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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


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, a hotel, and its own newspaper. In 1900 the population stood at 237, rising to 501 in 1920. Like many Oklahoma towns, its future was bleak. In this instance, growth was hindered not by the Great Depression, but by fire.

In September 1930 fire swept through Tamaha (its second devastating conflagration since 1919) destroying virtually every business. The general store owner swore to rebuild, but no others followed suit. In 1912 riverboat traffic had ceased, and ferry traffic offered little financial relief. For those reasons, in addition to the fire, many residents moved to the nearby town of Stigler. In 1930 the federal census recorded that Tamaha's population had dropped to 202, and it reached a low of 80 in 1960.

A town of 198 people the turn of the twenty-first century, Tamaha remained a vacation community on the banks of Kerr Lake. It continued to support a general store, but its post office had closed in 1954. The 2010 census counted 176 residents. Tamaha's only link to its past was the Tamaha Jail and Ferry Landing, listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 80003266).

Glenn O. Hyder


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, 1974).

Stigler (Oklahoma) News-Sentinel, 18 September 1930.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Glenn O. Hyder, “Tamaha,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=TA010.

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