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Bramble Bush


Vol. 6, No. 3         July 2001         Yellville, Arkansas 72687

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Another Point of View
BEAN CAVE. Marion County, Arkansas<
by Lee Carson Davis

       "It was just noon when we arrived at the cave. The rebels were at their dinner, all unconscious of our approach. When at last they discovered us, they mistook us for a company of their own men which they were expecting, and they did not discover their error until we were in half pistol shot of them. I called' upon them to surrender, which they did without firing a gun."
       Thus in a comparatively mild manner did a Captain Milton Burch of the 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry end a period of saltpeter extraction at Bean's Cave in eastern Marion County, Arkansas. At the peak of production during the Civil War, as many as 100 men may have been employed at the cave while today, only the excavations in the clay floor and walls indicate its former use, and the only inhabitants are some bats and an occasional black snake.
       Saltpeter, potash nitrate, or potassium nitrate as it was variously named comprised 76 per cent of the weight of a mixture with charcoal and sulfur to produce the black powder used in loading the firearms of the 19th century. Under the conditions found on the American frontier or in the southern states during the Civil War, it was imperative that the gunpowder be produced locally. As Mammoth Cave in Kentucky served that area at an earlier date and the nation in the War of 1812, so Bean's Cave, among others, served Arkansas at a later time and the Confederacy in the Civil War.
       Mention of Bean's Cave first appeared in print in 1858 in a report of a geological survey conducted by David Dale Owen, the state geologist for Arkansas. At this time it was estimated that the cave would yield 6.2 per cent saltpeter using the technique of solution from the day, followed by recrystalization. The nitrate-bearing day was placed in wooden hoppers and water poured upon it. The "liquor" or "beer" that was drained from the bottom of the hopper was mixed with wood ashes and by a process called lixification was converted to the valuable potassium nitrate. The resulting liquid was decanted into large kettles and excess water boiled off to produce crystals of potash.
       Moreover, the cave was favorably situated for the transportation of the products to the market since it was located on the immediate bank of the White River. At the same time Owen suggested that the earthy residues from the extraction process, due to the percentage of iron oxides present, would "afford a good, durable, red ocher paint having a good body, and being especially well adapted for painting brick walls and outdoor work in general."
       Owen had at this time detailed his assistant geologist, Edward T. Cox, to make a more intensive study of the cave. He reported the cave "seems to have been worked in early times, as an old decayed hopper has been found in it." Cox also mentioned a story related by some of the first settlers in the country "that a man by the name of Bean once made niter at this place in partnership with another man, who he is said to have killed in a quarrel. This circumstance, it is believed, caused the enterprise to be abandoned; and to this day, the cave is known under the name of 'Bean Cave.'"
       At this time Messrs. Smith and Co. of Elgin, Jackson County, Arkansas, had recently purchased the cave and made arrangements for the manufacture of saltpeter. It was planned to run the niter earth by means of a chute to the bank of the river where water would be available for the extraction process. Apparently, at this time or a later date, such a chute was constructed.
       When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Arkansas and the other southern states were woefully ill-provisioned to fight an extended was. President Davis declared the chief store of powder in the Confederate States was that captured at Norfolk, Virginia, and that there was no lead on hand. The Marion County portion of the White River Valley was to supply both of these munitions as the war progressed. Bull Mountain, two miles northwest of Bean's Cave, had been a producer of lead ore since 1819.
       On August 7, 1861, General Leonidas Polk reported to President Davis the results of a survey by two New Orleans chemists whom he had commissioned to examine the saltpeter caves on the White River, and Bean's Cave was presumably included. The chemists reported that any amount of saltpeter could be had there, but the mines were badly worked and the government was paying twenty-five cents per pound for what it could make itself for ten cents. General Polk recommended "that these caves be taken possession of immediately and worked on government account."
       Evidently this advice was heeded because the military board at Little Rock sent men to work the cave and soldiers, under the command of Colonel Coleman, to guard them. Some of Coleman's men seem to have ventured some distance up into Missouri, whereupon Lieutenant Colonel S. N. Wood came from Rolla and forced them back. Coleman then gave his attention to the saltpeter mines.
       In early April 1862, as General Samuel Curtis, the Federal commander at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, moved eastward to establish a depot at Rolla, Missouri, in preparation for his planned invasion of Arkansas, a detachment under Colonel Lafayette F. McCrillis was dispatched from Forsyth, Missouri, to the area of Bean's Cave, arriving there April 19th. Near the cave the command was divided and about 40 men under a Captain Drummond of the 4th Iowa Cavalry was sent against the cave. Drummond captured three men thought to be Confederate pickets on the north shore of the river and ordered them to ferry across eighth of his men and a Mr. Doyle, the guide. They did so in three canoes under cover of eight of Drummond's best riflemen. The Federals attacked the saltpeter manufactory, injuring it to some extent and burning some associated buildings.
       The remainder of the McCrillis force attempted to secure Talbert's Ferry about three miles below Bean Cave. This ferry, established by an early family of three brothers, Fed, Wat, and Sim Talbert, was an important early crossing point on the White River. About fifty Confederates, firing from the cover of some log houses across the river resisted the Federal advance and were shelled out of their positions by use of a mountain howitzer. Later they returned in force and the Union men retreated. The outcome of the skirmish is confused by the reporters, but they agree that a 2nd Lieutenant William A. Heacock, Company F, 4th Iowa Cavalry, and possibly a private were mortally wounded with no Confederate losses being mentioned.
       McCrillis >also claimed to have captured the Talbert's and the Bean's mills and some other ferries, but due to high water couldn't hold them and returned to West Plains, Missouri.
