Rock formations and trails are found at Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton. Photo by Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World Magazine
Robbers Cave State Park gets its name from a void among some boulders where bad guys may have once hidden out, but it is in fact much more than that.
Located about 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 spending an afternoon or a week. Among the miles of mountain trails is one to fit just about any hiker’s level of endurance, and the three lakes are available for fishing and boating. Some areas are open to seasonal hunting.
Campsites for everything from pup 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 is some reason to think a little 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 Texas native, Weaver had been a delegate to Oklahoma’s constitutional convention in 1907 and was elected to the Legislature in 1930. Somehow, he managed to get himself chosen speaker of the House of Representatives in 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 outlaw bands used the cave as far back as the American Civil War. Situated atop a steep rock slope, it is easily defended and somewhat hidden from view below.
The most popular legends have both Belle Starr and the James Gang hiding out there, though there is no definitive proof either were ever there. A painting on one wall of a pony and a six-pointed star are thought to refer to Samuel “Pony” Starr, a rancher and relative by marriage of Belle Starr. The names “Jack Pone” and “Pat Casey,” who apparently were known as outlaws in territorial days, are carved near the cave. As late as the 1930s, George “Pretty Boy” Floyd and his associates were known to hide in the area, although not necessarily in the cave.
Perhaps the best evidence that the park was once an outlaw hideout was found in 1952, not at the cave but less than a mile away in a stream bed. There, a Boy Scout camp supervisor and his wife, while seining for minnows, discovered more than 180 gold wedding bands, presumably the loot from a long-forgotten robbery.
• Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen, 2300 Park Cabins Road, Wilburton. Swadley’s features southern comfort dishes and brought its Foggy Bottom Kitchen concept to several state parks, including Robbers Cave.
• The concept behind the ranch Simply Country Ranch just north of McAlester is to educate people on what it is really like to work on a farm or ranch. There is also a petting zoo with sheep, goats, one alpaca and donkeys, and they hold birthday parties, too.
• Lovera’s Famous Italian Market, 95 W. Sixth St., Krebs, is a small Italian-style market that has been around since 1946. It’s where you’ll find hand-made artisan cheeses and sausages.
— By Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World Magazine