Early Roads and Highways

by Earl Berry

The sources of information on early roads and trails have been very limited, but the following is taken from the writings of W. R. Jones in his book EARLY MARION COUNTY HISTORY.

"The first actual white occupants of Marion County were hunters, trappers, and fishermen, who did not bring their wives into the wilderness. A few came to trade with the friendly Indians, who had been here nobody knows how long. And not a few of the first white comers had more or less of Indian blood in them; which did not hurt them or their posterity in the least.

Many of the very best citizens of Marion County, to this day, have a trace of Indian blood in them; and this is perhaps true of the people of every county in Arkansas and throughout the entire South, wherever friendly Indians inhabited when the whites first came.

Uncle John Tabor, who carried a chain when Marion County was being sectionized by the U. S. Government, once told the writer that he was present, and danced in the Indian "Green Corn" dance, at the mouth of big North Fork, in what is now Baxter County, in the presence of Chief Cornstalk, who seemed to be the "Big Mogul" of all the Indians for many miles around.

He said that he (Tabor) was in Yellville before it contained a single white settler. It was founded, he said, by the Shawnee Indians, and was known for many years as Shawneetown. They had built cabins of split cedar, most all of which were near to what is now known as the Noe Spring, in the Tourist Park near the Legion Hut, just northeast of the concrete bridge across the state highway over what is known as "Town Branch."

There were at least three towns in Marion County built by the Shawnee Indians. On what used to be called the Jefferson farm (now belonging to Hon. J. C. Floyd) on Crooked Creek, less than a mile from Shawneetown (now Yellville) was a village called "Little Shawneetown." Then there was another near the mouth of Clear Creek, not far from Pyatt, that was called "Upper Shawneetown."

Presidents of the U.S. were trying, from Jefferson's day on, to persuade the Indians east of the Mississippi to exchange their lands for lands west of the Mississippi; and as Jefferson said, "The further west the better for both races." That the removed Indians became the owners of the great oil and zinc fields in Oklahoma, in exchange for their poor farming lands in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, is proof that the Great Spirit "tempers the wind of the shorn lamb."

There seems to be some question as to how these Indians got here. Also some question as to how and when the old trail, afterward converted into a rough military road from Memphis through North Arkansas, was made over which the government, under President Jackson, Administrator, removed the remnants of the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama Indians to what used to be called the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

The government, it seems, had two military roads across Arkansas, one going up the Arkansas River, the other paralleling for most of the way the White River.

As what afterward became the Arkansas Territory came into the possession of the United States while Thomas Jefferson was President, and as it was the policy of Jefferson and the presidents following him, that these Indians should by and by, be sent to the headwaters of these two rivers, forcibly, if they would not go peaceably, it is probable that the government had those two trails cut out before a single white man reached Marion County. Cut out for the purpose of encouraging the Indians east of the Mississippi, and south of the Ohio, to emigrate westward.

Fort Gibson, where U. S. troops were kept before Marion County had a white settler, could be reached by either of the two poor roads above named.

The North Arkansas trail or road, for a long, long time known as the Military road, seems to have crossed the Mississippi at Memphis, then made a sharp turn to the north, west and south to keep out of the swamps as much as possible, finally reaching White River at a point where Batesville was afterward built.

From there it followed a general northwest direction, not so very far from east bank of White River, until a fine ford was struck in low water, some distance above what is now known as Denton's ferry.

The old ford where the Indians and early whites crossed into what is now Marion County was known as Talbert's ferry; sometimes called Mooney's ferry. From that point it soon reached what is now Denton Ferry Road, and it ran through the entire county substantially as No. 12, or "Arkoma" runs today (now U. S. 62). That it was laid out by a competent engineer there can be little doubt; and an army engineer most probably.

After Yellville was founded, it was for a good many years a pretty pert place, and whiskey vendors began to sell "fire water" to the Indians passing through, and causing trouble. The government sent engineers and road builders, and leaving the old Military road on Fallen Ash Creek, near the present town of Flippin, built what is yet called the Fallen Ash road up that creek, connecting again with the old road about a half mile west of the present railroad town of Summit. After that the Indians were carried by the government troops over this route. I had this Fallen Ash road history from W. B. Flippin, one of the pioneer settlers in the Flippin Barrens. His father, Thomas Flippin, I believe, was the first man to be buried in the present Flippin graveyard, just northeast of the present railroad town of Flippin.

The same man told me that Fallen Ash Creek was named after an Indian, known as "Fallen Ash", one of the first of the civilized Indians to reach Fallen Ash Valley, from the east. Same man told me that Jimmies Creek was named for a friendly Indian named "Jimmy", who lived in Fallen Ash Valley, but ranged his horses along the present Jimmies Creek, because that section was better watered.

