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Old Buffalo City
By: Mrs. Ray Blankenship
Pages: 348-356

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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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Old Buffalo City

       (Page 348) Old Buffalo City grew to be a busy and important trade center from about 1850 until around 1902. It had its beginning like most of the towns and communities in the Ozark country. When white men first came to this region to hunt and trade with the Indians, they quickly recognized this to be truly a land of opportunity and it was not long until they were bringing their families and building log cabins on the most desirable locations. In the earliest times, they needed only enough tillable land for gardens and a cornfield for bread, but these hearty frontiersmen were soon clearing larger acreages and were growing other grain such as oats and wheat and planting orchards.
       These big-hearted, hard-working, trustworthy people had ability to over come the hardships which were sure to befall all those who came and stayed.
       No records are known to show people living in the Buffalo City community sooner than the 1820s, but from this time forward facts related to the town and its business establishments are numerous. Recently several letters were found by people of the county on file in the Arkansas Gazette's office which are very revealing about Buffalo City during early times as they were written by an intelligent young gentleman from Hartford, Connecticut, who had just located and gone into business here. The first letter which is headed Buffalo City, Sept. 22, 1848, is a source of the very finest information about the area. He goes into detail describing the country and the people to his mother and father.
       At this time the town had fewer than a dozen families living in it, but at least one family, the Morelands, had been living here since the late l820s and were holding most of the bottom land known later as the Buffalo City farm.
       It is not known when the first steamboat landed here, but Buffalo City was considered the head of navigation for these crafts for the greater part of the year. By the 1840s, many tons of supplies and goods were being delivered to this area by White River transportation. Much of it still was being delivered on the keel boats and the flat bottoms.
       The Independence County Chronicle, July, 1969, Vol. X, No. 4, says the first steamboat reached Batesville in 1831. It is reasonable to believe that they were reaching the important landings in this area soon after.
       This was long before cotton was grown as a cash crop and the people cashed in on the natural resources to provide for needs such as salt, coffee, sugar, and some clothing.
       Everard Dickenson, the earlier mentioned businessman, stated in his letter of Sept. 22, 1848, that peltery and bear oil were some of the things sold or traded for goods and he had taken in forty bear skins the day before. He was doing business in a log storehouse for which he was to pay $30.00 rent per annum. This letter also stated that he was being encouraged by Major Jacob Wolf to move his business down to Norfork and his letter dated June 22, 1849, (Page 349 Top) shows him set up in business at the new location. He indicated that men wore buckskin shirts and leather britches much of the time. He also said, "The girls in this country are the right sort for a poor man. They can all weave and make up their own clothing and most of them can make a good suit of clothes for a man and make the cloth too. One of the Major Wolf's girls made me a pair of homespun pants in about two-and-a-half hours that
       fit me first rate. Price of making them was fifty cents. I got another young lady to cut and make me a homespun coat for $1.25, so you see a man can live and dress cheap in this country."
       Another firm that was doing business at Buffalo City in 1848 was that of Hogan and Tunsells.

Buffalo City Boom

       As this region became more heavily populated, Buffalo City continued to grow as a business and trade center. In these early times, a road was used for the freight wagons called "the Buffalo to Yellville" road. Freight wagons pulled by oxen used this route for many years as supplies and goods moved from the steamboats across Marion and Boone Counties. John W. Olvey, now deceased, informed the writer of this and stated his people ran a freight line from Buffalo City to Harrison back in those days.

