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May 10, 2023

The Rich History of the Arbuckle Mountains

Back to the beginning.

Did you know the Arbuckle Mountains are the oldest known formations in the United States? Their core of granite and gneiss dates back at least 1.4 billion years ago! Take a look through some of the rich history of this ancient mountain range located in south-central Oklahoma, with incredible images from the Oklahoma History Center.

A trove of mineral resources

Arbuckle Mountains


Named to honor Gen. Matthew Arbuckle, an early commander at Fort Gibson and namesake to Fort Arbuckle, the Arbuckles were part of the Chickasaw Nation’s lands during the Territorial Era. The region was a poor location for agriculture due to the ruggedness of the landscape and limestone outcrops. So, early settlers used the land for subsistence farming and ranching.

“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, ranches remained the most noticeable homestead within the area, and they ranged in size from small operations to large spreads encompassing thousands of acres,” the Oklahoma Historical Society writes.

Today, the Arbuckles remain one of Oklahoma’s most important regions for mining limestone and dolomite. In fact, glass sand is a mineral resource mined, for the most part, exclusively in these mountains. Iron ore has also been mined in this area historically.

Prehistoric beginnings

Prehistoric beginnings of the Arbuckle Mountains


“The Precambrian rocks that make up this range are overlain by Cambrian rhyolite that is 525 million years old. During the Late Cambrian through the Pennsylvanian, 515 to 290 million years ago, respectively, seas encroached and then retreated, leaving deposits of limestone, dolomite, sandstone and shale covering the mountains,” writes the Historical Society.

“Lengthy weathering and erosion periods have significantly reduced the Arbuckles from their original heights.”

Limitless outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation near the Arbuckle Mountains


If you’re familiar with the area, you’ll recognize the name “Washita.” The Washita River is the major river flowing through the mountains and over time has cut through the center of the physical region, creating a narrow canyon that is upwards of 350 feet deep in places.

Then, south of Sulphur is the Lake of the Arbuckles, the largest lake within the range. With 2,300 acres of water surface and a shoreline spanning 36 miles, including the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, this area has long been popular for swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and all types of outdoor recreation. If you’re looking for bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie fishing spots, you’ll find some of the best here.

Iconic landmarks

Turner Falls


One of the area’s most distinctive areas by far is Turner Falls Park, Oklahoma’s oldest. Featured here is a waterfall sharing the record for the state’s largest, with Natural Falls State Park, both at 77 feet tall. In the mid-nineteenth century, Mazeppa Thomas Turner married Laura J. Johnson, a Chickasaw, and became a farmer in Murray County. It was in 1878 when Turner discovered the waterfall that became Turner Falls upon moving to a cabin on the edge of Honey Creek.

Today, the 1,500-acre park is a hotspot for swimming, cave exploration, hiking trails, picnics and overnight camping. Some have even claimed Turner Falls to be one of the three great geological views of the past, joining the Grand Canyon and the Black Hills of South Dakota on that list.

There’s so much to do and see in the Arbuckle Mountains. Be sure to explore on your next trip on Adventure Road!

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