II. "...came to arkansas...": AnteBellum Settlement of the Watershed
Arkansas in the 1830s was largely a remote frontier area whose population while rapidly expanding lagged significantly behind that of Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee, its four nearest neighbors. Except for the "urban" settlements of Little Rock, Camden, and Fort Smith, the population was scattered across the state on small subsistence farms or on somewhat more expansive cotton plantations in the southern and eastern counties and along the Red River in the southwest corner. Railroads had not yet connected the capital with major commercial centers on the Mississippi, and inland travel was limited to roads whose condition ranged from lamentable to impassable. River travel was relatively uncomplicated, but limited to the Arkansas, White, St. Francis, Ouachita, and the Red. This geographical isolation, common to most frontier areas, was felt most keenly by those who inhabited the mountainous sections of Arkansas.
Insulated by their environment, the settlers of the Ozarks and, to a lesser extent of the Ouachitas, remained for decades relatively untouched by contemporary social and cultural movements. Their isolation led to the development of a distinct cultural milieu. This mountain culture, as it has been labeled, originated in the frontier experience, but was molded and shaped by the exigencies of highland life.
In 1830 the United States was on the move. Its technology, literature, and politics were all in a state of flux as were its people. The westward movement, having begun on the Atlantic seaboard during the seventeenth century, continued. By 1830 there were twenty-four states in the Union, but only two (Louisiana and Missouri) were west of the Mississippi River. The line of frontier settlement ebbed and flowed along the geographical path of least resistance. In 1830 it ranged from southwestern Alabama, north to near the Tennessee border, then west to the Mississippi. The "cutting edge of civilization" then traveled north to west-central Illinois where it turned back to the east to Lake Erie. Northern Indiana and Illinois were largely unsettled as were most of Missouri, Louisiana, and the Arkansas Territory. There were pockets of pioneers west of that frontier line, notably in the areas surrounding the mouth of the Mississippi River, along the Missouri River, and in Arkansas.  In 1830 Arkansas possessed only 30,388 inhabtants, most of whom settled along the Arkansas and White rivers.  Yet even those early settlers had been preceded by the most independent of all frontiersmenthe ubiquitous fur trapper and trader.
Shortly after the commencement of the nineteenth century those hardy individuals began entering northwestern Arkansas to exploit the large number of wild animals that then populated the region. Bear oil as well as various peltries were the primary goal of those early businessmen, and they were usually successful due to the great abundance of game. Indeed, it is reported that the present village of Oil Trough, Arkansas, located immediately down the White River from Batesville, earned its name because of the great quantities of bears that were killed in its vicinity. 
During an eighteen month period just prior to the beginning of the War of 1812, a three-man hunting party which probably camped on the upper White River, emerged, after a protracted campaign, with "about fifty beaver and otter, and about three hundred bear skins, and eight hundred gallons of bear's oil."  The men transported their cargo by canoe, possibly down the Buffalo River, to the Mississippi and thence to New Orleans. Unfortunately, by the time they reached New Orleans the embargo proclaimed by President Jefferson prevented them from selling their goods for full value. Instead of the anticipated two to three thousand dollar profit, the three tired and frustrated trappers disappointed ly divided among themselves the sum of thirty-six dollars. 
A few such adventurers settled in northwest Arkansas, raised a log cabin, cleared a few acres of bottomland, and lived a somewhat more sedate existence. Most, however, continued to use the abundant game of the central-Mississippi region to further their economic stake in life or moved on to other pursuits. 
In 1819, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the New York ethnologist mentioned earlier, explored northern Arkansas and found a scattered, sparse population. Many of the settlers were accustomed to living close to the land and dispensed with the niceties of more refined areas of settlement. Schoolcraft noted that people living just north of the Buffalo River basin lived by hunting and agriculture, although vegetable gardens were unknown. Instead, corn and bear meat provided the main staples, but while they grew corn for bread, for their horses, and perhaps for the distillation of corn whiskey, it was not considered a cash crop.
Conditioned by their stern, harsh, and unyielding environment, those initial inhabitants along the upper White River formed the advance guard of the confident, optimistic, and determined pioneer farmer who would soon follow. By 1830 Arkansas was a part of that forward thrust of American civilization.
