The Arkansas-Oklahoma (AOK) division of The Salvation Army consists of 32 Corps and Area Commands and 68 Service Units in the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Divisional Headquarters is located in Oklahoma City, OK. The Division was established prior to Oklahoma becoming a state in 1907 and the creation of the Southern Territory which occurred in 1927.
The Divisional Headquarters was a stand alone operation until the Arkansas units were combined with the Oklahoma units to form the AOK Divisional Headquarters in 1966. In 1990, The Salvation Army Divisional Headquarters (DHQ) celebrated 100 years of continuous service.
When the A-OK Divisional Headquarters moved from downtown Oklahoma City to a new home in the northwest part of the town, it paved the way for the formation of the OKC Area Command for Oklahoma City. Area Commands oversee various programs and services in a greater metropolitan service area.
The history of The Salvation Army A-OK Division has been traced back to the late 1880’s coinciding with the 1889 Land Run in Oklahoma. The history of the A-OK Division would be remiss without including some of the history of the land. In 1889, no towns nor county or state government had been established.
Two million acres (2,000,000) of land surrounding what is now Oklahoma was designated by the Federal government as “Unassigned Lands.” There is considerable history written about the unassigned lands as well as the Five Civilized Tribes, the Oklahoma portion of the Louisiana Territory, and the history of the Civil War. It also includes the actions taken by the government that forced tribes residing on the land to sell the land back to the government.
The historic Chisholm Trail was a cattle trail that often ran parallel to stagecoach stations along the way. With no railroads linking Texas to Kansas through the Unassigned Lands, this route became a pathway for the greatest cattle drives in our history. The Trail went through Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma). From a historical perspective, it is interesting to note that the United States Congress passed action designating that the land would be given to settlers. It was not established through a Congressional bill, but in the form of a rider on the Indian Appropriation Bill of 1889.
On April 22, 1889, the Land Run of Oklahoma was launched. During this time, according to documents located at The Salvation Army’s Southern Historical Center, a Deputy Sherriff in Wellington, Kansas, by the name of William Lee, was converted by a Salvation Army Lassie in a meeting hall of new settlers. William Lee entered the Land Run with a desire to win souls and help the Army establish a presence in Oklahoma. Accounts of Lee’s life indicated that he was a very determined and capable Salvationist.
Assisting William Lee were his brothers, Albert and Jason Lee. Together they staked a claim along a creek a few miles northwest of what is now known as Kingfisher. (As a point of information, the stagecoach station along the Chisholm Trail was called Kingfisher). The Creek was referred to as Preacher Creek, which the story goes that it was named after the founder of The Salvation Army in Oklahoma.
By the end of 1889, a myriad of new buildings & homes were being constructed in Oklahoma City, Guthrie, and Kingfisher. In 1890, the Oklahoma Territory was officially formed by the merger of the Unassigned Lands and the Oklahoma Panhandle area.
Accounts say that William Lee began door-to-door evangelism crusade and conducted many cottage meetings with amazing results. In less than eight months, he had recruited 17 Soldiers that were ready to be enrolled as Salvationists, prompting his request for more Army staff reinforcements. His request was submitted in July of 1890 to the Central Territorial Headquarters.
Upon receiving the request, an officer was sent from Kansas to enroll the 17 new soldiers. Upon the officer’s arrival, he received a letter from the Territorial Commissioner to move forward and establish the first Corps in OK in the town of Kingfisher.
William Lee and his wife, Florence, continued to maintain the outpost for the communities of Hennessey, Dover, and Oak Grove on their property. They served The Salvation Army for six more years as Captains in various Corps assignments in the Kansas and Oklahoma Territories.
The history of the Salvation Army’s moved into Arkansas is equally impressive. Arkansas became a territory in 1819 and was named a state in 1836. Documentation of programs and services provided by the Army in Arkansas dates back to 1895. There has been some evidence and documentation of work in Fort Smith and Hot Springs prior to that date; however, there are no official records. The Disposition of Forces lists Fayetteville as being established in March 1895.
In various editions of the Army’s The War Cry publication in the 1890’s, there are depictions of trips to Oklahoma entitled “Nine Days In Oklahoma” as reported by Alfred Harris, an Adjutant and another report entitled “A Trip to Arkansas” as depicted by Brigadier Sully of Kansas.
In 1895, the Salvationists of the Territory, moved to Oklahoma City as a large group to stop an attempt by the City Council to prevent street religion practices. In the publication “Oklahoma City Prohibits Street Religion!” Carrie, The Reveler provides a humorous account of this historical action taken by The Salvation Army. It was reported as a tribute to the officers and volunteers of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division. This is also included in a chapter from the book “And Satan Came Also” written in 1955 by Albert McRill. McRill is the former City Manager of Oklahoma City.
Pictures included in The Spirit “Through Our Rich Heritage” Lives On! as compiled by Kendra L. Sebo, former Community Relations and Development Director for the A-OK Division include the communities of Anadarko, Shawnee, Fort Smith, Kingfisher and more. All depict photos of service, outreach, and spiritual training to those in need.
A document signed by Arthur G. Evans depicts additional historical documentation from the “Trail of Tears”referring to the decree known as The Indian Removal Act in 1880. This document explains how mission stations were originally established. One was known as the Elm Spring Station, sponsored by the Presbyterian Church. This station was located at what is now known as Donald W. Reynolds Camp Heart O’Hills near Tahlequah, OK. It can be found at the bottom of the hill between the Rock Cottage and the Recreation Hall. The spring is in the hill near the pump house. Since 1946, thousands of young people of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division and from throughout the Territory have gathered as this spot to worship our Lord Jesus Christ.