The magnificent scenery of the Upper White River country has been extolled for decades, and today the Marion County area is a tourist's paradise. As vacationeers happily ski on the blue waters of Bull Shoals Lake, or float the river for trout, few realize that its imposing grandeur was lauded as early as 1831, when a traveler wrote:
"The beauties of the stream have been described, but it certainly deserves every encomium that can be bestowed upon it! Upon its crystal bosom every object near its borders is reflected, and re-reflected, until it appears some fairy land, or world of enchantment. It abounds with fish of every description, and the angler, while in anxious solicitude as he watches his hook in twenty feet of water, is continually relieved from the monotony of his situation by the perfect view of the speckled trout, as he dashes by him in fearless impetuousity, or the sluggish buffalo lazily stemming the current and apparently encountering difficulties which he is anxious to avoid."
But the river was more than just a mecca for hunters and fisherman -- it was the transportation artery to the county, a waterway through the mountains. In today's jet age of rapid transit, super highways, fast automobiles, truck transport and railroads, it is difficult to visualize the hardship of travel in the pioneer days, for there were few roads in Marion County, and those in existence were crude horse and wagon trails, often impassable for many of the winter months. Consequently, most travel and shipments were by water in piroques, canoes, rafts, flatboats and keel boats.
The early settlers were served by hardy boatsmen, who brought such items as salt, flour, whiskey, coffee, lead, iron and other articles in keel boats to barter for animal skins, bear's bacon, venison, beeswax, honey, beef, pork and other commodities. Among these rivermen may have been Robert Bean (1810), John Lafferty (1811), John Luttig (1814-1815), and Asa McFeltch (1820's and 1830's). Henry Schoolcraft, who passed through what was later Marion County, lent his canoe to Mr. Yochem on January 14, 1819, to carry bear's bacon and pork to the mouth of the Great North Fork River, where a keel boat lay with trade goods. Yochem lived in the vicinity of what was later Talbert's Ferry.
The first Marion County keel boat operator of record was Jesse Goodman, who arrived in 1837 with the Rutherfords, Flippins, and others. He brought a 30-ton keel boat from Louisville with a large stock of merchandise to Talbert's Ferry, which he had previously purchased. The thoughtful riverman also brought an ample supply of old peach brandy, Spanish brandy, rye whiskey, cherry and mint cordial, and other alcoholic beverages "for his friends". Goodman operated the keel boat from the ferry for about three years.
As immigration increased, the keel boat operators met with competition from flat boats. Often farmers and traders built such vessels, loaded them with products, then floated to Batesville, or other downriver markets. After disposing of their commodities, they also sold the boats for lumber and journeyed home on foot, wagon or horse back.
Usually a flat boat was constructed for a single trip. Built with a flat bottom in a box or rectangular shape, it resembled a ferry boat and was steered by an oar on the rear. Layers of earth were placed on boards and fires built for cooking, or for warmth if needed.
The keel boat was more durable, often giving years of service. Built on a regular model, it had a keel running from bow to stern and a cargo box about four or five feet high, which extended about ten feet from each end. The boat was guided by a long, heavy, wide-bladed oar in a pivot on the stern. Often the handle extended beyond the top of the cargo box, from where it was manipulated.
The arrival date of the first steamboat at Buffalo Shoals, in southeast Marion County, is uncertain. On March 24, 1844, Captain Thomas T. Tunstall. of Jacksonport, announced that the CARRIER would depart on April 20 for the mouth of Swan Creek, the site of the Forsythe, Missouri, settlement, which gave promise of becoming an important river town. However, its growth depended upon the vastly improved navigation of White River, of which Major John P. Campbell, founder of Springfield, was a foremost advocate.
Captain Tunstall tried to ascend the Buffalo Shoals in 1845 with the steamer WASP, but again failed. Nevertheless, he kept running his boats to the shoals and made another unsuccessful attempt with the steamboat KATE KIRKWOOD in May 1848.
Among the other vessels running to the shoals were the LT. MAURY, the MAJOR BARBOUR, and the EUREKA, which conquered the obstacle and churned upstream to the Elbow Shoals on the Missouri Line in June 1851.
The 65-ton YOHOGANY, commanded by Captain Childress and piloted by Captain D. H. Hardy, steamed to Forsythe in May 1852, and within twelve months the steamer BEN LEE had passed through Marion County three times enroute to Missouri. Silas Turnbo, a Missouri historian, also listed the MARY L. DAUGHERTY as running to Forsythe, but did not give the dates or number of trips. Owned by Captain Silas Daugherty and Jonathan Whitesides, the 95-ton sidewheeler plied the upper river in 1854 and 1855, making several trips to Marion County landings. Turnbo mentioned the JESSE LAZEAR as another Forsythe boat, but again failed to list dates and trips. Owned by Captain John D. Adams, who later became one of Arkansas' most famous steamboat owners, the vessel made several trips to the county in 1856 and 1857.
As more and more settlers arrived, river travel increased, and the settlement at the foot of Buffalo Shoals was named Bufffalo City, where a post office was established. Talbert's Ferry, located on the old military road, became the second most important landing, serving Yellville and other nearby hamlets. Small steamboats ordinarily came to Buffalo City about nine months per year, and to Talbert's Ferry for six months.
The first Marion County steamboat owner was Jesse Mooney, who obtained title to the THOMAS P. RAY in early 1856. The small steamer was engaged in the Upper White River trade, but was having financial difficulties. Pool and Watson, Jacksonport merchants, filed a claim for supplies, materials and money furnished to Captian Oaty P. Dowell, master and owner, prior to January 6, 1856. A writ was obtained, and the boat seized by the Independence County sheriff. Jesse Mooney and Captain Francis A. Maffatt obtained ownership and appealed the judgment to the Circuit Court, which reversed the decision. Pool and Watson then took the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Jesse Mooney kept the THOMAS P. RAY in the Upper White River trade, operating from his landing with Captain Maffitt as master, but disaster struck in early summer. The boat was blown from her moorings during a storm at Batesville and sank in eight feet of water, greatly damaging the steamer and cargo. She was quickly raised and repaired. Meanwhile, Captain Maffitt obtained ownership of the THOMAS P. RAY, and on November 22, 1856, sold the boat for $2500 to George Pearson of Marion County, although the deed was not recorded until December 25, 1857. Thus, it appears that Pearson was the last owner of the vessel, which resumed operations. February 27, 1857, a newspaper reported:
"The THOMAS P. RAY very unexpectedly made her appearance yesterday for the Upper White. We admire her pluck, and sincerely hope that she may straighten out her embarrassments and again take her place in the White River trade, and make regular trips to our landing."
