Once an area of extensive paper and petroleum industries, Choctaw County is located in southwestern Alabama. The Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, located near Coffeeville, is an important resting place for migrating birds and provides habitat for a number of Alabama animals. The county is governed by an elected four-member commission and includes seven incorporated communities.
· Founding Date: December 29, 1847
· Area: 909 square miles
· Population: 13,859 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Tombigbee River
· Major Highways: U.S. 84
· County seat: Butler
· Largest City: Butler
Choctaw County was created by an act of the Alabama State Legislature on December 29, 1848, from land formerly within the Choctaw Nation. Located in the southwestern part of the state, the county was named for the Choctaw Indians, some of whom had settlements near the present-day town of Pushmataha, named for the noted Choctaw chief. In the 1890s, Choctaw County received national media attention for what became known as the Sims War, which erupted after Robert Sims, a Confederate war veteran turned preacher, amassed a following of 100 parishioners and declared he and his followers owed no allegiance to an earthly government, should not pay taxes, and had the freedom to make and distribute whiskey. In 1891 U.S. marshals charged Sims and his followers with moonshining and put out a warrant for his arrest. In the ensuing months, skirmishes involving the marshals, a local posse, and Sims followers resulted in several deaths. Sims and a number of his men were eventually captured and hanged by a mob.
Major Cities and Demographics
At the time of the 2010 Census, Choctaw County recorded a population of 13,859. Of that total, 55.8 percent of respondents
identified themselves as white, 43.4 percent as African American, 0.5 percent as Hispanic, 0.4 as two or more races, 0.1 percent
as Asian, and 0.1 as Native American. The median household income was $31,076, compared with $40,547 for the state as a whole,
and the per capita income was $17,214, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole. The county seat, Butler, had a population
of 1,828 in the 2009 Census estimates. Other population centers in the county include Lisman, Silas, Pennington, and Gilbertown.
Early settlers in Choctaw County produced cotton and other agricultural goods that they floated down the Tombigbee River to Mobile. The forestry industry has been the economic backbone of the county since its creation in 1847. In 1912, the railroad came to the county, reducing the reliance on water traffic and remained an important commercial transport method until the 1980s.
On January 2, 1944, the state of Alabama granted Hunt Oil Company a permit to drill the A.R. Jackson Well No. 1 near Gilbertown in Choctaw County. Drilling commenced on January 10, 1944, and was completed approximately one month later. The discovery of this well led to the creation of the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama in 1945, and to the development and growth of the petroleum industry in the state. In the mid-twentieth century, clothing factories were constructed in Silas, Toxey, and Butler, and Marathon Paper Company constructed a paper mill in the town of Naheola. These industries produced clothing and paper products sold all over the world. By the 1990s the railroad had closed and the clothing factories had moved their operations to other countries.
The workforce in present-day Choctaw County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (22.9 percent)
· Manufacturing (14.7 percent)
· Retail trade (13.0 percent)
· Construction (11.9 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (7.7 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services (6.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.8 percent)
· Public administration (5.4 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.1 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services (3.6 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (2.4 percent)
· Wholesale trade (1.4 percent)
· Information (0.9 percent)
The Choctaw County School System currently employs nearly 140 teachers who serve more than 2,200 students in eight schools.
In addition, there are two private schools in Choctaw County which enroll about 715 students.
Comprising approximately 909 square miles, Choctaw County lies in the southwestern area of the state wholly within the Coastal Plain physiographic section. It is bounded to the north by Sumter County, to the east by Marengo and Clarke counties, to the south by Washington County, and to the west by the state of Mississippi.
The Tombigbee River flows along the eastern edge of the county, and several of its tributaries, including Kinterbush, Yantley,
Tuckabum, Wahalak, Big Tallawampa, Surveyors, Okatuppa, and Turkey creeks, cross the area. U.S. 84, running east-west in the
southern part of the county, and State Highway 17, running north-south, are the county's major transportation routes. Butler-Choctaw
County Airport is the county's only public airport.
Events and Places of Interest
Choctaw County is home to the Choctaw County Heritage Festival, an annual event held every Memorial Day weekend. The county is also home to Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Tombigbee River. The refuge, which includes nearly 4,500 acres, is home to alligators, herons, raptors, beavers, deer, turkey, raccoon, wood ducks, migrating waterfowl, and several endangered or threatened species including bald eagles and wood storks. The Old Naheola Bridge, which crosses the Tombigbee River, was built in 1934 and until it closed in 2000 was one of only two bridges in the world that carried rail and automobile traffic on the same road.
Heritage of Choctaw County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, Inc., 2001.
Doggette, Edith. The Sims War. Huntsville, Ala.: Strode Publishers, 1982.
Patricia Hoskins Morton
Published August 27, 2007
Last updated July 3, 2013