       Later General Curtis moved into Arkansas, captured Batesville on White River, and sent out raiding parties. One of these groups destroyed a saltpeter manufactory fourteen miles northwest of Batesville. These two attacks influenced a letter on July 31, 1862, from I. M. St. John, Major and Superintendent of the Niter and Mining Bureau, to G. W. Randolph, Confederate Secretary of War. St. John stated "the large Arkansas percentage made previous to May 1, 17,000 pounds, cannot appear on our returns until the events of the war permit."
       Apparently the Confederates lost little time in rebuilding the manufactory at Bean's Cave. In a letter to his General-in-Chief H. W. Halleck, General Curtis on November 24, 1862, mentioned the renewed activities and the fact that he had directed a company of cavalry to be sent to destroy the works.
       Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, commanding the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the Army of the Frontier at Crane Creek, Missouri, dispatched Colonel D. Wickersham with his own 10th Illinois Cavalry along with the 1st Iowa Cavalry and one battalion of the 2nd Wisconsin to Marion County, Arkansas. After "destroying" the saltpeter works at Bean's Cave and Dubuque, they attacked and burned the rebel arsenal and storehouses at Yellville south of the cave. Colonel J. Q. Burbridge, the Confederate cavalry commander who had been at Yellville recently, had changed his base of operations, but sixty of his men were taken prisoner. About five hundred shotguns and rifles were destroyed at the arsenal and one hundred good horses were captured, while the inmates of a large Confederate hospital in Yellville were paroled.
       According to Captain Burch, forty men from Companies D, F, G, and H, 2nd Battalion, 14th Regiment, Missouri State Militia Cavalry under his command left Ozark, Missouri, for Marion County, Arkansas, on the morning of December 9, 1862. They were reinforced by sixty men from the enrolled militia stationed at Laurences Mill, Missouri, and the united force started south at noon on December 10, marching only twenty miles that day. The expedition planned to capture a guerrilla force of seventy-five men under Captain Jesse Mooney that was encamped at Talbert's Ferry. To preserve the element of surprise in their attack, they left the road and marched through the woods with the guidance of a free Negro, Willoughby Hall. By dusk of the 11th of December they were within eight miles of the ferry and stopped for food and rest in the forest near a corn field. Lieutenant John R. Kelso and eight men were sent to the home of a rebel by the name of Brixy where two rebels with their guns and one horse were captured. These prisoners disclosed that Mooney's troop had temporarily disbanded and was not to reassemble again for two days. With this knowledge it was decided to attack the armed band at the saltpeter cave and by midnight the troop was moving again towards Mooney's house. On the way they captured seven or eight rebels without arousing the countryside and just before dawn arrested a rebel recruiting officer by the name of Mings, who had formerly been a lieutenant colonel. At daybreak Captain Mooney with another man was captured at his home with fifteen stands of small arms. Eight horses taken from the militia at Laurence's Mill were liberated. Another group of the command then arrived with more prisoners, so Captain P. T. Green of the enrolled militia was sent back to Laurence's Mill with seventeen prisoners and an escort of twenty-five men. The remainder of the command was divided and half, under Captain J. H. Sallee with Lieutenant Bates, went upstream on the north side of the river and waited in concealment, while the other group under Burch crossed the river and approached the cave from the south.
       Of the twenty-three men who surrendered at the cave, three were left unable to travel while the others, including their commander, Captain McNamar [sic], and seven horses and mules were taken. Five buildings, two wagons, one engine, twenty-six large kettles, six tanks, five hundred barrels of jerked beef and other provisions for the winter, blacksmith/s and carpenter's tools, some shotguns and rifles, and $6,000 worth of saltpeter were burned or otherwise destroyed. The installation had cost the Confederate government $30,000 and McNamar[sic] said that within three days the saltpeter, already packaged, would have been moved away. Encumbered with prisoners and expecting the arrival of some of Burbridge's command at any time, Burch withdrew. Marching through a steady rain, the Federals returned to Ozark, Missouri, on December 15, 1862, having marched two hundred twenty-five miles in seven days.
       However,Thomas J. Estes[author of Early Days and War Times In Northern Arkansas] presents a different view of the raid. He claims several men at the powder works were killed, specifically mentioning Hugh McClure and John Tyler. He also states that some men at the works escaped, naming Thomps McCracken and Captain Carroll Pace, who was a brother-in-law of McCracken. Pace was being chased by the Federals a few miles from the works when one of the Federals outran the others and shot pace, after Pace had first turned in his saddle and shot him. Pace got away and both recovered. The wounded Federal was taken to McCracken's house by his comrades and left there. It was said that a squad of men went to McCracken's house to take this man out and kill him. McCracken held them off single-handedly and threatened to shoot any who entered his yard.
       An interesting local legend has arisen concerning one of these raids. According to the story, the people living near the saltpeter cave buried all their money together in a keg when they learned that the Federals were coming. The soldiers scattered the people and took some of them prisoner so that the location of the money was lost and to this day it has never been officially recovered.
       In early April 1863 Captain M. U. Foster of Company G, 7th Missouri State Militia Cavalry, with forty-one men raided the area around Talbert's Ferry and visited the saltpeter works, but after this time the cave never achieved any importance.
       As for the kettles, two are on display at a commercial cave in eastern Marion County, and a third is located on a farm between Midway and Gassville in Baxter County where it has been used for many years to scald hogs. All three are broken to some extent, and we can readily believe Captain Burch's claim to the destruction of the saltpeter manufactory at Bean's Cave.
       SOURCE: "White River Valley Historical Qualterly. Volume 2, Number 11.
       For those interested in further information about the niter mining operations in Arkansas during the Civil War, it is suggested that "Bullets for Johnny Reb: Confederate Nitre and Mining Bureau in Arkansas" by James J. Johnston is a thoroughly researched and very informative essay.
       Together with several equally interesting essays which explore a variety of the military, sociological, political, and economic undertakings and events in Arkansas during the War Between the States, "Bullets for Johnny Reb" can be found in Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders edited by Anne J. Bailey and Daniel E. Sutherland and published in 2000 by the University of Arkansas Press at Fayetteville AR.

