‘Small Creek’ rises


Local News

December 10, 2019 - 10:49 AM

Iola City Council members agreed with a group of residents who said Iola’s Coon Creek should be renamed.

Council members eventually voted 5-0, in one of the more bizarre city meetings in recent memory, to return Coon Creek to its original moniker, Small Creek.

The history behind the creek’s name was brought to the Council’s attention in November by Iola teen Alllie Utley, who found old newspaper articles indicating the waterway was not named after raccoons, but instead was almost certainly a slur against the African American population.

The waterway, which zigzags its way through the heart of Iola, was named Coon Creek sometime around 1900, about the same time African American families began settling in neighborhoods near the creek.

Iolan Helen Ambler, the community’s second-oldest black female (behind Rosemary Bass) told Council members she counted herself among those who originally assumed the name was for the animal, and not a derogatory nickname.

“I was appalled when I found out,” she said. 

Ambler noted none of her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren had ever asked her about the origins of the creek’s name.

“Now I’m glad they didn’t,” she said, adding that reverting the name back to Small Creek “is the right thing to do.”

Ambler’s husband, Spencer, admits the creek’s name had bothered him for years. “It bothered me then. It bothers me now. … We’re better than that.”


WHILE almost all of those who spoke Monday, including former city commissioner Gary McIntosh, Iolans Raymond Cooper and Donna Houser and Allen Community College student Lexy Turntine, spoke out in favor of removing the Coon Creek name, it appeared for the better part of 30 minutes the Council would be unable to meet their requests, or at least not immediately.

That’s because only four of the eight Council members were in attendance, not enough for a quorum to even start the meeting.

Council members Kim Peterson and Gene Myrick had notified the others previously they would be absent from Monday’s meeting. When members Ron Ballard and Daniel Mathew also failed to show without explanation, it left the Council one member shy of a quorum.

It was wasn’t until Myrick, who was out of town to broadcast an Iola High School basketball game earlier in the evening, called via speaker phone, that the Council could vote on renaming the creek.

Myrick joined Nancy Ford, Aaron Franklin, Chase Martin and Mark Peters in the 5-0 vote to rename the waterway Small Creek.

The only objections to the vote came from Cooper, who had urged the Council to eschew the Small Creek moniker and instead name the waterway after John Silas Bass, a prominent African-American doctor in Iola’s early years. Also objecting was Iolan Richard Zajic, who said the name should be put up to a public referendum.

“Let the people vote on it,” he said, “not just seven people.”


HOUSER, a local historian, had originally been against removing the Coon Creek name, but has since relented after discovering the ignominious history behind the name.

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