The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeastern Arkansas (1891 edition)

Clay County
Geographical information

Clay County lies in the northeast corner of the State, and is bounded north by Ripley and Butler Counties, in Missouri; east by Dunklin County, of that State; south by Greene County, Ark, and west by Randolph, in the latter State. It is separated from Dunklin County, Mo., by the St. Francis River, and its boundary lines are as follows: Commencing where the line between the States of Arkansas and Missouri intersects the St. Francis River; thence down said river, following its meanders, to the line between Sections 21 and 28, Township 19 north, Range 9 east; thence west on the section lines to the range line between Ranges 2 and 3 east; thence north on the range line to Black River; thence with the meanders of that river to the line between Sections 15 and 16, in Township 19 north, Range 3 east; thence north on the subdivisional lines to the line between Townships 20 and 21 north; thence west to the range line between Ranges 2 and 3 east; thence north on the range line to the State line between Arkansas and Missouri; thence east on the State line to the place of beginning. The area of the county is 613 square miles, or 392,320 acres, about one-tenth of which is improved.

A strip of broken or hilly lands, averaging between seven and eight miles in width, known as Crowley's Ridge, extends through the county in a southwesterly direction from its northeast corner. The summit of the hills in this tract reaches an altitude of from 100 to 200 feet above the surrounding country. There are also four or five sections of hilly lands in the northwest portion of the county, west of Current River; and all the balance of the county varies only a few feet from a level surface.

The village of Knobel, on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, is 181 feet-above sea level, and this is about the average elevation of all except the hilly portions of the county; hence the highest point in the county may reach an elevation of 400 feet above the sea. All that portion lying east of the broken or hilly tract above described is drained by the St. Francis River and its tributaries, a large part of it being subject to overflow in the winter and spring, and that division located west is drained by Cache, Black and Current Rivers and their tributaries.

Cache River enters the county from the north, near the middle of Range 7 east, and flows on through the county in a southwesterly direction to Cache Lake, on the southern boundary line, in the eastern half of Range 5; thus dividing the area of the county into nearly two equal portions. It drains the western slope of Crowley's Ridge, and central portion of the territory.

Black River enters from the north about two miles east of the range line, between Ranges 5 and 6, and flows, on a very tortuous route, toward the southwest, leaving the county at a point about two miles north of its southwest corner.

Current River enters the county from the west, a short distance south of the northwest corner, and flows thence easterly to the second tier of sections, thence in a southerly and finally in a southwesterly direction, passing out at the western boundary of Section 30, Township 20 north, Range 3 east. The bottom lands along the St. Francis and Black Rivers usually overflow in the late winter and early spring to a depth of from one to two feet, and those along the Current River from three to five feet. The water, however, recedes so early as seldom to interfere with the raising of summer crops, and the overflow always deposits a sediment which enriches and re-fertilizes the land. It has been demonstrated that the river beds are sufficiently low to admit of the complete drainage and reclamation of nearly all swamp and overflowed lands in the county. Such can be done by removing the drift and rubbish from the rivers, straightening their channels, and constructing lateral ditches to empty into them. This, however, can only be accomplished by a State drainage law, which will assess for the purpose the lands alike of the non-resident and resident owners.

The entire county was originally covered with a dense forest, consisting of four varieties of white oak, several of black and red oak, three of gum, several of hickory, a little walnut, cypress, ash, maple, honey locust, poplar, beech, elm, sassafras, catalpa, etc., with an undergrowth of dogwood, pawpaw, redbud, spice wood, hazel, privet, hornbeam, huckleberry, blackberry, etc. Some trees of the largest kinds of timber measured from four to six feet across the stump. Much of the timber has been cut into logs and floated down the streams and thus shipped away; and since the county has been traversed with railroads, a great deal has been cut into lumber and shipped by rail, and there is yet a seemingly inexhaustible supply. The average acreage production of lumber is care fully estimated as follows: Cypress, 5.000 feet; poplar and sweet gum, 3.000 feet each; white oak. 2,000 feet; hickory, ash, walnut and black oak together, 3,000 feet. Logs can be rafted on all the rivers mentioned and on some of their tributaries. It is estimated that each acre of timbered land will produce from twenty-five to thirty cords of wood, after the saw timber is taken away.

