Let The River Be:
A History of the Ozark's Buffalo River
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IV. "...this lovely land....": Post War Development

The years following the Civil War were prosperous ones for northwest Arkansas in general and for the Buffalo River country in particular. The cycle of economic good fortune which swept over the United States between 1865 and the beginning of the First World War was reflected in the optimism and relative prosperity of the inhabitants of the Arkansas highlands. Population increased, additional land was cleared and cultivated, crop production expanded, and towns displayed the outward signs of social, cultural, and economic progression. By the end of the century, the Buffalo River valley, while still plagued with poor transportation routes, could no longer be classified a part of the American frontier and exuded an optimism characteristic of developing regions.

In our section we offer many attractive inducements. Our soil is fertile, and aided by a moist climate, is exceedingly productive, and he who plants is sure to reap. The climate is brilliant with sunshine, and frequent and timely rains and a moist gulf breeze tempers the atmosphere so the heat is never oppressive, nor the cold severe, and the rainfall is very evenly distributed. [1]

The near pastoral utopia suggested here was more imagined than real and certainly differed from Timothy Flint's appraisal of seventy-five years earlier; nevertheless, by the time it was written (1902), the valley was nearing its peak in prosperity and population. The prosperity, however, was relative, and the population, although it had doubled since 1860, remained less than 36,000. [2]

As the harried inhabitants of the river began rebuilding their economy and their society after the war and the immigration of newcomers grew apace, farms were re-established and a diversity of crops were harvested. Thirty years after the resumption of settlement, the average improved acreage per farm had grown from twenty-one in 1860 to thirty-four. [3] Buffalo River farmers grew wheat, corn, cotton, potatoes, oats, and even some tobacco and rice. But during the second half of the nineteenth century, cotton inexplicably became the major crop. The 1880s constituted the boom years in the harvesting of that fiber crop. In 1886 the Harrison Times reported that "Cotton seems to be the principal crop through the Buffalo Creek country and looks even better than usual at this season." [4] The cotton gins throughout the valley were busy processing and baling the fiber. By November, 1886, the gin at Marble City, now a tourist attraction called Dogpatch U.S.A., had processed 200 bales and was looking forward to a record year. [5] But by the 1890s the region's affair with the soil sapping plant seemed over. Diversity was needed if the Buffalo River earth was to produce successfully enough to sustain its growing population. In 1899 the Searcy County newspaper, the Marshall Mountain Wave, admonished:

Everybody acknowledges that the more cotton a farmer raises the poorer he gets. Yet it seems the poorer he gets the more surely he is to plant cotton. Sow wheat and oats, plant corn, potatoes and a little of everything.... [6]

An important corollary to the newspaper's formula for agricultural success was to "Go to church on Sunday, have your wife wash on Monday, take the Wave and in ten years you will be well off." [7] While the efficacy of this advice may be questionable, the move toward crop diversification was imperative. The Buffalo bottom land could support a small family with basic foodstuffs, but continued concentration on a single cash crop such as cotton would have been ruinous to the economy as well as to the land. Because of the poor condition of the soil, falling cotton prices, and inadequate transportation facilities, a shift to diversified farming became evident by 1900. By the turn of the century the mountain farmer along the Buffalo raised wheat for bread and corn for feed. When his wheat crop failed, he resorted to corn bread for sustenance and raised some cotton to gain a little extra cash to purchase the few essentials he could not produce on his land. Those indispensable items included salt, coffee, sugar, soda, horseshoes, cotton and woolen cloth, and household goods such as dishes, crocks, and canning jars. Those products had to be imported by "careful freighters" from Springfield, Missouri, Russellville and Plumerville, Arkansas (both of which are on the Arkansas River), or later from Eureka Springs. [8]

Getting their surplus crops to market was also no minor undertaking for the settlers of the narrow valley. Poor roads continued to be their nemesis. The danger of wagons rolling of the narrow and rough paths which served as roads was constant. [9] Surplus goods were usually transported by wagon to Springfield, Missouri to be exchanged there for a few necessities. But the Missouri merchants apparently believed they had a closed market on the goods from the Arkansas Ozarks and, consequently, made a handsome profit at the expense of the farmers. The Buffalo homesteaders finally decided to break with tradition and seek markets elsewhere.

