According To William G Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas, published in 1883, Iuka saw its first significant influx of settlers in 1877, coming from Iowa. The town site was surveyed and platted in July, 1877, on land on the west side of what is now 281 Highway. At that time Iuka was located in the center of Pratt County (organized in 1879) and became its county seat.
According to Kansas Place-Names by John Rydjord (and in agreement with local lore), Iuka’s name is from the Civil War Battle of Iuka, fought at the city named for the Chickasaw Indian chief who lies buried in the town square of the original Iuka, located in the northeast corner of Mississippi. Iowa had a town named Iuka, but that city is now named Tama. It is likely that one of the Iowa transplants wanted to name our location after that town, and was probably a veteran of the Battle of Iuka. Each suggested name was written on a slip of paper, placed in a hat, and “Iuka” was drawn.
A post office was established in the fall of 1877, and the first school in the county was opened in 1878. Pratt County’s first newspaper, The Pratt County Press, was started in Iuka in 1878 and it referred to Iuka as “The Gem of the Prairies”. The north county line was moved south, which meant Iuka was no longer in the center of the county. That, along with the more significant development of the railroad through the town of Pratt, led to a swift and sharp decline in Iuka’s population. Most of the town’s buildings were moved either to Pratt or to the new development east of the highway, closer to the smaller railroad line. The census of 1880 states a county population of 1,890 people. The census of 1914 records a population of only 350.
In 1885, Iuka’s strongest tradition was begun. This was the year of our first Memorial Day program. The first observance was made by members of the Grand Army of the Republic on June 27th. The service for the morning of Decoration Day has continued, every year, in much the same way as those Civil War veterans outlined it in 1885.
Probably our most famous native is Lt. Col. Earl “Pete” Ellis, who was born in Iuka. It is uncertain where his exact birthplace lies, but it was likely in old Iuka west of the highway. Earl Ellis is considered by many to be the Marine Corps’ first spy and is widely considered to be the “Father of the Amphibious Marines” and a military genius. His essays on amphibious procedures are still taught in the War Colleges today. His final years were unorthodox, his spy tactics primitive, and his death in 1923 on the island of Japanese-occupied Paleu is a mystery still today.
Residents of Iuka are very proud of our small burg. We work to keep it clean and pleasant. Our population is not growing, but we are far from fading away, and we look forward to many years of comfortable, all-American living in Iuka, Kansas.