With the hurry and noise of today, it is hard to
imagine a day in White County when it became a part of the United States. The
sounds were the wind in the trees, the frogs in the pond, the songs of the birds
and other nature sounds. At night the animals of prey came out and the scream of
the panther, the howl of the wolf, the hoot of the owl broke the quietness of
the night. There were no open fields. The denseness of the forest was determined
by the variety of trees, and the vines and briars growing beneath them.
But this was not White County. As part of the Louisiana Purchase, it had just become Louisiana Territory. It became Missouri Territory in 1812 and Arkansas Territory in 1819, but in October, 1835, it became White County, Territory of Arkansas, before Arkansas became a state in 1836. By this time, the Southwest Trail had become the Military Road.
There had been French and Spanish traders traveling and trading here long before the Louisiana Purchase but it was about the time Arkansas Territory was formed that settlers began to come to White County, and this article concerns those who made their homes along Little Red River from Dewey Bridge to Pangburn. There are more names that could be given but only those who have left some trace in history will be used.
William Britton (Brittian?) operated a ferry just below the present Dewey Bridge on Little Red River. The first mention found of him is in the 1830 census of Arkansas. He obtained his first land in 1833 and sold in 1834 to Herman Von Grolman. Joseph Meetch traveled this way in 1826 and said "he ferried across Little Red River." There was plenty of land and few people so he probably just did not bother to obtain title to the property. No title - no tax and just move on, which he did after selling to Von Grolman. He came from North Carolina and was a Baptist minister, one of the first and probably the very first in White County. He was doing quite well in Shelby County, Texas, in 1850, owning $2,800 in real estate, at age 78 years.
Raney P. Brown and Hiram Peeler settled across the river north of Pangburn about 1820. Their wives were sisters and were also sisters to the wives of John and William Magness. They were of the Edwards familyh of Rutherford County, Tennessee, and had other family and friends in the area. Dr. Malcolm Peeler of Jonesboro grew up in Pangburn and has carried on the family profession of doctor. The two marked graves in the cemetery are Lewis Hilger and his wife, Civilla Brown Hilger, the union of two of the early families.
Herman Von Grolman, John Hilger and Louis Turowski landed in Little Rock, with a large group of Germans who made up a strong German settlement in Little Rock and up and down the Arkansas River. The long boat trip was not enough for these three or they were tired of their companions, or perhaps just had a wish to see what was up the Southwest Trail. They explored the Dewey Bridge area and decided to build their homes there. Von Grolman bought the ferry and the land there and in several else and the only family mentioned was his wife. When gold was discovered in California, he disposed of his property and moved on.
Louis Turowski was a single man and had been in the Polish Army. He settled down to farming and living the life of the hunter with the farm chores, but when the War with Mexico called he answered and enlisted as a private with a Pulaski County group. He survived the war and was discharged in Texas but did not return to White County.
John Hilger left Germany with his wife and small children for the freedom and opportunities in America. He bought good land along Little Red River and continued to buy as he prospered and as his family increased to be a large family. He never drifted from his home but continued to work very hard. He died in 1852, at the age of 50, and is buried in Coffey Cemetery with his wife Catherine who lived until 1878.
The oldest son, John Jr., took his young family and moved to the Cherokee Nation. He and his young son died there.
Phillip Hilger took over the operation of the ferry and it is better known as Hilger's Ferry even today. He later left for the mining district of Boone County, Arkansas.
Lewis Hilger was sent to Little Rock to school but was back in White County when the Civil War started and enlisted in the first group organized. He returned and spent his life in White and Cleburne counties near Pangburn.
The wife of John Hilger was Catherine Yingling and her brother, Sebastian Yingling, and his family followed her to America and White County in the mid-1840s. Both are still strong families in White County today.
Coffey Cemetery was first known as Walnut Hill Cemetery and is the cemetery of the very early settlers, although most of their graves are not marked. There were some graves that were covered with large rocks and it is said they were there when the first settlers came. This burial ground is on a hill not far from the Military Road.
So much could be told of these and others.