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Graphics by Rhio

Indians of Our Area
By: Baxter Hurst
Pages: 6-14

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History BookRESPECT THE COPYRIGHT: This book is still under copyright of the Marion County Historical Association and may not be used for any purpose other than your own personal research. It may not be reproduced nor placed on any web page nor used by anyone or any entity for any type of "for profit" endeveor.

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       (Page 6) Our area of the Ozarks is one of the richest regions of the United States in archaeological remains and they show evidence of Indians having lived here from the most primitive times. Remains of these ancient people which have been found in the dry caves and bluff shelters shed light on the prehistoric past even more than the stone artifacts found along our streams on the open sites.
       Being interested in which Indians lived here and how they lived, it is necessary to give a few paragraphs to these early cultures. This takes one back through the long sequence which includes the Archaic, the Woodland and the Temple Mound periods. The earliest Indians in this region are referred to as the Ozark Bluff Dwellers.
       Early sources of information show the Indians as having had their beginning here around AD. 1; however, studies and reports made by professionals in more recent times who have used improved techniques of testing, dating, and comparing artifacts from the Ozark Region identical to those which have been found in other parts of the United States that were associated with pre-. historic animals have led many to believe that Indians may have been here for several thousand years.
       No doubt some of the crude stone tools still found today belong to this earliest culture, but this tribe was few in number and evidence of their being here is very little compared to what is found related to the later tribes.
       Arkansans of today have much love and appreciation for the Ozarks with all its beauty and above average climatic conditions and much above average rainfall, the scenic mountains, crystal clear springs and streams. But the Indians lived so much closer to nature that they, no doubt, loved the beauty and depended on the natural resources much more.
       It is believed that no type of farming or gardening had been developed within these early cultures, but they made good use of the natural foods. The many kinds of game and the bountiful supply of fish which filled the White and Buffalo Rivers provided them with all the meat they needed and the many wild foods such as plums, grapes, berries, persimmons, pawpaws, hickory nuts, walnuts, acorns and chinquapins gave them a wider variety of food. They could dig many edible roots and gather herbs which helped to season and flavor their food. It is reasonable to believe they would spend their time in warm weather along the streams enjoying all these things provided by nature, and' then when winter came they would take shelter in (Page 7 Top) the caves and overhanging bluffs. During these times they appeared to still be small in numbers, perhaps living and moving about in clans and families. Some of the shelters would not afford room for many people.
       It is believed that these people lived long before the bow and arrow were invented. They used an atlatl or throwing stick to laijnch their spears and dart shafts which were fitted with a stone spike or spear point made like an arrow shaft but larger with a heavier spear than the arrowhead which was made later. The atlatl has been found in a dry cave in Marion County.
       Professional archaeologists have examined many of the shelters in this region and made reports which reveal much about how the early Indians who occupied the Ozarks lived.
       The Museum of the American Indian sponsored an exploration in the Ozarks in 1922 with Dr. M.R. Harrington in charge. Much of his time was spent on the spent on the upper White River where dry shelters were examined. Many artifacts and other remains of this early culture were found and he described them and included pictures in his report which are very interesting and revealing. Before he finished his work, he launched his canoes at Buffalo City, entered the Buffalo River at its mouth, and proceeded up river to the mouth of Rush Creek checking the caves and overhanging bluffs along this stream. He collected some interesting artifacts from Marion County for the Museum back East. Among these was a fine celt which was found by the man who guided him as he worked on the Buffalo River. This was Louis Honeycut who found this rare artifact still in its original hafting hidden in a crevice in the Smith Bluff near the mouth of Big Creek on the Buffalo River some years before he and Harrington met.
       Much knowledge has been gained also by local amateur archaeologists who have explored some of the sites. They have had more time to fully dig the strata whereas the professionals had time only to dig a few test pits. Some of the amateurs are acquainted with the correct methods of digging and keeping records and go about it in a professional manner.
       In the 1960s, members of the Twin Lakes Archaeological Society excavated a very interesting site which is located on a tributary of the Buffalo River in Marion County. This is an overhanging bluff with a large dry cave extending back underground for some fifty feet and offering good protection from severe weather. In places this cave contained a strata of as much as three and one-half feet in depth and in the dry areas remains of clothing were found in the form of woven materials and pieces of leather sewn together with buckskin thong
       Artifacts from this site and others in Marion County include the wide variety of spear points and other stone tools which are associated with the earliest culture and also the late Woodland tribes. Pottery, shell ornaments, bone fishhooks, and a wide variety of bone and horn weaving tools in the form of needles and awls are also included.
