History of Yellville

By Marian Burnes

In the early 1800's when the first white hunters and trappers came to Yellville, they found an Indian village here, located around the present site of the American Legion Hut. The village was drawn there doubtless by the Noe Spring, which furnished, at that time, a good water supply. An early day writer gave this account:

"A traveler crossed the White River at the mouth of Crooked Creek and ascended that stream for many miles. About 20 miles from the mouth, he came to an Indian village occupied by about 300 Shawnees, probably attracted to the spot by the fine stand of cane for horse and cattle feed in the winter. Later, white men occupied the huts and fields prepared by the Indians, and so the Yellville settlement was begun."
The village continued to he known as Shawneetown until Marion County became a separate county in 1836, having until that time been a part of Izard County, with all legal business being conducted there. In 1836 Marion County was formed and the citizens petitioned for a Post Office. It was granted, with the then county clerk, William Kavanaugh, named as Postmaster. At that time Yellville was chosen as a name for the town, in honor of an early day Governor, Archibald Yell. The story has been handed down that he wanted the new town named in his honor and offered the founding fathers $50.00 to do so. They named it Yellville, but the $50.00 was never paid.

Sometime in the year 1845, Hansford Tutt, who had come here quite early, donated 9 acres for a town site. The deed was lost in a courthouse fire, and in 1899 A. S. Layton petitioned the court to reinstate it in the county records, which was done after due legal process. Hansford Tutt was known as "Hamp" Tutt, and as such, was the leader of the Tutt clan in the infamous "Tutt and Everett" feud. Known as the "Marion County War" in histories, this feud culminated in a bloody battle in 1849, in which several were killed and many wounded. Hansford escaped being killed that day, but was way-laid and murdered before the 1850 census was taken, as there is a notation after his name in that census: "killed before the end of the year". This feud resulted in the State militia being called out, the only time that has happened in the history of the county: Hansford Tutt had a saloon and small store here, and as there was no hotel here, his home served as a hotel of sorts. Other early settlers of that period included Mike Mathis, on whose farm the present Yellville Cemetery was begun. He too had a store here for a time, as did Matthew Adams, who had married a daughter of Michael Wolf in Izard County, then coming here to live. The "Tutt and Everett" feud was said to have involved almost every citizen of the county, as it was almost impossible to keep from getting involved on one side or the other. Many of those involved, who survived, left the county after the feud. The Everetts who remained went to Texas. Some of the Tutt descendants still live in the county. "Hamp's" wife remained in their home here until her death at an advanced age after 1900.

The town grew slowIy, the town site was well located on the banks of Crooked Creek, and the land was fertile. The town was for many years covered with cedar timber. The dark days of the Civil War came all too soon and slowed progress for several years. Most of the citizens espoused the Southern Cause, but being near the border line of the North and South, this area was overrun with "Bushwhackers" who seemed to kill for the love of killing. Yellville, in fact this whole area, suffered much from their depredations. In the winter of 1862-1863, a southern regiment camped almost all winter across Crooked Creek from town. This camp was called Camp Adams

Most of Yellville was destroyed by fire during the War. For a long time Yellville had neither courthouse, church, school, jail, nor even many homes. Two houses yet remain in Yellville of pre-Civil War vintage: the Wickersham house on Wickersham Street, and the Lon Berry house on Berry Street. The Berry house was conscripted and used by Union forces during part of the War. The upper floor served as a hospital, while the Union soldiers stabled their horses on the ground floor. Several skirmishes were fought here during the War.

The courthouse was burned during the War, and almost all of the county records were destroyed in that fire. In August, 1887, the courthouse again burned, but a few records were preserved. Frame and log houses were use as a courthouse until a lovely new stone building was built in 1905. This stood until January, 12,1943, when it burned to the ground. That same year the present courthouse was built on the same site. The building commissioners were: George Cavaness, Dr. A. V. Adams, W. N. Christian, R. W. Elam and Don Matthews. After the fires 1943, THE MOUNTAIN ECHO carried the news item, "Early January 12, the courthouse was destroyed by fire, it was insured for $10,000.00 and would cost $35,000.00."

Yellville was incorporated as a town in 1872. The following men signed the articles of incorporation: A. J. Noe, James Wickersham, B. W. Estes, W. C. Hudson, C. W. Noe, H. Jobe, J. H. Berry, A. S. Layton, Jr., Lee S. Layton, Daniel Wickersham, John H. Thompson, W. C. McBee, J. W. Covington, Perry G. Carter, G. W. McDowell, Thomas L. Wilson, R. H. Covington, Wm. McVey, John Estes, Sr., W. Q. Seawell, Louis Kilmer, F. T. Wood, L. Ellenberg, C. M. Weast, A. S. Layton, Sr., J. J. Covington, William Keener, John S. Cowdrey, and W. H. Welbourn.