Thus on a cold January morning in 1880, around 200 wagons congregated near the mouth of Richland Creek in Searcy County and began a slow trek up that creek across the Boston Mountains to Russellville on the Arkansas River. The wagon train arrived less than two weeks after negotiating eighty miles of winding Ozark roads. By the time of its arrival, the train had grown to include 300 wagons and stretched over a distance of fourteen miles. The caravan illustrated the marketing problems faced by the farmers along the Buffalo, and although the event was greatly publicized and the immediate results profited the participants, a faster route to the Arkansas was still years in the future. [10]

POPULATION: 1870-1980
(Percent of increase)


18703,979 (-35.7)4,374 (28.9)5,614 (6.5)13,967
18807,907 (98.7)6,120 (39.9)7,278 (29.6)21,305
189010,390 (31.4)9,950 (62.6)9,664 (32.8)30,004
190011,377 (9.5)12,538 (26)11,988 (24)35,903
191010,203 (-10.3)10,612 (-15.4)14,825 (23.7)35,640
192010,154 (-.5)11,199 (5.5)14,590 (-15.9)35,943
19308,876 (-12.6)10,564 (-5.7)11,056 (-24.2)30,496
19409,464 (6.6)10,881 (3)11,942 (8)32,287
19508,609 (-9)8,685 (-20.2)10,424 (-12.7)27,718
19606,041 (-29.8)5,963 (-31.3)8,124 (-22.1)20,128
19707,000 (15.9)5,844 (-2)7,731 (-4.8)20,575
198011,334 (61.9)7,756 (32.7)8,874 (14.4)27,964

SOURCE: Compiled from decennial census returns as listed in the bibliography.

Because of the time and distance involved in reaching the Russellville markets, the settlers reverted to hauling their produce to the nearest railhead at Springfield and later at Eureka Springs. Joining forces several times a year, the farmers would form a train of fifteen or more wagons to make the five- to eight-day round trip. [11] Yet they remained far from satisfied.

The last three decades of the nineteenth century were marked by increased agitation among the farmers of the United States who believed themselves oppressed and persecuted by unfair railroad rates, unjust banking regulations, and increased taxes. Beginning in the late 1860s, farmers' organizations appeared throughout the East, Midwest, and South. The first of those agricultural associations was organized in 1867 and titled the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, popularly recognized as simply the Grange. Although Granger locals appeared in Arkansas during the early 1870s there is no evidence to indicate that the movement had a following along the Buffalo River.

A later farm organization that was popular within the watershed was founded in 1882 in Prairie County, Arkansas on the lower White River. Termed the Agricultural Wheel, the organization initially amounted to a form of debating club that developed political and economic overtones. Additional "Wheels" sprung up in other Arkansas counties, and the following year a state organization arose. By 1885 when the Wheel merged with another farm order, the Brothers of Freedom, the combined membership amounted to around 40,000 in Arkansas. Two years later a greatly expanded Wheel counted 500,000 members in eight states. [12] In 1889 the Wheel merged with the larger Southern Farmers' Alliance, a regional organization with a following throughout the South. [13]

Along the Buffalo, Agricultural Wheel lodges were established as early as 1883 and prospered for at least a decade. Searcy County had active organizations of both the Wheel and the Brothers of Freedom at Snowball, Marshall, Witts Springs, and other locations. [14] Interest in the movement continued along the Buffalo. By 1892 when the Marshall Mountain Wave commenced publication in Searcy County, its first announcement showed the strength of the farmers' movement. It would "be free from absurdity and bring forward the true purposes of the Farmers Alliance..." [15] Although the local agricultural lodges continued to gain in popularity into the 1890s, it does not seem that they constituted a fundamental motivating force in the general life of the Buffalo River inhabitants. Even the intent of the Mountain Wave's initial pronouncement became lost as interest in farming associations dissipated.

From its inception, the Arkansas Wheel had participated in politics and in the state elections made an impressive showing. [16] The various lodges within the basin, however, evinced divergent attitudes toward politics. In Newton County, the Wheel in 1886 won the entire county slate with only one exception. [17] Nevertheless, in Marion County a meeting of the Wheel that same year decided that "the organization in this county would take no part in politics as a body." [18] While the various national farmers' associations united in 1892 into a third political party, it appears that after 1895 interest in Newton, Searcy, and Marion counties turned away from farm grievances and toward the exploitation of the mineral wealth along the river.