       As in any society, time brings about many changes Tribes and clans were. increasing in number and gradually developing a better way of life
       While much of what has been discussed belongs to the Archaic sequence, it overlaps into the Woodland period which dates from around 500 A.D. to about 1200 or 1500 A.D. This period brings one into times of greater development and the people begin to learn more about developing and growing food. They may have already been growing corn but it was probably (Page 8 Top) (Photo: Axes and celt found on open sites along the White River. Baxter Hurst Collection) during this age that some of the vegetables such as beans, squash, melons, sunflowers and gourds were developed. They were growing and using tobacco in these times as pipes have been found in village sites and also in the bluff shelters.
       Through the late Woodland Period and the early Temple Mound Period the larger villages along the White and the Buffalo Rivers probably contained a population of several hundred.
       At the foot of the Buffalo Shoals on White River in the exact spot where Old Buffalo City once stood near the steamboat landing, there was a flourishing Indian village in prehistoric times. Several years ago, this site was reported to the University of Arkansas Museum and it was called the Buffalo Shoals Site for this reason. For more than a mile along this area known by local people as the Buffalo Shoals the river is a rapid. There was a time, it was said, when vast herds of buffalo crossed on these shallow waters and thus it got its name. One can not be sure about the buffalo, but it is true that the fish were plentiful and much easier to trap and catch in these shallow places. Also, the fresh water mussels were a source of food as evidenced by the partially burned and decayed shell beds on the camp grounds.
       During some period of time, crops were cultivated as shown by the many crude stone hoes and other digging tools which have been plowed up. The large grinding bowls or metates and many manos are present also which were used to grind corn, acorns, and seeds. There is a wide variety of points from this site. There are a few Daltons but mostly stemmed side-notched and corner-notched types. One two-acre knoll yielded many perfect bird points. The flood of 1927 carried topsoil away leaving graves exposed and a wide assortment of stone artifacts scattered over the fields. This is typical of the village sites along the White and Buffalo River
       (Page 9 Top) (Photo: Knives and spear points from our local area. Baxter Hurst Collection) Reference is made here to Hester A Davis' report of the Young Site which is located just below the Norfork Dam in Baxter County. Members of the Twin Lakes Archaeological Society were privileged to observe and assist, as personnel from the University of Arkansas Museum excavated several burials. Miss Davis said the following:
       "The material studied indicated intermittent occupation from the Archaic Period, with the major occupation after A.D. 1000. Artifacts suggest influence from both the east Mississippi culture area and the west Neosho focus of Oklahoma."
       There is no way of knowing how they governed their people in this area during this period. Tribes were probably established with a principal Chief. Judging from the artifacts that have been found associated with burials, they believed in a supreme being and a hereafter. The Temple Mounds of the late prehistoric period have shown much evidence of this. It is not known what happened to this prehistoric tribe. Some think they may have migrated south and were the forefathers of the Indians who occupied the southwestern part of Arkansas.
       Recorded history shows DeSoto and his party entered into what is now the state of Arkansas and it appears that these were the first white men to see this part of the country. They were here in 1541 and the records show three main tribes in this general area. These were the Osages, the Quapaws, and the Caddoes. They were the tribes that are associated with the late Temple Mound Period and no doubt are the ones who made the beautiful pottery and stone artifacts which have been found throughout the state. They had become very skillful in these arts and the mounds in other parts of the state show that they were energetic and well organized in their work because it took many tons of earth to build one of these mounds.
       (Page 10 Top) (Photo: shell pendants, crudely designed, bone fishhooks, horn and bone awls and weaving tools from bluff shelters in Marion County. Baxter Hurst Collection) Since the Osage Indians were the occupants of our area at the dawn of history, a closer look will be given them. It is said that the boundary lines of what they controlled as their hunting grounds extended to the Arkansas River on the south, the Mississippi on the east, and far into Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma to the north and west. The Osage were a tall, well-developed people in their physique, and prided themselves on their handsomeness. It has been reported that the squaws would hide their daughters when the Apaches from the Southwest and some of the other tribes came to trade with them for fear of romances and marriages developing with the short people. Reliable reports say the Osage maintained their true lineage and abstained from marrying into other tribes for many years after they were living in their nation in Oklahoma.