Perhaps the first corn grown in Marion County was planted by a civilized Indian, who once owned what is generally known as the "Uncle Bob Hurst" place, now owned by Lee Wood (later Earl Wood).

Practically all the Indians in North Arkansas had left Marion County by 1836, but a few remained.

A.S. Wood (called Uncle Bud), the first white man born in Marion County, remembers the old "Salt Road" that was cut out from "Old Buffalo Landing" to Springfield, Missouri, by way of what is now Gainsville, Missouri. The "landing" was near the foot of Buffalo Shoals, at a point near what is the present railroad station, called Buffalo, in Baxter County. Over this road was carried in old ox wagons the salt and other heavy merchandise that, from Springfield as a center, supplied the pioneer settlers in nearly all southwest Missouri; also from local points along said road, much of South Missouri and Noth Arkansas was supplied.

From the "Buffalo Landing", at that time considered the head of navigation, another freight road was cut out from the north bank of the river to Old Carrollton, once the metropolis of North Arkansas. The freight which came up White River to Buffalo was then hauled over this very poor road to Carrollton, and from there all the pioneers in Northwest Arkansas were supplied. Old Carrollton failed to get the North Arkansas railroad when it was built and is now, I believe, abandoned. It was once the most important trading point along the old military road.

This old Carrollton road passed right across creeks, and over some of the roughest ground in Marion County. It crossed Blue John Creek, near the present site of Ware's Chapel, named for Dr. Ware; crossed Clabber Creek, near Bluford Mears' old place (now belonging to Edgar Hall), at the same point now crossed by the county road. It went on across the south end of the Cowan Barrens, the little village of Weast City being by this old road. It passed just south of the Pat Carson old place, and, I believe, crossed Hampton Creek near what is now known as Jefferson Hall (now Ray Blankenship place). From here to the Boone County line I am not sure but think the present site of Eros is on or near this old road, and that it reached the Boone County Line.

The early settlers did not find half as much timber as is here today. There were three great prairies, known as "barrens". One, the Flippin barrens, named for the Flippin families who very early settled there. The Cowan barrens was so-called because of the Cowan family that was the first, I believe, to settle there. Then most all of what is now southwest Marion County was called simply "The Prairie".

As population grew and villages developed in Marion County, new roads connecting these towns were built and were called county roads. In time they were under the supervision of The Township Roads Overseers in each of the political townships in the county.The Overseer was elected and rarely, if ever, had any engineering background or construction experience. The roads were poorly constructed; little attention was given to drainage and there were practically no bridges across creeks and branches that often during heavy rains made travel impossible. Since practically all work on these roads was free labor, that is labor by each able-bodied male citizen between the age of 21 and 65, except school directors, who each year must work four days on the county road in his township or hire someone in his stead for the four days, and since practically all work was by pick, shovel, hoe, ax and rock hammers the roads were rough, and in winter often so muddy that travel by wagon was an experience. Sometimes the overseer would use his team and a slip to fill up the chug holes with rock and dirt. The people could levy a three-mill road tax on all property by approving such in the General Election. Usually it was approved. The revenue from the 'road tax' was for the roads in the township in which the property was situated. Some 'overseers' wisely used a part of their thee-mill revenue to build culverts and low-water bridges across streams.

In time the County Judge came to have more jurisdiction over county roads and with this jurisdiction came some State Turnback Funds with which, along with the three-mill road tax, permitted him to buy some road machinery and to hire experienced men to build and maintain the more heavily traveled roads. This was a big step toward improving the roads.

Some of the better-known county roads and which were heavily traveled were: the Flippin-Oakland road across Bull Mountain, Jimmies and Sister Creek, across the White River at Pace's Ferry and up the north side of the White River by Anglin Farm and on into Oakland. This was a star mail route which also was the road over which most of the freight for the Oakland merchants moved from the railroad at Flippin. Some of this freight was moved by ox-drawn wagons. Cotton and other farm products from the north part of the county moved over this road to the railroad at Flippin; (2) The Buffalo City to Yellville road by the way of Rea Valley -- up Crooked Creek on the south side by way of the Old Concord school house by the Poynter farm to the Wickersham farm and across the old bridge across Crooked Creek; (3) The Yellville-Rush road which at first followed generally what is now Highway 206 into the Blue John and Clabber Creek route into Rush. Later this route was changed to what we now know as Highway 14 South to about one mile east of Robinson's Store and then to the left down the mountain to Rush; (4)The Yellville-Eros-Bruno road by Antioch school and Greasy Creek across Hampton Creek; later a county road was built known as Sky-Line Drive to connect Eros and Yellville and a road leaving Highway 14 about eight miles south of Yellville and following the ridges was built into Bruno; (5) Blue Heaven was the name given to the county road that left Highway 62 east of Pyatt and ran into a north-northeasterly direction to connect with Highway 14 North. There were many other county roads, all rough and unimproved in early days, that are now well-graded, drained, with culverts and bridges across the streams that serve as mail routes, school bus routes and milk routes.

