See Rock City

See Rock City

Monday, September 8, 2008

Osceola, AR

Osceola is a city in and one of the two county seats of Mississippi County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 8,875 at the 2000 census.


Osceola is located at 35°42′8″N, 89°58′33″W (35.702276, -89.975807).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.8 square miles (20.2 km²), all of it land.

Osceola was the original county seat of Mississippi County and remains one of two county seats, after Blytheville was named a dual county seat in 1901. Osceola features a beautiful 1912 Neo-Classical courthouse with a copper roofed dome. The courthouse is bordered by the Hale Avenue Historic District and other structures on the National Historic Register of Historic Places. Visitors will also find the Mississippi County Historical Center located in a 1904 building that once housed a dry goods store.

Osceola is famous for its role in the development of blues music, and many famous blues musicians either came from Osceola or performed there. To celebrate this heritage, Main Street Osceola has been hosting the Osceola Heritage Festival since 1998.

Notable natives & residents

Bill Alexander, U.S. Representative from First Congressional District, 1969-1993,

David Barrett, New York Jets cornerback,

David Barrett (born December 22, 1977 in Waterloo, Iowa) is an American football player who currently plays cornerback for the New York Jets.

College career

Barrett played college football for the Arkansas Razorbacks. During his college career he had a total of 176 tackles, 7 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 5 sacks. He majored in architecture.

Maurice Carthon, former NFL and USFL player and NFL assistant coach,

Maurice Carthon (born April 24, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois) is a National Football League coach as well as a former professional football running back.

Carthon is currently the running backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Prior to his current assignment, he was the offensive coordinator for the NFL's Cleveland Browns (2005-06), an offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and running backs coach for several teams.

Maurice is the father of former Indianapolis Colts running back Ran Carthon.

Carthon has been a resident of Hawthorne, New Jersey.

High school

Carthon attended Osceola High School in Osceola, Arkansas and was a letterman in football and basketball. In football, he was a two-time All-Conference honoree. In basketball, he was named the state's Most Valuable Player as a senior.


Carthon attended Arkansas State University and was a star in football. In football, he was a two-time All-Southland Conference selection, and as a senior, he was the team's captain and led the team in rushing yards. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Pro Football Career

Carthon started his pro football career with the USFL's New Jersey Generals, primarily as a blocking back for Herschel Walker. In 1985, Carthon played a final season with the Generals, then went almost immediately to New York Giants training camp. From February to June, his USFL career consisted of 3 preseason games, 18 regular season games, and a final playoff on June 30, 1985. After reporting to the Giants in July, he played an additional 5 preseason games, 16 regular season games, and two playoff rounds, for a total of 45 contests in less than a year.

Carthon wore the number 44 in his career as a fullback with the New York Giants. He was considered a bruising back with superb blocking skills. Carthon was a very durable player, missing only one game out of 76 when he was with the Giants.

Carthon won two championship rings with the Giants in Super Bowl XXI and Super Bowl XXV. His best season was in 1986, when he finished as the team's second leading rusher with 260 yards, while also helping diminutive halfback Joe Morris rush for a then-franchise record 1,516 yards.

Carthon retired after the 1992 season with 950 career rushing yards, 90 receptions for 745 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

Ran Carthon, running back with Indianapolis Colts,

Arandric Kornell Carthon (born February 10, 1981 in Osceola, Arkansas) is an American football running back for the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL. He is the son of former Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon.

High School Years

Carthon attended Key West High School in Key West, Florida and was a letterman in football. In football, as a senior, he was named to PrepStar's All-Region team, and as a junior, he rushed for over 1,000 yards.

Carthon played collegiately for the University of Florida and is a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.

Buddy Jewell, the first Nashville Star winner,

Buddy Jewell (born April 2, 1961 in Lepanto, Arkansas) is an American country music singer-songwriter who was the first winner on the USA Network talent show Nashville Star. Signed to Columbia Records in 2003, Jewell made his debut on the American country music scene with the release of his self-titled album, which produced back-to-back Top 5 singles in "Help Pour out the Rain (Lacey's Song)" and "Sweet Southern Comfort". Another album, Times Like These, followed in 2005.


Born in Lepanto, Arkansas, Jewell was 41 when he won the Nashville Star country music singing contest in 2003. After winning the competition, he was signed to a recording contract with Columbia Records. His first album, Buddy Jewell, debuted at #1 on the Top Country Albums charts, and earned him a gold record and two Top 5 singles on the Billboard country charts. His 2005 follow-up, Times Like These, was less successful, and Jewell was released from his contract on 2005.

