Tag Archives: History

22nd North Arkansas Ancestor Fair

3 Jun

The 22nd North Arkansas Ancestor Fair will be held Friday, June 3rd and Saturday, June 4th, in Marshall , AR.  This year the theme will be the Civil War Sesquicentennial, and the talks on Friday will be about what happened in 1861 in North Arkansas and about researching Confederate and Union Soldier ancestors.  Saturday will be devoted to family historians swapping information, but there will also be the opportunity to get help writing family reminiscences about the Civil War.

The North Arkansas Ancestor Fair is the longest running genealogical event of its kind in North Arkansas.  It has two sections:  on Friday, there are speakers who talk about subjects of interest to genealogists and family historians; on Saturday family genealogists are provided tables and chairs so they can visit and swap information with the public, who have com to see what information is available.  North Arkansas county genealogical and historical societies have tables to offer information, publications for sale and to attract new members.

This year, there will be enough seating for both Friday and Saturday events so that advance registration is not necessary, but early arrivals will get the best seats, or table locations.  Friday’s talks will be held at the new VFW building, located just north of the Stoplight, and Northeast of Highway 65.  Russell Baker, Arkansas History Commission-Retired and perhaps the most knowledgeable person on Arkansas research, will speak from 9:30am on “Finding Confederate and Union Ancestors”.  He will also have a fillip on results of DNA tests on a couple of Newton/Searcy county families.  Friday afternoon, James Johnston, Searcy County historian, will tell about what happened in Searcy and surrounding counties in 1861.  This will include the formation, betrayal and capture of the Peace Society and the Chain Gang that took them to Little Rock.  This will be followed by a discussion group where attendees will be invited to tell their family stories of the Chain Gang.  Friday’s lectures cost $7.50 for a half day or $10.00 for all day, which will be collected at the door.  The Discussion Group is free and everyone is encouraged to attend.

Friday night there will be a Mixer Dinner – place to be announced – where folks can mingle, visit, meet new-found kin, and get a start on Saturday’s ancestor hunting.  There is usually some musical entertainment as well.

Saturday’s Genealogical Swap Meet at the Searcy County Civic Center on Zack Road is free all day for providers who want table and chairs for their information and wares and for the public who only want to browse.  The doors are open at 8:00 am to set up for providers of information and wares, and are open at 9:00 am for the public.

The Ancestor Fair has drawn as many as 500 in years past, but recently the numbers have declined.  However, the sponsor, Searcy County Historical Society, expects the Civil War Sesquicentennial theme will attract over 200 visitors this year.

Additional information is available at the Ancestor Fair website.  www.ancestorfair.us ,or from Shirley Gray at shirleysdream@windstream.net or 870-448-3308

Springfield Wagon Company

18 Apr

The Little Fish In A Big Pond

Years ago I was asked by Wayne Hocklander to clean out the basement of his business, Hocklander Jewelry at the corner of South and Walnut in Springfield. It was filled with boxes of misc. papers, old jewelry boxes and basically what Wayne thought was junk, He wanted it gone. I started early one morning cleaning out the boxes and loading them into a dumpster when I dropped one of the boxes and had to pick up the papers. Much to my surprise they were old documents from the Springfield Wagon Company. I showed them to him and at the time they were in pretty rough shape. He made the decision to just pitch them. They were of no value I suppose back in the early 70’s.

I decided to hang on the few decent ones, mostly correspondence to buyers and post cards. At that time I was more impressed with the elegant handwriting displayed and thought they should be saved. I’m glad I did. Below is the basic history of the Springfield Wagon Company if you’re not familiar with it.

The Springfield Wagon Company could be called the company that didn’t blink. Through nearly 80 years of business, it took on many bigger companies head on, challenging them on their own terms. Now, the Springfield Wagon Company could be called the company that wouldn’t die.

About 200 people recently gathered at Founder’s Park in Springfield, Mo. to attend a public forum in order to share their common interest in an early-day vehicle. They collected memorablia, one-of-a-kind photographs, and videotaped interviews. They also celebrated the return of a company that closed fifty years ago.