The soil of the entire county is moderately rich and fertile, that of the bottom or overflowed lands being mostly composed of alluvial deposits; the balance is formed of sand, clay and vegetable mould, and the whole is underlaid with a clay subsoil.

At present the cutting and shipping of logs and lumber, with the running of the many saw-mills in the county, which give employment to a large number of men, constitute one of the leading industries and form a source of considerable revenue to the people of the county. This occupation will continue for many years, or until the supply of timber becomes exhausted.  The vegetable productions, as shown by the census of 1880, were as follows: Indian corn, 343,836 bushels: oats, 12,406 bushels; wheat, 13,408 bushels: hay, 100 tons; cotton, 2,307 bales; Irish potatoes. 4,427 bushels; sweet potatoes. 5,381 bushels; tobacco, 11,390 pounds. These amounts were then produced from much less than one-tenth of the area of the county. Considering the large increase of the present population over that of 1880, together with the advanced  improvements. It is certain that the amount of vegetable productions now far exceeds, and in some things more than doubles that of 1880. Surely "Cotton is king" in Clay County, as it is the moneyed crop, and the source of the greatest income. It is raised to the exclusion of many other things that might be produced in larger quantities. Some of the late immigrants have begun the raising of clover and tame grasses. for which the soil is well adapted, with a view of making the raising of stock a leading industry.

The number of live animals in the county in 1880, according to the census of that year, were as follows: Horses, 1,444; mules and asses, 832; cattle, 6,574; sheep, 1,960; hogs, 24,277. The number of animals within the county, according to late assessment rolls, are: Horses, 1,698; mules and asses, 922; cattle, 8,802; sheep, 1,159; hogs, 1,325; a large gain in all except sheep and hogs. The reduced price of wool accounts for the decrease in the number of sheep, and the hogs enumerated in 1880 were all that were produced and on hand during the year, including those slaughtered and sold; while those recently enumerated included only those on hand when assessed for taxation; consequently there is not a decline in this direction. As before stated, the county is well supplied with streams, and an abundance of good well water can be obtained almost anywhere at a depth of from twenty to forty feet by simply digging, without any blasting or boring through rock. These facts, coupled with the great adaptability for the growing of tame grasses and clover, the mildness of the climate, and the good shipping facilities, must eventually make Clay one of the best stock growing counties in the United States, a truth of which farmers may profitably avail themselves. It is also well adapted to the growing of all kinds of fruit common to this latitude. Fruit-growing however has not been made the specialty that it might. Some of the late immigrants  have set out, and are preparing to do so, large orchards and develop this industry, having perfect confidence of success.

In 1880 the real estate of the county was assessed at $468,561, and the personal property at $244.717, making a total of $713,278; and the total taxes charged thereon were $10,022. The real estate of the county, as shown by recent assessment rells, was valued at $1,211,258, and the personal property at $522,227, making a total of $1,733,485, upon which the total taxes charged were $25,502.25. By comparison it will be seen that since 1880 the taxable property and taxes charged have much more than doubled. The county has fair public buildings, is out of debt, and its scrip is worth one hundred cents on the dollar.

There are twenty-six saw mills and eight stave factories within the county.

In 1880 the population of Clay County was white 7,191, colored 22, total 7,213. Since that time, and especially within the last four years, emigration has so increased that the population at this writing (1889) is estimated at about double that of 1880.

The St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad runs in a southwesterly direction across the western half of Clay County, the length of the main line within its territory being about nineteen miles. The Helena branch extends in a southeasterly direction from Knobel, and has a length of about four miles within the county. The St. Louis & Texas Railroad crosses the St. Francis River in Section 18, Township 21, Range 9, where it enters the county, and runs southwesterly along the eastern side of Crowley's Ridge, departing a few hundred yards below Rector. The length of its line here is about seventeen miles. The combined length of the railroads within the county is forty miles, not including a few branches extending one or two miles out to certain saw mills. The main line of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad was completed through the county early in the 70's. The Helena branch of this road, and the St. Louis & Texas (Cotton Belt) Railroad were completed through this vicinity in 1882.