It is interesting to observe that many of these earlier county roads laid out by non-engineers, guided by deer trails and trails followed by cattle on the open range, have become part of the State Highway System in Marion County. These will be pointed out later in the discussion of Highways.

Highways -- Marion County

The first improved highway in Marion County, known as a part of the State Highway System, was known as B-21 and was from Bellefonte in Boone County across Marion County from west to east crossing White River at Denton's Ferry and across Baxter County to Henderson on the North Fork River. It was classified as a secondary or lateral road, that is, a road connecting with a primary road, one leading to Little Rock -- in this case to Highway 65.

In 1924, B-21 became Highway 12 and was considered a part of the Improved Highway System, being graded and graveled from Bellefonte to Yellville. Later, grading, graveling, and the building of narrow bridges across Fallen Ash Creek and Crane Creek near Flippin completed the road to Denton's Ferry. It remained as Highway 12 until shortly before the completion of the Cotter Bridge when it was rerouted over the bridge and became Highway 62 and a part of the Federal Highway System. Early records sometime refer to this highway as the Ark-Oma Highway.

With the completion of the Cotter Bridge in 1930, traffic became increasingly heavier over this road; and in 1934, a section of Highway 62, one-tenth of a mile in the City of Yellville, was paved. Earlier reference was made to the completion of the Cotter Bridge in 1930. This bridge was the largest of the three Rainbow Arch bridges on the Arkansas highways and considered by many as one of the most beautiful bridges of this type.

Paving or blacktopping of Highway 62 in Marion County was done on a piece-meal process. In 1936, paving was completed on a 4.88 mile stretch westward from Yellville toward the Boone County line. Sometime in 1939 or early 1940, an 8.45 mile section from the end of the pavement near Georges Creek was completed to the Boone County line. In 1940, beginning at the end of the paving in Yellville, a 4.4 mile stretch eastward toward Flippin was paved; and the following year, the 5.66 mile gap of unpaved Highway 62 to the end of the Cotter Bridge was completed.

On Highwav 62 west of Yellville at George's Creek is, perhaps, the only tri-level bridge on the Arkansas highways. The highway bridge crosses George's Creek; underneath is a county bridge spanning Johnnie's Creek, and overhead is the Missouri Pacific Railroad bridge. This unusual situation was featured in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" several years ago.

Highway 14 enters the county from Searcy County about one quarter of a mile south of the Buffalo River Bridge, passes through the Mull Community, Caney, Ralph, Yellville, Summit, crosses Lee's Mountain, the Markle Community, Sugar Loaf, Monarch, and exits near Lead Hill in Boone County. The approximate length of this road in Marion County is forty-five and one-half miles. Much of the gravel used in the original graveling was obtained from gravel pits along the right-of-way.

The first paving of Highway 14 in Marion County was a stretch of approximately two miles out of Yellville north which was completed in 1944. The next section that was paved was a 12.96 mile stretch beginning at the Boone County line and running southeast toward Summit. In 1950, beginning at the intersection of Highway 62 and running south, a 12.91 mile section was paved. Two years later in 1952, the unpaved eight mile gap from Summit northward was completed. In 1959, the remaining 9.68 miles of unpaved Highway 14 south to the Buffalo River Bridge and the Searcy County line was paved. With the completion of the Buffalo River Bridge somewhat earlier and Highway 14 paved across the county, traffic increased rapidly; and it is now a busy road with many out-of-state tourists traveling over it to reach Buffalo Park, Blanchard Springs, and Blanchard Caverns.

Other roads in Marion County which are now a part of the State Highway System include Highway 101 which follows rather closely the former Rea Valley-Flippin road. It was originally planned where the Buffalo River empties into White River extending generally in a northwesterly direction through the Hand Valley and Rea Valley communities across Crooked Creek to intersect Highway 62 some 31/2 miles east of Flippin. It is a black-topped road to the Hand Valley community. Highway 178 North out of Flippin through the Fairview Community across Bull Mountain follows pretty nearly the old Flippin-Oakland road to the old Dink Berry homestead where it veers to the right through the town of Bull Shoals and across the top of Bull Shoals Dam into Baxter County. It is a heavily-traveled black-topped highway. Highway 202 follows the old Fallen Ash road referred to by Mr. Jones in his book EARLY MIARION COUNTY HISTORY. It leaves Highway 178 near the site of the old Flippin school on Crane Creek and intersects Highway 62 about one mile west of Summit. It is a graded, graveled, unpaved road as of now, but is scheduled to be black-topped in the future. This number -- 202 -- is also given to the black-topped highway leading from Oakland on the north side of Bull Shoals Lake to intersect with Highway 5 North in Baxter County.

