Name­sake on other side of Nep­tune

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - BILL BOW­DEN

Peo­ple think Ul­tima Thule is un­in­hab­it­able, but Earl Pep­per says it’s not so.

Pep­per said he and his wife, Mary Ellen Pep­per, are the only res­i­dents of what had been Ul­tima Thule, Ark.

The town is gone now. It was an early trad­ing post on the bor­der be­tween Se­vier County and the Choctaw Na­tion in Ok­la­homa. The name Ul­tima Thule dates from the late Ro­man em­pire and means “beyond the bor­ders of the known world.”

Earl Pep­per said he’s been get­ting some strange ques­tions lately. That’s be­cause Ul­tima Thule has a name­sake 4 bil­lion miles away, on the other side of Nep­tune.

That Ul­tima Thule was buzzed on New Year’s Day by the New Hori­zons space­craft, which sent stun­ning im­ages back to Earth of what ap­peared to be a dirty snow­man in space.

“I saw that on the news about the space­craft,” Pep­per said Thurs­day while on a trip to his na­tive Alabama. “I find that in­ter­est­ing.”

Pep­per said he didn’t know how a con­tact bi­nary in the Kuiper Belt came to have the same name as an ex­tinct Arkansas town.

Turns out, a pub­lic vote was taken in 2014 to give a nick­name to the 21-mile­long ob­ject of­fi­cially known as 2014 MU69.

Out of 34,000 pub­lic sug­ges­tions, the names were nar­rowed to 37 for a vote, and Ul­tima Thule won. It beat out Ano Nuevo, Ti­ramisu, Lewis & Clark, Peanut/Al­mond/Cashew, Nub­bin and Olaf, to name a few.

Joseph W. McKean set­tled Ul­tima Thule in 1833, ac­cord­ing to Good­speed’s 1890 Bi­o­graph­i­cal and Historical Mem­oirs of South­ern Arkansas. McKean was the first mer­chant and post­mas­ter in town. He was “in­ti­mate friends” with An­drew Jack­son and Davy Crock­ett back in Ten­nessee, ac­cord­ing to Good­speed’s.

Leg­end has it that McKean named Ul­tima Thule, but he may have got­ten the name from mis­sion­ar­ies who ac­com­pa­nied the Choctaw to In­dian Ter­ri­tory in the 1830s, ac­cord­ing to A Stan­dard His­tory of Ok­la­homa by Joseph Brad­field Thoburn.

The mis­sion­ar­ies chris­tened the site Ul­ti­math­ule, mean­ing the “last stop,” Thoburn wrote. Then they crossed the bor­der and chris­tened the first In­dian camp in the Choctaw Na­tion with the same name, Ul­ti­math­ule. About all that’s left of Ul­tima Thule, Okla., are a cou­ple of beer joints, which don’t ap­pear to have any historical sig­nif­i­cance.

Karen Mills, direc­tor of the Se­vier County Mu­seum in De Queen, said other doc­u­ments in­di­cate that Ul­tima Thule was named by Am­brose Hund­ley Se­vier, for whom the county was named.

Mills said Ul­tima Thula had a post of­fice from 1836 to 1907. There is still a ceme­tery in the area, usu­ally known as the Ul­tima Thule Ceme­tery. McKean is buried there.

A plaque there reads: “This Ma­sonic ceme­tery is the last ves­tige of Ul­tima Thule, once a lively trad­ing post on the Mil­i­tary Road be­tween Wash­ing­ton, Hemp­stead County, and Fort Tow­son, Choctaw Na­tion.”

“A tor­nado wiped that whole town out,” John Wal­don of De Queen said of Ul­tima Thule, Ark. His mother was from the area.

“At one time it had ho­tels, sa­loons, the whole nine yards,” Wal­don said.

But one house re­mains from his­toric Ul­tima Thule. It’s home to the Pep­pers.

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