie in his heart. His family moved to the house he lives in today when he was only three years old, so you could say he is fond of life in southeastern Oklahoma. He grew up there on his father’s ranch, learning to love animals at an early age. Lewis spent two years at Murray State College completing general education courses and assumed he would return to the ranching life and become a cowboy. His father had other plans for him and arranged for him to enroll in veterinary science at Oklahoma A&M. Lewis hitchhiked his way to Stillwater, enrolled, and became a different kind of cowboy.
Having been a country boy all of his life, Lewis was a bit overwhelmed when he first set foot on campus. Though he quickly found other students who were in the same situation and felt at home. Lewis went home only three times a year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. He had to hitchhike his way home seeing as how this was faster than taking a bus. Lewis’ class was only the 5th veterinary medicine class at OAMC and also had the first female student in the program. Since then, quite a shift has taken place, as the majority of vet med students are women. Speaking of the ladies, Lewis met his wife in Stillwater at a square dance and claims, “she was the best thing that ever happened to me.” They married when he was 24 years old and lived in Stillwater for a year before he graduated. The happy couple square danced for 31 years and would have been married 50 years when she passed away several years ago. His oldest daughter made him a quilt of his wife’s square dancing dresses, a sweet memento of the wonderful memories they made together.
In 1955, Lewis graduated and took his married his sweetheart to Holdenville, Oklahoma. He began his residency at a clinic there in town and was there for several years. Eventually, Lewis purchased the practice and ran it until he was offered a USDA job in the southeast region of the state. Excited by the opportunity to return home, Lewis took the job and went to work for the government, testing cattle for diseases. McCurtain County had the most infections of cattle herds in the state at the time. Lewis and his colleagues fought hard against the disease as well as the resistance from some ranchers and farmers in the area. Thanks to his tireless work, there hasn’t been an infected herd in the county since 1991! Eventually, Lewis retired in 1997 and has been allowed more time to unearth the past through his research. He has co-authored a book, collected fur trapping artifacts, and uncovered the history of the Gardners–a historically significant Broken Bow family. It seems that our former cowboy doesn’t like to sleep! In addition to his love of the area’s history, Lewis continues to reminisce about his time in Stillwater and the ways in which choosing to be a Cowboy impacted his life.
Here are a few more images from our trip to McCurtain County:
We’ve wrapped up interviewing for Cowboys in Every County, but we’ll continue to highlight our adventures on this blog. Check back often for more stories from the road.