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The Rise and Fall of America, Oklahoma

77 Counties



A 46-star flag commemorates Oklahoma’s addition to the Union. Photo by M.J. Alexander

In Searching The State For The Most Promising Place to Celebrate Independence Day, I found a town in far southeastern McCurtain County was irresistible: America, Oklahoma.

But it turns out that the place with the most patriotic of names hosts no Fourth of July parade on a bunting-bedecked Main Street. Truth be told, it has no Main Street at all.

One hundred and ten years after its founding, America, Oklahoma, is all but a ghost town.

Remnants of the old logging settlement – near the Arkansas border, just north of the Texas state line – are off State Highway 3, past the dumpsters on the left and down an unmarked dirt road, surrounded by a forest of pine spilling over from the nearby Ouachita National Forest, east of Bokhoma and south of Moon.

The town was named not in a burst of patriotic fever, but by Tom Stewart, who opened its post office July 24, 1903, in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, and called it in honor of his wife, America Stewart.
Thomas Alexander Stewart and America Arminda Suggs had been married in August 1876, six weeks after the United States’ centennial celebration and a few days after her 20th birthday.
He was 18.

Both came from families of 10 children. Thomas was born in Tennessee on Feb. 20, 1858, and grew up with siblings with sober names such as John, William, Sarah and James. America was born in Alabama on Aug. 4, 1856, after sisters Parthena and Charity Elizabeth, but before her brother Benjamin Franklin Suggs.

The Stewarts came to Indian Territory in their late 40s. The town name was a husband’s gift to the woman he had been married to for 27 years. Together, they raised seven children: two boys and five girls.

At its peak, soon after statehood, America, Oklahoma, was home to about 200 people. They settled around the sawmill founded by William Spencer and his brothers, located on an offshoot of the Frisco rail line that ran from Monett, Missouri, to Paris, Texas.

America and Tom Stewart photographed in Tom, Oklahoma, May 8, 1918.

By 1911, America’s prime timber had been cut and the mill closed.

In 1916, Tom and Maggie, as America liked to be called, moved 5 miles south to a new settlement. There he built a general store, school, saw and gin mill, as well as a church for his wife. He again was the town’s first postmaster.

This town was named Tom, in honor of himself.

It was in Tom, Oklahoma, that the couple, who had celebrated their 51st anniversary the month before, died within hours of each other on September 30, 1927.

The eulogy published in the McCurtain Democrat read:

Tom was stopped with sorrow Thursday afternoon when the news was wafted over the village that Mother Stewart and her husband Tom had passed away, the latter having been in bad health for over a year. They were taken sick with malaria ... Mother Stewart’s spirit passed away most peacefully the following morning at 6 a.m. and Mr. Stewart likewise at 12:00 noon the same day, each passing over the river to the great beyond within six hours of each other; neither knowing that the other was going. They were laid side by side and those viewing them said theybwere so natural they looked as though they were taking a quit slumber.They will be missed more than usual because they were pioneers ...

America and Tom’s double funeral was held three o’clock Saturday afternoon, October 1, 1927. They were buried side-by-side in the McCurtain county soil.

At the time of their death, the dwindling town of America had transitioned from timber to cotton. By the time the cotton gin shut down during the Great Depression, most of the townspeople had long ago moved on. The post office was shuttered the day after Valentine’s Day 1944. The general store closed its doors the next year. In the years since, the white metal marker near the tracks announcing the town of AMERICA, where the postmaster used to hang the letter sack so the next train could pick up the mail without stopping, has disappeared. So has the depot, and nearly all of its residents.

But snuggled in the far southeast corner of millions of Oklahoma road maps, beneath the town of Moon on a quiet stretch of Highway 3, America and Tom remain. 

I came to America in ’94. My husband was raised here.
There was a sign up there right by the railroad tracks that said America, but it ended up missing. It used to be a pretty big place,
the way I understood. Now our kids are the last ones left.

— Stephanie Leader Friend, mother of Kristin Leanna Friend, 5,
and Kyle Wayne Friend, 7.
Photographed July 1, 2010, in America, Oklahoma.

Editor’s Note: This is the 11th installment in a continuing series as author and photographer M.J. Alexander chronicles her travels across the state of Oklahoma.

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Calendar

September 2018

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

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This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

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Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
Website »

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The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
View map »


Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

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Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

More information

Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

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