Thereafter, the small steamboat busily plied the upper river, making frequent trips from Mooney's Landing to Batesville. She was there in late March of 1858, obtaining a load of salt, whiskey and other products for Marion County customers. The RAY had carried over 3,000 sacks of salt, many barrels of whiskey, and tons of other merchandise up the river during the boating season.
Among the other boats serving the local landings in 1858 were the MONONGAHELA BELLE, owned by Captain J. M. Gilchrist, of Jacksonport, and the MARY PATTERSON, which was launched at Grand Glaize in November. Owned by J. C. Matthews and A. B. Comer, the PATTERSON was commanded by Captain Morgan Magness Bateman and was 125 feet long, 23 feet wide, and displaced 105 net tons.
In the fall of 1858, John H. Quisenberry tried to develop Buffalo City into a major port. Recognizing its strategic location at the foot of Buffalo Shoals, usually considered the head of year-round navigation by small steamers, the ambitious gentleman purchased land, laid it off in lots, then advertised them for sale. He stated that river mail service would soon be extended to Buffalo City, which would furnish continuous transportation to the Mississippi River, and cause the formation of various state lines from Buffalo City to the interior.
Undaunted, he completed plans with Captain Pete Fleming and T. J. Wood to purchase a boat to run from Buffalo City to Augusta to connect with the steamer ADMIRAL, owned by Captain Fleming. This would provide a steamboat line from Buffalo City to the Mississippi, thence to Memphis and New Orleans. They purchased the steamboat OAKLAND, which they claimed could run the entire year, since it drew only 14 inches of water.
With the entrance of the MARY PATTERSON in the trade, competition became keen. Although not completely finished, Captain Bateman passed Buffalo City in April 1859, enroute to Forsythe. Upon his return, he stated that he would make another trip to Taney County in two weeks. Not to be outdone, Captain Thomas J. Woods announced that he was taking the OAKLAND to Forsythe. In a further gesture of goodwill, he scheduled an excursion to Buffalo City on April 21, but cancelled it to permit the OAKLAND to replace the ADMIRAL in the lower river trade -- she had become temporarily disabled.
Quisenberry's plans for making his steamer a United States mail packet met with failure, and the OAKLAND could not withstand the increased competition. Once the pride of Buffalo City, she was sold at a United States Marshall's sale on September 7,1859, to meet unpaid obligations.
The following boats are holding themselves in readiness to run the Upper White River trade the coming season, VIZ: the INTERCHANGE, Captain J. W. Gilchrist, to run from Buffalo City to New Orleans; MARY PATTERSON, Captain Morg Bateman, and NEBRASKA, Captain Cummins, to run from Buffalo City to Jacksonport; and I doubt not that several OTHER BOATS will be "in" in time to reap a share of the spoils ... The principal productions of the country are corn, wheat and tobacco, which has been raised this year in abundance. Cattle and hogs are also raised in almost INNUMERABLE QUANTITIES. Beef cattle could be bought at 3 cents per pound, good corn-fed pork, at not exceeding 4 cents, wheat is worth 50 cents per bushel, corn will be worth 25 cents per bushel ...
"The town was surveyed in October last, but very little improvement was done until the first of February. Since then there has been considerable... To the tavern known as the "Shoal House," there has been added a room 20 feet square, with a passage 16 feet wide, and a porch 36 feet long, and a double stable and a smoke house. The warehouse at the steamboat landing has been thoroughly rennovated and put in good order; which is of sufficient capacity to do an extensive receiving and forwarding business, and also to carry on an extensive mercantile business upstairs, which is now occupied by Messrs. Gilchrist and Co. A business 25 by 100 feet (new) is nearly completed; two residences have been built, and several others in contemplations. We suppose Messrs. G. and Co., Captain Morg Bateman, W. H. Fletcher, E. B. Tunstall, C. Duggins and Alex Moreland will build this fall, and probably others. I omitted to mention, when speaking of new improvements a STEAM GRIST MILL, built by the Messrs. Tunstalls, which makes a fine article of flour. There have eleven families moved here since the town was surveyed."
As further evidence of Buffalo City's expansion, the following excerpt from a newspaper stated:
"I find there are many citizens of our state, who do not know that the White River is navigable to Buffalo City, even during winter and spring. For the information of such persons, I will give the names of six different steamboats that went to Buffalo City during the past season: CITY of KNOXVILLE, MONONGAHELA BELLE, OAKLAND, MARY PATTERSON, NEBRASKA, and the INTERCHANGE. Three of these boats will run to Buffalo City in the coming season.
"The CITY of KNOXVILLE, Captain James Timms owner and master, was primarily a mail packet from Jacksonport to Pocahontas, but made infrequent trips to Marion County landings. The INTERCHANGE was Captain Gilchrist's replacement for the MONONGAHELA BELLE, which sank on a trip from Buffalo City to Memphis; and the NEBRASKA, Captain Cummins, master, was a Batesville to Buffalo City and Talbert's Ferry,packet.
In late January, 1860, Captain Gilchrist passed Des Arc with his 251-ton INTERCHANGE towing the little steamer BELVIDERE which was destined for service to Marion County landings. The 46-ton stern-wheeler was owned by Captain N. C. Shipp, with J. Darby as clerk. Captain Shipp was the father of two famous White River steamboatmen, Captains William C. and Hardin C. Shipp.