The settlement of the territory composing Clay County began about the year 1832, but increased very slowly for the first twenty years, after which it advanced quite rapidly, until the outbreak of the Civil War, when it came to a standstill. Its most noticeable growth has been within the last five years, immigrants having located here from Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and other States. Among the first settlers in the western part of the county were John J. Griffin, who located on Black River in 1832, and Abraham Roberts, who settled a few years later near the present site of Corning. Prominent pioneers in the eastern part of the county–mostly on Crowley's Ridge–were William and Elihu Davis, who settled early in the 30's and were soon followed by the Payne, Hollis and other families. Among the settlers of the 40's were William H. Mack, James Watson and others, and during the 50's the families of the Liddells, Millers, J. G. Dudley, Buck Wagster, B. H. Mitchell, William Dean, H. M. Granade, James Campbell, Singleton Copeland, Edward Allen, C. H. Mobley, Dr. Simmons were some of those who became settlers. Nearly all of the earliest comers were from Tennessee. Later immigrants came from other Southern States, and now many are entering from the North.

Clay County was organized as Clayton County, in accordance with an act of the General Assembly, approved March 24, 1873, and became a part of the Third judicial circuit and of the First Congressional district. That part of it now known as the Eastern district was taken from Greene, and that known as the Western district was removed from Randolph County. The county seat was originally located at Corning, on the lot of ground now occupied by the present court-house in that place. The first term of the county court was held at Corning, beginning on the 16th day of May, 1873. Soon after a temporary frame court-house, 22×40 feet in size, containing two rooms, was built, by order of the court, under the supervision of the sheriff. A common jail was also erected; subsequently the question of the removal of the county seat to Boydsville–a more central point–began to be agitated, and on the 30th of June, 1874, an election was held for the purpose of submitting the question to the electors of the county, and when the votes were counted it was found, by the court, that the people, by a majority of 316, had voted in favor of removal. Thereupon the court declared Boydsville to be the county seat. However, such strong resistance to this decision was manifested that no permanent removal of records was made for a long time.

Finally, after a lapse of a few years, the question was again submitted to the people at an election held May 22, 1877, on which occasion forty-two votes were cast against the removal and 603 in favor of it, making a majority of 561 in favor of the project, and the court again declared Boydsville to be the county seat, to which place the records were soon removed and placed in a temporary courthouse, previously erected by order of the county court. The first term of the county court was held in Boydsville beginning on Monday October 1, 1877. By an act of the General Assembly of the State, approved December 6, 1875, the name of "Clayton" County was changed to "Clay."

Having lost the county seat, the people of Corning and the western portion of the county, finding it difficult to reach Boydsville, commenced to consider the question of dividing the county into two districts. Consequently the legislature, by an act approved February 23, 1881, provided that the county should be divided into two judicial districts, the "Eastern" and the "Western," and that the following described line should separate them: Commencing at the center of the main channel of Black River where it crosses the Missouri and Arkansas State line; thence down the main channel of said river to the range line between Ranges 5 and 6, in Township 21; thence south on the range line to the west bank of Cache River; thence with the west bank of Cache River or lake to the line between Clay and Greene Counties. The act further provided that the seat of justice for the Western district should be at Corning; that the circuit, chancery and probate courts should be held both at Boydsville and at Corning; that the circuit courts established in the respective districts of the county should be as separate and distinct, and have the same relations to each other, as if they were of distinct counties: that the sheriff, clerk, treasurer and probate judge of the county should be the same for both districts; that the financial affairs of each district should be kept as separate and distinct as though they were separate counties and that the offices for the Western district should be filled by the deputy county officers.

(The cells were those taken from the jail at Corning.)

