Oklahoma TerritoryAugust 6, 1901, the day the town of Lawton was founded. That was the time when the last of the Indian lands in the Oklahoma Territory, the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache reservation, was opened by the federal government for settlement. Rather than land runs used in other parts of the Territory, a lottery was introduced for land distribution in 160-acre plots. A person wanting a claim had to register for the drawing. On July 10, 1901, registration opened at Fort Sill and at El Reno, Oklahoma. About 29,000 aspiring homesteaders from all over the United States journeyed to the southwest Oklahoma Territory to register at Fort Sill during the 16-day registration period. Another 135,000 persons registered at El Reno. Lottery planners in Washington, D.C. did not foresee the large droves of people wanting land in that part of the country. The drawing began July 29th at El Reno, and only 6,500 were fortunate enough to be selected for a homestead in each of three districts, one of which was Lawton.

The Lawton townsite was located on a section of prairie south of Fort Sill, a military post set up as a cavalry fort in 1869. Lots within the 320-acre townsite were sold at public auction. Beginning on August 6th, winners of the land lottery chose their plots outside the townsite in the order that their names were drawn. Mattie Beal was the second person whose name was drawn in the lottery and her home still stands in the south central part of Lawton, on a portion of the 160 acres she selected. It has been completely restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (More information on the Mattie Beal home)

Having sprung up almost overnight with little prior planning, Lawton had no form of municipal government at its outset. Townspeople, living in tents for many months, were busy building homes and businesses, and setting up a government was not a high priority. Since Lawton was established as the county seat of Comanche County, it was first ruled, then, by the county government appointed by the governor of the Oklahoma Territory. In late October of 1901, an election was held, and the Lawton city government was formed. The first officers elected were mayor, city clerk, judge, treasurer, city attorney, street commissioner, city marshall, eight city councilmen, a school board treasurer, and eight school board members. This mayor-council system lasted until 1911, when Lawtonians voted in a charter-commission form of government with three commissioners. In 1921, Lawton again switched governments, to one of five commissioners and a city manager. Then a year later, voters repealed the charter and returned to the politically aligned mayor-council form of government. This form lasted for 50 years, when in 1972, voters adopted a charter and the council-manager system, which is still in place today.

Lawton faced many problems during its early years. In the first days, there were an estimated 25,000 people living in tents. There were no streets or sidewalks and no utilities; the few schools were overcrowded, the water supply was inadequate and unclean, and fires were difficult to contain. Hopes of Lawton becoming a thriving metropolis surged, then faded from one disappointment to the next. Its 1910 population was under 8,000. Numerous mining claims in the nearby Wichita Mountains failed to produce gold ore. A proposed railroad linking Lawton with trade from the east was abandoned when oil was struck west of Ardmore. Oil drillings in the Lawton area proved to be shallow and barely productive. Despite these obstacles, Lawton continued to grow, slowly and steadily at times, and in great spurts at others. By 1950, population had increased to almost 35,000 and mushroomed to over 80,000 by 1990. Much of its growth came with the establishment of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill. Throughout the years Lawton and Fort Sill have worked in cooperation to become one of the finest military communities in the country, and has survived U.S. Army troop reductions, actually gaining troops that were cut at other Army posts in recent years.

Updated July 13, 2015.