Originally written by Miss Edna Beck for the 1903 Sebastian County Atlas, below is only a portion of her piece. This is the part of most interest to the genealogist but the beginning has some very good history facts and stories in it back to LaSalle and a mention or two of pioneers when it was but still a wilderness.|
Other names mentioned in the earlier parts of the history were: 1819 James Miller, Robert Chittenden, Sophia Kanady & Pope.
......The first settlers of Sebastian County never suffered quite the same privations as those of other localities, because they came after the fot was established, and through the garrison, came not only protection, but many conveniences, and even luxuries.
It was not until the later part of the "twenties," that this portion of the country was open to settlement, being, prior to that, still part of the Indian country, and by that time roads had been blazed, notable in this country, the military road connecting Little Rock and Fort Smith; and means of communication provided throughout much of the territory.
Captain John Rodgers, was the first permanent settler. He came from New Orleans to the little cabin in the forest near the fort, to which he had been appointed sutler.
It is pleasant to reflect that Captain Rodgers prospered and the commodious double log house followed (with the open passage way between) that old settlers look back upon as the pleasantest kind of a dwelling yet erected by man. There was a row of locust trees in front and a few bushes yet remain.
The following account of Capt. Rodgers is from an old copy of the Thirty-Fifth Parallel, bearing date of October 12, 1860: "Capt. Rodgers was nearly eighty years of age at his death, and was one of the first settlers in Arkansas. He was the founder of Fort Smith. No man who knew Capt. John Rodgers ever bore malice against him; he was a noble heated, generous man; the poor were never turned away from him without being kindly dealt with, - his hand was open as his heart was warm in his charities."
Among the earliest white settlers about Ft. Smith were Clark Landers, Wm. Tichenal, Matthew Moore, Anderson Quesenberry, father of the eccentric genius who liked to call himself "Bill Cush," Robert Sinclair, Matthew Moss, General Nicks, Robert Gibson,
Curry Barnett, James McDavid, Alfred Ray, Dr. David D. Williams, William Stagner and Capt. William DuVal. Captain William DuVal was the father of Col. Ben. T. DuVal. In 1825 he came from Virginia and established a trading post near Fort Smith. A few years later Capt. DuVal brought his family out. Col. Ben. DuVal was then only a little child and has seen the town in all its phases since that time; consequently he is recognized authority on all matters historical in town, county and state.
"Stagner's Lake" was named for Mr. Stagner. The lake has recently been drained and with it passes an old landmark.
Major Ben. Moore, one of the strongest, most individual characters the county knew, came in 1821, from Virginia and settled at the rock which has since born his name. The rock extended across the entire river bed and at his own expense he cut a channel for the passage of vessels. He introduced the cultivation of cotton and tobacco in this locality, and his was the first grist mill between Frot Smith and Little Rock. One of his charming daughters married John Penn Dillard, a lawyer, who came from Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1822. Another daughter, "a lovely woman," married Judge James Woodson Bates, who presided at the first court ever held at Fort Smith. Major Moore was a polished gentleman of the old Dominion, a true specimen of the chivalrous cavalier. He settled at an early day the place now the residence of Mr. Luce, in this county, where he extended to all a generous welcome. Here in the very heart of the wilderness, amidst wildest surroundings, under his friendly roof were enjoyed by the inhabitants of the Territory a refined and cultived society and a bounteous hospitality. Judge Bates resided for many years upon this place and died there. He was a most gifted conversationalist and a writer of unusual vigor.
William Moore and Ben. Moore, Jr. settled at Moore's Rock with Major Moore.
Judge Jesse Turner early came to the Crawford County "old Court House" and followed the county seat of Crawford County from place to place until it was permanently located at Van Buren.
General Matthew Arbuckle, who was second commander of the post at Fort smith, bought the land in the Arkansas river that has since borne his name as Arbuckle Island. He died in Fort Smith in the terrible scourge of 1853, when so many lives went out. The island came into the possession of John D. Arbuckle, his nephew, who is still remembered by many for his genuine character and great humor.