       The Osage Indians maintained villages along the upper White River and its tributaries and lived in small houses made of a framework of pole construction usually round or oblong in design and covered with skins or bark and various kinds of grass to make them warm and dry. Henry R. Schoolcraft explored this Osage country and visited in their villages which were located in the White River valley in the vicinity of Swan Creek in 1818 and he made mention of this type of house.
       S. C. Turnbo, a settler of early times and a writer of early history mentions by name some of the early settlers who hunted with the Osage in the area of Swan Creek in the fall of 1818.
       Since the French and other white traders had been among the Osage for many years, it seems they would have all been equipped with gnus, but these early writers say some of them were still using the bow and arrow. The wood they preferred for use in making their bow was the Osage orange. This was the name given this tree by the French because they associated it with the (Page 11 Top) Osage Indian and his bow. We often call it the hedge apple because it is sometimes used as a hedge fence.
(Photo: A variety of dart and spear points including the small arrowheads or bird points. Baxter Hurst Collection)
       It is said the Osage planted gardens and grew some crops but they were much like the plains tribes in their hunting and raiding habits because they were using horses in these times to pursue the buffalo and this means of travel made it possible for them to make long trips outside their territory.
       The Osage made a treaty with the Federal Government in 1808 in which they ceded all their land in Arkansas, except a small strip in the northwestern part of the state, to the U.S.A., but it was several years before the eastern tribes and white settlers came in numbers enough to cause any problems; therefore, the Osage continued to live here or to come here to hunt as they wished, but as the area became crowded with the civilized tribes of the East and with pressure from the government during the 1820s they moved farther west. In time they were placed on a reservation in northern Oklahoma. Luckily for them the tribe became rich with the discovery of oil.
       By the late 1700s, most of the country east of the Mississippi was being settled by the white people and pressure was being applied to move the civilized tribes farther west. W. R. Jones mentions some of these Indians coming to the White River country as early as 1790. They continued to arrive in large numbers for the next several years. It is said that by 1819 there were between three and four thousand Cherokees living here and this area was made a Cherokee nation from 1817 until 1828. The boundary lines roughly were the White River on the east from the Missouri line to about Batesville, hence a line south to the Arkansas River near Morrilton up the Arkansas River to Fort Smith then northeast to White River.
       This large area also served as a temporary home for other eastern tribes and among these were a village of Shawnees on Crooked Creek at the present (Page 12 Top) site of Yellville. The Shawnees were a branch of the Cherokees which had separated from that nation long ago. They had occupied parts of the Ohio Valley and the state of Kentucky and had become civilized and had developed like other eastern tribes in white man's ways before they arrived here. Early historians say this village of Indians were living in houses made of large split cedar logs and appeared to be enjoying a quiet and peaceful way of life. They brought cattle and ponies to the Crooked Creek valley and some of them owned Negro slaves. They had an annual celebration called the "Green Corn Dance" and it was staged at the time of year when the corn had ripened to the roasting ear stage. It is understood their neighbors, the Delawares and the Cherokees, attended these festivities; and, in turn, the Shawnees joined the Delawares at the Tucker Bottom and the Cherokees at the mouth of the big North Fork when they staged theirs.
       There was also a smaller group of Shawnees about a mile farther up the creek referred to as Little Shawnee Town. About ten miles up the creek at the mouth of Clear Creek, there was another village of the Shawnees, and this was called Upper Shawnee Town. Some of the local residents say there is still evidence of graves of the Shawnees near the Patton Cemetery.
       "Early in 1831 a traveler crossed White River at the mouth of Crooked Creek and ascended that stream for forty miles through the Ozarks. Ten miles from its mouth he came upon Old Shawnee Village. 'Perhaps a more beautiful situation could not be pointed to,' he wrote, 'than here presents itself; the village is immediately on Crooked Creek, where there is about 1200 acres of land in one body, and although the bottom land is not subject to inundation, it seems ideal.' There were only three white families and several Indian families residing at this village and all appeared to be comfortably situated."
       Ten miles farther up the creek, the traveler came to a second Indian village occupied by about 300 Shawnees, probably attracted to the spot by the unusually fine stand of cane which provided feed for horses and cattle during the winter.
       Later, white men occupied fields and cabins prepared by Indians, and so the Yeliville Settlement began here, twenty miles up Crooked Creek, because cane grew better in this part of the valley.
