Located in northwestern Grant County, Wakita is situated twelve miles northwest of the county seat of Medford on State Highway 11A. The area was opened to non-Indian settlement during the Cherokee Outlet Opening on September 16, 1893. Subsequently, a post office was established on November 14, 1893, and Charles F. White served as first postmaster. Historian George Shirk asserted that the town name is a Cherokee word meaning water collected in a small depression, such as a buffalo wallow, while Charles N. Gould claimed that it is probably a Creek word meaning to cry or to lament. However, a legend states that the town was named for an Indian chief who died in battle and was buried nearby.
The town developed after the Hutchison and Southern Railroad (later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) built a line from southern Kansas, reaching Wakita in February 1897. That year the town boasted seven buildings that included the railroad depot and a hotel. Wakita grew rapidly, and two years later it had thirty-two buildings. During territorial days the town had several saloons and held its own fair with horse races and other entertainment. By 1909 settlers had organized the Baptist, Christian, and Methodist Episcopal churches. The Citizens Bank and the First National Bank as well as the Wakita Herald newspaper served the community. Establishments such as a grain elevator, a blacksmith shop, two harness shops, and two hardware and implement stores supported the local farmers, who grew mainly wheat and corn. During the 1940s and 1950s the Citizens Bank, the Citizens Telephone Company, an elevator, and other small businesses continued in operation.
At 1907 statehood Wakita had 388 citizens. By 1910 the population rose to 405, only to decline to 338 and 317 in 1920 and 1930, respectively. Through the next three decades the population remained steady in the 400s. It peaked at 545 in 1970. The census reported 526 in 1980 and 453 in 1990. At the turn of the twenty-first century Wakita had 420 residents, of whom 18.8 percent declared German and 12 percent claimed Irish ancestries. Of those employed, 90.3 percent commuted to work, 5.1 percent walked to their workplace, and 4.6 percent worked from home. The Wakita school served 155 students and offered grades prekindergarten through twelve. The Twister Museum displayed memorabilia relating to the 1996 movie Twister, which was partially filmed in Wakita.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Profiles of America, Vol. 2 (2d ed.; Millerton, N.Y.: Grey House Publishing, 2003). "Wakita," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Guy P. Webb, History of Grant County, Oklahoma, 1811 to 1970 ([North Newton, Kans.]: Grant County Historical Society, 1971).
Linda D. Wilson
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