“Early risers who were astir at daylight this morning were the first to catch the welcome sound of the long whistle of the Kate Adams as she came around Choctaw Bend, and in half an hour the whole town was agog with curiosity and excitement over the arrival of the new boat….When her whistle announced her approach to the elevator, a rush of people to the wharf and the boom of anvils immediately followed.”
— The Arkansas City Journal, Dec. 23, 1882
A bit of improvement is in the works for Kate Adams.
It’s the lake we are talking about, an oxbow in southeastern Arkansas that was once the main channel of the Mississippi River and a bearer of extensive historical connections.
Kate Adams Lake is just south of Arkansas City, the seat of Desha County. The 150-acre lake is on the river side of the big levee that has seen all sorts of events through the decades.
Like most oxbow lakes, Kate Adams has its ups and downs with fishing. At times, the action for crappie, catfish, bass and bream can be very good, even outstanding on occasion. Then, circumstances interrupt, and fishing productivity plummets.
Diana Andrews is the district fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, She said, “The lake is still connected to the Mississippi River so, it gets restocked every year from the river. Because it’s still connected to the river, we do very little management on it. Most lakes like this do very well.”
A land swap approved by the Game and Fish Commission at its August meeting is aimed at creating more facilities for public use, including a camping area. The trade was for nine acres of inaccessible AGFC land for seven acres on the lake owned by the Moore family of Arkansas City.
That name, Kate Adams, comes from a steamboat which was named for the wife of a prominent Memphis citizen and entrepreneur, Maj. John D. Adams. There were three boats named Kate Adams, results of fires and such that plagued the glittering but bygone age of Mississippi River steamboats.
In 1882, Memphis and river activities were booming. The city had been spared Civil War destruction but was decimated by yellow fever in 1876. Maj. Adams, and the rank came from the Civil War, established a steamboat business in 1882 with a route from Memphis to Arkansas City, then a major river port along the lines of Helena, Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez.
As a county seat, Arkansas City had a newspaper, doctors, lawyers, all sorts of businesses and much daily activity at the port. Adams had a contract for carrying mail, and old photos of the Kate Adams show “U.S. Mail” prominently displayed above the boat’s name on her sidewheels.
Steamboats were the way of travel and shipping in those days. But railroads came on strong, then highways. By the 1920s, Arkansas City was suffering since the railroad and highway went through McGehee, 11 miles to the west.
The huge flood of 1927 hammered Arkansas City hard. The capricious river changed course about two miles to the east, leaving only what is now the lake. Business activity shriveled, and dock facilities fell into disrepair. Some brick remnants are at a present-day boat launching area with picnic facilities on the shore of the lake and beside the big levee.
Joe Mosby is a retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com