As previously noted, in 1830 the population of Arkansas amounted to 30,388 while Missouri and Louisiana possessed 140,455 and 215,739 inhabitants respectively.  There were a number of reasons why Arkansas initially did not attract a large quantity of settlers. First of all, access was difficult. The swampy eastern border, along the Mississippi River, was impassable for wagons during some seasons, and there were few roads leading into east-central Arkansas from other directions. The most prominent of these was a crude military road from Memphis through Little Rock to Fort Smith, and another from the southeastern Missouri boundary through Little Rock to Fulton on the Red River.  Thus, most of the early prospective immigrants to the territory came by water: either up the Mississippi by way of Louisiana or down that river from the Ohio. The extent upon which water transportation was relied upon is indicated by the fact that early population centers were located along either the Arkansas, White, or other smaller waterways. But the migrant who traveled the Mississippi looking for suitable farming land often found it long before he reached the future Bear State. For the settlers who floated down the Ohio and then the Mississippi, bountiful rich soil was available in southern Indiana, Illinois, and especially Missouri. Those settlers who proposed to enter the territory through New Orleans faced added obstacles. They not only had to fight against the unslacking current of the Mississippi, but also they constantly were lured by the luxuriantly fertile soils of the future states of Mississippi and Louisiana.  Moreover, the northwest portion of Arkansas labored under an additional burden. Most of the mountain region in that area was claimed by the Cherokee Indians who did not agree to move west into the Indian Territory until 1828.  The Buffalo River country and the area around it, however, suffered from a hinderance far more intangible than the Cherokee occupation yet possibly equally retardant to vigorous growth.
A geographical description of the American West appeared in 1828 and was eagerly read by an American public seeking pertinent information about the remote yet promising western frontier. Timothy Flint's A Condensed Geography and History of the Western States or the Mississippi Valley became so widely celebrated that by 1852 when Harriet Beecher Stowe published her anti-slavery polemic Uncle Tom's Cabin, the author believed herself justified in casually mentioning Flint's work along with Paradise Lost and Pilgrim's Progress and assumed that her reading public was equally familiar with all three.  A Condensed Geography informed its readers about various elements in each of the western states and territories. It described which areas were conducive to the growing of certain crops and which were not. It commented upon the rivers of the area and noted the extent of navigability of each, the condition of the soil along its banks, and the number and nature of its tributaries. The book further examined the climate, productions, and settlements of the western territories.
A quick reading of the Arkansas segment of the book would tend to discourage all but the most determined migrant from settling in northern Arkansas. While the state as a whole received favorable treatment, the Buffalo River country and its environs were the subject of generally negative, although truthful, coverage. For instance, Flint, echoing the early land surveyors, described the White River region in part as "broken land, and unfit for cultivation," and he presented the high prairies and timbered lands as " sterile." Flint further wrote of the "rocky and sterile ridges" and of the "no inconsiderable surface covered with mountains." While he conceded that the valleys nestled among the precipitous hills were conducive to growing a wide variety of crops, Flint warned that the mountainous area had one great drawbackthe frequent floods that followed the regular seasonal thunderstorms. The streams "have been known to rise forty feet perpendicular height, in a few hours. The standing corn and cotton is submerged; and the hope of the year destroyed."  The number of potential Arkansas migrants who were acquainted with A Condensed Geography... cannot, of course, be determined, but one can accurately assume that Flint's less than encouraging account would have caused a prospective settler to reconsider the alternatives.
In spite of the difficulty in reaching the Arkansas Territory and of settling in the highland section of the region, people did begin to settle the Buffalo River valley during the two decades between 1820 and 1840. Before the Cherokee Indians ceded their land between the Arkansas and the White rivers, the first white pioneers entered the basin of the Buffalo and established homesites. Around 1822 a Kentuckian named Robert Adams immigrated to the Searcy County area and built a farm on Bear Creek.  Three years later upper Bear Creek and the Richland valley to the west contained scattered clearings.  The upper sections of the Buffalo were settled about the same time by emigrants primarily from Tennessee. Tennessean John Brisco settled near Jasper (the present county seat of Newton County) on the Little Buffalo in 1825.  Farther up the Buffalo, Solomon Cecil, also from Tennessee, settled on what is now called Cecil Creek near present Compton.  Down-river from the Cecil homestead, Mitchell and Nancy Hill began a settlement near what would later become Mount Hersey.  Around 1830 the mouth of the Buffalo was settled, and a small village that would later become Buffalo City was established. Located just north of the junction of the White and the Buffalo, the site marked the northern limit of deep draft navigation of the White. John Tabor and William Moreland were the first homesteaders at the mouth of the Buffalo and probably arrived there around 1829 or 1830.  Others such as Samuel Hudson and John Campbell were to push on up-river.
