Lawton was founded in 1901 and was named after Major General Henry Ware Lawton, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Civil War and killed in action in the Philippine-American war. The town site was located south of Fort Sill, which had been set up as a cavalry post in 1869. Major General Philip Sheridan established the post while leading a campaign in Indian Territory to stop raids by Native American tribes. Fort Sill remains the only active Army installation of all the forts built during the Indian Wars.
The area was originally settled by prehistoric Native Americans, and the town was built on former reservation lands belonging to the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indians. Oklahoma was under control of the French for most of the 18th century, until the Louisiana Purchase. The government was given control of more than 2,000,000 acres of Indian land in 1901, which included the Lawton area. Lots within the 320-acre town site were auctioned off, and Lawton quickly became a tent city.
Lawton’s early days were problematic. There was no municipal government at first, and the town consisted of about 25,000 people living in tents. There were no streets, sidewalks or utilities. Water was inadequate, and schools were minimal and overcrowded. Multiple endeavors for revenue failed, from a railroad line linking the area to eastern trade that didn’t happen, mining claims that didn’t produce gold, and oil drillings that proved shallow. By 1910 the population had dwindled to 8,000 and the economy seemed to be at a standstill. The installation of a Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in 1911 brought a much-needed boost to the area, and by 1950 the population had grown to more than 35,000. By 1990 that number had reached 80,000 as Fort Sill and Lawton both worked to build a strong military community.
Beautification and renewal projects in the 1970s helped modernize downtown Lawton, with the building of a shopping mall and demolition of several older buildings. In 1998 the city expanded again when Lawton annexed Fort Sill, and with the base realignment and closures of 2005 Fort Sill added more residents to the population. Lawton and Fort Sill continue to partner in endeavors towards economic development and continued growth is expected.