On March 20, the steamer NOVELTY, another entry into the Upper White River trade, was at the rapids below Buffalo City, and Captain Bateman and the MARY PATTERSON were 16 miles above Batesville, bound for Forsythe. The good captain should have stayed in Marion County, for his steamboat was caught by low water at Forsythe and stranded until late February, 1861. Slight rises enabled the MARY PATTERSON to return to the Coker farm, near the mouth of East Sugar Loaf Creek, then to Bull Bottom Shoals, in Marion County, but it was not until late March that the boat could return to Buffalo City. No doubt the 12 month stay nettled Captain Bateman, as did the killing of the Taney County sheriff by one of his crew while the MARY PATTERSON was marooned at Forsythe.
Although the number of steamboats was increasing, keel boats were still running on Marion County waters. In late May, 1860, one left Talbert's Ferry carrying a load of bacon and corn. Enroute to Batesville, it also carried $800 from a branch of the House of Burr. After arriving at Buffalo City, the keel boat ran aground and could not be dislodged. When night came, the captain decided to forward the money in the morning by yawl and hid it for safekeeping. During the night it was stolen, with the exception of $120 in gold, which was scattered around with a couple of mutilated bills. Suspicion rested upon a young crew member, who was watched closely. At Batesville he bought a watch, razor, some perfumery, and finally a skiff, in which he fled. He was apprehended at Jacksonport, tied with a rope, and brought back to to Batesville. The young man readily admitted his guilt, saying that he would much rather be taken out and whipped in Independence County, than taken to the penitentiary in Little Rock.
As steamboating entered 1861, the BELVIDERE and NOVELTY were serving the Marion County landings. Captain Gilchrist's fine steamer INTERCHANGE had sunk near Newport in late 1860 and was lost. In January, Captain J. J. Pillsbury started regular trips to Buffalo City with the MASONIC GEM, and in late March the Mary PATTERSON was freed for service.
The outbreak of hostilities cast fear and apprehension among the steamboat captains, and river service to Marion County dwindled. Internal turmoil and the arrival of Union troops drove the remaining steamers from the area, although the date and name of the last to leave Buffalo City is uncertain. But leave they did, and it was a several long years before the populace again heard the nostalgic whistle of a steamboat.
Among the first to return was the JUSTICE, a 117-ton side-wheeler commanded by Captain Abner Baird, which left Batesville for Buffalo City on May 16, 1866. A Memphis-to-Batesville packet, the JUSTICE made occasional trips to Marion County and may have arrived earlier. Pilots of the steamer were Nick Jones and Henry Clark, with Wilmot Gibbes, of Sulphur Rock, as clerk. The J.R. Hoyle, Captain Jim Kinman, master, entered the upper river trade on August 31, 1866, and the 79-ton CLERMONT left Batesville for Buffalo City on February 27, 1867.
Perhaps the first regular post-Civil War packet to serve the Marion County landing was the 99-ton F.W. BROOKS, a small sternwheeler owned by Captain G.W. Gable. It was announced on October 19, 1967, that the craft would make semi-weekly trips to Buffalo City, and above. She left briefly to ply Little Red River as a tri-weekly packet, but returned in March, 1868. She ran until fall, when the 84-ton ARGOS began running in the upper river. Thomas Cox, of Batesville, purchased the boat in July, 1869, and made Captain William C. Shipp her master. By December of 1869, Captain Shipp was making regular trips to Talbert's Ferry, with Asa Bragg and Scanlin as clerks.
The 173-ton BATESVILLE entered the trade in late 1869. Built and owned by Captain Charles Coles, the sternwheeler was 120 feet, 26 feet wide, and had a 4 feet hold. The captain's brother-in-law, Captain Albert B. Smith, was clerk of the boat.
The steamers ARGOS and BATESVILLE made frequent trips to Marion County landings in 1870 and 1871, with Captain Will C. Shipp becoming quite popular with his customers. There may have been others, but they offered little competition to Captains Shipp and Coles. Captain Albert G. Cravens, who had been running keel boats from Batesville since 1866, was listed as pilot of the ARGOS on June 27,1871.
Despite her popularity, the ARGOS had financial difficulties after Thomas Cox's death in early 1871 and was finally sold at public auction in November for the paltry sum of $525. The debt-ridden little steamer sank at the mouth of Poke Bayou, at Batesville, and was not raised.
The BATESVILLE, now owned by Captain Albert B. Smith, continued to run to Buffalo City and Talbert's Ferry, being joined in late 1872 by the MAYSVILLE and JESSIE. The latter was owned by Captain Milt Harry who had Captain Albert Cravens as his clerk. In February, 1873, the JESSIE steamed to Buffalo City, then returned to Batesville in the amazing time of seven hours. The MAYSVILLE and JESSIE became more-or-less regular Marion County packets, while the BATESVILLE made spasmodic trips.
The ARCH P. GREEN, Captain Alex C. Elliott, master, began plying the river in 1875. Built especially for the trade, the 57-ton steamer was 110 feet long and 22 feet wide. Her clerk, Captain Charles B. Woodbury, later ran steamboats to Marion County until the end of the era. She was joined by the DUCK, a small vessel owned by Captain John T. Warner, of Batesville.
Captain Smith took the BATESVILLE through swift rapids and over stubborn shoals to Forsythe, then steamed beyond to the mouth of Bull Creek in late 1876. With Captain Will C. Shipp as pilot, the vessel brought out 2,000 bushels of wheat. Later Captain Shipp took the BATESVILLE to the mouth of the James River, equaling the feat of the THOMAS P. RAY and his brother Hardin Shipp. Young apprentice pilot Edwin Tucker Burr Warner was with Captain Shipp in the pilot house, and later became one of the most famous of White River pilots.