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       As always, the Ancestor Fair in Leslie AR in June was a wonderful event. We were all so busy helping researchers, selling our books, and adding to our Permanent Collection that we barely had time to greet old friends let alone chat with them. And the Beginning Genealogy and Census Usage seminar by Society members was nicely attended, producing questions that really had us digging deep for answers.
       Please note (below) that the Society has published another book. Small, but packed with information, "Gleanings of Pioneer History" sells for just $5 and is a most worthwhile research aid for every library. Makes good Christmas gifts too.
       We're still scanning pictures for the Pictorial History so you still have time to dig in those boxes and drawers and share your Marion Co. photo collection with us. The responses to our pleas have been far greater than we'd anticipated; this will truly be a pictorial history of our county.
       If you're going to be in the area around mid-September, be sure to take in the 6th annual Ozark Cultural Celebration being held in Harrison 14-15 September. The committee invariably comes up with a terrific panel of speakers - each one highly knowledgeable in one or more of the various fields offered. And the food at the catered dinner Friday night is honestly out-of-this-world delicious. This even is another of James Johnston's brainstorms so you know it's worthwhile.
           Vicki Roberts, Editor

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P E 0 P L E Anyone in your family, their neighbors, singly or in groups.
P L A C E S Town scenes, churches, stores, creeks, aerials, schools, mines.
T HI N G S Ferries, wagonsl barnsl furniture, steamboatsl tunnels.
E V E N T S Picnics, socials, baptisms, making soap or molasses, graduations.

No originals, please.

Laser copies or copies of photographs are perfect. Send these to: Vicki Roberts, HGSMCA, PO Box 7611 Yellville AR 72687.

Scanned copies are also perfect. E-mail these to: J. L. Pearce

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       The Historic Genealogical Society of Marion County Arkansas announces the publication of Gleanings of Pioneer History by W. R. Jones, early editor, owner, and publisher of The Mountain Echo. Chats with early pioneer settlers and their children afforded Jones a view of the earliest days of Marion County. Many of these chats were transformed into stories and articles in his newspaper. History and genealogy both come alive for the reader of today. Softbound. $5 including shipping and tax. Order from HGSMCA, PO Box 761, Yellville AR 72687.

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       Families & Fairs is designed to announce dates and places of reunions, ancestor fairs, and historical commemorations wherever they may be held. The information must reach us no later than March 15, June 15, September 15, and/or December 15 to be included in the next issue of Bramble Bush. The name and address of a contact person must be included. This feature is free of charge.