Buffalo City Boom. The Des Arc Citizen, September 28, 1859, pub. A letter from A. G. Cochran about the prospects of Buffalo City, a new town freshly laid out on the south side of White River one mile above the mouth of Buffalo River. The most impressive structure in the town, according to the Cochran letter, was a tavern called the Shoal House, which had a wide thirty-six-foot long porch, a smokehouse full of meat, and good stables for guests' horses. A warehouse had been built at the steamboat landing, and a steam grist mill was in operation. Among the town's pressing needs were a shoemaker, a druggist, a doctor, a blacksmith, and a preacher, not necessarily in that order. The letter ended: "Buffalo City will one day be one of the most flourishing towns in the State - the opinion of the Yellvilleians and Carrolltonites to the contrary notwithstanding."
       Although individuals were holding parts of the land by what was known as preemption rights, the abstracts of the farm and townsite show the first claim being filed at the land office in Batesville in 1844 by William F. Denton. This may be the Denton who was well known in the area of Batesville in the 1830s and 1840's as an owner of land and race horses.
       Others who were taking up lands who homesteaded parts of the Buffalo City farm in the 1840s were the Hogans and Tunsells. The abstract of the farm contains the record of a deed dated Dec. 6, 1858, which was made to James M. Tunsell giving him title to some lots in the townsite and it has this interesting stipulation. "With the distinct contract that the citizens of Buffalo City are not to be prohibited the use of any spring water on said land and the street immediately east of said Tunsell's still house shed which runs through said lands is not to be stopped up."
       From Civil War days until well into the early 1900s, virgin timber was being marketed and much of it was rafted down the river. Uncle Levi Cox, an oldtimer of this community, used to tell about this (Page 350 Top Photo: Turkey Mountain, Buffalo City, Arkansas in late 1800s [man plowing is not identified]) and he would mention the cedar log that he had hauled to the river at Buffalo City with two yokes of oxen. This log was seventy-two feet long and six inches at the top.
       Throughout this period cotton was the cash crop and hundreds of bales were ginned and shipped from this point down river on the steamboats.
       When the mining boom came to Marion County, Buffalo City flourished greatly. The mines in the area which milled and shipped ore were the Chickasaw and Bonanza mines on Cow Creek, the Lion Hill mine on Warner Creek, and the Dixie Girl on Boat Creek. An interesting advertisement in these days was as follows:

Howard H. Gallup "Buyer and shipper of zinc ores and dealer in mineral lands. Buffalo City, Marion County, Ark."

       The railroad was surveyed and planned to be built on the west side of White River in this part of the valley and much work was done on the grade which reached a point about one mile above the town before the plan was changed. Embankments of rocks and dirt can still be seen of this work. Records say the crew wintered in tents set up at Buffalo City in 1900 and when spring came, they received orders to go back to the mouth of the North Fork and build the track on the east side of the river raising the grade some four or five feet. Around 1903 when the trains began running, the steamboats started losing their trade and the population of Buffalo City started dwindling.
       Some of the merchants who ran businesses in this town were those already mentioned: Everard Dickenson, Hogan and Tunsell. Others were Gallup (Page 351 Top) and Bowe, Pond, Minnard Stookey, Rector, Will Carter, B. R. (Bud) Hudson, and Will Casteel. The writer and his wife visited recently with Mrs. Will Casteel in her home in Gassville and she related many interesting facts about the town and its people. Her husband ran a store and she kept the post office which was located in the store building. When the big flood came in 1916, everyone fled for higher ground because the water was several feet deep all over the town. Mrs. Casteel's family stayed in the old school house which was higher on the hill. Many hogs and cattle were swept away by the flood and lost. She told how Mr. Casteel had been improving his hogs with some Poland China blood lines and when they went back to their home and store, they had only one sow left. A sack of pinto beans had floated out of the store and had lodged on a fence, and when the sow found them and took on a gorge, not only were they in a state of devastation with six inches of mud in their store, but Will was "plum" out of the hog business.
       Charley Bell's family was living in the old hotel in the bottom when the flood of 1927 came and they likewise took up their abode for a few days in the school house on the hill.
       This old hotel was one of the outstanding buildings in the town and was about the last one to be torn down. It stood until the early 1930s. It had some fifteen rooms and two large stone fireplaces. It is not known who built it but the Tripp family owned and operated it for quite some time.
       B. R. Hudson was one of the last merchants to leave the old town. He and his family closed their business and the post office in 1923 and moved to the east side of the river where he ran a store for many years.
       W. H. Hurst bought the last two remaining lots from a Mrs. Bowe and added them to the Buffalo City farm about 1936. He also owned and operated the Buffalo ferry from 1926 until about the mid 1940s. This linked the rail road village on the east side of White River with Old Buffalo City. The last major flood in 1949 swept away the ferry boat and it was never restored.
       The last vestige of Buffalo City has disappeared and the county road has been changed into a more southerly and westward direction leading into the Buffalo River country thus making it more difficult for the people who return to visit the area to recognize the location of the townsite or landmarks.
       These people come to visit the graves of their loved ones who were laid to rest in the Buffalo cemetery well over one hundred years ago. These include the Hogans, Tunsells, Casteels, Tripps, and many others who had a part in making this community an interesting part of history.

