For seventy years (1906-1976) the Platt Historic District in Chickasaw National Recreation Area was designated Platt National Park. Only 800 acres in size, the park was the smallest in the United States to be designated a National Park.
The dawn of the 20th century found Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians in Murray County, Oklahoma, fearing that private developers would create a spa resort like the one at Hot Springs, Arkansas, and bar their access to around 30 strong-smelling mineral springs with reputed healing powers. To prevent this from happening, they sold 640 acres of their land near the town of Sulphur to the federal government, which earmarked it for public use. On July 1, 1902, Congress designated this one square-mile tract (soon expanded to 858 acres) Sulphur Springs Reservation. Few national parks could have had more humble beginnings. None was launched for more blatantly political reasons than helping Indians retain access to healing waters.
In one of the more conspicuous examples of “park barrel politics” to emerge in the early 20th century, Congress redesignated Sulphur Springs Reservation as Platt National Park on June 29, 1906. This nondescript tract with its cluster of mineral springs was now, at least conceptually, in the same league as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake National Parks.
The new designation honored Orville Hitchcock Platt, a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. Though seemingly bizarre, this label made sense when viewed through the filter of national politics. Platt, who served with distinction in the U.S. Senate for just over a quarter-century (1879-1905), was not only very actively involved in Indian Affairs and the Dawes Commission, but also sponsored the legislation that established the Sulphur Springs Reservation in 1902. By the time Platt died on April 21, 1905, the idea of formally recognizing his contributions to the country, and in behalf of Indians and the new park, was well established. Congress redesignated Sulphur Springs Reservation as Platt National Park just 14 months after the Senator’s death.
Watch: Oklahoma Oasis, a 1974 film made by the NPS that is narrated by Chief Dan George (see below), about the “colorful history connected with the establishment and development of Platt National Park.”