After dispensing with the temporary court-house at Boydsville, the present two-story frame court-house, with the hall and four rooms on the first floor, and court-room on the second, was erected, about 1881. The present log and board jail, with iron cells, at Boydsville, was erected immediately after the county seat was permanently located there. The public buildings at Corning consist of a court-house similar to the one at Boydsville, and the original jail with iron cells, which latter were put in immediately or soon after the county was divided into districts. The county has no "poor farm" or asylum for her paupers. The latter are let out separately for their keeping, to the lowest responsible bidders.

Following is a list of the county officers of Clay County, from its formation to the present time:

Judges: T. M. Hollifield, 1874-78; E. N. Royall, 1878-86; Robert Liddell, present incumbent, first elected in 1886.

Clerks: T. L. Martin, 1873-74; W. H. Smith, 1874-78; R. Liddell, 1878-86; W. E. Spence, present incumbent, elected in 1886.

Footnote(E. N. Royall from September, 1877, vice Allen, suspended by order of circuit court.)

Sheriffs: William G. Akers, 1873-74; E. N. Royall, 1874-76; E. M. Allen, 1876-78;† J. A. McNiel, 1878-86; G. M. McNiel, 1886-88; B. B. Biffle, present incumbent, elected in 1888.

Treasurers: William Little, 1873-74; James Blackshare, 1874-78; John Bearden, 1878-80; N. J. Burton, 1880-82; W. S. Blackshare, 1882-84; J. S. Simpson, 1884-86; A. L. Blackshare, present incumbent, first elected in 1886.

Coroners: J. Cunningham, 1878-74; J. J. Payne, 1874-76; J. N. Cummins, 1876-78; H. W. Cagle, 1878-84; Dallas Taylor, 1884-86; D. G. See, elected in 1886, but failed to qualify; office since vacant.

Surveyors: W. C. Grimsley, 1878-74; E. M. Allen. Jr., 1874-76; A. J. Caldwell, 1876-82; E. M. Allen, 1882-86; A. Williams, 1886-88; E. M. Allen, present incumbent, elected in 1888.

Assessors: E. N. Royall, 1873-74; J. S. Rodgers, 1874-76; W. H. Mack, 1876-78; J. W. Rodgers, 1878-82; Henry Holcomb, 1882-86; J. S. Blackshare, present incumbent, first elected in 1886.

The county at this writing is represented in the State legislature by Hon. J. W. Dollison, of Greenway, and the offices of the Western district are filled by the following persons, viz.: E. D. Estes, deputy clerk; W. A. Brown, deputy sheriff; E. V. Sheeks, deputy treasurer; Jacob Brobst, deputy assessor; Z. T. Daniels, deputy surveyor. The judge of the county court is also judge of the probate court, and the clerk, by virtue of his office, is recorder of deeds, the sheriff, by virtue of his office, being collector of revenues. The school examiner for the Eastern district is R. L. O. Bryen, and for the Western district, F. G. Taylor.

Politically the county of Clay is strongly Democratic. At the State election, held in September, 1888, J. P. Eagle, the Democratic candidate for Governor, received 1,108 votes, and C. M. Norwood, the Wheeler, Labor Union and Republican candidate, received 717 votes. At the same time B. B. Chism, Democratic candidate for secretary of State, received 1,121 votes, and G. W. Terry, opposition candidate for the same office, received 697 votes. Only a light vote was cast at the presidential election.

The several courts of the county consist of the county, probate and circuit courts, The judge of the county court is also judge of the probate court, and the clerk of the circuit court is also clerk of the county and probate courts, and ex-officio recorder.

The county court, which is held only at Boydsville, meets on the first Mondays of January, April, July and October of each year, and the probate court meets at Boydsville on the third Mondays, and at Corning on the fourth Mondays of the same months. The circuit court convenes at Corning on the first Mondays of January and August of each year, and on the third Mondays of the same months at Boydsville.

The local bar of Clay County consists of G. B. Holifield, of Boydsville, F. G. Taylor, G. B. Oliver and J. C. Staley, of Corning, John Jones, of Peach Orchard, J. A. Barlow, of Rector, and H. W. Moore, of Greenway.