       About this time, there was also a small tribe of Delawares living here occupying an area on the White River from the mouth of Fallen Ash Creek up to the mouth of Jimmies Creek.
       W. R. Jones was well informed of these as well as the other Indians who were living here during this period and his history states their main village was located in the Tucker Bottom at a big spring. Their chief's name was Johnny Cake. He and his people were good neighbors and he set up a water powered grist mill and made meal for the Indians and also for the white settlers who were living in the area. One wonders if this is the reason for his name, Johnny Cake.
       The Indians and settlers hunted together and dragged freshly killed buffalo down to this spring where they dressed the meat, cutting much of it into small strips and hanging it to dry in the sun so that it would keep for future use. They feasted, danced, and enjoyed many games and sports such as wrestling and racing their horses.
       From 1817 to 1828, the Cherokees were in command of this area. They (Page 13 Top) were an intelligent people and had learned white man's ways in their homeland east of the Mississippi. It is said that the ones who lived in this area avoided trouble with the Osage as best they could but before the treaty of 1828 which provided the Oklahoma Territory as a new home for them, they had difficult times. These hardships were caused by the great increase in population. Soon after the War of 1812, many more Indians were arriving here and also the white settlers began coming to the White River country and building homes. Before many years had passed, the game was almost depleted. The buffalo were killed or driven westward thus causing a short supply of meat. Their supply of corn and vegetables were not enough for them and their newly arrived kinsmen. There are reports of requests to the government being made by the leaders of these people asking that something be done to help ease this problem.
       As the need for assistance and supervision was recognized by the government, Major Jacob Wolf was sent to aid them in dealing with their difficulties and this resulted in the establishment of an Indian agency at the mouth of the big North Fork of the White River. The old Wolf House, which the Major built in the early part of the 19th Century, still stands and is a landmark of which the people of this area are proud.
       This is about the time men started poling the keel boats up the White River-many years before the steamboats began reaching this region.
       History states that the lower Buffalo River valley was also heavily populated by the Cherokees and their principal chief, Peter Cornstalk, lived in a village at the mouth of Spring Creek. That is about ten miles above the old ghost town of Rush. This chief married a beautiful white girl by the name of Adams. Information on this romance and marriage has Peter Cornstalk making the trip from his home on the Buffalo River, taking all short cuts through the hills to the mouth of the North Fork, where the wedding took place at the Wolf House. Needless to say this wedding attracted the attention of all the people in the valley and a large number of both Indians and whites attended and the dancing and feasting was enjoyed by all.
       Other Indians in this area were portions of civilized tribes as they were being moved from their homes east of the Mississippi River to the lands provided for them in the Oklahoma Territory. Some of these were the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and the Cherokees who were still in North Carolina and Tennessee.
       The Creeks and Chickasaws, like the Cherokees, had been moving westward for several years, but the great removal often referred to as "The Trail of Tears" took place from the early to the mid 1830s. This was under Andrew Jackson's administration. John Ross-his Indian name was White Swan -was the very capable and intelligent Chief of the Cherokees during these times and when he saw his people had to go, he pleaded with the President to be lenient with them that they might move in an orderly manner; however, the government paid little, if any, attention to his request and they were all assembled and the U.S. Army was assigned the duty of escorting them to their new land.
       There were different routes taken in this removal. Some of them were crossed at or near Arkansas Post and followed a road up the Arkansas River westward, but at least one large assembly was moved through what is now Marion County.
       (Page 14 Top) This route was the Old Military Road which was constructed sometime between 1830 and 1835 or at least this section of it was. It meandered north from Jackson Port on the White River to a crossing of the White River at a ferry which had been established in early times. It was referred to in the beginning as Talbert's Ferry, later Mooney's Landing, and in more recent times as Denton's Ferry. It cannot be ascertained if Mooney's Landing and the ferries were located in the same place; but, if not, they were very near. This road crossed what is now the Lyle Wood farm which borders White River on the west and meandered on westward up Fallen Ash Creek taking the people on in the direction of the desolate country west of the Arkansas border.
       While it is not known for certain, facts indicate that John Ross accompanied this large assemblage that traveled the Military Road through Marion County.
       It appears that the Indians who occupied our area and had not already moved on were leaving at this time. Some were reluctant to leave but it seems by the late 1830s they were in new homes in a new territory.

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Linda Haas Davenport