Cortez Kennedy, former NFL defensive lineman,

Cortez Kennedy, American Football Player

Kennedy was born in Osceola, Arkansas. Cortez graduated from Rivercrest High School in Wilson, Arkansas, and saw many triumphs and let downs as a Rivercrest Colt during his high school days. In his sophomore year, the Colts made it to the finals, but lost to Cabot and received the State Runner-Up title. In his junior year, they lost in the second round of the play-offs. As a senior, he played on the State Championship team in 1985. The team won the title against Dollarway with a score of 15-9, according to The Corral 1986.

He attended Northwest Mississippi Community College before winning a football scholarship to the University of Miami, which at the time was one of the nation's premier football programs, where he was named All-American at his position in 1989. At the University of Miami he lived and trained 3 times a day with Randy Shannon the current head coach of the Miami Hurricanes.

He was the third overall selection in the 1990 draft by the Seahawks, and was a contract holdout through nearly all of the off-season. He missed training camp, and signed only two days before the beginning of the season. Having missed training camp, Kennedy had a rather lackluster rookie year, but was named to the Pro Bowl in 1991 In 1992, having recorded 14 quarterback sacks, he received the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press and was named All-Pro 5 times.

Kennedy retired after the 2000 season. In 167 games with Seattle, he recorded 668 tackles, 58 sacks, and 3 interceptions. He announced his retirement in August 2002 after sitting out the 2001 season. He was given several offers by other teams, but wanted to finish his career in Seattle. He is generally considered one of the best defensive tackles to ever play the position in the NFL.

In 2006, Kennedy was inducted into the Seahawks' Ring of Honor.

In 2007, Kennedy was named the best athlete ever to wear the number 96 by

Albert King, blues legend,

Albert King (April 25, 1923 – December 21, 1992) was an American blues guitarist and singer.


One of the "Three Kings of the Blues Guitar" (along with B.B. King and Freddie King), he stood at least 6' 4" (192 cm), weighed in at least 260 lbs (118 kg) and was known as "The Velvet Bulldozer". He was born Albert Nelson on a cotton plantation in Indianola, Mississippi. During his childhood he would sing at a family gospel group at a church. He began his professional work as a musician with a group called In The Groove Boys, in Osceola, Arkansas. He also briefly played drums for Jimmy Reed's band and on several early Reed recordings. Influenced by Blues musicians Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, but also interestingly Hawaiian music, the electric guitar became his signature instrument, his preference being the Gibson Flying V, which he named "Lucy".

King was a left-handed "upside-down/backwards" guitarist. He was left-handed, but usually played right-handed guitars flipped over upside-down so the low E string was on the bottom. In later years he played a custom-made guitar that was basically left-handed, but had the strings reversed (as he was used to playing). He also used very unorthodox tunings (i.e., tuning as low as C to allow him to make sweeping string bends). A "less is more" type blues player, he was known for his expressive "bending" of notes, a technique characteristic of blues guitarists.

His first minor hit came in 1958 with "I'm A Lonely Man" written by Bobbin Records A&R man and fellow guitar hero Little Milton, responsible for King's signing with the label. However, it was not until his 1961 release "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" that he had a major hit, reaching number fourteen on the R&B charts. In 1966 he signed with the famous Stax record label. Produced by powerhouse drummer Al Jackson, Jr., King with Booker T. & the MGs recorded dozens of hugely influential sides, such as "Crosscut Saw" and "As the Years Go Passing By", and in 1967 Stax released the legendary album, Born Under A Bad Sign. The title track of that album (written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell) became King's most well known song and has been covered by many artists (from Cream to Homer Simpson)

Another landmark album followed in Live Wire/Blues Power from one of many seminal dates King played at promoter Bill Graham's Fillmore venues.

In the 1970s, King was teamed with members of The Bar-Kays and The Movement (Isaac Hayes's backing group), including bassist James Alexander and drummer Willie Hall adding strong Funk elements to his music. Adding strings and multiple rhythm guitarists, producers Allen Jones and Henry Bush created a wall of sound that contrasted the sparse, punchy records King made with Booker T. & the MGs. Among these was another signature tune for King with "I'll Play the Blues For You" in 1972.

