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The city Idabel was established in 1902 by the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway. The city was first named Purnell, after Isaac Purnell, a railroad official. When postal officials rejected that designation, the name was changed to Mitchell, honoring another railroad company officer. Postal officials also rejected because another post office of that name existed elsewhere in the territory.
They named the post office Bokhoma [Choctaw for Red River], which opened December 15, 1902. Railroad officials then chose the name Idabel, a compound of the names of Isaac Purnell's two daughters, Ida and Bell.
For its first four years, Idabel local government was the responsibility of the Choctaw tribe for the Indians themselves. The national government was responsible for enforcing the law among non-Choctaws.
In 1906, the citizens elected their first mayor and established a mayor-council form of government. At the time of statehood, November 16, 1907, the town was designated as the county seat of McCurtain County.
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