Departee (Independence County)
The historic community of Departee in Christian Township of Independence County is located on Blackland Road (Highway 157) near Departee Creek, about three and a half miles southwest of Oil Trough (Independence County) and two miles northwest of Thida (Independence County). Departee is close to Major Harris Mountain in the Oil Trough Bottoms near the Blackland community. The White River bottomland is a fertile area for farming, although cotton has been largely replaced by other crops such as soybeans and rice. Flooding, often disastrous, frequently occurs in the bottoms.
The community was named for Departee Creek, a small bottomland creek that most likely received its name from the French who were in the area by the beginning of the nineteenth century; the word translates as “departed.” Departee Creek Wildlife Management Area near Bradford (White County) is an area frequented by hunters, fishermen, and wildlife enthusiasts. Dog Lick Branch, Bailey Creek, Village Creek, Brown Lake, and Fife Slough are located in the Departee region of Independence County.
As early as 1800, French frontiersmen were in the White River bottoms of Oil Trough, hunting bear and smaller game, including deer. The lucrative trade in bear oil proved to be an incentive for settlement. Pioneer Hardin Hulsey arrived in 1817, and others soon followed. One of the bear hunters, John Jenkins Wyatt, gained a larger-than-life reputation in Departee folklore. Wyatt would reportedly make a commotion to lure a bear from its den and then lie down and let the bear run over him as it emerged. He would then stab it to death with his hunting knife.
An early settler of the Departee area was John Hindman Sr., who was born in Randolph County, Illinois, and came to the Departee area following his marriage to his second wife, Sarah Elwell, in 1874. During the Civil War, Hindman served as a second lieutenant in Company G. Thirty-Fourth Illinois Infantry. John Hindman Jr.—Hindman’s son by his first wife, Fidelia Steele—also journeyed to the Departee region with the family and later married Eliza Scoggins. The Hindman Cemetery near Departee is named for these early settlers.
A post office was established in 1904, with Cyrus Eben (C. E.) Stuart appointed postmaster. The post office closed in 1911. Mail was then sent to the post office in Dunnington (Independence County).
The white school-age children of Departee attended the Burrow and Meadow Lake schools, which were still open in 1936. The children of the African-American farmers attended school at Hindman (Independence County) to the southeast. The Meadow Lake School consolidated with Oil Trough in the 1940s. When Hindman’s schools consolidated, black students attended school at Newport (Jackson County).
The land on which the old post office and store sat became farmland. In the twenty-first century, the closest stores are in nearby Oil Trough, with another store at Thida. Most who hold jobs outside the Departee area work in Newport, Bradford, and Bald Knob (White County). The two churches for the Departee community are Meadow Lake Church and Blackland Chapel. All that remains of the name is Departee Creek, Departee Creek Road, and Departee Township.
For additional information:
McGinnis, A. C. “Farming in Oil Trough, 1904–1960.” Independence County Chronicle 13 (July 1972): 27–39.
Whetstone, Pete. “Bear Hunting in 1837.” Independence County Chronicle 2 (January 1961): 2–4.
Wyatt, Ralph H. “The Bear Hunter.” Independence County Chronicle 4 (October 1962): 31–33.
Van Buren, Arkansas
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