Brought by his parents to northern Arkansas during the 1820s, Samuel Hudson struck out on his own in 1832 and homesteaded on Panther Creek within five miles of the future site of Jasper. First a farmer, later a stock-raiser, and still later the owner and operator of a grist mill, Hudson soon became one of the more influential inhabitants of the upper Buffalo. He is alleged to have killed hundreds of buffalo along the river and to have driven nine packs of hounds to death during his lifetime. During one of his hunting adventures he discovered a limestone cave which is now a popular tourist attraction called Diamond Cave. Like many men of his day who outlived their wives, Hudson married three times and fathered forty children. 
John Campbell, another native of Tennessee, first entered Arkansas in 1837 with his wife and relatives. He settled on Calf Creek in Searcy and the year following his arrival was elected county surveyor. Two years later he served as county judge. He represented his county in the state legislature in 1842 and 1843 and again in 1852 and 1853. In 1861 he was a delegate to the Arkansas secession convention where he was one of five who initially voted against leaving the Union. Campbell, along with three of the others, later reversed his vote at the request of the convention's chairman. Following the Civil War, Campbell again served Searcy County in the state legislature and continued to influence local politics. 
The people who settled on the Buffalo for the most part were hardworking farmers who desired nothing more than to clear a few acres, build a log dwelling, and enjoy the peace and tranquility the valley had to offer. Perhaps most of the newcomers were not too unlike David Barnett who
Although the topography remained a considerable obstacle to settlement, Arkansas attracted increasingly larger numbers of settlers once the Cherokees moved west in 1828. The territorial census of 1833 reported a population of 40,660an increase of 34 percent in only three years.  That precipitate growth registered in the northern areas of the territory and caused the formation of additional counties. For some time prior to 1835 the citizens of large Izard County had clamored for a division of that political entity. In November 1835, the territorial legislature approved the change and formed from western Izard a new political division initially termed Searcy County. A year later, however, bowing to the wishes of the inhabitants of the new county, the legislature renamed the county Marion in honor of General Francis Marion from South Carolina.  Born in 1732 near Georgetown, Marion, at the start of the American Revolution, was a representative to the provisional congress of South Carolina and later entered the Colonial Army where he remained for the duration of the war. The general died at home in South Carolina at the age of sixty-three.  The exact relationship between Marion and the early settlers of northern Arkansas is unclear. Perhaps relatives of his immigrated to the region and sought to immortalize their ancestor. Possibly men who served under his command during the war and later moved to Arkansas wished to show their respect for the military leader. Perhaps it was his reputation as the Swamp Fox. Quite possibly the settlers had merely emigrated from Marion County, Tennessee and wished to use a familiar name. In any case, the county was so named and the seat of justice was established at a place later named Yellville in honor of Archibald Yell who served as governor of Arkansas from 1840 to 1844. 
