Let The River Be:
A History of the Ozark's Buffalo River
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This study began during the summer of 1974 when, as a graduate student, I prepared an inventory of historic buildings along the Buffalo River for the National Park Service. As I attempted to place farms and log cabins in their proper historical context, I discovered that all previous research in the Arkansas Ozarks was either too general or too specific. There was no comprehensive overview that studied the settlement and development of that particular highland valley. What started as a summer adventure, then, evolved into a rather extensive examination of the Buffalo River valley that became my doctoral dissertation.*

*Research during the past ten years, particularly in the field of archeology, required the text of the dissertation to be modified significantly. See "The Buffalo River: From Settlement to National River," Texas Tech University, 1976.

There is something intriguing about rivers. Americans from Henry David Thoreau to Mark Twain have been drawn to them, have listened to them, have studied them. Rivers served as roads to the interior of the continent during the early periods of the nation's history and later attracted settlers and towns and commerce and industry. The chronicles of the Shenandoah, the Ohio, the Missouri, and the Mississippi are an integral part of the country's historical and cultural past. Their names evoke images of epic movements—of a romantic period. And for every river of major import literally hundreds of tributaries echo similar stories of exploration and settlement. For every Ohio there was a Wabash; for every Missouri, a Platte; and for every Rio Grande, a Pecos. The Mississippi is fed by the Arkansas which is fed by the White which, in turn, is fed by the Buffalo. Each played a role in the westward movement; each represents a piece of the broad mosaic of western migration.

The story of the Buffalo is essentially one of people, highland people for the most part, and how they and their way of life were affected by the Ozark Plateau, by "outside" influences, and by their relative geographical isolation. Like their counterparts in the southern Appalachians, the inhabitants of the Arkansas Ozarks lived close to the earth in an existence that was distinguished by poor and limited arable soil, by an insularity imposed by the surrounding hills, and by an independence that was necessitated by both.

In the course of compiling a history such as this, one regularly turns to others for assistance, advice, and encouragement. I am deeply indebted to Russell Baker and his staff at the Arkansas History Commission and to Samuel Sizer, former Curator of Special Collections and his staff at the University of Arkansas. James J. Johnston shared his enthusiasm for and his extensive knowledge of Searcy County throughout the entire project. Generous help was provided by Daniel Wolfman and George Sabo III of the Arkansas Archeological Survey which led to a major revision of the archeological portion of the original work. Kenneth Smith, whose love for the valley is uncontrollably infectious, gave time and energy. I benefited greatly from his earlier forays into the Buffalo's history and his experience in the battle over the future of the river. The staff of the Buffalo National River offered support and encouragement, and made each visit to the river as enjoyable and profitable as possible. I am grateful to the history faculty at Texas Tech University who offered support and criticism in judicious proportions, and to James W. Kitchen who administered the initial National Park Service contract and who became both Ozark companion and good friend. To S.V. Connor whose advice, humor, and unerring sense of direction guided this research I owe much. For his high standard of historical scholarship I shall be eternally grateful. And finally, I wish to express my appreciation to Sabette, whose patience, understanding, and pertinent observations assisted infinitely in the preparation of this manuscript.

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Last Updated: 14-Jan-2008