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Old Roads In North Arkansas

Roads are precursors of civilization, and nothing is more interesting to the student of local history than the effect they have had on the settlement and development of the country. This is particularly true of north Arkansas. Most of the early roads had their beginnings in Indian trails. The Indians were a roving people who moved from one part of the country to another in quest of the best hunting grounds or on missions of war. In their travels they followed certain favorable routes and this made trails by their marching single file. These trails were sometimes used by wild animals, such as deer, bear, and buffalo. So in time, these trails became quite clear, even worn in places. The routes of the trails were along the most favorable terrain, which was along the ridges between the streams and over the lower parts of the ridges they had to cross. They kept back from the lower courses of the larger streams in order to have better crossings on them, which they had to wade, swim or cross on the trunks of fallen trees. In the lowlands, the trails were located on the higher ground to avoid the sloughs. Of course, all the trails were more or less for dry weather use. Over these trails the Indians made long journeys marching single file, and beside them built their campfires at night, or maybe, located their villages. When the white settlers came, they found the Indian trails the best routes of travel, and they made them into wagon roads by cutting out underbrush and removing the logs.

There were three great early immigrant routes or roads into and through Arkansas, one from north to south, and two from east to west. Each had intersections and connections with other shorter roads.

Immigrants into Arkansas came mostly from the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. They came by land, or partly by land and partly by water. Many of them came all the way in ox drawn wagons. Some of them floated in flat boats down the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to St. Genevieve and New Madrid and then by land the rest of the way, but some of them continued down the Mississippi River to Chickasaw Bluff (Memphis) and Helena, from where they might move westward and northward. Sometimes they went on to the mouth of White River and up. John Lafferty is said to have come to the vicinity of Batesville in that way in 1810. The river travel was by two kinds of boats; flat boats down stream, and keel boasts up stream. Immigrants could start in keel boats in Tennessee and come all the way to their destinations if they were on the White or Arkansas rivers. After a few years they could hire keel boats to convey them up the rivers, and still later they could come by steamboat.

Prior to the Civil War, the old military roads, which followed the Indian trails, were a through route of travel from the north, east and to the south, later replaced by the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Highway No. '67', both of which paralleled the old road all the way through the state. Many notables are said to have passed over some part of the road. Some of them were: John Davidson, for whom the first town in Northeast Arkansas was named; Judge Richard S. Thomas of Missouri Territory, who came over it to hold the first regular court in Arkansas, in 1815; Daniel Boone, of Kentucky, for whom Boone County and Booneville are named; Richard Searcy and the Hardins, of Kentucky, who were prominent in establishing the early government of several counties; the legislative representatives, as they traveled to St. Louis to attend the sessions of the legislature of Missouri Territory, from 1815 to 1819; Robert Crittenden, on his journey from Kentucky to Arkansas Post to become the first Secretary of Arkansas Territory, in 1819; James Woodson Bates, for whom Batesville was named; James S. Conway and Archibald Yell, governors; Sam Houston, Davey Crockett, Moses Austin and his son, Stephen of Texas fame; General Sterling Price, General Joe Shelby, President Grant, and others.

 

Excerpts from the article:
OLD ROADS in ARKANSAS
By W. E. McLeod (1869-1951)
Lawrence Co. Hist. Soc. Qrtly.,
Spring, 1978 - Vol. 1- No. 2.
Contributed by Michael Burlison, OKC, OK.

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