       The following is a letter, in its original form as nearly as possible, sent from Marion County in 1848. Its content is such that the appearance should be entered in this History of Marion County.
       The envelope, with a notation inserted by the addressee, is as follows:
"Buffalo City, Ark.
September 29th 1848
Paid 20
'This is the first letter we
rcd from Evenand after the
death of Dean William.'
Mr. Phio Dickinson Hartford
'Rec'd 20th Octr.

The letter follows: (Page 352 Top)

"Buffalo City Septr 22nd 1848
       My Dear Parents Your letters of August 13th and 24 were received on the 20th and are now before me and as the mail boy comes hopefully here on his way down today, I will write and endeavour to answer some of your enquiries about this section of country. In the first place I will say that Mr. Totten's letter of June 5 and yours of June 9 and one dated May 16th were all received by me having been forward from Memphis by Mr. Cander, but they were some time in reaching me, as they were detained in Memphis till Mr. Cander learned whereabouts I was located. I was deeply shocked to hear of the death of Brother William and felt so sad for some time I did not feel in the spirit to write. I received a letter from Brother Henry written soon after William had Fulton for Hartford in such bad health, accompanied by Doctor Toss (and is the only one I have received from him and that reached me before I left Memphis) and although Henry's letter had warned me that it was possible I might never see Wm. more, yet I was very much overcome to hear the sad intelligence of his death. He died the very morning and about the hour, that I arrived here June 4th. The mail boy has arrived and I shall have, to cut short this letter, but I will write by the next mail a full description of the country and etc. This place is about 6 hundred miles up White River from its mouth. The stream up as far as Jackson Port is deep and sluggish and muddy - deep enough for New Orleans Boats the year round to Jackson Port, which is about four hundred miles up from the mouth. (The mail boy cannot wait and I will continue my letter and send it by the next mail - which passes here once a week up and down through Batesville and Jackson Port to Memphis.) The roads are bad and there is no stage rout to this place and the only way travelling can get along is on horseback. This is a wild, romantic region of country and has been but little known about until within a few years. Athough this place is called a city, there are only 4 male inhabitants in it; myself and Mr. Hogan of the firm of Hogan and Tunstall and the old man Wm. Moreland and his son - with their families. It is at the head of navigation by steam boats and was called and is best known by the name of Buffalo Shoals - as it is where the Buffalo used to cross the river in their periodical visits to this country. But they have now left for the Territory west - following the Indians. Myself and Mr. Hogan board with Mr. Moreland the proprietor of this city and we live very well for a new country - have plenty of venison and corn bread and bacon. Bear meat also can be had plenty soon as they get fat in the fall - and there are plenty of very good fish in the river (above Jackson Port-which is at the mouth of Black River) and by looking on the map you can follow the course of the stream.) White River is a clear swift running stream and the water in the winter is very good to drink, rather too warm in summer - but there are plenty of good springs. It runs over a rocky bed and is clear as any stream I ever saw. You can see a fish anywhere. The old man (Page 353 Top) Moreland is a rude speciman of a frontier man - he has lived on this farm nineteen years and it is as pretty a farm as you would wish to see - shut in on some sides by high rocky cliffs that rise like a wall 700 feet perpendicular and on other sides by high hills or mountains - with the river in front. These hills are covered with a dense growth of timber of every description - but there is plenty of good bottom land between the river and these hills and altogether one of the best farms, for raising stock I ever saw. These mountains, the old man says, are very good neighbours, and are a fence that stock cannot well get over, to stray off, when turned out in the range. The old man Moreland and his family are very good, clever people, and they evince a very friendly disposition toward Mr. Hogan and myself. Mr. Hogan is also a very fine man and a good neighbour. You will perceive by looking on the map that White River runs up in Northern Arkansas and bends north near to the Missouri Line (and crosses it, I believe). I am not far from the foot of the Ozark Mountains and about twelve miles above the mouth of the big North Fork - a stream you will see on the map. This river is only navigable a part of the year for small boats to this place and is at this time very low. I am in hopes it will rise sometime in October or November so I can get out on a boat. If it does not, I shall go through horseback to Memphis (or Jackson Port and take boat from there) and expect now, to start for that place about the middle of next month - in company with Mr. Hogan. This is a fine wheat country and in the fall, when the water is up, they come from Missouri two or three hundred miles above here with flat boats loaded with flour and wheat and corn and stock bound for the New Orleans market and the coast trade. I could gladly return to New England for the pleasure of living the balance of my days with you, my dear parents, or near you - and the desire which you