Transportation at Buffalo River came in several phases and certainly played a significant part in linking the river with the outside world. The original mode was team and wagon. Even as late as the 1930s "freighters" were using team and wagon to haul lumber, ore, and cotton to railheads. Stories abound in oral history about a man's teams and his prowess with them.
The river became a significant transportation mode in the later part of the nineteenth century before the advent of the railroad. Bales of cotton, even ore, were floated downriver on log barges to reach other transportation terminals. For the men accompanying the rafts the river became a road map of the families living along it. Spring rises and other high water events primed the river for successful floating. Later, the river was used to reach the railheads at Gilbert and Buffalo City.
The river also became an obstacle to be crossed by land traffic. Natural low water fords were known along its length and were utilized as necessary. Several road routes were significant enough that established ferries handled the transport of wagons, and later, mechanized vehicles, while shorter-lived ferries were established at several river communities. The established ferries lasted on into the twentieth century as Arkansas slowly developed its state highway system and constructed bridges across the Buffalo.
The railroad was the most long-awaited coming of any transportation mode in the Ozarks. The Missouri and North Arkansas reached Harrison in 1901. The railroad had been enticed for a number of years: the mining fields tried many schemes to convince railroad companies to build. The M&NA railroad reached Gilbert in 1902 and the Iron Mountain reached Buffalo City in 1903. Both Gilbert and Buffalo City became hubs of commerce as Buffalo River products were shipped out of those depots to the rest of the nation. Gilbert probably is more well-known in oral tradition as its central river location affected a greater number of Buffalo River residents.
Did You Know?
Did you know that Buffalo National River preserves many pioneer homesteads ranging from the 1840s to the 1930s? These structures document the struggles and lifeways of people that carved a living out of the lush forests of the Buffalo River region.