The original Springfield Wagon Company, which operated near the scene of the collectors’ meet, sold many thousands of wagons from 1872 until 1941, when the factory relocated to Fayetteville, Ark. ‘Farm and road’ type wagons were made there near the Ozark hardwood forests until 1951. The wagon was one of the last high-wheeled vehicles in production.

Springfield wagons were made from the best materials. The yellow poplar box was finished in green with yellow striping, and the brand name was printed in white-painted block type. Its oak or hickory running gear, including spoked (12 in front and 14 in the taller rear) wheels were orange, trimmed in black. This combination of distinct colors would remain trademarks of the well-known wagon for 80 years.

When Springfield entered the market for wagons, it was a little fish in a big pond. Three major wagon manufacturers looked down their proverbial noses at the fledgling company. Studebaker had one of the longest pedigrees and was probably the most successful wagon at the time, followed closely by the Bain and Schuttler wagon companies. These companies were not alone. Birch, Wilson, John Deere and others had begun to establish footholds in the market.

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Missouri State Parks of the 1960s

3 Mar

In this video we go back in time to the 1960s with a visit to the state parks of Missouri. This promotional film shows the exceptional recreational and natural opportunities offered by Missouri State Parks and enjoyed by families, fishermen and fun-seekers.

This was before iPods, cell phones, fax machines, texting, and yes, YouTube videos. There wasn’t some woman suing over burning her mouth on a hot cup of coffee and I can’t remember ever hearing about a single recall of a ’57 Chevy. No one ever mentioned terrorist or chatted over an Egg McMuffin. These were the good old days…bring ’em back.

“Last Hanging In the State of Missouri.”

2 Mar

Possibly The Last in The Nation

GALENA, Mo. – Jack Jennings’ buddies beat him to the good perches in the trees. They could see over the temporary wall to the gallows on the courthouse lawn. He slipped through the crowd and found a narrow gap between two of the wall’s rough-cut oak planks. He held his ground. Jennings wasn’t about to miss Stone County’s first and only public hanging. Jennings was 14 when Roscoe “Red” Jackson was hanged at dawn on May 21, 1937, for murdering a traveling salesman for his car and $18. Several hundred witnesses were jammed inside the temporary stockade, built around the gallows, and many more people milled about the courthouse square.

Sheriff Isaiah H. Coin had issued about 400 written invitations to the hanging. Holding a pass was enough to get inside the 40-foot-square stockade. “I had an uncle who got in, but the kids weren’t allowed,” said Jennings, now 77. “I got my spot and could see them walk Red up the stairs and put the noose on him. Everybody got real quiet. The priest said some prayers and Red said something. They put the hood on him and I heard the crack of the trap door dropping. “Just like that, I couldn’t see him anymore. The crowd inside was just too big for me to see him go down.”

Nobody could have known it then, but they constituted the last big audience for an execution in the United States. There are some qualifiers – Owensboro, Ky., had hanged a man one year earlier without building a stockade to limit viewing – but two historians who have written books on the death penalty cited Jackson’s as the nation’s last public execution.

Watt Espy of Headland, Ala., who has cataloged 19,000 executions through colonial and United States history, is more circumspect. He said Owensboro can argue that its hanging could be viewed by anyone, and Galena can argue a later date and a large, general audience.”The one in Missouri certainly was the last to draw that large a crowd,” Espy said.

The old tale of Red Jackson is getting dusted off as Timothy McVeigh, the man who killed 168 people by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, awaits execution. About 250 survivors of the bombing and relatives of victims have expressed interest in witnessing McVeigh’s execution, which is scheduled for May 16 in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. There will be some major differences with Red Jackson’s hanging. McVeigh is to be executed by lethal injection. Only the approved witnesses have a chance of getting inside the prison to see it, and they are likely to watch on closed-circuit television from another room. McVeigh wrote a letter in February to a newspaper in Oklahoma City urging that his death be broadcast on the television networks. “Hold a true public execution,” he wrote. The federal prison bosses aren’t about to oblige him.

No matter. If the historians are correct, his will be the most-witnessed execution since Jackson plunged 11 feet to his death on the temporary gallows in Galena.