King influenced many later blues guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Taylor, Warren Haynes, Mike Bloomfield, Gary Moore, and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan, who also covered many of King's songs. He also had a profound impact on contemporaries Albert Collins and Otis Rush. Clapton has said that his work on the 1967 Cream hit "Strange Brew" and throughout the album Disraeli Gears was inspired by King.

King died on December 21, 1992 from a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee.

Gaylon Nickerson, former NBA player,

Gaylon H. Nickerson (born February 5, 1969, in Osceola, Arkansas) is an American professional basketball player, formerly in the NBA. He attended Wichita State University, Butler Community College, Kansas State University, and Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

Nickerson was selected in the second round (34th overall) of the 1994 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He split the 1996-97 NBA season with the San Antonio Spurs and the Washington Bullets, playing just four games. Nickerson was also selected in the 2nd round of the 1994 Continental Basketball Association (CBA) Draft, and he led the league in scoring in 1996-97, averaging 22.5 points per game while with the Oklahoma City Cavalry.

Bill Ramsey, played baseball for the Boston Braves,

William Thrace Ramsey (October 20, 1920 – January 4, 2008) was a Major League Baseball outfielder who played for the Boston Braves in 1945. He was born in Osceola, Arkansas. On November 1, 1944 he had been drafted by the Boston Braves from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1944 rule V draft. He attended the University of Florida.

Ramsey is one of many ballplayers who only appeared in the major leagues during World War II. He made his major league debut on April 19, 1945 against the New York Giants at Braves Field. Besides his outfield duties he was often used as a pinch-hitter. In a total of 78 games he hit .292 (40-for-137) with 1 home run, 12 runs batted in, 16 runs scored, and a slugging percentage of .372. He died in Germantown, Tennessee in January 2008.

Son Seals, blues guitarist,

Frank "Son" Seals (August 13, 1942 - December 20, 2004) was an American blues guitarist and singer.


He was born in 1942 in Osceola, Arkansas where his father, Jim "Son" Seals, owned a small club. He began performing professionally by the age of 13, first as a drummer with Robert Nighthawk, and later as a guitarist. In 1959, he formed his own band which performed locally and he also toured with Albert King.[1]

In 1971, he moved to Chicago. His career took off after he was discovered by Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records at the Flamingo Club in Chicago's South Side. His debut, The Son Seals Blues Band, was released in 1973. The album included "Your Love Is Like a Cancer" and "Hot Sauce". Seals followed up with 1976's Midnight Son and 1978's Live and Burning. He continued releasing albums throughout the next two decades, all but one on Alligator Records. These included Chicago Fire (1980), Bad Axe (1984), Living In The Danger Zone (1991), Nothing But The Truth and Live-Spontaneous Combustion (1996). He received the W.C. Handy Award, an honor for best blues recording of the year, in 1985, 1987, and 2001.

Author Andrew Vachss was a friend of Seals, and used his influence to promote Seals' music. Vachss gave Seals several cameo appearances in his novels and co-wrote songs with him for his 2000 album, Lettin' Go. Vachss dedicated the novel Mask Market to Seals' memory.

In 2002, Seals was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album Hey Bo Diddley - A Tribute!, performing the song "My Story" (aka "Story of Bo Diddley").

Seals had a number of problems in his life. He survived all but one of his 14 siblings; and he was shot in the jaw by his wife. Also, one of his legs was amputated, due to complications from diabetes. He lost belongings in a fire that destroyed his home while he was away performing live, and several of his prize guitars were stolen from his home.

The band Phish performed Seal's song "Funky Bitch" throughout their career, and brought him on stage on multiple occasions, turning a whole new generation on to his music.

Seals died in 2004 from complications of diabetes; he was survived by his sister and fourteen children.

James Williams, former NFL player,

James Earl "J.D." Williams (born March 30, 1967 in Osceola, Arkansas) is a former professional American football player who was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft. A 5'10", 185-lb. defensive back from Fresno State University, Williams played in 6 NFL seasons from 1990 to 1994 and 1996 for the Bills, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers.

Williams was most notable for being the first player on the Buffalo Bills squad to don the number 31, which had been "retired" to represent the spirit of the franchise. Since Williams donned the number, the Bills have allowed anyone to wear the 31 jersey; it is currently worn by Dwayne Wright.

Kemmons Wilson, Holiday Inn founder,

Kemmons Wilson (January 5, 1913 – February 12, 2003) was the founder of the Holiday Inn chain of hotels.