Indeed, it would have been unusual if the organizational activity had continued. The prevailing concern of the various Wheels and Alliances was to obtain more equitable treatment from the transportation and economic facilities upon which they were dependent. As the farms along the Buffalo were not dependent on world market prices, the farmers' need for the agricultural protest organizations was substantially, and almost inherently, limited.

During the later years of the nineteenth century, the most profitable industry along the river was lumbering. While saw mills were common on the tributaries of the Buffalo since the advent of the first settlers, production for "outside" use began only during the 1870s. Representatives of the Houston, Ligett, and Canada Cedar Company, the Consolidated Lumber Company, and later the A.L. Hayes Stave Company, and the Eagle Pencil Company among others, entered the region between 1875 and 1920 to negotiate for and supervise the cutting and marketing of the cedar, walnut, and oak trees which grew in profusion along the bluffs and ridges of the valley. [19] Because the railroad did not enter the valley until 1902, the river provided the early means of transporting the logs to market. After an extended cutting season lasting several months, the logs were dumped into the river during flood stage, hastily organized into a raft for the journey downstream to the White River, and eventually reached the lumber yard at Batesville. [20] The largest cedar float on record consisted of 175,000 logs and required twenty-two days to complete. [21] The floating of the logs was a chaotic and hectic time which provided a great deal of excitement as well as pecuniary remuneration to the local farmers.

Rafting logs on the Buffalo, 1890s. [Credit: Stella Mason, St. Joe, Arkansas]

By 1920 most of the easily accessible cedar and walnut stands were gone, and the industry ceased its operations. The decline of the lumber industry along the river can be attributed to two essential factors: transportation and the lack of a foresighted timber management policy. A constant problem was the difficulty of transporting the logs to market. Because the river could be used only during periods of high water, timber shipment was at best intermittent. Although the establishment of the railroad in 1902 allowed logs to be shipped from the more convenient location at Gilbert, it remained a cumbersome procedure. More important was the fact that the early logging companies cut where it was most profitable—among the large concentrated stands of cedar and walnut. Such indiscriminate practices of harvesting timber, while eminently practical at the time, deprived the lumber interests of a dependable source of selected mature trees in succeeding years. The short-lived lumber boom became a victim in part of its own shortsighted policy. Thus while scattered independent lumber operations continued, their contribution to the valley's economy remained negligible.

Saw Mill, Searcy County, ca. 1890s [Credit: Maurice Tudor, Marshall, Arkansas]

Throughout the nineteenth century, poor transportation routes continued to plague the hillfolk. Early roads followed either the narrow benches atop the ridges or the undependable path of the creek bottoms. The river roads were usually the most expedient course, but a sudden spring shower often not only prevented their use because of flooding, but also caused extensive damage to the roads themselves. Traffic was reinstated only after the farmers joined together and repaired the eroded trail. [22]

The laws of the state of Arkansas provided that local residents should contribute their own time and equipment for the upkeep of the roads. The state required all males between eighteen and forty-five to work on the "public highways" as much as five days a year but no more than two days at any one time. [23] Apparently some residents took the repair of their roads seriously. In 1898, for instance, William Woodward of Searcy County was fined ten dollars for failing to work his allotted time. [24] In many instances, however, the road work was voluntary, and communal effort was considered simply a part of the price of Ozark life. Although the road problem continued well into the twentieth century, county roads gradually improved to the point where they were at least passable without endangering life and limb. A continuous obstacle to normal channels of transportation remained the river.

From earliest times, the Buffalo River could neither be harnessed nor controlled. Heavy rains regularly sent it on a raging rampage which disrupted any type of intercourse between the valley settlements. The periodic floods, as Timothy Flint had warned, were not to be trifled with. A cloudburst upstream could cause a flash flood in a relatively short time. Records of such occurrences were not maintained until the twentieth century, but since 1915 the Buffalo has risen from its normal level of around four feet to heights of better than thirty-five feet at least six times. And in August of 1915, the river crested after an exceptional rainfall at fifth-four feet. [25] Even slight fluctuations in the river's level often disrupted normal communication. Dependent on ferries to cross the stream, local residents were keenly aware that after a heavy rain, crossing the Buffalo might be either impossible or extremely difficult. Notices such as the following regularly graced the pages of the county newspapers.