Then and now, Galena is a small town. It is about 25 miles southwest of Springfield, Mo., built upon a hillside overlooking the James River, and has a population of about 400. A main line of the Union Pacific, formerly the Missouri Pacific, runs through town past the old depot. But the closest major highway is U.S. 65, 15 miles east on its way to Branson. Table Rock Lake is just to the south. Jennings lives three doors away from the quiet courthouse square. His contemporaries remember the boisterous crowds that gathered the evening before the execution, but Jennings is the only one left in town who can claim to have seen it.

Public executions were regular events during the first half of the nation’s history. In the 1890s, about 90 percent of all executions were held in the county in which the offense was committed – not in state prisons. That put arrangements into the hands of sheriffs, who could make them as public as they cared to. Some executions drew special excursion trains. But by the 1920s, states had taken over 90 percent of executions, said Robert M. Bohm, professor of criminology at the University of Central Florida and author of “Death Quest,” a textbook on capital punishment. Missouri followed suit in 1938, ordering that all executions be carried out in a gas chamber at the old Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. In the same month as Jackson’s hanging, the Missouri Legislature passed a law ending hangings by county and moving the executions to Jefferson City. State Sen. Paul Jones of Kennett, who was repulsed by the “carnival and Roman holiday” atmosphere of executions in his native Bootheel, pushed for the change. Newspaper editorials of the time cited growing revulsion over public hangings.

Missouri first used its gas chamber to execute two murderers from Kansas City on March 4, 1938. It would be used 37 more times until 1965.

When Missouri resumed carrying out executions in 1989, it chose injection as the method. After holding one that year in the old penitentiary in Jefferson City, the state opened a new death chamber in the Potosi Correctional Center, where 46 executions have been carried out. And since 1938, only relatives of victims and small groups of selected official witnesses have viewed executions in Missouri. Bohm, the professor in Florida, said he believes there is substantial public support for making executions public again. But federal and state governments are strongly against the idea, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is working to ensure that nobody slips out of McVeigh’s execution with a videotape. “I think there would be a fair demand to see it on TV, but the government does not consider itself in the entertainment business,” Bohm said. “For many people, it’s just a matter of morbid curiosity, like going to a car race hoping to see a wreck. In some respects, human nature is fairly predictable.” It certainly was on the evening of May 20, 1937, when townsfolk and strangers packed the square in Galena. Marie Tilden went downtown that night with her parents and was amazed by the commotion. What she most remembers is the solitary older man who rested in the street, his head propped against the curb.

“It turned out to be Red Jackson’s dad,” said Tilden, 75, who still lives in Galena. “There were all these strangers having bonfires and ducking in and out of the taverns, and all I could think of that night was that little man with nobody talking to him.” One week later, the Stone County News said this: “One of the most disgusting things in connection with the execution was the attitude of some folks who came to Galena the evening before. While some of them conducted themselves in a way befitting the occasion, others considered it a time for merriment. . . .”Among the drunks who got locked up that night, said the News, was a visiting police officer.

Jay Pace of Galena, who was 5 years old back then, said his parents went down to the execution. Pace said he remembers that it was a big deal in town, something the adults didn’t think they should discuss around children. “I remember them saying they couldn’t believe that people were making such a carnival about such a gruesome thing,” said Pace. “But they never really told me why they went to it.” Jackson, 36 when he died, had been born to a respectable farm family near tiny Howards Ridge in Ozark County, 50 miles east of Galena. Andrew Jackson, his father, claimed to have been a great nephew of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of Virginia, hero of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

In the phrase of the time, Roscoe Jackson didn’t amount to much. He fathered four children and left his wife, drifted through odd jobs in the Oklahoma oil fields, did prison time on a weapons charge. He was hitchhiking to his parents’ farm on Aug. 1, 1934, when he got a ride from Pearl Bozarth, a traveling salesman from Evansville, Ind., who frequently conducted business from the old Majestic Hotel in downtown St. Louis. Bozarth, 53, had a business that made nutrients for chicken feed. That evening, he bought Jackson a meal and got him lodging at a travelers’ camp near Brownbranch, in Taney County. A farmer found Bozarth’s body on a roadside three days later. He had been shot twice in the back of his head. The trail led to Jackson, who was captured in Oklahoma. A change of venue moved the case from Taney County, which includes Branson, to neighboring Stone County. On Dec. 11, 1934, Jackson was convicted in a two-day trial in Galena and sentenced to death. He claimed during the trial that another man shot Bozarth, but confessed to Sheriff Coin a few days later and was baptized in the James River under heavy guard.