In the early 1930's, Yellville had the distinction of being the only town in the state with an all woman city government. Mrs. Virge Walton was Mayor; O'Beta Carson was Treasurer; Lena Nowlin was Recorder. Members of the council were: Abbie Cowdrey, Alma Berry, Elnora Record, Mag Hutchison and Doll Thompson. It was a progressive administration. Among the progressive ordinances passed was an ordinance against livestock running at large within the city limits.

For many years Yellville was recognized as a leading educational center for northern Arkansas. The first school of record in Yellville, according to historian S. C. Turnbo, was a subscription school in the summer of 1853 taught by Major Tate. Those attending, according to Mr. Turnbo, were: William H., Rebecca and Foster Hand; William Stafford, Dick, Frank and Martin Wood, sons of "Squirrel" Bill Wood, early day Sheriff; Cam, Robert and Alexander Hurst, sons of "Old" Jacky Hurst; William, Henry, John, Lizzie and Mary Cowdrey, children of Dr. Cowdrey; Moody Brown; George and Sally Jefferson, children of Thomas Jefferson.

Bluff Springs Academy was opened January 18, 1855. No records are available as to its closing. Crooked Creek Male Academy started February 4, 1859. It is not known how long either of these schools continued, but they probably were closed in the early 1860's, as the war clouds were gathering and soon the region was to be engulfed in the bitterness of the Civil War. During this conflict little attention was given to schools as the main interest of the citizens was survival. The school in Yellville was destroyed by fire during the War.

What schools existed between the Civil War and 1888 were likely of short duration and privately financed. In 1888, Male and Female Academy was built here. It was built by the Methodist Church and supposedly was the forerunner of what later became Hendrix College now in Conway, Arkansas. It is said that after the reconstruction period both Baptists and Methodists were very anxious to have institutions of higher learning. The Methodists built the school here. In 1892, according to the Baxter County paper, the Baptists were endeavoring to raise money for Mountain Home Baptist College. This was done and many Marion County young people secured part of their education there.

In 1890, Yellville School on College Street was built. At first it was known as Yellville College. It was built of brick, two-story, three classrooms downstairs and two classrooms upstairs. Later it became the public school and existed as such until torn down in 1925. In 1924, Yellville and Summit consolidated and built a new grade and high school on State Highway 14 North, about halfway between the two towns.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention at least some of the early teachers who yielded a great influence on the lives of their pupils. W. R. Jones and his wife Idella came to Yellville from Illinois to teach here about 1887. He taught for a time and in 1889 bought the county paper, THE MOUNTAIN ECHO, from H. B. Dallam who had published it here since 1885. Among other early teachers were: Professor J. L. Bond, J. W. Black, Professor Jeter, 0. J. Carson, Mrs. Bardeen and many others who inspired such pupils as John Q. Adams, Jr., P. V. Blankenship, Russel, Garland and Marvin Melton, G. B. Keeter, Mrs. C. C. Nowlin, Mrs. T. C. Thompson, F. C. Gibson, Floyd Slagle, K. F. Cantrell, John M. Strickland, Ernie Black, Ella, Perry and Troy Jenkins and many others to become teachers. These along with many unnamed teachers devoted their lives to the school rooms of Marion County. These teachers in turn have been of inestimable value to the youth of our area.

Yellville presently has a modern 12-grade, Class A school. For many years Yellville has been a leader in education, turning out pupils who became doctors, lawyers, etc., who became leaders in their field.

Early Businesses: S. C. Turnbo, historian, in his many unpublished manuscripts, gives an account of an interview with an aged man, J. M. Upton. Mr. Upton said he was in Yellville 1837, and went on to state, "At that time Tomps Murphy had the only store in the village. He bought his goods at a trading point on the Black River known as Pocahontas. Mr. Murphy transported his goods on the back of a large ox he called Bob. He took furs and traded goods for his store. Arriving in Yellville after days of hard travel he halted at the door of his store and unloaded and carried in the merchandise. Murphys store house was built of nice cedar logs and stood in the midst of the finest cedar grove I ever saw. The building was covered with long clap boards with logs laid on them to keep them from blowing off. The doors, window shutters and counter top were made of the same material. There was a small fireplace in one corner of the room. The floor was made of puncheons split out of logs."

As Yellville grew more modern, for that time, stores were begun. In 1851 J. H. Berry opened a store here, known as J. P. Vance and Company. This was operated until the beginning of the Civil War. After the war he returned to Yellville, and he and his son-in-law, J. S. Cowdrey, went back into business in a store known as J. H. Berry and Company, which operated for years. G. W. McDowell opened a store here in 1868.

Before the Civil War, in 1845, John Wickersham was operating a store here on the square. In 1860 Henry Onstott and Harvey Laughlin had a drug store here. They collected rare specimens, lizards, snakes, spiders, horned frogs and centipedes. They kept them on the counter in a large glass jar of alcohol. They had a centipede captured on Jimmies Creek by Bent Music that measured 18 inches. The jar and contents were destroyed during the war.