Only two men have been legally executed in Clay County for the crime of murder; one of these being Bent Taylor, hanged for the murder of Riley Black, and the other Lafayette Melton, for the murder of Fank Hale. Both were executed at Corning, the former in 1882, and the latter in 1884. Other crimes have been committed within the county, for which the perpetrators have received lighter punishments.

The territory over which Clay now extends was but slightly over-run and devastated during the Civil War of 1861-65. The citizens at that time, having emigrated mostly from Tennessee and other slaveholding States, were in full sympathy with the Southern cause, in consequence of which a goodly number of soldiers were furnished for the Confederate army, while none joined the Union forces. Three companies of soldiers, organized respectively by Capts. F. S. White, Reed and E. M. Allen, were recruited principally from what is now Clay County. A few also enlisted in the company commanded by Capt. G. D. Byers. A company of Home Guards consisting of old men was organized. In the spring of 1863 Col. Daniels with a force of Federal cavalry moved southward on Crowley's Ridge, and at a point about two miles northeast of the present site of Rector, came in contact with this company of Home Guarde, firing upon and dispersing them. In this action Squire George Lynch of the attacked party was killed. There was no general bushwhacking here during the war, but a number of citizens were taken out and "removed" by scouting parties.

Of the towns of the county, Advance is a post office in the northeastern part.

Boydsville, the county seat, situated on the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 25, Township 20, Range 6, was established in 1877. It contains the court-house and jail, four general stores, one drug store, one grocery, one hotel, two cotton-gins with grist and saw-mills attached, one school-house, two churches – Methodist Episcopal, South, and Methodist Protestant, with a hall over the former; a lodge each of Masons, Odd Fellows and Knights of Honor, some mechanics' shops, and a population of about 150.

Corning, the seat of justice for the Western district, situated on Section 6, Township 20, of Range 5, and on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, was established in 1873. It contains the court house and jail, six general stores, two drug stores, one grocery, three saloons, one livery stable, four hotels, one stave factory, two cotton gins with grist mills attached, one wagon shop, one blacksmith shop, two shoe shops, three church organizations–Methodist Episcopal, South, Christian and Baptist – with but one church edifice, belonging to the Methodists, one school house, post office, and a population of about 600. It also contains a lodge each of Masons. Good Templars and Triple Alliance.

Don is a post office in the western part of the county.

Greenway, a town on the St. Louis & Texas Railroad, on Section 28, Township 20. Range 8, was laid out in February, 1883, by the Southwestern Improvement Company. It contains four general stores, one drug store, two groceries, one hardware and furniture store, one saloon, two saw-mills, two grist-mills, one stave factory, one schoolhouse, two church organizations–Methodist and Baptist–five physicians, one attorney, the post office, and a population of about 500.

Knobel, a station at the junction of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad and Helena branch, on the south part of Section 36. Township 20, Range 4, was established soon after the completion of the railroad. It contains three general stores, the railroad buildings, a large hotel, one school house and about twenty-five residences.

Moark, situated on the same railroad, near the northern boundary of the county, was established soon after the road was completed. It contains three saw-mills, one of which is located on Black River, three miles east, being connected with the village by a wooden tramway, one general store, one school house, post office, and a few residences.

Peach Orchard, a station on the St. Louis. Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, on Section 20, Township 19, Range 4, contains one general store, one cotton gin, with sorghum and corn mill attached, post office, and a few residences.

Piggott, on the St. Louis & Texas Railroad, on Section 10, Township 20, Range 8, was laid out in November, 1882. It contains two general stores, one drug store, three groceries, one cotton gin and grist-mill combined, one stave factory, one hotel, some work-shops, one school house, church and hall combined, a lodge of Odd Fellows, a post of the G. A. R., two physicians, and about 150 inhabitants.

Pitman, a post office hamlet, is in the extreme northwest corner of the county.

Rector, on the St. Louis & Texas Railroad, on the south half of Section 23, Township 19, Range 7, was laid out in June, 1882, by the Southwestern Improvement Company. It contains seven general stores, three drug stores, one grocery, two (temperance) saloons, one hardware and grocery, one harness and saddlery store, some work-shops, a photograph gallery, one stave factory, two saw-mills, two cotton gins, with grist-mills attached, one livery stable, two hotels, one meat market, a millinery store, post office, four church organizations–Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, South, and Methodist Protestant; two church edifices, a lodge each of Masons, Odd Fellows and Knights of Honor, a public schoolhouse, two select or private schools, four physicians, and a population of 700 or over.