Another who came with the garrison to Fort Smith was Aaron Barling, who was a well known figure in the county and state from 1822, the time he opened his house on the military road for the entertainment of travelers, until the year before his death, in 1854. "For many years it was the custom of travelers going from Fort Smith to Little Rock to go out to Barling's to stay all night and enjoy the good living there, to take an early start in the morning so as to reach Jack Titsworth's, the next house on the road to Little Rock at Short mountain."
Judge Hugh Knox settled on what is still known as the "Knox Farm," about eight miles below Fort Smith.
Major Elias Rector was an early settler and a citizen of the Fort Smith vicinity for over forty years.
Second Fort and Later Settlers
The troops were withdrawn from Fort Smith in 1824 and stationed at Fort Coffee, and it was not until 1833, nine years later, that Fort Smith was again occupied. During the succeeding five years the Fort was vacant a greater part of the time, but in 1838 commissioners were appointed to select a site for a new walled fort. The location of the old fort was, by the treaty with the Choctaws in 1825, within the Choctaw line, and the government purchased 300 acres of Captain Rodgers. The tract lies between Garrison avenue, on "Garrison Road" as it was then called, and the Choctaw line, and is known as "The Reserve."
While the new fort was being erected, temporary quarters were built on the Sixteenth Section for the soldiers, under the command of Capt. W.G. Belknap and name "Camp Belknap."
Old soldiers still speak affectionately of "camp Belknap" as "the prettiest place."
Just opposite its location, across "Little Rock Road," where the Catholic church and convent buildings now stand, were the officers' quarters. Here for two years lived Gen. Zachary Taylor, and here in the lot below cavorted "Old Whitey," who carried his master so gallantly through the Mexican War and, figuratively speaking, into the White House. Old Whitey's stable was the last of the old buildings to be destroyed. It was torn down a few years ago
The venerable lovers of "Camp Balknap" remember Gen. Taylor as a very plain, friendly, old gentleman who liked to rise early and walk down "Garrison Road" through the woods to wake the ferryman at the river and get a fish from his trout line or meet a newly arrive steamboat. Nearly all are familiar with the story of the young brevets, just from West Point, who saw him board the steamer the morning of their arrival, but, as it is characteristic, I will give it, as it is in Col. DuVal's address: "The young men had just arisen and seeing the old gentleman, whom they took for a farmer, accosted him as follows: 'Good morning, old fellow, how's crops?' Gen. Taylor responded, 'Purty good.' They pressed him to take a drink, and amused themselves at his expense for some time and as he left they sung out, 'Give our love to the old woman and the gals,' which he promised to do. You can judge their surprise when later in the day they called, in full dress, to pay their respects to the Commanding General, and found him to be their 'old fellow' of the morning. Gen. Taylor presented his wife and his daughter, Miss Bettie, remarking to them, 'Here are the old woman and my gal.'"
The buildings of the new fort were completed and occupied in 1842: but the great wall was never finished, - General Taylor thinking the outer defences planned for the fort were necessary. In the light of subsequent events the old General's judgement seems to have been quite correct.
In peace the flag rose in the morning and in the evening little children ran across the green parade ground and watched with staring eyes to see the stars come down.
The town of Ft. Smith was incorporated in 1842, the same year the new fort was completed. Some effort was made to re-establish the old name of "Belle Point", but the place had been Fort Smith too long. It had been twenty-five years since the soldiers first came. Steamboat traffic had been established on the Arkansas. Population was increasing year by year.
Mrs. Kanady, the sister of Captain Rodgers, came in 1836 with her son, Jerry R. Kanady, who was afterward a prominent figure in Fort Smith, known as "Uncle Jerry."
Dr. Joseph H. Bailey was an army surgeon, who became a citizen of Fort Smith. John Striker, one of the first mayors, was long one of the best authorities on the early days of the fort. Dr. J.H.T. Main settled here in 1838. Col. Samuel M. Rutherford, the first representative of the General Assembly from this county, and afterwards judge of the county and probate courts, and then the circuit court, was an early settler.
There were school teachers for the little folks. Capt. Nathaniel Gooking was among the first school teachers.