The first Holiday Inn, founded by Arkansan Charles Kemmons Wilson, located at 4941 Summer Ave., Memphis, Tennessee; 1952.
Courtesy of the Cabot High School Museum

Charles Kemmons Wilson (1913–2003)

Charles Kemmons Wilson was a businessman who founded the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Called the “Father of the Modern Hotel,” he revolutionized the travel industry by providing affordable, comfortable, dependable lodging.

Kemmons Wilson was born on January 5, 1913, in Osceola (Mississippi County) to Kemmons Wilson, who sold insurance, and Ruby “Doll” Wilson, a homemaker. He was their only child. His father died when Wilson was nine months old, and his mother took the baby to her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where she found work as a dental assistant.

Wilson’s business career began when he was six and sold subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post. When he was fourteen, he was hit by a car while making deliveries on his bicycle. He was told by doctors that he would never walk again. It took a year to recover, but he regained the use of his legs. After his mother lost her job during the Depression, he dropped out of Memphis’s Central High School to deliver newspapers, sack groceries, and work as a soda jerk. Borrowing fifty dollars from a friend in 1930, Wilson bought a popcorn machine and sold popcorn in a Memphis movie theater. By 1933, he had made $1,300 from his popcorn business and a pinball machine venture.

Wilson used his money to build a home for himself and his mother in Memphis. He then borrowed money against his house to buy into the local Wurlitzer jukebox franchise, later owning and operating several Memphis-area movie theaters and working in real estate. After serving in World War II and starting a successful homebuilding business in the 1940s, Wilson became even more successful after taking a partner. Wallace E. Johnson of Memphis owned the largest and most successful homebuilding business in the South and was an officer of the National Home Builders Association when Wilson approached him about a partnership. Both Wilson and Johnson would later be quoted as saying their biggest piece of luck was having each other as a partner. Their thirty-five-year-long partnership in homebuilding and real estate development proved rewarding for both entrepreneurs. By 1950, Wilson was a millionaire.

Wilson married Dorothy Lee and had five children by 1951. In August of that year, at his wife’s insistence, he took the family in their Oldsmobile (without air conditioning) on a vacation to Washington DC. Along their drive, they found accommodations which forced them to choose between expensive downtown hotels and “mom-and-pop” operations such as boarding houses and tourist courts. The accommodations were of varying quality and generally charged for each of his five children. At one lodging, the room was six dollars, and the Wilsons were also charged two dollars for each child. He decided that with more middle-class Americans traveling in the post-war prosperity of the 1950s, families needed clean, comfortable places with air conditioning, the newly popular television, nearby food, and a swimming pool for the children to play in and adults to relax around.

Wilson saw the benefits of having a dependable chain with “no surprises” and no additional charge for children. He is quoted as saying, “In those days, you wouldn’t dream of renting a room without inspecting it first. I wanted to create a brand that people could trust.” His criteria set the standard for the hotel industry.

On August 1, 1952, he opened the first of four hotels in the Memphis area. He decided on the name Holiday Inn after the popular 1942 Bing Crosby film, which his draftsman had watched the night before submitting his plans. The very first Holiday Inn was on Memphis’s Summer Avenue, not far from today’s Graceland.

Using his movie theater experience, Wilson designed the green-and-gold Holiday Inn marquee along with the Cummings Company of Nashville to be bright, cheerful, and easily visible from the highway. A blinking arrow pointed to the office, while an illuminated sign promoted local gatherings such as civic clubs and proms. It was officially patented as the Great Sign, and when it was replaced with something more “modern” in 1982, Wilson (who retired from the board in 1979) called it “the worst mistake they ever made.”

Wilson’s mother, who was a company vice president and who had worked with him on the d├ęcor for his housing business, decorated the Holiday Inn rooms in bright, friendly, warm colors. There was a Bible in each room. Every property had air conditioning, a swimming pool, a restaurant on the premises, in-room phones, free ice, dog kennels, free parking, and available babysitters. The franchisees who operated Holiday Inns were not called managers but innkeepers. In the early days, innkeepers would phone ahead to make guests’ reservations at the next Holiday Inn on their route. As the number of hotels increased, a computerized reservation system was set up, which Wilson called “the most revolutionary step since the opening of the first inn.”

In the United States, Wilson placed his properties so they could be easily spotted by travelers along the new interstate highway system of the Eisenhower era. The standardized properties were identical and within one day’s drive of each other. The business went international in 1960, and by 1964, there were more than 500 Holiday Inns worldwide. An early investor in the business was Memphis music producer Sam Phillips of the legendary Sun Studios. In 1968, Wilson stated that 100 shares of Holiday Inn, which originally cost $975, would be worth over $40,000.

