Located in northeastern Haskell County on the banks of the Arkansas River/Kerr Lake, just north of County Road E1120, Tamaha, formerly in the Choctaw Nation, is thirteen miles north-northeast of Stigler and six miles south of Vian. Tamaha, which in Choctaw translates to "town," is perhaps the most historic settlement in Haskell County. Prior to 1884, when Tamaha became a postal designation, the settlement was known as Pleasant Bluff, the name of a nearby creek.
Tamaha has been associated with the river and riverboats since the Choctaw began landing there in the early 1830s. The Union steamer J. R. Williams, the most notable riverboat to land at Tamaha, remains in the area. During the Civil War the J. R. Williams had been detailed to carry supplies from Fort Smith to the Union garrison at Fort Gibson. On June 15, 1864, as the Williams slowed to negotiate the bend that passed Pleasant Bluff, Confederate forces under the command of Col. Stand Watie opened up with cannon and musket fire. The crippled Williams ran aground opposite the bluff and was captured. The boat's rusted skeleton still lies there at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
After the Civil War Tamaha's landing attracted the usual businesses of the time, including a general store, blacksmith shop, and other service industries. It was not until near the turn of the twentieth century that Tamaha could boast of a bank, hotel, and its own newspaper. In 1900 the population stood at 237, rising to 501 in 1920. Its future, however, like many Oklahoma towns was doomed. This time it was not the Great Depression, but fire.
In September 1930 fire swept through Tamaha (its second devastating fire since 1919) destroying virtually every business in town. The general store swore to rebuild, but no others. In 1912 riverboat traffic had ceased and ferry traffic offered little financial relief. For those reasons, in addition to the fire, many residents, though they remained in Oklahoma during the depression, moved to the nearby town of Stigler. In 1930 Tamaha's population fell to 202, reaching a U.S. Census low of 80 in 1960.
At the turn of the twenty-first century Tamaha remained a vacation community on the banks of Kerr Lake, with a year-round population of less than two hundred. It continued to support a general store, but its post office had closed in 1954. The only link Tamaha had to its past was the Tamaha Jail and Ferry Landing, listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 80003266).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Grant Foreman, "Early Post Offices of Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 6 (March 1928). Ted Bryon Hall, Oklahoma, Indian Territory (Fort Worth, Tex.: American Reference Publishers, 1971). Keun Sang Lee, "The Capture of the J. R. Williams," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 60 (Spring 1982). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976). Stigler (Oklahoma) News-Sentinel, 18 September 1930.
Glenn O. Hyder
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