John Carnall was a teacher from 1840-'46. He settled here in the "80's. He was the first clerk of the circuit court in this county. He was a student of agriculture and became an agricultural authority for the State of Arkansas
Men engaged on the new fort buildings remained and became citizens. Among these was Michael Manning, known in later life for his wonderful memory and keen irish wit.
The settlement was now a quarter of a century old. Settlers became five and ten mile neighbors instead of twenty.
W.H. Rodgers, William Quesenberry and Ben. T. DuVal, who were the first little white boys at the fort, were becoming young men.
Settlements had been made at Jenny Lind, Massard Prairie, Greenwood, Hodges Prairie, and in the Sugar Loaf Valley.
In 1843, Eaton Tatum, at whose house Sebastian County was organized, came from Missouri and settled at Jenny Lind. James J. Baker settled here in 1845. Other who settled within a radius of a few miles were: John G. Little, father of Congressman Little; Thos. Rogers, W.O. Hunter, Donaldson, Judge James Clark, Henry Ross and the Widow Welty and her two sons.
---------(September 2009 - a note from Maurine Little Moyle-- granddaughter of Governor John Sebastian Little says "The information about John G. Little is incorrect as John Gray Little was my Grandfather's uncle. Jesse Eaton Little -July 10, 1819-- Sept 9, 1887 born in Pitt County, N.C. was the father of John Sebastian Little--March 15, 1851-- Oct 29, 1916. Jesse and brother John Gray Little came to Arkansas in 1838 from N.C. Jesse Eaton Little married Mary Elizabeth Tatum --July 10, 1845 in Actus, Ar. now Jenny Lind, Ar. Her father was Eaton Tatum --Jan 4, 1793-March 28, 1872. This information is from pages that are left from the family Bible.")------
A colony of Germans settled on and near Long Prairie in the early forties.
Samuel Caldwell settled on the south edge of Massard Prairie. He was one of the first promoters of fine stock raising. Near his place was a race track much frequented by lovers of fine horses.
Among the names of the settlers in the vicinty of Greenwood are, James Rodgers, Ruben Coker, Henry Coker and John Coker. Further to the north, were Leonard Spradling and William McAllister (his son is now one of the richest men in the Indian Teritory).
In the valleys of Vache Grasse and Big Creek were the settlements of William Ward, Grandy Ake, Judge Charles Milor and others.
One of the first settlers near Salem, or Witcherville post-office, was Walter T. Woodson. William J. Witcher, for whom the post-office was named, came in 1850 from Virginia.
One of the first settlements to be made at a distance from the river was where Hackett City now stands. McMurtry and Bender were among the first settlers, and in 1841 came Jeremiah Hackett. He became the chief figure in the community. He married a daughter of William Tichenal. Dr.William Andrew Falconermarried another of these beautiful girls.
There were many samll farmers throughout the country, who, only by working hard and living frugally, maintained a livelihood.
An early example of patriotism occurred after the floods of 1833, and deserves preservation in the annals of our county. The incident was related by an old citizen. "The widow Welty was the only one who had any corn and people came for miles to buy, but she wouldn't ever sell more than five bushels and hardly ever that much to one person and she never charged more than a dollar a bushel when she could have gotten five. She said she had to have enough for bread for her neighbors and give them seed corn in the spring. People would come and just beg for ten bushels and offer her big prices, but she said nobody should speculate on her corn. She was not going to and no one else should. This incident exemplifed the true patriotism, honesty and intergrity which the early settler possessed and the way in which the golden rule was carried into the pracital affairs of life in those days.
Civil War Period
In spite of the fact that county-seat wars are always extremely detrimental, during the ten years between the organization of the county and the beginning of the Civil War, Sebastian had become fifth in the state in population. But while these home problems were troubling the community, state and national difficulties were assuming formidable proportions. Arkansas, with a natural feeling for the mother nation was slow to break the ties; but when invation seemed imminent and defense of the home becamed necessary, she swiftly joined hands with her sister of the South and armed her defenders.
