Delta Roads and Travels - Wabbaseka, Arkansas

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James Dean

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Tuesday, March 21st 2023
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     The town of Wabbaseka is located in northern Jefferson County, Arkansas. Like many other Delta towns, this small municipality was a flourishing place at one time. The unique name can be traced back to 1826, when government agent Antoine Barraque met Quapaw chief Heckaton at what was called Wadittesha Wattiska, or Black Clay Bayou. Then in 1836, a surveyor referred to this stream as “Bayou Wabbaseekee.” Migration to this region was slow though, until 1882, when the Texas and St. Louis Railway Company purchased land from Nathaniel and John Roberts, who had moved there before 1860. A train depot was established the next year and plots for a town were laid out. The railroad also standardized the name of this new settlement to Wabbaseka and a post office was started in 1883. Nathaniel T. Roberts became the first postmaster.

      Although there was racial tension during the Election of 1888, trouble was avoided when leaders worked out a compromise. Only one other noteworthy incident occurred before the end of the century, however. On January 1, 1890, a passenger and freight train collided at Wabbaseka. One engineer was killed, and several passengers were injured.

      As more people moved into this area due to protection offered by the Plum Bayou Levee, the town grew. Several businesses, churches and mills began operation. On January 8, 1917, the Bank of Wabbaseka opened with W.H. Townsend as president and C.B. Shelby as vice president. With its population reaching nearly 600 residents, Wabbaseka petitioned for incorporation in March 1920. Petitioners were W. W. West, W.H. Townsend, Dr. J.C. Rice, Lloyd Garrett, and C.B. Shelby. This was quickly followed by an election within a few months. George W. Haynes, a local farmer, became the first mayor. Residents were also proud of their local baseball team that had victories over nearby towns including Pine Bluff and England.
     The 1920s would present several challenges to the people and neighborhoods near Wabbaseka. In addition to the Flood of 1927, the Bank of Wabbaseka was robbed on the afternoon of April 18, 1921. There was also a feud between two of the most popular men in town, that eventually led to one of them being murdered in December 1923. William W. West, a local merchant, shot William J. Levey on December 28 near his store on Main Street with a shot gun. Levey was struck in the head and fell dead. Months before, the two had wounded each other after an argument. No charges were filed against West.
      Over the next few decades, the town of Wabbaseka had its ups and downs. Unfortunately, the population began to decline as residents sought better opportunities elsewhere. During the mid-1980s, George Barnes became the first African American to be elected mayor of this small town. Today, there are several churches and small businesses located in Wabbaseka.
     Although small, the town of Wabbaseka can boast of at least three famous residents. Willie Kavanaugh Hocker, who moved to town in 1870 with her family, is credited with designing the official state flag of Arkansas that was adopted in 1913. Eldridge Cleaver, a leader in the Black Panther Party, was born at Wabbaseka in 1935. Well known musician Queen Sylvia Embry was also born on June 14, 1941, at Wabbaseka. #arkansashistory #deltaroads #MainStreetMonday #Wabbaseka #jeffersoncountyarkansas #deltahistory
Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky) 27 Feb 1986. Thu. Page 34
Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) 3 Jan 1890, Fri. Page 6
Pine Bluff Daily Graphic (Pine Bluff, Arkansas) 6 Jan 1917, Sat. Page 2
Pine Bluff Daily Graphic (Pine Bluff, Arkansas) 17 March 1920, Wed. Page 4
Teske, Steven. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. 2021. “Encyclopedia of Arkansas” Wabbaseka (Jefferson County).

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