St. Francis, on the St. Louis & Texas Railroad, on the west bank of St. Francis River, was laid out in January, 1883, by the Southwestern Improvement Company. It contains six general stores, one drug store, four groceries, four saw-mills, one stave factory, one meat market, some work shops, two churches, Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterian, two hotels, one school house, restaurant, post office, two physicians, a lodge of Triple Alliance, and a population of about 200.

Thurman is a post office seven miles west of Corning.

Vidette is a post office ten miles north west of Corning.

Williams is a post office four miles west of Moark.

The press of Clay County has ever exerted no slight influence in the growth and development of this section. While not numerous, those journals found here are ever active and energetic in giving to the outside unprejudiced, candid facts relating to the locality whose interests they represent.

The Corning Index, a six-column folio weekly newspaper, at Corning, was established in the fall of 1887. It is published by Clyde C. Estes, and edited by E. D. Estes in an acceptable manner, indicating ability and force.

The Clay County Record, a seven-column weekly newspaper published at Rector, was established in January, 1889, by its present proprietor, Mr. Taylor. This journal also has at heart the welfare of the community, and enjoys a liberal circulation.

Before the inauguration of the free school system, the educational facilities of the territory now composing this county were very meager. The old subscription schools taught in the primitive log school houses were generally of little benefit to the country. The scholastic population of the county in 1882 amounted to 2,868, five of them being colored, and in 1886 it reached 3,274, with only one colored – an increase, in the four years, of 411. In the latter year only 1,791 pupils (all white) were enrolled in the public schools, but a little over one-half of the scholastic population. This shows that the schools were not well attended, or that nearly one-half of the children were not compelled to attend school. For the year ending June 30, 1886, there were thirty-four male and eight female teachers employed to teach the common schools of the county. The male teachers of the first grade were paid an average salary of $50 per month, and the female teachers of the same grade $37.50 per month. The male teachers of the second grade were paid an average salary of $35, and the female teachers $32.50 per month. The male teachers of the third grade were paid an average salary of $25, and the female teachers $20 per month. The number of school houses reported in the county in 1886 was thirty-six, both frame and log, valued at $6,505. The amount of revenue received for the year ending June 30, 1886, was $13,224.60, and the amount expended for the same time was $11,272.00, leaving a balance on hand of $1,951.60. These statistics have been taken from the last published report of the State superintendent of public instruction. The public schools here, as elsewhere, are improving and becoming more and more efficient.

The first organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Clay County was effected at Mar's Hill, four miles north of Boydsville, early in the 50's, and the first church edifice was erected there in 1856. The next society was organized at the house of Capt. F. S. White, at Oak Bluff, in 1856, near where Evans' Chapel was erected the next year. There are now three circuits of this church within the county, with an aggregate of eighteen organizations and about 570 members. The circuits are the Boydsville, St. Francis and Corning, belonging to the Jonesboro district of White River conference.

Salem Church, three-fourths of a mile south of Boydsville, was the first Missionary Baptist Church organized within the county, and the number has since increased to fourteen, with a total membership of 630. Elder Lloyd preached here forty years ago, and was probably the first Missionary Baptist minister in the county. The Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Association was organized at Salem Church in 1868.

The first society of the Methodist Protestant Church within the territory of Clay County was organized in 1858, at Liberty Hill, five miles north of Rector. There are now ten or more organizations within the county, with a membership of about 350.

The oldest Cumberland Presbyterian Church here was organized at Chalk Bluff, about the year 1855. There are now four organizations, located respectively at St. Francis, Piggott, Greenway and Rector. The total membership numbers, perhaps, 100. 

Within the county there are at least two Regular Baptist Churches, with an aggregate membership of about fifty, and one or more Free Will Baptist Churches. There are also a few Christian Churches of recent organization.

Updated 27 Apr 2007