express to be so situated is as fully felt by me. But I fear I have become so much of a backwoodsman that I could not do as well in that country - as I think I can in a new country. This country on some accounts suits me very well and one reason is this - everybody is poor alike here - no monopoly of property in the hand of a few and it is the cheapest country to live in I ever saw - and I feel certain I can make a living here and live as well as my neighbours and be independent. If I go back to New England or anywhere north, I shall have to try and make a living by clerking (as lam very poor and have no capital to start any business with - (or credit either at the north) and that does not suit me. I believe I had rather live out in these mountains and enjoy the free mountain air and be an independent man - with a buckskin hunting shirt on and leather breeches - than wear a ruffle shirt and silk stockings and be a hireling and a slave, as all poor people are in those old thick settled countries. I have travelled over the country too much, to be content with their cramped, confined manner of living. I am going to make an effort to get upon my legs again, resusitate my credit - rather, build up a new one and I think I am just in the country where I can do it, and If I have my health continued for a few years, I will show you what E. B. Dickinson can do for himself in a New Country. I pay one dollar a week for board and the Girls wash for me for one dollar and a half per month - and I am to pay $30 per annum rent for the log store house l am occupying. I can sell goods at a good profit up here and if I was situated to trade for wheat could sell a good many- as they could come for forty miles back and north to trade at this point and haul in their wheat. I have sold entirely for cash. Gold and silver is the only (Page 354 Top) circulation. Money is scarce up here and a man cannot do a large business for cash and it will not do to credit. And I never intend to sell goods on a credit any more. But notwithstanding these disadvantages, my view of the case is this, That if a man, who is poor, and has but small means to operate on, can get into a country where his expenses of living are very light - he certainly has gained one point - and he can have the consolation of knowing that if he is not making much ahead he is not so liable to drift rapidly astern. In fact in any judgment he is more certain to hold his own and meet with ultimate success. I trade for Peltry. . . Bear skins, otter skins, and etc., and took in about 40 fur skins yesterday.
       Tuesday Morning, 26th Septr., The Mail Boy does not come down on his way to Batesville before Friday and I will endeavour to be ready for him this time. If you look on the map you can see, as I said before, exactly where I am - below the mouth of Black River and between White River and the Mississippi. The whole country is low and swampy - In fact a wide bottom of the Mississippi - and I should judge it to be unhealthy as it is mostly subject to overflow when the rivers are up, but as you ascend the stream the country becomes more broken and elevates and up here I am on the south side of what is called the great divide or Elevated Table land which divides the water courses. Springfield, Missouri, is about on the top of this divide and you will see that from there the stream begins to flow northward and empty into the Missouri River, but on this side, they flow south East into the Mississippi. I am about a degree north of Memphis, but by reason of the elevation of the country, it is colder here than there. In fact we had frost here a few nights ago and they may not have frost in Memphis before the middle of October. More than 3/4's of the settlers here are just living on Government land and any body can have a farm who will select an unoccupied place and settle upon it - build a log cabin and clean an acre or two to raise corn. Then he holds what is called a preimption right -That is, he has the first right to enter the land whenever it comes in market - and there are many who live a life-time in this way upon Government land and pay no taxes - and there is an understanding amoung the settlers that no one shall enter his neighbours land without his consent and paying him for his improvements. If any one should venture to do such a thing, the first crop he would raise, would be Bowie Knives, I expect-There are some vallies here amoung these mountains where a man could get a good farm and live a life time secluded from the world in peace and quietness and have plenty to eat and good spring water to drink - and he could find such places where he could hide himself forever if he chose to do so. In my judgment this is a healthy country and I think I have escaped sickness this summer by coming here - for Memphis is not a healthy place in summer. This is entirely too new and wild a country to suit you, I expect,- but if you choose to come here and live with me, I will try and make a living for us all. I want you to send me the old long Gun - old Kill Deer - if you will part with it. Have it put in good order and boxed up in a strong box and sent to the care of N. H. Brigham New Orleans - and care of George N. Cander Memphis, Tennessee. You get someone to ship it for you at New York on a good ship -( E. K. Collins Line is good to ship by) and take 3 bills of lading the ship has one and one you send by mail to N. H. Brigham, New Orleans, and write to him to forward it on from Memphis Packet - to the G. N. Cander and I would be most certain to get it. If you do (Page 353 Top) send it, please