Located in northeastern Haskell County on State Highway 9, two miles east of its junction with State Highway 26, Keota is thirty-eight miles west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and twenty miles south-southwest of Sallisaw. In 1904 the town was founded in the waning days of the Choctaw Nation by the Midland Valley Railroad's land company, and the Post Office Department established a post office there in 1905. Keota's name is something of a mystery. Some believe it is a Choctaw word meaning "fire gone out." Many locals insist it comes from the combination of the words "Keese," from Jim Keese, the rancher who owned the land where the townsite was located, and "Otter," for Otter Creek, a lazy tributary to Sans Bois Creek that winds its way through town.
Whatever the meaning of the name Keota, its story was similar to most of the towns in Haskell County that flourished until the onset of the Great Depression. In 1911 the town supported a bank, three grocers, two hardware stores, a hotel, three general stores, a drugstore, and a lumberyard. Neither of its two newspapers, the Keota Review and the Keota Record, were long-lived. Keota's role of supporting the local cotton growers and shipping the products of their labor to market crashed just like the stock market. The 1920 population stood at 494, dropping to 470 in 1930.
The 1940 the population climbed to 619, reaching a high of 685 by 1970. Transportation has once again been Keota's salvation, but instead of the railroad, Keota at the turn of the twenty-first century is the home to the "Port of Keota," a stop on the busy McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. Perhaps because of the port, or because of the community's location on the banks of Kerr Lake, light industry was beginning to be drawn to the town at the end of the twentieth century. The nearby Otter Creek Archaeological Site (NR 74001661) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 2000 census registered 517 residents.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: John R. Gilday and Mark H. Salt, eds., Oklahoma History, South of the Canadian: Historical and Biographical (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925). Haskell County History: Indian Territory to 1988 (N.p.: Haskell County Historical Society, 1989). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974).
Glenn O. Hyder
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