Early Whiskey Still

The First White Countian

The following is excerpted from History of White County written by Claude Johnson, a former president of the White County Historical Society.

No one knows for sure who the first white man was to visit what is now White County. He doubtless was an explorer, a hunter or a trapper, or perhaps a trader who came here to develop a trade deal with the Indians. He may have been in a party of explorers, who had no way of leaving a marker even if they had wanted to. However, we are pretty sure of the first white settler. He was Francis Francure, who settled at Nigger Hill, or Georgetown, in the year 1789, the same year George Washington became president. Mr. Francure was given a land grant number 2416 comprised of 1,600 arpens, which was equal to 1.361 acres or about two sections of land, or about two square miles lying west of White River. This was the second settlement in the state, being preceded only by that at Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. When Thomas Jefferson acquired this land with the Louisiana purchase in 1803 it, of course, became a part of the Arkansas Territory of the United States. It has been said that Francure lived there more than 50 years before his land was finally forfeited in the name of the estate of Francis Francure.

Many strange tales and legends were told about Francure. It was said that the translation of his French name into English meant "Freeman Free Preacher," but the "free" was about the only part that fit. He was more a hermit than a man. He was accused of having numerous wives, or mistresses, some white, some black, or maybe in-between like Indian. Some were begged, borrowed or stolen from the husbands who accidentally disappeared from the scene around Nigger Hill. Nigger Hill itself was mostly a dense cane break. Making it possible for desperadoes to hide indefinitely. Mr. Francure was listed as a farmer, but he must have been more of a trapper and trader. He was accused of trapping both animals and humans, and disposing of each in the same way – taking the men for their money and the animals for their hides. Evidently, the place was named Nigger Hill because this was where most of the immigrants, including slaves, unloaded.

Because of Francure’s early settlement at Nigger Hill, the place became the focal point for the development of the entire White River Valley. It was believed by the early settlers that a band of robbers had their headquarters here, which for a time was headed by an old Negro called "Free Isaac." ":Free Isaac" may have been a lieutenant of Francure who pretended to remain respectable. Eventually, the robber gang quarreled and disbanded, with the result "Free Isaac" was killed and burned in a log heap. Some gruesome tales were told of how the victims were disposed of. Sometimes they were drowned in the river; sometimes buried standing up in a sort of post hole. The adjacent White River offered a convenient way of disposal. All up and down the river, especially in the hill section where the water was swift, it was a custom for houses to be built out over the water. There was a trap door in the back room over the water, where the victim, live or dead, could be dumped for disposal.

These stories were vouched for by the early travelers and historians, and I have been told personally by several of the old settlers a good many years ago, who were willing to swear the stories were true.

Claude Johnson’s "Humorous History of White County, Arkansas" is available for $10 postage paid from the White County Historical Society at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145