Soon after, Captain Shipp listed the landings from Jacksonport to the mouth of the James, and those in Marion County included Buffalo City, Coffy's Talbert's Ferry, Mount Bruce, Salt Peter Mine, John Trimble's, Noe's, Coker's, Little North Fork, Pot Creek, Music Creek, Butt Bottom Shoals, Friend's farm, and Big Creek. Others to Forsythe were Big Beach Shoals, Joe Pumphrey's Dubuque, Long's Ferry, Elbow Shoals, Bear Creek, Major's Cedar Creek, mouth Big Beaver and Forsythe.
Among the steamboats running to Marion County in early 1877 were the ARCH P. GREEN, now owned by Captain Charles B. Woodbury, the BATESVILLE, the DUCK, and the MUSIC, which was soon impounded by the sheriff of Jackson County. The increased competition forced Captain John T. Warner to take the DUCK to Black River.
An advertisement on March 1, 1877, listed the steamers BATESVILLE, Captain Will C. Shipp, master; and the ALBERTA, Captain Smith in command, as regular Newport to Batesville, Sylamore, Calico Rock, Buffalo City, Talbert's Ferry, Dubuque and Forsythe packets. Also found was a notice that Captain Woodbury's vessel was a Newport to Buffalo City packet.
The ALBERTA passed Talbert's Ferry in late May loaded to the guards; she had been to Hensley's Ferry, 20 miles above Forsythe. After leaving Buffalo City, she went up the Buffalo River to the Big Eddy. When she arrived at Batesville, her load consisted of 47 bales of cotton, 1700 bushels of wheat, five hogsheads of tobacco, one box of tobacco weighing 450 pounds, one bale of wool, one bale of hides, 20,000 pounds of flour, 14,300 pounds of bacon, and 900 pounds of lard.
The ALBERTA went to Trimble's Landing, 41 miles above Buffalo City, for a cargo of cotton in early December of 1877. Captain Shipp lost some time at Talbert's Ferry trying to load a fine lot of hogs, but abandoned the shipment because of rapid falling of the river and the proclivities of the swine. Business was brisk, and on January 3, 1878, the boat docked at Batesville from Talbert's Ferry, heavily laden with freight. She also landed on January 29 from Marion County landings with 411 bales of cotton, 100 sacks of cottonseed, 1000 bushels of wheat, 1000 pounds of dried fruit and 1000 dozen eggs. A local reporter bragged that the crew certainly had plenty of ham and eggs and peach rolls on the trip!
The ALBERTA passed Buffalo City on March 20, enroute from Elbow Shoals with 326 bales of cotton and a large number of passengers. The ARCH P. GREEN, WINNIE and ALBERTA traveled to Marion County landings during the remainder of the year.
Trade continued to be good in 1879, and in the fall the C.B. WARNER and ALBERTA were the primary boats serving the local landings, being joined in December by the JENNIE STINSON, Captain Silas Daughtery, master. The WINNIE and ARCH P. GREEN also made occasional trips, but the former left the river, and the GREEN was lost in 1880.
On March 5, 1880, it was announced that Captain Thomas B. Stallings was building a boat at old Dubuque, now the Lead Hill Landing. A newspaper clipping by Guntharp stated that John Farmer, Newt Milum, Isaac Linton and Bill Pumphrey each subscribed $1,000 and hired Captain Stallings to build the boat. This may be true, but later court records show the captain as the sole owner. Perhaps he purchased it from them, or they loaned him the money. I.N. Milum is shown as clerk of the boat on an old blank bill of lading. Regardless of the details of financing, the boat was not completed until January, 1881.
Captain Albert G. Cravens revealed in the fall of 1880 that Captain Stallings' new boat had been named the LADY BOONE, in honor of the county in which it was constructed, and would leave on the first rise for Batesville for inspection. Captain Smith also completed a new boat, the ALBERTA NO. 2, using the machinery from the old ALBERTA, and chartered the C. B. Warner for the coming season. Captain Woodbury,'s replacement for the ARCH P. GREEN was nearing completion at Louisville and was christened the WHITEWATER. Meanwhile, Captain Stallings readied the LADY BOONE for her first trip down the river, and her arrival was reported, thus:
"The steamer LADY BOONE, out of Upper White River, hove into the Batesville port on Tuesday of this week with 146 bales of cotton, mostly belonging to the boat, and left for Newport for inspection. This is the first trip of the LADY BOONE, and to say that she is a beauty does not half express it, and with her able commanders, the old reliable Captain Tom Stallings on deck, and the very faithful Captain Albert Cravens at the wheel, she will ply the river from Newport up. The LADY BOONE is brand new and light draught, being 110 feet long, 22 feet beam, with 8 inch engines and 31/2 feet stroke, and a carrying capacity of 400 bales."
Although the ALBERTA NO. 2 was considerably larger than the LADY BOONE, Captain Stallings received his share of the Marion County business. When the 83-ton steamer came out of the mountains on March 7, 1881, she was loaded with 240 bales of cotton; Captain Cravens was now clerk and Hardin Shipp the pilot. Later the new boat docked at Batesville with 300 bales of cotton and 20,000 pounds of flour from millers in the vicinity of Forsythe.
The river was in splendid boating condition in late 1881, with the packets making regular trips to Marion County, much to the joy of the local merchants. The LADY BOONE, with Captain Ed Warner at the wheel, left McBee's Landing for Newport, and when she returned Captain John T. Warner was temporarily in command. McBee's Landing was located at the mouth of Fallen Ash Creek, about one mile above the present town of Cotter, and was being developed by W. C. McBee.
A strange adventure of Captain Albert G. Cravens was told by John Q. Wolf, clerk of Captain Stallings' next boat. During a big rise, Captain Cravens and two companions were coming down the river above Buffalo City in a canoe, when they saw the LADY BOONE slowly churning upstream. They signaled to be taken aboard, and the deck hands stood ready to seize them. With Captain Cravens in the stern steering, and his companions crouched in the bow, the canoe rapidly approached the square prow of the steamer. Crew members seized the hands of Captain Craven's friends and jerked them aboard. The front of the canoe was sucked under the LADY BOONE's bow, catapulting the captain into the air. When he hit the water, he was drawn under the boat and bumped against the bottom, as the swift water carried him along. He heard the paddle wheel, and knew he would be maimed, or killed, if drawn into it. He dived and swam until he heard the big wheel pass over him, then desperately surfaced in the wake of the steamboat. Wolf stated the good captain spouted water like a whale and struck out for the shore, where he seized an overhanging willow limb until rescued.