The second Buffalo River county was formed in December, 1838, when the southern portion of Marion was set aside and designated Searcy County.  This, the forty-first Arkansas county, was named after Richard Searcy, an accomplished lawyer in the northern part of the state. A Tennessean, Searcy first went to Arkansas in 1817 while it was still attached to Missouri and later made his home at Batesville on the White River. He was appointed first clerk of the Independence County courts and in 1823 became a territorial judge. Two years later political influence caused his removal from office, and although he attempted to regain his place on the territorial bench, his efforts were in vain. Searcy died in Batesville in 1832 a wealthy and respected citizen.  A select group of commissioners located the Searcy County seat at Lebanon, six miles west of present Marshall, but eighteen years later it was relocated to the more populous center of Burrowsville, which in 1867 was renamed Marshall after John Marshall, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 
By the early 1840s the headwaters region of the Buffalo River was sufficiently populated to warrant the creation of yet another political district. In December, 1842, Governor Archibald Yell signed an act that detached the southeastern part of Carroll County and formed the forty-seventh county, Newton. The act stated that the seat of justice be established at the house of John Bellah on the Little Buffalo River. The following year the county seat was permanently established at the town of Jasper, a few miles down-river from Bellahs.  Thomas Willoughby Newton, for whom the county was named, arrived in frontier Arkansas in 1820 at the age of seventeen. After short careers as a mail carrier, court clerk, and clerk for the Third Territorial Legislature in 1823, Newton served as a delegate to the state legislature from 1844 to 1846. In December of 1846 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives to fill the unexpired term of an Arkansas congressman who resigned to participate in the war with Mexico. Consequently, he became the only Whig ever sent to Washington from Arkansas. 
The naming of the counties for Newton and Searcy, who were both Whigs, was strangely prophetic, for both counties during the years following the Civil War became political mavericks. In a Democratic state those two counties repeatedly voted for Republican candidates for President and continued to do so well into the twentieth century.
The settlement of the Buffalo River basin grew at a steady rate. Determined farmers and hunters, primarily from Tennessee, entered the region in ever increasing numbers. A study of the census returns reveals that immigration into Marion, Newton, and Searcy counties not only kept pace with the rest of the state, but also, on occasion, surpassed it. The decade of the 1840s saw the population of Arkansas increase by 115.1 percent: a figure greater, although not significantly, than that of Marion (74.2 percent) and Searcy (111.4 percent). Because Newton remained a part of Carroll County until 1842, no accurate figures are available for that county. During the following years, 1850 to 1860, Arkansas doubled its population with an increase of 107.5 percent. But both Marion and Searcy counties grew at a rate more than 50 percent higher. The population of those counties increased 168.3 and 166.3 percent respectively. The newest of the three counties, Newton, had the lowest rate of increase at 93 percent.  That phenomenon of rapid growth must be attributed to the fact that antebellum Arkansas was a part of the North American frontier and consequently experienced the population boom typical of such areas. It must be noted, however, that the figures represent only a relative condition and that the seemingly high percentages do not indicate that the Buffalo Basin was being quickly overrun with log cabins. Indeed, the valley remained very sparsely settled; a portion of the 1860 increase may be actually due to an under enumeration in 1850. In 1860 Arkansas possessed 435,450 inhabitants, while the combined total of the three highland counties amounted to only 14,8563.4 percent of the total state population and representing a density of approximately 6.6 individuals per square mile. 
The new arrivals to the Arkansas Ozarks originated, not surprisingly, from contiguous areas. As immigrants sought familiar land, Tennessee led all other states in the number of newcomers to Arkansas. Up to 1860 an average of 50 percent of the new arrivals to Searcy and Marion counties came from that state. In Newton County, as well, most settlers came from Tennessee, although after 1850 the preponderance of immigrants arrived from Missouri. A similar change in place of origin occurred in Marion and Searcy counties during the next decade and continued at least for the next twenty years, as most of the new arrivals to those two counties claimed Missouri as their former residence.  When examined jointly, statistics show that emigrants from both states, Missouri and Tennessee, contributed over 60 percent of the new arrivals into the three county region during the years up to 1860.
Many of the initial settlers along the Buffalo failed to obtain legal title to the land that they had painstakingly cleared and upon which they had erected a dwelling. Squatters were not uncommon to the western frontier. The practice of settling on land without benefit of ownership had been prevalent along the fringes of the American frontier for some time. As early as 1784, George Washington noted in his diary an incident with squatters on his own property, and as President he spoke against such illegal trespasses.  As the nation grew and the population steadily increased, the settlement of land not yet "open" for homesteading became increasingly common. The reasons for this were several. Without question, a major cause of squatting was that land surveys were not able to keep up with impatient settlers. Although inadequate congressional appropriations was the immediate cause, a more general and serious reason stemmed from the opposition to the development of western lands by older, more conservative areas of the East. A corresponding reason for widespread squatting was even more basic: Settlers on federal land avoided paying both the purchase price for the land and the annual county and state real estate taxes. Many of those who settled the highland frontier were an individualistic breed who were shrewd enough to elude the scrutiny of the local tax collectors and suspicious enough of legal maneuvering to seek civil obscurity. 