The situation was intense all over the county, but particularly so at the fort. Then on that April day came the "long roll." There are those who remember it still. That wonderful, that terrible "long roll." Who that has ever been a soldier could hear it to-day without leaping to its call.
Some did not know and others did, among the latter, Capt. Sturgis who had kept spies on the river, that two steamers en route from Little Rock to Ft. Smith, were then lying at Van Buren with 300 state troops on board, also several pieces of artillery and other munitions of war. The officer in command had with him a demand from Gov. Rector to Capt. Sturgis, the commander of the post to surrender it to the State of Arkansas>
The vessels waited at VanBuren while the military company of that place made preparations to join them. During the few hours of advantage gained by this delay, Capt. Sturgis was able to escape with all his men and stores, having been previously prepared for the emergency. When the State troops arrive they found an empty fort and quickly took possession. A company of cavalry and another body of state troops joind them and Ft. Smith was soon occupied by an armed force of several hundred. Mass meetings and the organization of companies all over the county followed immediately. By August five companies had been organized at Ft. Smith, partly in answer to Gen. McCulloch's call. The first was the "Ft. Smith Rifles." The others were the "Belle Point Gauards," "Reid's Battery," a company under the command of Capt. W.C. Corcoran and a company of cavalry under the command of Capt. Thos. Lewis.
The summer of 1861 will be long remembered with a heartache in Western Arkansas, for with it, in August, came the battle of Oak Hill and many who had given their flesh and blood had it brought back to them as clay.
At the close of 1861 Gen. Ben. McCulloch was in command of the Confederate army at Ft. Smith. His force numbered some 8,000 men. In 1862, still more companies were raised in Sebastian County, and in July the Twenty-Second Arkansas Infantry was organized, composed almost entirely of companies from this part of the state.
In the spring of this year, 1862, occurred the battle of "Pea Ridge", sometimes called the battle of Elk-Horn from a tavern of that name in the vicinity. After this engagement, the first on Arkansas soil, it became the sorrow burdened duty of the county to bury with highest military honors, their beloved Generals, Ben. McCulloch and James McIntosh. They were buried in the old Fort buring ground at Ft. Smith, which afterward became a National Cemetery. It is a very beautiful place and the first, where the "Blue" and the "Gray" have held united memorial services in honoring their dead.
During the cyclone of 1898 the Confederate monument was destroyed, but a new and handsomer one will soon stand in its place.
Sebastian and her sister counties had their capacities taxed to the utmost to feed these great armies quartered on them from time to time, together with the ubiquitous traveler, who must be sheltered and fed. Had it not been that the negroes were faithful and tilled the fields and seasons were propitious, still greater suffering would have been theirs.
In the end of this year, 1862, during the Christmas holidays, word came across the river that the Federals were in VanBuren. A lady, who was quite small at the time, relates her childish impressions of the "racing and chasing" that followed. It was a vivid picture of the first evacuation of Ft. Smith. "Everybody began packing. People just gathered up a few things, - whatever they could get hold of, and left the rest. I have heard it told since, of the queer things people took. One lady would take a new purple calico dress, but left at home six paris of good shoes and wore an old pair away." Though the Federals were really in VanBuren at this time they did not cross the river to Ft. Smith. However, many became alarmed and left and the thrilling experiences and hardships which the refugees suffered would be too lenghy to relate here.
Many of the refugees remained away until the end of the war, but others returned, only to fly again when in September, 1863, the Federal troops, under Gen. Blount, entered Ft. Smith. The fort remained in the possession of the Union forces until the close of the war.
During the summer of 1863 the organization of companies continued in Sebastian County. A company raised in the vicinity of Salem was under the command of Capt. Wm. J. Witcher. Two others raised in the southern and central parts of the county were under the command of Capts. J.H. Council and Benj. Neal. Several companies of independent scouts were raised. One of these was commanded by James Fitzwilliams, of Ft. Smith, who had been Lieutenant Colonel of a regiment that broke up at Prairie Grove.
(The rest of this history deals with the end of the war and reconstruction times with no new names mentioned.)
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