The LADY BOONE continued to serve the Marion County Landings, but the ALBERTA NO. 2 burned in the lower river, and Captain Woodbury sold the WHITEWATER, leaving only the WINNIE and the BOONE in the upper river trade.
Captain Smith's new boat, the ALBERTA NO. 3, was almost a duplicate of the burned ALBERTA NO. 2, being 150 feet long and 30 feet wide. Captain Woodbury's new JOHN F. ALLEN was 130 feet long and 24 feet wide, and both boats were in operation in late 1884, but misfortune befell Captain Woodbury within two weeks; the JOHN F. ALLEN ran into some rocks between Buffalo City and McBee's. After casting off 200 bales of cotton, he dislodged his steamer, which suffered only minor damage.
As 1885 began, Captain Stallings, tied up the LADY BOONE and became pilot of the MILT HARRY, a 78-ton Black River boat owned by Captain Pete McArthur. The steamer was immediately immobilized at McBee's Landing, but later descended to Buffalo City, where she again became stranded. It was not until early February that the MILT HARRY left, only to catch fire a short distance above Batesville. The flames spread so rapidly that Captain McArthur and his crew barely escaped with their lives.
Captain Stallings dismantled the LADY BOONE during the summer, using the machinery and cabin on the NEW HOME, which he was building near Calico Rock. Upon completion the steamboat was placed in the Buffalo City and Lead Hill trade.
In January, 1886, the JOHN F. ALLEN, NEW HOME and ALBERTA NO.3 made trips to Buffalo City, but low water forced the latter to the lower river, and she never returned. Captain Stallings landed his boat at Buffalo City in mid-March; however, the river was too low to go to McBee's. He was in Yellville later, telling shippers that he would go to Lead Hill on the first rise and inviting a number of citizens to accompany him.
The spring rains brought a welcome rise in the river, with trips above Buffalo being resumed, and the only known collision between two steamers occurred.
The competition between steamboat crews was not the only rivalry, for that between the owners of landings was often just as keen. Before the development of McBee's, Talbert's Ferry was the main landing for old Flippin, Yellville and other small settlements. It was bought by Lee Denton and renamed Denton's Ferry, while McBee's was developed by W. C. McBee, who owned river land that included the mouth of Fallen Ash Creek. He built a ferry, grist mill, cotton gin and warehouse on the property. The emergence of McBee's caused the decline in importance of Denton's. The intense struggle for dominance is shown by this short sentence from the Mountain Echo:
"We understand that Mr. Lee Denton, "buck-eyed" up on mean whiskey, went down river and painted McBee's Landing and his 4X ferry red last week." (Whether the alleged incident was merely and Ozark Mountain joke, or an act of contempt, was never explained by the newsy reporter.)
The NEW HOME and JOHN F. ALLEN ran to Buffalo City in late December 1886, but low water curtailed operations above, and by late January over 2,000 bales of cotton awaited shipment at McBee's. Two weeks later the river rose enough for each steamer to make two difficult trips.
An event happened in February that had some influence on the development of the Upper White River. Yellville citizens J. C. Berry, W. R. Jones and H. B. Hallum, editor of the Mountain Echo, arrived at McBee's to enjoy his hospitality. While there, the whistle of the steamer HOME was heard downriver, and the men left by skiff to meet her. The group was heartily welcomed by Captain Stallings, who gave them a pleasant ride back to McBee's. Hallum described the boat as an excellent craft with a 500 bale carrying capacity and speed as swift as the wind. W. R. Jones, later owner of the Mountain Echo, was so impressed that he became a foremost advocate of improved river transportation.
The JOHN F. ALLEN and NEW HOME continued to travel to McBee's, and after arriving on February 17, Captain Woodbury took his boat to Lead Hill. All of the cotton was cleared from McBee's by mid-March, which was very fortunate; the river fell, and it was two months before boats could return.
The upper river competition was enlivened by the entrance of the steamer RALPH into the trade above Buffalo City. Owned by Captain Will C. Shipp, the craft was due at McBee's on March 30, and the appearance of three steamboats above Buffalo City was a welcome sight to the citizens. However, the number was reduced after Captain Woodbury took the JOHN F. ALLEN to Lead Hill in late May, then sold the steamer to Captain Pugh, of Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Business to Marion County ports was profitable during the 1887-1888 boating season, and several captains made plans to enlarge their operations. Captain Will C. Shipp lengthened the RALPH and added electric lights. Captain Albert B. Smith and associates purchased the GENERAL CHARLES H. TOMPKINS to replace the ALBERTA NO. 3, which had burned, and Captain Woodbury built the GOVERNOR JAMES P. EAGLE at Batesville.
The primary boats serving the local area during the 1888-1889 boating season were the RALPH and J. P. EAGLE. The former was at McBee's in late March 1889, leaving with 127 bales of cotton and 14 passengers. Captain Shipp reported that the RALPH made 21 trips during the season, of which 14 were to McBee's and above. The little TOM HESS also ran, but scant information was found on her activities.
The fall of 1890 was exceptionally good for steamboating, and by September Captain Woodbury was making regular trips to McBee's. The late Walter Isom remembered the boat most vividly, stating that she was painted a brilliant white and nicknamed "THE WHITE EAGLE".
