Visitors Guide to
Osceola
Mississippi County, Arkansas

 

 
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Osceola is located in eastern Mississippi County along the Mississippi River, approximately fifty miles upriver from Memphis, Tennessee. In 1830, William and John Edrington bartered with the local Native Americans and took possession of a small group of huts along the Mississippi River, and by 1833, settlers had built log structures on the riverbank, which became a landing for travelers moving up and down the river. The settlement was established as Plum Point in 1837, originally called ‘Plumb Point’. According to Mark Twain in his “Life on the Mississippi,” when one steamboat would inquire of another where to find wood for the steamboats, they were told to “go plumb to the point”, where settlers had stacked wood to sell. Planters from nearby Southern states noticed the rich Delta soil of the Osceola area and began farming on land that could grow almost any crop. In particular cotton, with the combination of soil and warm temperatures, would become the crop of choice, and the landing of the settlement was soon loading with bales of cotton awaiting shipment by the steamboats. These planters brought their lifestyle with them as they settled the area. In 1853, with 250 residents and a half dozen businesses, it was incorporated as Osceola, named after Chief Osceola of the Seminole tribe. Local lore has it that he visited the area in 1832 to explore the possibility of exchanging Florida land for Arkansas land.

Osceola actively supported the secession of Arkansas from the Union at the start of the Civil War. Upon the outbreak of the war Captain John Bowen raised a company of men known as the Osceola Hornets who participated in the Battles of Belmont and Shiloh. Of the approximately one hundred men who joined the Osceola Hornets only seven returned. Although the Osceola area was a staging ground for Union assaults on Fort Pillow and Memphis in 1862, Osceola mainly saw only skirmishes, guerrilla fighting, and raids. In May 1862, Confederate and Union naval fleets met in the Battle of Plum Point on the Mississippi River near Osceola where Confederate gunboats defeated Union forces in one of only two gunboat engagements on the Mississippi River during the war, and sank two Union ironclads, the Cincinnati and the Mound City. Reinforced Union forces routed an outnumbered Confederate force downriver a month later at the Battle of Memphis. After the war Osceola and Mississippi County were placed under martial law because of general lawlessness and instability. Racial disharmony and the activity of the Ku Klux Klan peaked during the “Black Hawk War” in 1872 when County registrar Charles Fitzpatrick and a group of armed group of African Americans clashed with a group of KKK members led by former Osceola Hornets Captain Charles Bowen in town during the middle of a murder trial where Fitzpatrick was a defendant.

In 1875 Mississippi County was formed from a portion of Crittenden County and Osceola was named its county seat. By this time the age of steamboats was coming to an end and many river towns declined or died out altogether. Osceola, however, prospered as it was on the main line of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad making the town a shipping point for both area’s cotton and timber industries. The community was the only county seat of Mississippi County until 1901, when Osceola and Blytheville were named dual county seats. By the early Twentieth Century downtown Osceola flourished with enterprises that built new buildings. Many of the buildings constructed in that era are still used and are noted for their historic beauty. In 1912 the Mississippi County Courthouse, with its solid copper dome and Neoclassical architecture, was built. The Patterson building, constructed in 1902 and 1904 to house a clothing and shoe store is now used as the home for the Mississippi County Museum operated by the Mississippi County Historical and Genealogical Society. The Osceola Times Building, built in 1901, is still used for the Osceola Times, which was first published in 1870 and is the oldest weekly newspaper in eastern Arkansas.

The Mississippi River has been both a friend and an enemy to the Osceola area. The Floods of 1927 and 1937 brought vast devastation to the region. Hundreds of people lost their homes and belongings, and the cotton crops were decimated. During both floods, thousands of refugees poured into Osceola, where Red Cross shelters were set up to receive and treat victims before their removal to Memphis. As a result of the flooding federal legislation was enacted to create the Francis Levee District and the levees built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have protected the area since. The river can be experienced at Sans Souci Landing, an old plantation site that features river views, picnic facilities, and interpretive signs.

Osceola is one of the original five towns selected by Main Street Arkansas to participate in an economic and community development program to keep downtown districts alive. Main Street Osceola sponsors the Osceola Heritage Music Festival each May. An annual parade and lighting of the Christmas tree is held by the City of Osceola at the Winter Festival each year on the Thursday after Thanksgiving.


City of Osceola
The official website of the City of Osceola.







 
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