Regardless of the reason, squatting on the public domain was not sanctioned by law, and many a frontier farmer found the land he had cleared, cultivated, and improved, but to which he had no legal title, suddenly offered for sale. Westerners, thus, at an early date began to petition Congress demanding that the initial settler be given certain rights regarding the purchase of the land he occupied. The quest for "squatters' rights" won increasing support in Congress, and in 1830 it passed the first of a series of badly needed pre-emption laws. The initial act forgave squatters and allowed them to purchase their land without having to take their chances through competitive bidding. (This advantage alone no doubt fostered yet additional squatting.) The 1830 law was re-enacted throughout the 1830s until in 1841 Congress passed a permanent pre-emption act.  The practice of residing upon land without statutory possession was consequently well-established by the time the Buffalo River country was settled.
That squatting was prevalent cannot be contested, but other than in general terms, the exact extent of it has never been determined. How extensive it was along the Buffalo may, perhaps, be instructive in understanding the essence of frontier land tenure. It has been established that the incidence of squatters was greatest where the line of frontier settlement outdistanced the capability of the United States government to conduct surveys. In the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas, the surveys began during the latter years of the 1820s. But even then the work was not accomplished immediately. The initial surveys, which took place from roughly 1829 to 1834, measured and marked only the eastern and southern boundary lines of each township. Once those lines were established, the interior surveys began. This latter measuring, a much more tedious and protracted task, was not completed until almost 1850. Many of the initial settlers of the Buffalo region consequently were squatters by reason of their premature entrance into the watershed. In western Searcy County, for instance, a surveyor in 1834 found fifteen families living in one unplotted township. He noted in his field notes, however, that most were anxious to purchase their improved lands. 
Apparently, those eager settlers and their neighbors were not as intent on legalizing their claims as they led the surveyor to believe. Once the land was properly platted, there was no rush to file the proper papers and pay up. The mountain folk were seemingly content to forgo the bothersome and costly task of obtaining legal title to their land. Under the provisions of the Land Law of 1820, Congress reduced the minimum price per acre to $1.25, and established the minimum purchase at eighty acres. The act abolished the credit system for payment which had been allowed since 1800.  Thus while smaller tracts of land were available at a cheaper price, total payment of one hundred dollars was required upon purchase. Few settlers along the Buffalo, or for that matter, along the American frontier, possessed the necessary financial resources to capitalize on the reduced purchase requirements.
A study of fifty-five settlers known to be occupying land within the Buffalo River watershed at the time of the original land surveys reveals the extent to which squatting was practiced. Of the total identified homesites, only fourteen were ever legally owned by the initial occupant or by a member of his family. Fully 74 percent of those individuals known to be living in that area during the 1830s and 1840s failed, for one reason or another, to secure title to their land.  Many, of course, moved to other areas after only a short residence in the region, while still others doubtless decided to purchase neighboring land other than that which they originally occupied. Of those who did obtain a title, most were relatively prompt in doing so. Of the fourteen who filed for their land, one-half received legal possession by 1850, and another five were legitimate owners before another decade had elapsed. Interestingly enough, the final two subjects, or their descendants, waited a considerable length of time before filing their documents: the first obtained his in 1870 and the second in 1900. 
Without additional figures it is impossible to determine whether there were more or fewer squatters per capita along the Buffalo than in other areas. In any case, clearly there was no sense of urgency among the peoples of the Boston Mountains to obtain clear and official title to their lands. Perhaps they felt secure in their isolated valleys and considered quite remote the possibility that anyone would want their land. Or, perhaps, they were too independent and obstinate (or shrewd) to go through the proper legal procedures of gaining a clear title. Or, perhaps, they were exceptionally trusting of their fellow man and had faith that no moral person would "legally steal" the land that another had so laboriously improved.  Whatever the legal and procedural questions concerning the acquisition of land, the overriding concern of those initial settlers was to provide enough food for their families and to hope that a surplus would enable them to purchase the supplies and implements they could not manufacture themselves.