Captain Stallings, once dubbed the Young Commodore of the Upper White, returned in December with the GENERAL CHARLES H. TOMPKINS, which was 183 feet long and 25 feet wide; Captain Smith was seriously ill at Newport. The TOMPKINS was at McBee's on January 9,1891, and was described as one of the finest to ever navigate the Upper White; she left with 751 bales of cotton. Captain Stallings took the boat above Lead Hill during the week of January 16, returning to Batesville with 596 bales of cotton and ten tons of ore from Music Creek. He sped back to McBee's to go as far above Lead Hill as possible.
Things were busy at the Marion County Landings, with the TOMPKINS, EAGLE, RALPH, and occasionally the TOM HESS competing for the trade. Captain Stallings made steamboat history with the TOMPKINS during the last week of February; the bold captain took his steamer to the mouth of Bear Creek and left McBee's with 800 bales of cotton. As far as is known, this is the largest shipment to leave Marion County by steamboat.
Captain Stallings arrived at the Music Creek mines in March, after having brought the TOMPKINS to McBee's with a crusher for a mine owner Joe S. Lemon. Since the other boats had refused to transport the massive equipment, Lemon offered all his future business to the TOMPKINS. They made plans to transport the crusher to the Pangle farm, on Jimmie's Creek, but the river fell, stranding the boat at McBee's for almost a month. To save expenses, the deck hands were returned to Batesville.
When the river rose again, Captain Stallings hired local men to complete the crew and departed on April 16 for Lead Hill. While jumping Summers Shoal, at Denton's Ferry, the line slipped from the captain and struck Willaim Spangler, shattering his leg. Captian Stallings sent for a doctor, and after making satisfactory arrangements for Spangler's treatment, headed the TOMPKINS up river. He went as far as Long's Ferry and returned to McBee's, picking up 146 bales of cotton and 20 tons of ore at the mouth of Music Creek, some 15 miles above Oakland. After completing his load at McBee's and other Marion County landings, he turned the prow of the TOMPKINS toward Batesville.
The J. P. EAGLE and RALPH served the Marion County landings in 1892, with occasional trips by the TOM HESS, John T. Warner, master. The Ralph Transportation Company had further difficulties, when the Springfield directors tried to place Captain Charles Eagles and Albert G. Cravens in charge of their steamer. The matter was thrown into litigation and referred to Federal Court in Little Rock. The RALPH docked at Batesville and was still there in mid-March.
As the enterprise proceeded, the steamer RANDALL was purchased in late April of 1892 to ply between Batesville and Buffalo City. Its purpose was two-fold -- to carry materials for the building of the railroad, and to carry commercial freight and passengers. Built in 1889, the RANDALL was 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and had a carrying capacity of 44 tons and 32 passengers. Semi-weekly trips were started to Buffalo City, with Captain Will T. Warner as master of the boat, and Captain Cravens as pilot.
The RANDALL became the favorite of W. R. Jones, who mentioned it more frequently than the EAGLE, which also served the area. He plugged a RANDALL excursion trip from Buffalo City to Batesville on June 11, 1892, pointing out that the round trip fare was only $5, which included meals while the steamer was moving.
By the fall of 1892, several changes were made in the steamboats serving Marion County. Captain Woodbury sold the EAGLE and leased the 220-ton J. A. WOODSON, and Captain John T. Warner rebuilt the TOM HESS, renaming her the RALPH E. WARNER. Captain William T. Thomas built the OAKLAND and readied her for service to McBee's Landing.
The RANDALL, RALPH E. WARNER, OAKLAND and J. A. WOODSON ran during the 1892-1893 boating season, making frequent trips to Buffalo City and McBee's. The RANDALL began carrying zinc ore from Buffalo City and so Captain Will Warner tied up the OAKLAND and assisted Captain Pond.
The RANDALL brought J. E. Wickersham's tools for his new tinshop and a good supply of stock to McGee's Landing in early May, while the WOODSON made an excursion trip to McBee's, her last of the season. Later, the RALPH E. WARNER docked at Batesville on a trip from Marion County, and Captain John T. Warner counted 27 cedar rafts lying overnight at the mouth of Buffalo River, enroute to Independence County.
As the business interests of W. C. McBee continued to grow, he wanted a steamboat capable of easily ascending the river to Lead Hill, so he hired Captain Cravens and E. B. Johnson to build one to carry freight and passengers on eight inches of water. Constructed at McBee's Landing, the small craft was 64 feet long, 14 feet wide, displaced 25 net tons, and could carry 14 tons of freight. It was named MYRTLE after one of McBee's daughters. To increase the hauling capacity, a barge called SANDY was built. Captain Cravens became master of the MYRTLE.
As 1894 approached, three steamboats served the Marion County ports; the J. A. WOODSON, Captain Woodbury, master; the RALPH E. WARNER, Captain John T. Warner commanding; and the MYRTLE with Captain John Shipp in charge and Captain Cravens as pilot. Low water curtailed operations in January, but the MYRTLE arrived at Buffalo City on the 10th and left with a cargo of cotton. Captain John Shipp promised to make weekly trips, water permitting. The river was at a good boating stage by February 1, resulting in the frequent arrival of steamboats at McBee's and all three vessels were there on Februbary [sic] 10. Good steamboating conditions continued for several weeks, with the boats hauling away about $50,000 worth of cotton.
In the summer of 1894, Captain Will T. Warner built the DAUNTLESS, a beautiful 73-ton steamer, and the Warners gave hot competition to the other vessels during the winter months. The MYRTLE, now under the command of Captain Stallings, was forced to Black River, where she ran until late February, 1895.
W. C. McBee ordered the MYRTLE returned to his landing for the Upper White River trade. The boat reached Oil Trough late Saturday evening March 1, where Captain Stallings tied up for the night. As the cook was preparing breakfast the next morning, an accident caught the cook room on fire. Within a few minutes the entire steamer was in flames, and the crew barely escaped unharmed. Sadly Captain Stallings watched the fire consume the MYRTLE, then conveyed the bad news to W. C. McBee. Proving the old adage that river misfortunes come in pairs, the RALPH E. WARNER was totally destroyed by fire on a trip from McBee's.