Continuing to partner with real estate developer Wallace Johnson, Wilson grew the world’s largest hotel/motel business. In a 1972 cover story about Wilson, when a new Holiday Inn was opening every three days, Time magazine wrote, “Kemmons Wilson has transformed the motel from the old wayside fleabag into the most popular home away from home.” Slate magazine said he placed his motels firmly where the Baby Boom met the open road. USA Today called Holiday Inns “the Wal-Mart of the roadside.”

The first Holiday Inn, which had been built in 1952, was sold in 1973 and torn down in the 1990s to make room for a funeral home. In 1979, Wilson retired after a heart attack and bypass surgery. Retirement was short-lived, for he then built Orange Lake Resort and Country Club in Orlando, Florida. In the 1990s, he developed Wilson World Hotel & Suites, as well as Wilson Inns & Suites.

Among his accolades are the Horatio Alger Award (1970) and induction into the National Business Hall of Fame (1982). He left a living legacy with the creation of the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management at the University of Memphis, with the first students admitted in August 2002. Students can learn the industry in an on-site, full-service hotel.

Wilson died on February 12, 2003, at his Memphis home. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery-Midtown (on Elvis Presley Boulevard) in Memphis.

He opened the first Holiday Inn motel in Memphis in 1952, and quickly added others to create an entire hotel chain. Holiday Inn went international in 1960.

Wilson was married to Dorothy Lee.

His autobiography, Half Luck and Half Brains, tells the story of the Holiday Inn.

Kemmons Wilson died in Memphis and is interred in Forest Hill Cemetery - Midtown in Memphis, Tennessee.

Basketball team owner

In July, 1974, Wilson, along with Isaac Hayes, Al Wilson (singer), Mike Storen and others, bought the Memphis Tams franchise in the American Basketball Association. They changed the team to the Memphis Sounds. They quickly built a strong roster, obtaining players such as Mel Daniels and Rick Mount. The team was the most successful pro basketball team that Memphis ever fielded; it finished fourth in the ABA's Eastern Division, advancing to the 1975 ABA Playoffs before losing the Eastern Division semifinal series four games to one to the eventual 1975 ABA champion Kentucky Colonels. Following the season, the Sounds were sold to a group in Baltimore, Maryland where they moved to become the short-lived Baltimore Claws.

Kemmons Wilson was an award-winning American businessman and lodging pioneer who founded Holiday Inn Hotels, which he built into the world’s largest hotel chain.

He was also the founder of the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management (KWS) at the University of Memphis. The school offers education specific to the hospitality industry, including marketing and sales, beverage and food management, and human resource management. They balance hands-on experience with academics in hotel management, hospitality, resort business, and tourism stressing global awareness, diversity and sustainability.

Publicity photo of actress, author, and songwriter Dale Evans, born Lucille Wood Smith, of Osceola (Mississippi County); circa 1950.
Courtesy of the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum, Branson, Missouri

Osceola is located in northeastern Mississippi County on the Mississippi River, approximately fifty miles upriver from Memphis, Tennessee. Osceola is named for Chief Osceola of the Seminole tribe, who visited the area in 1832 to explore the possibility of exchanging Florida land for Arkansas land. It was the only county seat of Mississippi County until 1901, when Osceola and Blytheville were named dual county seats.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

Originally acquired by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the area was largely populated by Indians. The series of severe earthquakes on the New Madrid fault from December 1811 to February 1812 only temporarily slowed the flow of white settlers into the area. In 1830, William Bard Edrington and John Price Edrington bartered with Indians 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, and in 1853, with 250 residents and a half dozen businesses, it was incorporated as Osceola.

When steamboats made their appearance on the Mississippi River, the Delta was opened to expanded activity and commercialization, and Osceola became an important landing. Timber was cut from the dense forests to fuel steamboats, the rich Delta land was planted in cotton, and a cotton culture soon emerged. Planters from nearby Southern states brought their lifestyle with them as they settled the area.