But on finding Sunday morning that much rain had fallen we determined to try to recross Buffalo, before it might become impassable; but on arriving at that stream we found it 'booming.' Ye editor got across in a canoe; but we left Mr. Lay on the other side with the team until it could be ferried over. [26]

Until bridges were built across the river, beginning in the 1930s, such interruptions continued.

The periodic rises in the river, while they might disrupt land transportation, worked to further communication by water. Although no regular system of water transportation ever took place on the Buffalo, the stream was used periodically for the conveyance of goods. Flatboats and rafts constituted the principal modes of river travel. Owing to the fluctuations in the river's level and the large number of shoals which would be encountered, the use of larger vessels was impossible except under high-water conditions. With the advent of mining on the Buffalo, barges were utilized to transport the ore to the railhead on the White River. But only a few such trips were made as most of the minerals were taken out by wagon. Water transportation in the region continued to be limited to the White. [27]

Indeed, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, the principal means of access to the eastern end of the Buffalo River valley was by steamboat. Those vessels had been prominent on the lower White from the early 1830s, but none ascended the river above Batesville until 1844 when a steamer delivered a load of freight at the mouth of the Big North Fork Creek at the present site of Norfork, Arkansas. [28] Following the Civil War, steamboats made regular runs from Batesville to Buffalo City which marked the northernmost point for safe river travel, and occasionally paddled farther up the river. [29] Most of the steamboats which plied the upper White were modest in size and functional in their furnishings. A typical upper White River craft possessed a carrying capacity of one hundred bales of cotton and measured eighteen feet in width and eighty-five in length. [30] The range of those vessels was limited, however, to the White.

Only once did one attempt to ascend the Buffalo for any distance. That daring maneuver took place in 1896 when the steamboat Dauntless, captained by William T. Warner, pushed up the river as far as Rush Creek with a load of mining machinery. Encountering overhanging tree limbs which snagged on the vessel's smokestacks and shallow water which necessitated winching the boat over numerous shoals, the Dauntless arrived at its destination after a two-day struggle, unloaded its cargo, and immediately began the return trip. The epic voyage of Captain Warner and his craft marked the high point in transportation on the Buffalo, and within a few years even the steamboat trade along the White would be superceded by the coming of the railroad. [31]

The journey of the Dauntless, however, stimulated interest in the idea of regular packet travel on the Buffalo at least as far as the Rush Creek mining district. Such an enterprise required improvement of the stream's channel by the removal of overhanging tree limbs and the clearing of numerous rock shoals. Earlier interest in improving water transportation on the White River led to the modification of the great shoals at the mouth of the Buffalo when the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a series of spur-dikes in 1880 which increased the water level at the shallowest points and allowed an increase in river travel above Buffalo City. [32]

Yet prior to the 1896 trip of the Dauntless, very little thought had been given to the improvement of the Buffalo itself. Following that journey, the engineer officer in charge of improvements on the upper White received orders to complete a survey of the Buffalo from its mouth to the mouth of Rush Creek. The survey, which occurred during December 1896, concluded that to make the river navigable at all stages would require a system of five locks and dams costing $750,000. Recognizing that the commerce of the area would not justify the huge expenditure, William Sibert, the surveyor in command, recommended an auxiliary plan whereby the overhanging timber would be cut, and the rock outcroppings above the general plane of the stream bed would be removed. This more moderate alteration of the river Sibert estimated would cost around $3,500. [33] The work was evidently commenced and by the turn of the century, the local press could claim that "boats can ascend the Buffalo River, on about the same stage of water as they can the White river." [34] The anticipated influx of vessels never occurred, however, due to the unpredictable level of the stream. The primary course of transportation remained the wagon roads.

