Along US 183, between Snyder and Hobart in Kiowa County, sits a small town named
after Teddy Roosevelt. "Small" is relative, though, as its size seems to be much bigger
than its census of below 300. Because when this town boomed in the mid-20th century,
it had over twice the population. Now, it sports the infrastructure but not the people. It
also has disproportionately more cars than it does humans, but the cars are what keep
the humans in Roosevelt. Roosevelt is one of those haunting towns that are "not a
ghost, but almost."

Roosevelt was developed by the Parkersburg Development Company, which received
permission to plat towns in southwestern Oklahoma Territory after lawmakers created,
under much native protest, the Kiowa and Apache Reservation in 1901. In this scheme,
communally owned Kiowa and Apache reservation lands were subdivided into
individual allotments, although prior treaties had promised that would not happen. The
Kiowas and Apaches sued for this breech, but the Supreme Court decided against them
in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903). The US government, the court opined, had the right to
assign Indian lands however it wanted to.

So Roosevelt, like many other towns in southwestern Oklahoma, was founded during
this land-grab. Homesteaders from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and other places
flocked to the town to grow cotton, corn, and wheat. They did a booming business, too,
especially when the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway laid their tracks through town.
Trains still run  and stop at Roosevelt - it's now under the Grainbelt Corporation - to
pick up agricultural product. Another, very modern business has taken over the town,
though, and it's auto salvage.

Roosevelt is where cars go to die. Actually, it's where dead cars are butchered. Several
auto salvage companies have set up shop throughout the town, most notably in the
southern section. The lots in and surrounding the old hotel is chock-full of cars to be
parted out, as are huge spaces to the west of the railroad tracks. Large trucks rumble in
and out of Roosevelt all the time, either delivering derelict automobiles or picking up
crates of alternators, gas tanks, transmissions, and engines. It's a booming business,
albeit not a very pretty one.

Roosevelt is one of those towns that must be visited to be believed. It may not be the
most picturesque (although the
Wichita Mountains and Great Plains State Park are
close by), but it is definitely an eerie place with plenty of photo opportunities for people
who like urban exploration. Just watch where you park your car... you don't want to
suddenly see it on the scrap heap.
Not so rosy in Roosevelt
Questions or comments? E-mail me:
robin@redriverhistorian.com
While Roosevelt's high school has long since
closed, the tireman would make a fantastic
school mascot.
Built in the 1930s Roosevelt's high school - and the
impressive Arts & Crafts building across the street
from it - were constructed to look like castles.
Nash's Department Store doesn't greet customers anymore. The upstairs was used for
Masonic meetings. This building dates from 1925.
Some junked cars litter the grounds surrounding the old hotel.
One of two bank buildings in Roosevelt. This one is closed, but the other one is now
occupied by City Hall.
There's something really cute about yellow doors,
and there's something really eerie about wooden
stairs climbing into darkness.
Trees grow between buildings in Roosevelt.
How to get here!
Roosevelt's not really off the beaten path, but here's a
map to orient yourself, regardless.
An areial view of Roosevelt showcases the town's flora and fauna - or, more succinctly, its bread and butter.