The burning of the vessels revealed the need for another small boat to serve the local landings, so Captain Cravens started building one he claimed would run on six inches of water. Although he had owned several keel boats, including the LIZA JANE back in 1869, he had never realized a life-long goal -- having a steamboat of his very own. The good captain realized his dream, when he completed the T. E. MORRISON, one of the smallest packets to ply the river. She was only 54 feet long and 10 feet wide, but capable of hauling 16 passengers and 15 tons of freight.
On Easter Sunday of 1896, Captain Cravens turned the bow of the T. E. MORRISON up the Buffalo and made a successful trip of several miles with a group of excursionists. To say the trip's success was exhilarating to Captain Cravens would be putting it mildly. The enthusiastic captain notified W. R. Jones he would soon take his boat 85 miles upriver to win a $100 bonus!
Perhaps the best known of the steamboat captains that plied the White and Buffalo Rivers in Marion County was Captain A. G. Cravens who, after retiring from the river, became a landowner and long-time resident of the No. 1 community on the farm known as the Cravens Farm. The following account of his death was given:
"A. G. Cravens, aged 91, formerly of Yellville, died at the Arkansas Confederate Home, Sweet Home, at 7:45 p.m. yesterday. He is survived by three daughters, Mrs. Fannie Wilson, of Yellville, and Mrs. Mary Young and Mrs. Jessie McNalley, both of Union, South Carolina, and one son, Bert Cravens, of Aberdeen, Washington."
The body of Captain Cravens arrived at Flippin on the northbound passenger train Monday, where it was met by many of his friends and conveyed to Barb Cemetery, near White River, and laid to rest by the side of two of his old neighbors of a half century ago -- Tom Barb and Ewing Summers. Funeral services, attended by many sorrowing relatives and friends, were conducted by Rev. J. B. Rousey.
Captain Cravens spent most of his long, eventful life in the county. He was a lieutenant in the Confederate Army, and it was said by his comrades that a more fearless soldier never served in any war. The Confederacy, next to his family, was the cause dearest to his heart. At the close of the war, in company of Mr. J. S. Cowdrey and Mr. B. M. Estes, he returned to Marion County, and Mr. Estes, now very old, is the only surviving member of the trio returned to their homes after the loss of their noble fight for a cause which they believed from their hearts to be just and right.
Mr. Cravens also served this county for one term as tax assessor.
Many years of his life were spent on the White River as captain of steamboats which plied between Newport and the Upper White River, and during those years no man knew the channel of the river better than he. He loved White River almost as much as he loved his life, therefore it was very fitting that after his soul had passed to its reward, that his mortal body should be conveyed up the White River railroad, along the winding banks of that beautiful stream, and laid to rest in the Barb Cemetery, which nestles almost at its brink, near the uppermost landing place where he had many times anchored his boat in the years of long ago, and there above high water mark, in a beautiful grove, near the Cravens' farm -- his old home -- where the breaking of the waves of this beautiful stream on its journey to the sea may be heard by the generations who follow him until time be no more.
Active pallbearers were Joe Fee, Bob Williams, T. V. Russell, J. M. Keeter, L. H. Layton and W. C. Huddleston.
Honorary, pallbearers were J. B. Mason, Lee Fleming, J. C. Berry and H. A. Young.
Captain Cravens was a man of great intellect, strong conviction, and he, was loved by all who knew him.
Mountain Echo, June 4,1931.
The spirit of adventure burned deeply within the hearts of the steamboat captains who traveled the Upper White. They were a hardy lot, and although all were friends, each was intensely loyal to his boat and crew and unwilling to be outdone by another. When the success of Captain Cravens' trip reached Captain Will T. Warner, he awaited an opportunity to outshine the master of the T. E. MORRISON. It came when officials of the Morning Star Mine hired him to haul machinery and passengers to the mouth of Rush Creek. Captain Warner's epic trip was recorded by one short paragraph in a local newspaper.
"Forty miles up Buffalo River are the mouths of Rush and Clabber Creeks. Heretofore it has been considered one of the impossibilities for a steamboat to go up the Buffalo River on any state of water, but last week, Captain Will Warner of the DAUNTLESS, having some freight and passengers for Morning Star Mine determined to do the impossible, and so, without accident, he made the run with the staunch little steamer DAUNTLESS forty miles up the limpid and virgin stream, awakening with steam whistle the silent echoes of those uncovered mountains of zinc. The water was about average stage and he proposes to make another trip up the Buffalo hereafter."
The description of the DAUNTLESS feat makes one wonder why other boats had not been plying the Buffalo River, since no difficulties were reported -- but the trip was not as easy as depicted.
On August 2, 1968, the late Walter L. Isom who was a passenger on the DAUNTLESS, was interviewed at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Sam Martin, Rea Valley, Arkansas. The fine old gentleman was born March 16, 1875, and remembered clearly the hardships in ascending the shoals and rapids; his experience is like a page from a history book.
When he was a young man of 28 years, he was working on a farm on Cow Creek with Bob Trimble, some three miles from the mouth of the Buffalo. As they toiled, they heard a steamboat's whistle pierce the stillness of the river valley, and on rushing to the river bank, saw the steamer DAUNTLESS slowly puffing up the swift waters of the Buffalo River. In open-mouthed amazement they watched the boat come closer and closer. As she approached, Captain Warner shouted and asked if they wanted to "take a little boat ride." The young men eagerly accepted the captain's offer and climbed aboard.
"It was operated like a windlass," stated Mr. Isom, "six or eight men would insert poles in the device and reel in the line, pulling the DAUNTLESS over the shoal."
Progress was slow, and although Walter Isom and Bob Trimble boarded the steamer one day, they did not arrive at the mouth of Rush Creek until the second. The cargo was quickly unloaded, and the DAUNTLESS headed for the deeper waters of White River.