       6th ANNUAL OZARK CULTURAL CELEBRATION. 14-15 September 2001. Hammerschmidt Center, North Arkansas College, Harrison AR. From 9:00 am Friday thru 2:00 pm Saturday. Admission free. Friday night catered dinner with speaker $10. Speakers and examples of Ozark culture, history, and music. Area historical societies will have displays and sell publications. Sponsored by North Arkansas College and Boone County Historical Society. For information contact James J. Johnston: phone 501-442-3691; email

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Included here is more of the 1893 County Voters' Lists. This list is now on-line at the Marion Co Site

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by Eugene Sherburne, 229 Burris Lane, Flippin AR 72634

       As I child growing up in south Texas, I paid about as much attention to my family history as probably most of you did. I did, however, retain some of the stories my father and my grandmother told be about our family ties to Arkansas.
       Many years would pass before I became interested in my own genealogy, but, thanks to my wife and some research done by my niece, I decided the time had come to start my own search. Fortunately, in the process of digging though stacks of family papers, I discovered a copy of a book published by the Washington County Historical Society in Fayetteville AR.
       This book was titled The Walker Family Album. It was mainly an autobiography of Judge David Walker. This gentleman was my Great-Great-Grandfather on my father's side of the family. As I read through the book, I discovered one of his letters which struck home. In it he said, "Indeed, in a country like this, where every man has been the builder of his own fortune, and may aspire to the highest post of honor, irrespective of birth, it would be to some not either an interesting nor an agreeable task to look far back into their ancestral history, because in many instances they would find it but a single step from the humble mechanic to the opulent merchant prince, the poet the orator, or the statesman."
       I did not know at the time how true this statement was. Since he took the time and made the effort to communicate to future generations all the information he had, I have been able to discover my own history.
       Starting with this small family album, I have discovered that Judge David Walker had been an Arkansas Supreme Court Justice three times, once as Chief Justice. He was also the President of the Secession Convention of 1861 and served with the rank of colonel as Judge Advocate of General Sterling Price's Army. He married Jane Lewis Washington (my Great-Great-Grand mother). Not only was Washington County named after her family, but she was also the granddaughter of Warner Washington, the first cousin to General George Washington. Doing some math, I discovered that makes me the seventh cousin to our first President. And I located a distant cousin, Justin Glenn, a professor at Florida State University, who is writing a book on the Washington family. Lo! and Behold! 34,000 relatives!
       Anyone who has roots in America as far back as the early 1800s will find that they are tied to the Civil War. I located a letter in the special collections at the University of Arkansas dated April 27th 1864 written by David Walker. It contained information about several battles that took place in and around Camden, Arkansas. In this letter he also stated that he and his son Ed, a lieutenant in the cavalry, were there together. With this tidbit I learned that my Great-Grandfather, 2nd Lieutenant E. H. Walker (David Walker's son Ed) served in the Confederate Army, commanding Company F, 4th Arkansas Cavalry, Gordon's Regiment Cabell's Brigade.
       It's amazing how many small details you can run across during your research. I've discovered many in just a few short years. These small details, more accurately called facts, often turn out to be the keys to the mysteries facing you.
       I encourage each and every one to seek out his own Humble History.
       Editor's note: Mr. Sherburne is currently involved in the restoration of the Walker Cemetery in Fayetteville AR as well as working toward having it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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       Membership in the Historical Genealogical Society of Marion County Arkansas is $12 per year.
       Membership for one year runs from 1 January to 31 December of that year.
       Membership includes the quarterly newsletter Bramble Bush.
       Membership begun later in the year includes all issues of Bramble Bush for that year.
       Make your check for $12 payable to HGSMCA and send to HGSMCA, PO Box 761, Yellville AR 72687-9612.

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Transcribed by Janice Mears, PO Box 628, Bull Shoals AR 72619

Included here is more of the 1891 Real Estate Tax List. This list is now on-line at the Marion Co Site

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       The Bramble Bush is published quarterly by the Historic Genealogical Society of Marion County Arkansas, PO Box 761, Yellville AR 72687. EDITORIAL STAFF: Editor, Vicki Roberts; Design/Production, Mysty McPherson; Art Work, Bonnie Sanders; Queries, Mary Birrer; Subscriptions, Barbara Holland; Printing, Rapid Rabbit, Covington United Center, 11015 Deer Street Suite 5, Conway AR 72032; Contributing writers, Janice Mears. HGSMCA OFFICERS: Chair, Vicki A. Roberts; Vice-Chair, Don Duggins; Secretary, Mary Birrer; Treasurer, Barbara Holland; Grants/Purchasing, Mysty McPherson.

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