The National Endowment for the Arts found the perfect setting for a Big Read devoted to True Grit when it awarded a 2014 grant to the Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma, SEPLSO. The Oklahoma settings in the novel—McAlester’s Store, Winding Stair Mountain, The Texas Road, the Choctaw Nation—are all located within the SEPLSO service area.
SEPLSO serves readers in Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, and Pittsburg counties with libraries in Arkoma, Broken Bow, Poteau, Hugo, Coalgate, Hartshone, Heavener, Idabel, Wilburton, Valiant, McAlester, Spiro, Stigler, Talihina, and Wister. The Oklahoma Department of Tourism calls this area of the state Kiamichi Country.
In addition to their perfect settings, SEPLSO has also chosen the perfect time for The Big Read True Grit: October and early November, a season of specatular fall color in the Kiamichi Mountains.
“We are planning many events that will be outside,” said Leslie Langley of the Wister Public Library.
“There will be book discussions around campfires, movie screenings on the sides of buildings, chuck wagon dinners, parades, horse and buggy rides, games, and outdoor concerts. Autumn is great around here, and with all the rain we have been having, the fall color should be really good this year,” Langley said.
Even without the colorful foliage, the sweeping vistas of the famous Talimena Drive attract tourists year-round. The drive is a favorite among biking enthusiasts. Designated a National Scenic Byway by the America's Byway Program in 2005, the road travels within the Ouachita National Forest along the highest peaks of the Winding Stair Mountains. The two-lane road features hiking trails beginning at various points along its stretch and 22 scenic vista pull-outs.
If you want to stay in one of the area’s many rental cabins, lodges, campgrounds, resorts, or parks, you can easily retrace Mattie’s quest with a 330 mile day trip that begins in her home town, Dardanelle, Arkansas (take I-40 east to get there).
As you make your way back, you will pass Mount Nebo and Mount Magazine on your way to Fort Smith where you can see the restored courthouse and gallows of Judge Parker, the infamous “Hanging Judge” featured in the novel.
Cross the Arkansas River at Fort Smith and, like Mattie, LaBoeuf, and Rooster, head northwest on the Fort Gibson Trail before turning to the southwest to pass through the San Bois Mountains on your way to J.J. McAlester’s Store via the Texas Road (US 69), entering the Choctaw Nation.
Leave McAlester and head southeast to Winding Stair Mountains where Chaney was found. When you reach Talihina,
you will be at the starting point for Blackie’s heroic run past Lake Wister, through Poteau, to Fort Smith where Mattie recovered from her snake bite and amputation.
The area also includes some places Mattie did not visit, but would have enjoyed if she had: Lake Eufaula and Arrowhead State Park, Robbers Cave State Park, Claton Lake State Park, Hugo Lake State Park, Beaver’s Bend State Resort, Ouachita National Forest, Talimena State Park, Lake Wister State Park, and the Heavener Runestone.
Visit Kiamichi Country any time of year for camping, hiking, boating, fly fishing, and some of the best scenery the state has to offer.
Visit it in October and November for The Big Read: True Grit of the Southestern Public Library System of Oklahoma.
Visit it in the 1880s by reading the book. Then join the discussion, join the fun, join the adventure as
Oklahoma Reads True Grit.