Calling into question the use of "remote" and "primitive " when describing the Arkansas Ozarks, the growth of highland society during the second half of the nineteenth century included the appearance of social and intellectual entities that were enjoyed by at least a portion of the populace. Schools, debating societies, bands, and newspapers sprung up throughout the watershed. Although public schools probably did not appear until after the Civil War, by 1900 such institutions had effectively reduced the illiteracy rate to one half that recorded in 1850. [35] In addition to the schools, several towns boasted of private academies which offered instruction in subject ranging from orthography to physiography to land surveying. [36]

Another sign of cultural development was the organization of town bands. As early as 1883 Yellville had obtained instruments and had begun the establishment of its county band. Marshall followed suit, and by the turn of the century, all three of the county seats were being entertained regularly by their group of local musicians. [37] The existence of debating societies, particularly in Newton County, further challenge Ozark stereotypes. [38]

Picnic, Diamond Cave Spring, ca. 1910 [Credit: Ardella Vaughan, Jasper, Arkansas]

Perhaps the leading sign of economic and social growth was the establishment of local newspapers. The Buffalo valley was barren of a locally published paper until the decade of the 1880s when a weekly was begun in each county. Most of the early journals enjoyed only a brief existence before they folded or moved to another location. By 1920 at least eighteen newspapers had, from time to time, been published within the watershed. Beginning in 1884 both Newton and Searcy counties produced a weekly, the Jasper American and the New Era respectively. [39] Two years later the Mountain Echo made its appearance from Yellville and emerged as the paper with the greatest longevity: it remains the only paper published in the Marion County seat today. [40] Among the many transient weeklies appeared several decidedly Republican newspapers. Ulysses Bratton founded the Marshall Republican in 1890, and after a host of different editors tried their hands at managing it, the paper was consolidated in 1945 with the current Marshall newspaper, the Mountain Wave. [41] In 1891 the Newton Herald began publishing from Jasper, and reportedly carried as its motto "In God and the Republican Party We Trust, Everybody Else Cash." [42] But the hillfolk along the Buffalo River were not limited to reading only the local county papers. Occasionally they subscribed to sources of information as the Atlanta Constitution and the St. Louis Republic and Globe Democrat. [43] It was the local papers, however, that most embodied and reflected the views and aspirations of the farmers along the river.

Without exception the fledgling weeklies pledged themselves to sing the praises of the possibilities which the valley afforded. While all advertised the virtues of Ozark life and extolled the advantages offered, none surpassed the Mountain Educator when in 1893 it proclaimed:

Never can there be a place more worthy of affection or deserving of praise, than this lovely land. Her productions are as diversified as her soil, and the virtues of her people as pure as her pearly brooks. Galconda's sparkling gems cannot outshine her natural resources, nor India's coral strand present more beauties. Well have the poets and the bards sung praises to Grecian hills. Switzer's mountains and Scottish shores have been the theme of many songs. English Druids have praised their sacred graves, but when the bard of Searcy county appears, the theme will still be unexhausted. Let him sing her praises to the world for a country so rich in nature, only wants time. [44]

Along with the newspapers, various books were also circulated among the settlers. The most common were almanacs, Dr. Gunn's Domestic Medicine, journals such as the American Agriculturist, and, of course, the Holy Bible. [45]

Indeed, for many, few facets of frontier life were as important as frontier religion. Soon after their arrival, the initial settlers constructed rude structures which served both as a place of worship and as a local meeting house. As the century progressed, the dual purpose of the church was retained although the character of the structures was much improved. Quite often they assumed a multi-purpose function. The church on Cave Creek in Newton County was "well constructed of hewn pine logs, and two stories; the lower room was used for church and school purposes, the upper story for a Masonic Lodge." [46] But while religion may have been an ever present element in frontier society, participation in a particular sect was not. While practically everyone considered himself a Protestant, there was very little further distinction made along denominational lines, and few were active in a particular church. A religious enumeration taken in 1906 revealed that fully 80 percent of the inhabitants within the Buffalo River valley did not consider themselves a member of a specific religious denomination. In fact, only 20.3 percent in Searcy County, 13.7 percent in Marion, and 13.2 percent of the population in Newton professed any allegiance to an organized church. [47]

Interestingly enough, the domination of religious life by the Methodist Church which was evident around 1860 had been replaced by the prevalence of no particular sect by the turn of the century. The Methodist Church retained its former influence only in Marion County where 44 percent of the inhabitants who declared any affiliation were Methodist; but the Baptists constituted a close second by registering almost 40 percent of the declared population. In Searcy County the role of the two religions was reversed: the Baptists claimed 46.8 percent of the church-going populace while the Methodists reported a total of 35 percent. The settlers in Newton County shunned both of those organized religions as 43 percent announced membership in the Disciples of Christ, with the Baptists constituting a distant second with 16 percent. [48] The total dominance of Protestantism was disrupted only in Searcy County where in 1906 there were eighty Roman Catholics who formed 3 percent of the county's church attending populace. [49]