Highway 125 intersects North 14 some fourteen miles north of Summit and follows generally the old county road to Peel through the resort area and crosses Bull Shoals Lake on State Ferry into Missouri. It is black-topped on this part but the south part of 125 that intersects Highway 62 just west of Pyatt and runs generally south across Clear Creek to Eros and on to intersect with Highway 235 two miles west of Bruno is not black-topped.

Highway 235 leaves Highway 14 a mile south of Yellville and follows in part the old Sky-Line Drive and the Greasy Creek route into Bruno. It is paved to Bruno. From Bruno across Anderson Flat and into Searcy County where it intersects Highway 65 near Pindall it is not black-topped and is not too smooth.

Two other short roads: Highway 268 from Highway 14 to Buffalo Point, and the earlier referred to Highway 206 off Highway 14 South are now a part of the State Highway System in Marion County.

Early Transportation

Prior to 1870, commercial ties between the people of the upper White River valley and the outside world were carried on by commerce on White River or by long overland routes to St. Louis, Missouri, or Jacksonport and Batesville, Arkansas. The building of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad through Springfield in 1870, the extension of railroad services to Ozark in 1882, and to Chadwick the following year were destined to bring great changes to the people of the upper While River region.

With the development of these railroad towns in the north, freight wagon services were extended well over 100 miles across the White River country to the south. Much of the marketing of products and the purchasing of supplies were gradually shifted from the markets down White River to Springfield, Ozark and Chadwick. The steamboats and flat-boats gradually yielded much of their cargo to freight wagons.

The teamsters who followed the freighting business were rugged individuals. The commercial routes over which they passed were very primitive compared with today's more modern highways. There were many streams to cross, steep hills to pull, rocky sections to jolt over and muddy flats to mire in. It took sound, well-shod teams and sturdy wagons to survive many trips to the market place. Many times two or more teams were required to pull the hills or cross the muddy flats with a loaded wagon. Also, there was the heat of summer and the frigid winds of winter to be reckoned with. The teamsters usually carried their bedrolls, as well as cooking utensils, a "grub" box and sometimes distilled spirits and firearms.

Many long hours were spent on the roads. It took from a week to ten days for the freighters from the Yellville region to make a trip to Springfield, Ozark or Chadwick and return. Usually the wagons were loaded each way. Cotton bales, chickens, eggs and all sorts of farm products were hauled to the markets. On return trips, the wagons were loaded with a great variety of items for the local merchants.

To accommodate the freight wagon business, Springfield had two wagon yards where the freighters made their headquarters. One was the Missouri Yard where many of the Missouri teamsters encamped. The other catered to the Arkansas freighters and was called the Arkansas Yard. A large sign was once erected at this place, which consisted of a big R, a large can and a long crosscut saw, thus R-Can-Saw.

The following excerpt from an old history of Greene County gives an informative description of the Arkansas freight wagon business and what it meant to the merchants of Springfield:

"What is known as the "Arkansas Trade" has been and, with proper attention, always will be an item of importance to the merchants of Springfield. This territory embraces the leading towns and crossroads places of business in North-western Arkansas this side, and even beyond, the Boston Mountains. It amounts to over a million dollars per annum and is being yearly increased.

At present a great deal of commerce between the sections is carried on by the primitive method of wagoning. From far down in Arkansas, in Boone, Carroll, Marion and other counties, daily come into Springfield teams hauling cotton, furs, hides, etc., to this market, returning soon afterwards, commonly with loads of merchandise for the Arkansas retail dealers. The cotton haulers are numerous and a class (sui generis). These rackensack teamsters make a vocation of hauling cotton to Springfield and follow it for many months in the year. Two bales is an average cargo per wagon. The round trip sometimes occupies ten days. Often the teamsters travel in caravans. They camp out every night, even in the coldest weather, and are unlettered, uncouth, and unrefined, but jolly, generous hearted and honest."

The Yellville-Chadwick Road

The Yellville-Chadwick Road originated in the region around Yellville, Arkansas. This road became a commercial route when the railroad was extended to Chadwick in 1883.

From the vicinity of Yellville, the freighters and travelers followed the most accessible route northward to Brown's Ferry on White River, where they crossed the river and proceeded northwest to Protem, Missouri, which was located at the forks of Shoal Creek. Sometimes north-bound travelers from the Zinc-Bergman-Lead Hill region crossed White River at Bradley's Ferry or Nave's Ferry to join their fellow travelers at Protem.

This was a good place for the rendezvous. Protem had a good spring, camp ground and stores where provisions could be purchased. Here the teams and teamsters could rest and refresh themselves for the long trip ahead.

This information was taken from THE LAND OF TANEY by Elmo Ingenthron.

Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.