In the late spring of 1896, Captain Cravens was repairing the T. E. MORRISON to make regular trips from McBee's, when he became interested in politics and apparently forsook the river. The fate of the boat is obscure, but Walter Isom stated that the steamer TYCOON sank a few hundred yards up the Buffalo River, near a farm he had rented. Apparently she developed engine trouble and was tied to the bank, where she sank. Some of the machinery was salvaged, but the boat was not raised. Since the TYCOON burned in the lower river, this was probably the T. E. MORRISON.
The Year 1896 was especially disastrous for the steamboats serving Marion County, Gone were the T. E. MORRISON, the MYRTLE, the RALPH E. WARNER, and the J. A. WOODSON, which Captain Woodbury returned to her owners before launching the OZARK QUEEN at Batesville in September. The TYCOON was also built there, and three boats were in the trade; but the DAUNTLESS caught fire and burned on November 10.
The OZARK QUEEN was the last steamboat constructed for passenger and freight service to Marion County, and with her passing a colorful era ended. Her tremendous struggle against river hazards, the competition from other boats, and the increasing threat of the railroad, typified the last days of steam packets on the upper river.
Among the very few who remembered the OZARK QUEEN in 1972 was Mrs. Minnie B. Johnson, nee [sic] Huddleston, who is now, deceased. In her youth, she witnessed the arrival of several steamboats at McBee's Landing and could recall those exciting moments. Before her demise, she stated:
"When I was a young girl on papa's farm on the old Denton Ferry road, we could hear the steamboats distinctly as they rounded the bend and whistled for McBee's. Before the sound could fade away, us kids would yell, "The QUEEN's a comin! The QUEEN's a comin! Steamboat's here!" Then we would race like scared rabbits through the woods to see who could be the first to reach the river!"
The OZARK QUEEN vied with the TYCOON, Captain Dick Prater, master, and the JOSIE SIVLEY for the upper river trade during 1896-97 boating season. Captain Woodbury's boat was the largest, being 133 feet long, 25.6 feet wide and displacing 135 net tons, while the TYCOON was 64 tons net. The OZARK QUEEN made nine trips from Newport to McBee's, eleven to Buffalo City, one to the rapids, and one from Batesville to Sylamore, carrying 260 passengers. In comparison, the TYCOON hauled 50 passengers on 19 trips -- the JOSIE SIVLEY's captain did not render a report.
Trade was dull during the 1897-1898 boating season, forcing the TYCOON to Black River, but in late January the OZARK QUEEN and TYCOON resumed full operation, each making several trips to Buffalo City and McBee's until low water stopped their activities.
The steamers were in competition during the 1898-1899 season until the TYCOON burned in early 1899, after which the OZARK QUEEN enjoyed an excellent year. She made 22 trips to Buffalo City and McBee's, and on May 17 went to Oakland.
Captain Woodbury announced semiweekly trips to Buffalo City at the start of 1899-1900 season, leaving Batesville every Saturday and Wednesday mornings. Again the OZARK QUEEN was alone in the trade, but low water reduced her trips. She made one to Oakland, six to McBee's and five to Buffalo City.
An event in early 1899 affected the OZARK QUEEN and her competitors -- the River and Harbor Bill in Congress provided for ten locks and dams to insure year-round navigation to Marion County. One was authorized yearly until all were completed, and money was appropriated to start the first at Batesville. Construction began in the fall of 1900, and the OZARK QUEEN was no longer alone in the upper river trade; the JESSIE BLAIR, a small gasoline sternwheeler from Illinois appeared. The tiny vessel was 52 feet long, 12 feet wide and commanded by a Captain Heniken. She made three trips to Buffalo City by March 1, 1901.
The last two years of steamboating were busy ones. Construction on Lock and Dam No. 1 was completed, and work started on No. 2, some ten miles above Batesville. The White River branch of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad was also under construction. In addition to the OZARK QUEEN, more boats arrived, several being hired to haul equipment and supplies to build the railroad.
As winter approached, the captains prepared for the last season of steamboating to Marion County. During late November, Captain Stallings passed Penter's Bluff with the 65-ton JOE WHEELER, enroute to Buffalo City, followed closely by Captain Woodbury and the OZARK QYEEN [sic]. Shortly thereafter, the steamers KENNEDY, QUICKSTEP, WELCOME, BUCK ELK and MYRTLE COREY, and the gasoline boat EUREKA, joined the parade of boats to McBee's.
The OZARK QUEEN reached Buffalo City without mishap, but became stuck on the shoals. Although in a dangerous situation, she pulled free with only minor damage. The OZARK QUEEN's primary competitor for the commercial trade was lucky, with Captain Stallings having a good season, but Captain Woodbury continued to be dogged with misfortune. During the last week in December, the OZARK QUEEN was returning from McBee's with 400 bales of cotton, when she ran aground some 20 miles above Batesville. The crew worked for hours to dislodge the QUEEN, but she could not be moved. Sadly Captain Woodbury awaited a rise to free the steamer; however, it was six long weeks before the boat was dislodged.
After unloading his cargo at Batesville, the captain headed for McBee's Landing. He worked hard to recoup his losses, and the Mountain Echo reported on two occasions that he was scouring the river above Oakland for freight. Perhaps the strain was too much for the old riverman, for in March he became ill while on an upriver trip. Walter Isom, who was then working at the Buffalo City Landing, remembered Captain Woodbury's last trip:
"When the QUEEN landed, poor Cap'n was awfully sick," he recalled. "He wanted to go on up to McBee's, but just couldn't make it. We unloaded the QUEEN, and she headed for Batesville. As I watched her round out, I knew the Cap'n would never be back."
The death knell for steam packets in Marion County was sounded on Monday, August 24, 1903, when the whistle of a steam locomotive heralded the arrival of the first passenger train from Batesville to Cotter. With its coming, regular rail service was established, and the twin bands of steel completed the job of crushing river competition. The stirring whistle of the steamboat had been stilled by the lonesome wail of the locomotive.
*Note: The preceding was extracted from a book-length manuscript of White River Steamboat History written by Duane Huddleston, and all rights to this material are reserved by him.
Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.