Located in northern Hughes County, Wetumka is situated slightly north of State Highway 9 on U.S. Highway 75 and approximately fifteen miles northeast of Holdenville, the county seat. Originally located in the Creek Nation, Indian Territory, Wetumka was named for the former Creek town of Wetumpka in Alabama. Wetumka is a Creek word meaning "tumbling water." Before the Civil War (1861-65), the Creek organized the Wetumka Indian Baptist Church. Thomas H. Scales, an Indian trader, was appointed the community's first postmaster on February 1, 1881. He and D. M. Benson operated general stores. In the early 1880s William Robinson, Dave Barnett, David Benson, and Robert Carr managed ranches near the settlement.
Between 1900 and 1901 the St. Louis, Oklahoma and Southern Railway (later the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) erected a line from Sapulpa through Wetumka to the Red River. As the town developed, it served as a shipping point for cotton, corn, pecans, and livestock. By 1909 it supported three banks, two cotton gins, three blacksmith shops, two liveries, and a tin shop. Early-day newspapers included the Wetumka News-Herald, the Wetumka News, the Wetumka Herald, and the Wetumka Gazette. In July 1912 a two-story structure, costing fifteen thousand dollars, was completed, to house a city hall and a meeting place for the Masonic lodge. With the advent of the automobile, good-roads enthusiasts in Wetumka in 1915 decided that a one-cent gasoline tax should be assessed to create revenue for improving roads. By 1918 the town supported four cotton gins, a mill and elevator, a wagonyard, an ice company, and a water and light company.
The Wetumka oil field opened in 1919. Drilling activity around the town brought an influx of workers, causing the population temporarily to reach approximately 4,000. Dirt and gravel roads were hastily constructed to accommodate traffic to the oil fields. Streets through the business district were paved. The flurry of activity prompted the railroad to construct a large freight house in February, and a three-story, brick hotel was erected in April 1925. The following year two rooms were added to the school building, and additional teachers were hired. Because the population exceeded two thousand, Wetumka citizens sent the governor a petition requesting designation as a city of the "first class." Gov. Jack C. Walton signed the proclamation on May 21, 1923, and an election was held on June 26 to elect a mayor, a city marshal, and council members.
In the 1930s oil and cotton dominated Wetumka's economy. Five cotton gins and sixteen oil/petroleum companies were in operation. In the mid-1930s workers at a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp provided much-needed assistance in soil conservation. City amenities included nine churches, a park, a lake, and a junior college. As cotton production declined through the next decade, only three gins operated in the 1940s. Railey Manufacturing Company provided employment to workers who crafted wood flooring and doors. Municipal plants provided water and electricity, and Oklahoma Natural Gas supplied gas, and Southwestern State Telephone furnished phone service. A prisoner of war camp for German prisoners, erected during World War II, closed in December 1945. The municipally owned Wetumka General Hospital opened in March 1960. In March 1973 a municipal complex opened to replace city hall, which had been destroyed by fire on November 13, 1971. By the 1970s all cotton gins were defunct.
Through the years children received an education at various facilities. On September 1, 1881, the Levering Manual Labor Mission School, under the auspices of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and partially supported by the Creek Nation, opened to provide education for Creek children. By 1902 Wetumka public school had an enrollment of 261 and employed three teachers and a principal. In November 1938 classes were held in churches and the National Guard Armory after a fire destroyed the high school building. Work started on a new facility on the same site, using federal Works Progress Administration funding. At the turn of the twenty-first century the Wetumka school system offered grades prekindergarten to twelve and enrolled 484. The Wes Watkins Technology Center, opened in 1992, provided vocational-technical training.
At 1907 statehood Wetumka had a population of 300. Three years later it declined to 231. The discovery of oil in 1919 caused the population to dramatically increase to 1,422 in 1920 and 2,153 in 1930. Population peaked at 2,340 in 1940. From 1950 to 1970 the number of residents declined from 2,025 to 1,687. A slight increase to 1,725 was reported in 1980. However, the next decade saw a decrease to 1,427.
With 1,451 residents at the turn of the twenty-first century, Wetumka had a council-manager form of government. The weekly Hughes County Times published there provided news. Citizens continued to celebrate the annual Suckers' Day event, that originated in 1950 after a "confidence man" took money from the townspeople for tickets to a circus that never came to town. The Levering Mission (NR 74001662) and the Wetumka National Guard Armory (NR 88001390) were listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mary Isabel Elliston, "A History of Hughes County" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1943). "Hughes County-Wetumka," Vertical File, Oklahoma Room, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City. "Wetumka," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
Linda D. Wilson
© Oklahoma Historical Society