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LEFLORE COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – The muddy waters of the Poteau River run right by the back yard of Dr. Steven Patterson.

“The river starts in the mountains east of Waldron, Arkansas,” he says. “I only live a few miles away.”

He is a restoration Ecologist who lives near the town of Poteau, which is named for the river that runs most of its 140 mile course through eastern Oklahoma, backwards.

“You get a western flow out of Arkansas,” he tells us, “Then it hits a ridge of hard rock here in Oklahoma and turns north.”

The fall colors of 2022 are a bit muted.

It’s still pretty dry around here.

But on a cold, November morning the mist lingers on Lake Wister and clings to what remaining color there is.

Patterson describes, “Lake Wister is basically the middle of the Poteau River watershed. It’s the main water source for most of Leflore County.

Below the Corps of Engineers dam the river finishes its westerly run then turns to the north running slowly downhill in a direction no other major waterway in the state does.

“It’s the only one that does it on this scale,” Steve says. “Along the Arkansas, along the south side, there are some other streams that come in from the south, but nothing like the Poteau in terms of volume.”

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The Quachita and Kiamichi mountain ranges create the barrier and water seeking its own level does the rest carving out the Poteau River valley in sometimes violent ways.

Patterson recalls, “You know those big floods we had a couple of years ago, this whole valley was totally flooded.”

There is much variety hidden in these murky waters.

More than 30 different types of freshwater mussels live along the banks.

If forms a section of the state line near Fort Smith and finishes up by dumping into the Arkansas River.

Running east to west, then south to north, downhill all the way in its own unique way, and beautiful in every season.

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Oklahoma’s backwards river is the only one in the state that flows south to north

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