There is a place in southeast Oklahoma that conjures tales of medieval knights, wholesome princesses, and glorious adventures. It is a place rich with history but nearly forgotten in the echoes of time.
Situated on the southwest slope of Cameron Mountain, near Poteau, Oklahoma, Captain's Castle sits like a misplaced Arthurian legend. Also known as Reynold's Castle, the massive stone structure is truly a unique architectural wonder.
The Castle's Origins
The castle was built by Captain J. E. Reynolds for his wife Felicity in 1890. Constructed with native stone quarried from a nearby hillside, the Captain's Castle was modeled after the medieval castles of ancient Europe. According to deeds left behind by Felicity, the castle originally sat on 240 acres. The walls are two feet thick, and both the inner and outer layers of rock are insulated with gravel and sand. Despite the cold stone walls, the castle remained comfortably warm because the Captain installed several coal-burning fireplaces throughout the dwelling. With its stone turrets accentuating the roofline and with two octagon-shaped towers, this citadel home could also easily hold off a horde of ruthless barbarians.
While the Captain's Castle is, indeed, particularly fascinating, the real story lies behind the man who created it.
The Captain's History
James Reynolds was born on July 17, 1837. Not much is known about his early history, but it can be said that he was a passionate and domineering young man. Reynolds was considered "The Original Male Chauvinist" as he had little respect for women and even less respect for women's work.
That all changed with the onset of the Civil War.
Reynolds was around 25 years of age when he joined the War. Having been raised in a southern family, he quickly joined sides with the Confederates. He was wounded multiple times at the Battle of New Hope during the bloody Atlanta Campaign. The injuries were so serious that he would have died had it not been for the two daughters of his commanding officer who tenderly nursed him back to health. During his service, he rose through the ranks of Company K, 30th Mississippi Infantry ("Dixie Boys" of Carroll County). Eventually, through hard work and dedication, he became its captain shortly before the war ended.
His experiences in the Civil War left him a changed man. Chivalry replaced chauvinism. He now showed women the utmost courtesy, a trait that would remain with him for the rest of his life. This was exemplified in his reverence for the two sisters that saved his life. His respect for them was so profound that towards the end of his life, he commissioned a large marble statue of the sisters in order to commemorate the incident. The statue was to be placed above his future burial plot.
Building a Dream
When the War ended, Captain Reynolds did not surrender but instead drifted off to Mexico. During his short time there, he was highly influenced by the high grandeur of the wealthy and elite. When he finally left Mexico a few years later, he was determined to build himself a castle like the ones he had seen in Mexico.
Reynolds eventually settled in Indian Territory with his new wife Felicity and established his family just outside of Fort Smith where the community of Arkhoma exists today. The Captain prospered in the Indian Territory, becoming a successful merchant and rancher. He was heavily involved in the development of coal mines in the region.
The Reynolds family, which grew to include a number of children, lived in their Arkhoma home for more than twenty years until the Frisco Railroad was built in the southwest from Fort Smith to Paris, Texas in 1886. Two years later, a post office was established in the new railroad town of Cameron. In 1890, Felicity secured title to a parcel of land there. Construction of Captain's Castle began when Reynolds was 53 years old. Within a few short years, a great medieval castle rose from the side of Cameron Mountain.
Legend has it that there was another castle built nearby. According to this same legend, there was an intense feud between the two families, resulting in the complete destruction of one of the castles. Reynold's Castle survives to this day, while only broken ruins of the other exists.
The Captain Who Couldn't Let Go
Despite the many years that had passed since the Civil War ended, Captain Reynolds remained a true confederate. He dedicated one room to preserving mementos of the Civil War, including many flag-draped portraits of Southern generals. No matter how hard he tried, he could not leave the Southern ideals behind.
In the later months of 1904, Reynolds joined an Indian-led attempt to secure separate statehood for Indian Territory. The former captain became a delegate to the Sequoyah Convention that convened on August 21, 1905. He was 68-years-old, but still displayed that youthful passion of his younger years. After many days of intense debate, the proposal was ultimately shot down. The state that would have been named Sequoyah was quietly integrated into the state of Oklahoma.
The Captain and Mrs. Reynolds lived in the castle at Cameron until around 1911. He was around 74-years-old when he became heavily involved in the development of the modern community of Arkhoma. The couple built a new home there and it is where Reynolds lived out the rest of his life.
Late in life, he wrote that he was "still an unreconstructed Confederate," explaining to a niece that he "surrendered [his] individuality" when Southern soldiers stacked their arms and surrendered. In an interesting footnote to his life, the Captain contacted another former Confederate officer, Virginia's "Gray Ghost" John Mosby, at the outbreak of World War I and offered to join him in forming a unit of former Confederates to fight in Europe. He was 77 when the First World War broke out in 1914.
The Passing of the Captain and His Wife
Reynolds and his wife Felicity, a descendant of the famed Choctaw leader Greenwood LeFlore, died in 1920. The Captain passed away on June 16, just a month away from his 83rd birthday. His wife died a short time later. They are both buried in Fort Smith's historic Oak Cemetery. Their graves are marked by the statue of two young women helping a wounded Confederate officer from a battlefield. It was Reynolds' final tribute to the memory of the two young Georgia girls who helped him at New Hope Church more than fifty years before.
The Castle Today
The Captain's Castle is currently a private residence, but it can be seen from Castle Street in Cameron. One of the few castles ever built in the South, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The current residents say that most of the historical information collected about their one-of-a-kind home was derived from a 1954 article in an Oklahoma Historical Society publication.
© 2010 Eric Standridge