River baptizing near Jasper, 1934 [Credit: Ardella Vaughan, Jasper, Arkansas]

Yet the strong showing of the Methodists was not to the satisfaction of the Arkansas state church organization. The Ozarks posed formidable problems for the permanent establishment of a viable and active Methodist organization. Its episcopal polity constituted a severe handicap in the Arkansas highlands—a hindrance not suffered by the congregationally organized sects such as the Baptist and Church of Christ. To the individuals in charge of establishing a Methodist following in the hills, the initial stumbling block was the hillfolk themselves. Characterized by "independence, self-reliance, individuality, which often runs to accentricity [sic]," it was difficult "to organize them, on the one hand, and make for strong personalities, once you get hold of them, on the other hand." [50] In addition, the topography of the plateau served to harass those who were sent to establish effective and permanent Methodist organizations. As late as 1935 the state organization lamented that more had not been accomplished among the mountaineers within the Boston Mountains. [51]

The very highlands which served to obstruct the Methodists, however, provided a strong attraction to one emigrant religious denomination. Beginning in 1920 and continuing into the early months of 1925, the small village of Gilbert in Searcy County was the site of an incursion of a millennialist sect from Illinois. Organized in 1912, the Incoming Kingdom Missionary Unit was the creation of John A. Battenfield a Christian Church minister who believed that he had discovered the millennial prophecies of the Bible. First expounding his theory in The Great Demonstration, published in 1912, Battenfield revealed that the millennium would begin only after a world-wide war between Catholics and Protestants, and that to survive the holocaust his followers must establish faithful communities in the isolated mountainous regions of the country and attempt to restore the true church. After months of searching, Battenfield established one of those communities at Gilbert. [52]

Gilbert had been founded around 1902 as a railroad construction camp for the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad which eventually ran from Joplin, Missouri to Helena, Arkansas. [53] Battenfield and his followers quickly erected a school/church building and began the publication of a newspaper, the Kingdom Harbinger. As the religious constituency of the community grew, the members began to reach out to surrounding communities to warn them of the approaching holocaust and converts were found in Bruno, St. Joe, Witts Springs, and Maumee. The number of colonists continued to grow for several years as the small group attempted to increase its economic self-sufficiency. But by the middle of 1925, the experiment had ended. The organization, held together principally through the personality of John Battenfield, disintegrated when the oracular pastor lost control of his flock, abandoned the Buffalo River town, and headed east to Washington, D.C. The circumstances behind his abrupt exit stemmed from his prophecy in February 1925 that he would raise from the dead a recently deceased member of the church. Upon his failure to produce the predicted resurrection, the minister announced that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. Following a short period of rest at the home of a friend, Battenfield left for the East, and the abandoned and disheartened followers shortly thereafter also made their exit. [54] Without the enthusiastic motivation of its religious mentor, the community of Gilbert was reduced to the quiet and peaceful village it is today.

For those who lived along the Buffalo during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, however, the peaceful and harmonious existence was not absolute. The tranquility associated with the pastoral life of the homesteaders regularly was marred by intermittent acts of violence. Murders, if not commonplace, were a periodic occurrence. When Joe Willborn disemboweled William Jameson during a fox hunt on the Buffalo, it was "supposed that bad women and a too generous outpouring of whiskey were the supreme causes." [55] In Newton County along Cave Creek, the Smith-Nichols' feud during 1882 caused a considerable amount of excitement, but interest lagged when the Smiths made a hasty departure and took refuge in the protection of the wooded mountains. [56] The following year a correspondent for the Harrison Times complained that there had been four murders in Newton County during the year, and no one had been apprehended. "The murderers and thieves retreat to the mountains where they are fed and protected by those who have little interest in or respect for the laws of society or our country." [57] Indeed, the mountains had regularly offered a haven for refugees from the law, and northwest Arkansas constituted an excellent environment for such seclusion. The lightly populated Buffalo River country was even the site of refuge for one Newton County resident who claimed to be Frank James, brother of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Whether the assertion was apocryphal or not, it illustrates the secluded nature of the area surrounding the Buffalo River. [58]

