The scientific world is buzzing about NASA’s photographic flyby of Ultima Thule, a space object known as a “contact binary.” This has, in turn, set off a buzz about an Ultima Thule much closer to home, in Sevier County to be precise.
A cemetery that carried the name (also known as Masonic Cemetery) still exists, though the Arkansas community by that name near the Oklahoma border has passed on. A tiny neighboring community in Oklahoma survives.
Scraps of information about Ultima Thule can be found on the web. An Oklahoma website, Red Dirt Report, mentions the community in the course of writing about communities developed along the line of what would become the Kansas City Southern railroad from Port Arthur, Texas to Kansas City through western Arkansas.
The man who chose the name “Ultima Thule” was the town’s first postmaster, Joseph W. McKean, “a veteran of the Florida Wars and an ‘intimate friend’ of Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett,” notes the Arkansas Records Catalog.
The Roman poet Virgil coined the term “Ultima Thule” meaning “the furthest land … a far-off land or an unattainable goal.” And in the 20th century, Nazi occultists believed in Thule as “the ancient origin of the Aryan race” and that a “race of giant supermen lived in Thule, linked into the Cosmos through magical powers. They had psychic and technological energies far exceeding the technical achievements of the 20th century.”
As noted in 1932’s “Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vo. 10, No. 4,” Ultima Thule was just across the border from the Choctaw Nation in Arkansas and had a post office, blacksmith shop, general store and a gin.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas also credits McKean, who arrived in Arkansas by Red River steamboat in 1833, with being the community’s first postmaster, but doesn’t specifically credit him for naming it. The encyclopedia also recounts a lynching that occurred near there in 1881.
No knock on Sevier County, but this piece of land is far off and — as a community — unobtainable.