Civil War through Reconstruction

Osceola actively supported the secession of Arkansas from the Union in May 1861. Thousands of U.S. troops landed around Osceola in early 1862 in preparation for assaults on Fort Pillow and Memphis, but Osceola saw mainly skirmishes, guerilla fighting, and raids. In May 1862, Confederate and Union naval fleets met in the Battle of Plum Point on the Mississippi River near Osceola. Osceola and Mississippi County were under martial law from November 1868 until March 1869 because of general lawlessness and instability. Racial disharmony and the activity of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) peaked during the Black Hawk War in 1872, following the death of Sheriff J. B. Murray at the hands of Charles Fitzpatrick, president of the Mississippi County Board of Registration. Charles Bowen, a local KKK leader and captain of the Confederate company Osceola Hornets, led a group of Klan members that killed a number of ex-slaves in Osceola after Fitzpatrick’s surrender and release led to a near-riot. The Black Hawk War was a violent finish to the disintegration of race relations in Mississippi County.

Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age

The golden age of steamboats on the Mississippi River came to an end as the last quarter of the nineteenth century approached. Small towns that were dependent on steamboats for their existence declined and died as railways took over. In contrast, Osceola, well positioned with both cotton and timber industries and with transportation by both river and rail, expanded. By 1890, Osceola began a sustained growth because of the industries and the river.

Early Twentieth Century

By 1900, Osceola was in a boom time. Railroads had taken the place of steamboats, and Osceola was on the main line of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. There were 953 residents, and downtown Osceola flourished with businesses that included an opera house, electric and water utilities, two ice plants, two bottling works, and a wagon factory. By 1913, Osceola was served by a Bell Telephone system and six daily passenger trains. Cotton was still the number-one crop, and farmland sold for $100 to $200 an acre. Many of the buildings constructed in that era are still used and are noted for their historic beauty. The 1912 Mississippi County Courthouse, with its solid copper dome and Neoclassical architecture, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Patterson building, constructed in 1902 and 1904 to house Fred Patterson’s clothing and shoe store, is now used as the home of 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.

Mississippi County Courthouse in Osceola.
Photo by John Gill

The Mississippi River, so vital to Osceola’s existence and growth, has been at times as much enemy as friend. The Floods of 1927 and 1937 brought vast devastation to Osceola. Hundreds of people lost their homes and belongings, and the cotton crops that were so important to the local economy 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. Comprehensive federal legislation was enacted as a result of the flooding. No main breech or overtop on the river has occurred since the 1937 flood, thanks to extensive work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the St. Francis Levee District.

World War II through the Faubus Era

By the middle of the twentieth century, Osceola was in an era of prolonged growth. Population increased steadily from 1940 to 1960. Cotton was still the number-one money-maker in Osceola, but industry was increasing, and Osceola was thriving. The Ralston Purina Company operated a large cotton seed mill in Osceola, supplying jobs for over 100 employees. Osceola was a strictly segregated community; schools, movie theaters, restaurants, churches, public restrooms, and water fountains were “white only” or “colored only.”

Modern Era

Osceola mayor Ben F. Butler (left) with Orval Faubus (center); date unknown.
Courtesy of Toney Schlesinger

Osceola’s growth and proximity to river transportation, railways, and the interstate highway system were attractive to manufacturing companies, and the city began accumulating a solid industrial base. In 1961, American Greetings Corporation built a large manufacturing facility in Osceola that remains the number-one employer in the city. Kagome Incorporated recently became the owner of Creative Foods, which was founded in 1948 as Osceola Foods, the oldest surviving manufacturing company in Osceola. Construction is currently under way on the Plum Point Power Plant, a $1.3 billion coal-powered electric generation station owned by LS Power Associates of St. Louis, which bought 1,000 acres near Osceola to house the project. Osceola is certified as an Arkansas Community of Excellence by the Arkansas Department of Economic Development and has a very active chamber of commerce.

The Denso automotive parts plant in Osceola (Mississippi County); circa 2005.
Photo by Pat Lendennie, courtesy of the photographer

Osceola’s population is almost evenly divided between white and African-American residents. Osceola has a high school, a middle school, and three elementary schools, which average a total enrollment of between 1,500 and 1,700 students.

Osceola’s relationship with the Mississippi River remains a close one. The river still defines Osceola, even though the city of today sits a few miles west of the river due to the relocation of downtown buildings from “Old Town” to “New Town” and the meanderings of the river. The Port of Osceola, once busy with steamboats, consists of a landing and grain elevators at Sans Souci that regularly load barges with soybeans and rice.

Osceola is one of the original five towns selected by Main Street Arkansas to participate in an economic and community development program to keep the downtown 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.