According to the ECHO, issue of November 1904, a Mr. Westmoreland had a grocery here. He ran an advertisement for produce in the ECHO:

"Westmoreland's MarketCash Paid for
Spring chickens, 2 lb.& under$.07 per lb.
Spring chickens as they run $.06 per lb.
Hens, fowls, extra large chickens$.06 per lb.
Roosters, old and stag $.02 per lb.
Old turkeys$.05 per lb.
Spring turkeys, good size$.07 per lb.
Ducks & geese, good$.04 per lb.
Young squirrels$1.25 per dz.
Wild turkeys$.07 1/2 per lb.

Will pay cash for your hides and furs."

After the Civil War, A. S. Layton returned here and went into business. For many years they had a store and bank, as well as large holdings of farm land. They first had their stores on the east side of the square. In 1906, the large stone building on the Southwest corner of the square was completed and occupied by them. They operated the store there for many years and were also associated with with the bank in the corner of the same building. Later the Fair Store, a chain store, was there, then A. A. Thompson, still later, Berry's Store, operated by Lon and Alma Berry. In 1945, it was bought by L. D. Burnes and Arval Pyle and became Burnes and Pile. It was sold by them in 1965 to Roy Phillips of Harrison. He ran it only a few months and closed the business. The building is now occupied by Young's Discount and Silver Creek Land Company.

Over the years there have been many businesses. For many years Dr. Weast practiced medicine here and also ran Weast's Drug Store. J. B. Tatum had a shoe and harness shop on the northeast corner of the square. John Nanney, Jim Adams, Alex James, Leslie Clem, Caleb Newel, A. A. Thompson, L. T. Lefevers and many Others have had businesses on the square.

Yellville has had many doctors. Dr. Carlisle was practicing here before and during the Civil War. Later, among others were: Dr. Wilson, Dr. Coker, Dr. Strode, Dr. Thompson, Dr. Brooksher, Dr. Bearden, Dr. Klemme, Dr. Kelley, Dr. Svensen, presently, Dr. Richard Ahrens, Dr. Robert Ahrens, and Dr. Studeville.

In 1889, according to the county paper, seven lawyers were practicing in Yellville. They were: John O'Neill, Crump & Crump, Frank Pace, J. C. Floyd, S. W. Wood, J. W. Black and G. H. Berry. Other later attorneys to practice here have included: Elmer Owen, Gus Seawell, Gus Butler, Henry Young, Berry Floyd, Arthur Wood, Luther Cavaness and, presently, K. R. Smith and Michael Kelly.

When Yellville Post Office was established in 1836, the salary for the office $110 per year. As late as 1883, Yellville was the only post office in the county selling money orders.

In the early 1920's, the town and county as a whole began talking about a "homecoming" celebration of native sons and daughters. The date was finally set for August 15, 1924. THE MOUNTAIN ECHO gave it lots of publicity all that summer. A site was selected on Layton Hill, east of town on land then owned by the Layton family. When the day came, it was estimated the crowd numbered at least at least 6000. For weeks the ECHO carried lists of those attending. Many letters were written by former residents that came, some who had not been here in 35 years. Evidently it was an event never to be forgotten by those attending. Frank Carson was Mayor and Master of Ceremonies. W. Q. Seawell gave the Welcoming address.

In 1945 the American Legion began a festival here in the fall of the year, known as "National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot". This was begun and still exists now in the nature of a Homecoming. Turkeys are dropped over town by low-flying airplanes, at intervals during the day, and drawings are made for turkeys at specified times. A wild turkey calling contest is held at night, as well as a "Miss Drumsticks" contest. Turkey callers come from many states to enter the contest and compete for the trophy. After a few years the event was taken over by the Yellville Chamber of Commerce. It is unique in the fact that it is the only such event in the nation. This past year, 1976, marked the 31st anniversary of the festival. It is usually held in October and draws huge crowds. A carnival is here in connection with the celebration. A big turkey dinner is served at night in the Yellville-Summit school lunch room.

The present county newspaper, THE MOUNTAIN ECHO, was established in March, 1885, by H. B. Dallam. The subscription price was $1.00 per year, payable in cash or firewood. A news item in the paper, issue of March 1890, stated: "The ECHO is 5 years old today, has a paid up list of 500 subscribers at $1.00 each." The paper has been published continuously with no missing issues since that time. Many have owned and edited the paper, including: W. R. Jones, who bought the paper from Mr. DaIlam; J. H. Hand and Sons; F. M. Matthews and Don; Roy Sizemore; Jack Tipton; Kerm Powers; and the present editors, to name only a few. Several other papers have been operated for part of the time, including the Dodd City Republican, during the mining boom. The latest paper was the Marion County News, which was bought from Roy Sizemore by Kerm Powers and consolidated with THE MOUNTAIN ECHO.

Yellville is still a small town and probably will always be, but it has seen many improvements in the last few years. We have a Professional Building which houses the doctors' offices, a hospital and nursing home which are in process of being expanded, and a library. Most streets are now paved, we have a water system with pure clear water, a new sewer system, natural gas and other facilities which would do credit to a larger city. There are also many nice homes, and several churches -- all with modern buildings.

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

Southeast Quadrant