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The community of South Coffeyville is situated in northern Nowata County along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line. Covering nearly one square mile, the town is located near the Verdigris River and on both U.S. Highway 169 and the Union Pacific Railway, approximately twenty miles north of Nowata. The name of South Coffeyville was derived from nearby Coffeyville, Kansas, which was named after James A. Coffey. Coffey helped establish Coffeyville in 1869, after which he moved to the Osage Agency in the Osage Nation, Indian Territory (present Pawhuska, Oklahoma) and built a trading post.

The area's first named settlement was Stevens, a railhead tent and shack village built just southwest of present South Coffeyville in 1888. Named after a Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (MK&T) builder, Stevens could be found on railroad maps until about 1902. More commonly known as Poison by local settlers, Stevens was eventually abandoned. In 1906 a settlement called Polson was built approximately one mile toward the northeast near the MK&T and Missouri Pacific (MP) railways. (Now part of the Union Pacific system, the MP had reached the present South Coffeyville townsite in 1889.) Named after Martin and Earl Polson, early settlers, that designation was also short lived. With the establishment of a post office on March 18, 1909, Polson became Etchen, in honor of citizen John P. Etchen. However, the town was renamed South Coffeyville on April 29, 1909, and the South Coffeyville Times newspaper began publication soon after. Residents voted for incorporation in August 1909.

South Coffeyville was known in the early 1900s as an untamed town, comprised of scattered houses, stores, and beer and dance halls. Bordering on the state line, South Coffeyville's history included a close relationship with Coffeyville, Kansas. For example, the road between South Coffeyville and Coffeyville was once called "the Whisky Trail." It acquired that name because South Coffeyville bootleggers used the road to carry illegal liquor from across the state line, escaping confiscation as they entered town. South Coffeyville later became a thriving town supported by a variety of retail and service establishments, and an appreciable manufacturing base.

In 1910 South Coffeyville's population was 196. Between 1920 and 2000 that number ranged from a low of 179 in 1920 to a high of 873 in 1980. In 2000 the population was recorded as 790. At the turn of the twenty-first century the town government operated under a mayor and a city council.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Felix M. Gay, History of Nowata County (Stillwater, Okla.: Redlands Press, 1957). "South Coffeyville," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Gary L. Cheatham

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