By 1860 the rugged valley contained not quite fifteen thousand inhabitants. Scattered along the length of the one hundred and forty-eight mile stream, they built their log homes and tilled the fertile bottom lands. On the swift tributaries they built grist mills and saw mills to provide fundamental comforts for their frontier society. Towns were few and widely scattered. The immediate area around Buffalo City probably contained the largest concentration of inhabitants: 214.  The county seats of the three counties were growing, if not thriving, communities, and there were other centers of frontier life that as yet were unnamed but would soon become small social and economic nuclei complete with schools, churches, and assorted businesses. There were an equal number of churches and schools in 1860 with the former being simple "log Cabins that have been built by Common labor and for the accommodation of no one sect to the exclusion of another...."  Although there were around twenty schools within the watershed, the disinterest with which the settlers held them forced the census taker in 1850 to commend that "there appears to [be] a greater degree of apathy here [Marion County] than I have ever witnessed in any county whatever."  Indeed, the illiteracy rate among those inhabitants twenty years of age and older ranged from 40 percent in Marion County to 60 percent in Newton. 
The people who inhabited the valleys and ridges of the river basin were hardworking frontier farmers who were largely self-sufficient. Because they operated small and relatively autonomous farms (the average in 1850 was twenty-eight improved acres per farm)  and did not concentrate on a single cash crop, they had little need for slaves. Yet in 1860 there were 378 black slaves scattered throughout the watershed and its immediate area. Individual holdings were small with the average being 3.7 per slave owner although Orin L. Dodd, a forty-six year old farmer from Tennessee, possessed thirty-five slaves on his Rapp's Barren, Marion County plantation. 
The black population within the three county region, while it consisted largely of slaves, also contained a significant proportion of free-blacks. Marion County possessed not only the largest non-slave black population in the state, 21.2 percent in 1850, but also in both 1840 and 1850 it contained a greater number of free-blacks than slaves. This concentration of emancipated blacks seemingly consisted primarily of two extended families from Tennessee, one of which had immigrated to the region early in the 1830s, the other only shortly before 1850. The unusualness of their conspicuous presence in the region was eclipsed only by the fact that these free Negroes were not tenant farmers but landholders. Indeed, fifteen out of the twenty families living within the county in 1850 possessed their own farm land, and two of them could boast of property valued at one thousand dollars and above.  These black farmers were not mere transients searching for a favorable location in which to settle, but rather they were established members of the community, or at least tolerated, by the hill folk of northwest Arkansas. Apparently, however, the rising tide of racial intolerance and sectional animosity which characterized the United States during the decade of the 1850s finally reached the Arkansas Ozarks, for by 1860 the blacks were gone. Of the 129 in 1850 only eight remained ten years later.  Although Arkansas had restricted free black immigration since 1838, little attention had apparently been paid to the prohibitive ordinances. In 1859, the Arkansas legislature passed a law forbidding free-blacks to remain in the state after January 1, 1860, but effective enforcement of the statute in the mountainous regions of the state was probably irregular at best.  Whether they departed on their own accord or were forced to leave by their neighbors, their existence in the county for over a decade denotes an appearance of acceptance or indulgence on the part of their neighbors. Tolerance of that nature would not have been possible in some of the more populated areas of the state.
Thus, on the eve of the Civil War, the Buffalo River valley was populated with settlers who had arrived from adjacent states, who often lived on land they did not own, and who operated farms that were largely self-sufficient. Surrounded by the hills which, perhaps, first attracted them to the region, those Ozark pioneers reflected the rigid determination and dedication to survival which characterized most frontier regions. But the settlers along the Buffalo developed, in addition, apparent satisfaction with their surroundings and a corresponding disinclination to follow the continuing westward movement of the American people. Although the geographical immobility of these early settlers has as yet not been analyzed, it is postulated that the highland dwellers constituted a much more static frontier society than did their contemporaries who resided in more accessible areas. The individuals who populated the valleys and "hollers" along the Buffalo River clung to familiar customs, practices, and habits out of necessity; a necessity imposed upon them by the rugged character of their environment. Prior to 1860, they were able to remain aloof from the growing national controversy, but the Civil War deeply affected the people of the valley and altered their politics and their patterns of life for decades thereafter.
Last Updated: 14-Jan-2008