buy me a box 500 good percussion caps to fit the tube. Those put up in tin boxes are best and cost about 50 cts or 75 cts per box and also if you have a powder flask about home, you may put that in the box, too, if you will. I intended to write to Brother Henry to buy for me a good double triggered percussion lock Rifle to kill deer with - but expect before this letter can possibly reach you he will be on his way to Wisconsin. I want such a Gun not too long - but carrying a pretty good sized ball and with a tolerable crooked breech - a good substancial heavy barrell - but I can get a gun of this kind, or one that will answer, in Memphis, when I go down next month. I am thinking some of moving from here to the mouth of the North fork 12 or 15 miles below this. I can get a tolerable good store house there and there is there a pretty good well of water, handy to the store - also a good stone chimney to the house and it is cold enough here now for a fire mornings and evenings and I have no chimney to the house I am now occupying. And if I remain here, will have to have one built, which will cost me 25$ and I cannot afford it. And if I remain here I would have to hire a well dug which reports, costs 25 or 30$ more. It is so inconvenient getting water out of the river or out of the spring which is close to the waters edge. And when it rains the banks which are high and steep are so slippery that it is next to an impossibility to get down and up. - If I do move down, I shall go when the water rises, so that I can put the goods on hand into a ferry flat and just drop down to the mouth of the North fork. I have a stout heart and a new, clean spirit, and will achieve something for the Good of us all. If I go there, I shall board with old Major Jacob Wolf, one of the oldest settlers in this country and bearing the name of a strictly honest and honorable man - he lived here for years when the country was inhabited by Indians and always retained their respect and Good will. I have been down to see the old Major and he says If I will come down he will have the house put in Good repair and send his ferry boat up after my things when the water will admit If I move, I will let you know and think now I shall go there, as it is more of a public place and there are some very good settlements up the North fork and below on White River the trade of which I shall get and here we are so hemed in by mountains that the nearest settler to us (out back) is 5 miles off, But I think one day there will be a considerable town here at this very spot. Mr. Moreland is very averse to my leaving him. The old man has taken quite a liking to me and says if I will stay here it shall not cost me a cent for board and indeed he offered if I would whirl in an help him on the farm, he give me one half of the place (and him and me go in trade together). I have been out binding oats and gathering corn once or twice. I begin to think I should like farming very well - The old man intends building a flat boat and taking off to New Orleans this winter stock and produce enough to raise one thousand dollars - and says if Mr. Cander is not disposed to continue to furnish me with Goods - to come back here and he will go in with me. I write you all these particulars as they may be interesting to you and give you some idea of the country and people. Also to let you know I have several plans in view - but above all a determination to go ahead and retrieve my fallen fortunes. You can buy a Good cow for 6 or 7 dollars. Hogs are one dollar ahead. I traded for a very good and easy -riding Poney for 25$ - one that I can get 35 or 40 dollars for in Memphis I believe and as it cost me nothing to keep the Poney, as the range is good and corn plenty - I thought it was best to make the trade as it is very convenient to have one, to travel over these hills upon. I was glad to learn Henry was well and continued successful in business - tell him I say - hold on, and on no account get discouraged - but determine in his own mind to make a fortune. He is well-situated to do it and I think in a good country to achieve it. He is far better off and more independent where he is than he possibly could be anywhere East. Give him my love and best wishes for his success and tell him - I will write him soon and I want to hear from him. Give my love to all my friends - to Wm. and Frederick Benjamin - all who enquire about me. If you see Joel Stebbins tell him where I am and that I would be glad to get a letter from him and learn all that is going on in the great city. If you get hold of a New York Journal of Commerce, I would be glad if you would send me one - so I can learn what the News is. I am well at this present date and have been so all summer and trust when this reaches you it will find you, My dear Parents, in good health and in a composed state of mind - for though we cannot help sorrowing over the death of dear son and Brother - yet it is wrong to give way entirely to grief, but endeavour to be come reconciled to the will of God and bow under his chastening hand with cheerfulness - nay - still be thankful for the great good he has done us - and for the protection he every day throws around us. I hope to be able to come and see you next summer - if I live. In the meantime nothing will afford me greater pleasure than to hear often from you and I myself will be a better and more frequent correspondent.
       I remain your affectionate Son sympathizing with you in your grief and hoping 'all ways, hoping ever' - - - Everand B. Dickinson"

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