Disrespect for the law was reiterated in 1893 when a former sheriff of Searcy County killed one Henry Fryar in the river village of Wollum, a settlement noted locally for its habitual disorderly nature. [59] A few years later in Jasper, four sticks of explosives were detected under the jail after a grand jury failed to indict a man suspected of killing his wife. The dynamite was "evidently placed there with the intention of making short work" of the accused. [60] Other crimes upon the persons and property of the hillfolk ranged from arson to profanity to Sabbath breaking to selling liquor to a minor and to insulting a teacher. The last named deed caused Bob Harrington to be fined twenty-five dollars. [61] In addition, there were instances of adultery. In 1882 a Newton County farmhand eloped with his employer's wife and left the following note: "I have tooked your woman, but you ar welcum to my last weeks wages, which I didn't draw; and I hoap that squares things." [62] As in most mountainous and densely wooded areas in rural America during the late 1800s, a recurring problem concerned the illegal distillation of "mountain spirits."

The history of illegal whiskey-making in the well-wooded and watered "hollers" of the southern Appalachians is both long and exciting; that back-woods enterprise associated with the Ozarks is no different. The making of "moonshine" was not always against the law. Except for the years 1791-1802 and for a few years following the War of 1812 when a federal excise tax on whiskey was collected, such activities were common, profitable, and completely legal. But beginning in 1862 it became a federal offense to distill alcohol without a federal permit. [63] Even though the legislation had no effect in Arkansas until 1868 when the state's representatives were readmitted to Congress, little heed was paid the law. Hillfolk long accustomed to being isolated and relatively insulated from the legal whims of their urban brothers continued, without federal authorization, to produce corn whiskey in secluded wild-cat stills.

In 1896 a Newton County resident reported that he could stand at his front door and observe smoke from seven different stills being operated in defiance of the law. [64] Southern Newton and Searcy counties in particular, with their densely wooded, almost inaccessible ravines, harbored many illicit stills. Prosecutions were few and sentences relatively light as the crafty mountaineers attempted to outwit the revenue agents. [65] In addition to the illegal stills, there were a number of officially licensed distilleries, which also operated in the narrow valleys where there was an abundance of fresh cold water. In 1893 talk of moving one such distillery from St. Joe to Woolum in Searcy County prompted the local press to denounce emphatically the enterprise as "Thi [sic] reptile, the cyclone of destruction to mankind." [66] Apparently the readers of the paper heartily agreed with the opinions of the editor because in 1901 the county court at Marshall decided the town would have a brighter future if saloons were not permitted to operate within the city limits—a decision reached almost twenty years before national prohibition went into effect. [67]

By the dawn of the new century, the face of the Buffalo River country had changed considerably. The despair which characterized the region following the Civil War had gone, and a wave of relative prosperity had settled over the valley. In 1898 Searcy County could boast of having 1,004 carriages and a surprisingly high number of pianos—thirty-four. [68] Two years later during the compilation of the twelfth census, Marshall recorded a total of 263 inhabitants while Yellville consisted of a bustling 578. [69]

In another respect as well, the character of the country had changed. Following the Civil War practically the entire black population left for more promising environs. From a high of 386, including both slaves and the eight remaining free Negroes in 1860, the number of blacks dropped to around sixty Freedmen ten years later and remained at that level for the balance of the century. [70] The exodus of most of the blacks was probably due to the absence of money to pay them wages and the small need for tenancy on the hill country farms. Those who stayed following their emancipation evidently had maintained favorable relations with their owners and considered their home to be the valley of the Buffalo. Yet even they soon became a rarity among the small villages. By 1893 the Marshall newspaper found it newsworthy that "A real live negro was in town last Friday night." [71] And four years later the same publication noted that "A colored man passed through town Monday which is such an usual occurrence that it deserves mention." [72] It is noteworthy that no evidence survives to indicate that intolerant whites forced the exodus of the blacks from the Buffalo River country. It would seem, instead, that this was caused by a lack of economic opportunity.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the basin of the Buffalo River was almost entirely inhabited by white American-born farmers who considered themselves members of the Protestant faith. That homogeneity remained essentially intact even though the region for the next twenty years experienced an intense and chaotic period of mining activity which introduced new interests and capital into the valley.

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Last Updated: 14-Jan-2008