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People think Ultima Thule is uninhabitable, but Earl Pepper says it's not so.

Pepper said he and his wife, Mary Ellen Pepper, are the only residents of what had been Ultima Thule, Ark.

The town is gone now. It was an early trading post on the border between Sevier County and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. The name Ultima Thule dates from the late Roman empire and means "beyond the borders of the known world."

Earl Pepper said he's been getting some strange questions lately. That's because Ultima Thule has a namesake 4 billion miles away, on the other side of Neptune.

That Ultima Thule was buzzed on New Year's Day by the New Horizons spacecraft, which sent stunning images back to Earth of what appeared to be a dirty snowman in space.

"I saw that on the news about the spacecraft," Pepper said Thursday while on a trip to his native Alabama. "I find that interesting."

Pepper said he didn't know how a contact binary in the Kuiper Belt came to have the same name as an extinct Arkansas town.

Turns out, a public vote was taken in 2014 to give a nickname to the 21-mile-long object officially known as 2014 MU69.

Out of 34,000 public suggestions, the names were narrowed to 37 for a vote, and Ultima Thule won. It beat out Ano Nuevo, Tiramisu, Lewis & Clark, Peanut/Almond/Cashew, Nubbin and Olaf, to name a few.

Joseph W. McKean settled Ultima Thule in 1833, according to Goodspeed's 1890 Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. McKean was the first merchant and postmaster in town. He was "intimate friends" with Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett back in Tennessee, according to Goodspeed's.

Legend has it that McKean named Ultima Thule, but he may have gotten the name from missionaries who accompanied the Choctaw to Indian Territory in the 1830s, according to A Standard History of Oklahoma by Joseph Bradfield Thoburn.

The missionaries christened the site Ultimathule, meaning the "last stop," Thoburn wrote. Then they crossed the border and christened the first Indian camp in the Choctaw Nation with the same name, Ultimathule. About all that's left of Ultima Thule, Okla., are a couple of beer joints, which don't appear to have any historical significance.

Karen Mills, director of the Sevier County Museum in De Queen, said other documents indicate that Ultima Thule was named by Ambrose Hundley Sevier, for whom the county was named.

Mills said Ultima Thula had a post office from 1836 to 1907. There is still a cemetery in the area, usually known as the Ultima Thule Cemetery. McKean is buried there.

A plaque there reads: "This Masonic cemetery is the last vestige of Ultima Thule, once a lively trading post on the Military Road between Washington, Hempstead County, and Fort Towson, Choctaw Nation."

On television, scientists and newscasters pronounce it Ultima too-lee, rhyming with Julie.

In Sevier County, they call it Ultima thew-l, pronounced more like Thule is spelled.

"A tornado wiped that whole town out," John Waldon of De Queen said of Ultima Thule, Ark. His mother was from the area.

"At one time it had hotels, saloons, the whole nine yards," Waldon said.

But one house remains from historic Ultima Thule. It's home to the Peppers.

They moved to Sevier County in 2011 after Earl Pepper retired. Pepper, 75, had spent 25 years working for the Arkansas Department of Correction, where he was officially known as "assistant head farm manager/horses."

The house is owned by the family of John Hendrix, a Texas oil man who grew up near Gillham in Sevier County.

"I live in the only house in Ultima Thule," Pepper said. "I work there on that ranch. I no longer want to be in charge of anything. I am just a common puncher there."

He means cowpuncher, which is another name for cowboy or ranch hand.

"I'm on horseback pretty much every day when I'm there," he said.

People kid him about being the mayor of Ultima Thule.

"I told someone recently I thought about appointing my dog as mayor so I wouldn't have that kind of stress anymore," he said.

Pepper said he doesn't suspect the New Horizons adventure will mean an increase in tourism in Ultima Thule, Ark., but he saw some hoodies advertised that had "Ultima Thule, Oklahoma" emblazoned across the front.

So the idea isn't totally out of this world.

NW News on 01/14/2019

Print Headline: Ultima Thule so far out in space, yet so close to Arkansas

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