While in prison awaiting execution, Jackson took up the Catholic faith, a decision that bothered his Protestant father. (The Rev. Michael Ahern, a priest from Springfield, stood with Jackson at the gallows, but a Protestant minister conducted the burial.) On execution day, sheriff’s deputies opened the stockade to the witnesses well before dawn. Jack Jennings went down early with his uncle, Fred May, who had a pass. Jennings had staked his place at the stockade wall when Jackson was taken out of the courthouse shortly before 6 a.m. With Ahern leading, Jackson climbed the steps to the waiting Coin and the noose. Ahern and Jackson recited the Catholic Act of Contrition. With the noose around his neck, Jackson turned to the crowd and spoke calmly.

“Well now, folks, it’s not everybody that realizes what it takes to die. It’s easy when it comes accidental, but it’s not so easy when it comes gradual,” Jackson said. “Well, be good, folks.”

A deputy covered Jackson’s head with a black hood. At 6:04 a.m., Coin pushed a lever to drop the trap. Jackson’s neck snapped in the plunge. As his body was carried down the stairs, deputies cut pieces of the rope and tossed them into the crowd as souvenirs.

The Stone County Library, across from the courthouse in Galena, has a file of newspaper clippings from the execution, but there is no monument or plaque in the courthouse attesting to Red Jackson’s death. It will be mentioned, with pictures, in a book the local historical society is preparing for the county’s 150th anniversary. “Having the last public hanging is a matter of pride around the county, but people don’t talk about it much,” said Jay Pace, who is helping on the book. “A lot of the newer residents don’t even know about it. It’s become a footnote in our history.”

Related Story from Junior Warren

The following story was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Everyday Magazine on Tuesday, March 20, 2001 (copyrighted, 2001).

Current River – The Vanishing Ozarks

26 Feb

The Vanishing Ozarks from Missouri History Museum on Vimeo.

This film by my estimation was produced  somewhere between 1958-1961 after seeing the Pontiac on the ferry.  It was hard to quickly research the year, the shot went by pretty quickly but I know I am in the ballpark as there were a couple of early Volkswagon’s spotted as well on the riverbank.

By the third decade of the twentieth century, the loss of the forest resulting from the hinterland development threatened traditional ways of living along the Current River even more than had the many social and economic changes of the lumber and railroad era. Timber, the resource that attracted the railroads and many people to the Current after 1880, showed signs of playing out soon after 1900. The forest was the foundation of the uplander culture. It housed the game that the uplander hunted and fed the hogs that the hill families ate. The uplander-frontier culture’s economic tradition was based on a reactive relationship with nature. Before the introduction of large-scale lumbering, the settlers made few visible changes to the natural environment. Their hunting practices helped to deplete much of the big game but their open range livestock grazing had little impact on the forest. The loss of so many trees through unbridled lumbering, however, damaged the natural and thus the cultural habitat of the traditional homeland.

Some Ozark and state leaders saw tourism as the economic salvation of the region. The early development of modern recreation on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers accompanied the introduction of railroads into the southeast Missouri Ozarks. There were two trends in the growth of recreation. First, the railroad and lumber companies encouraged sport hunting and fishing. The depletion of the wildlife and the exodus of the large pine lumber corporations limited this activity and, by 1914, the promotion of recreation began focusing on attracting tourists to the areas scenic beauty. Although tourism boomed around the springs of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas during the previous century, it was slow to develop in the more isolated Courtois Hills. Unlike lumbering and hunting, tourism was an unfamiliar concept to most residents of the Current River region.

Urban businessmen formed several hunting and fishing clubs and built cabin retreats on the Current River after the Current River Railroad laid its tracks to the mill of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. In 1888, the year that the railroad was completed, businessmen from St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri, established two clubs. Sportsmen in St. Louis chartered the Current River Fishing and Hunting Club with a five-dollar membership fee. Another group from Springfield and Kansas City organized the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club and charged its members twenty dollars to join. The Current Local reported that the club had 125 members and that Alex Carter, a leading political figure in Carter County, appeared to be the only member from the county. The incorporators of the club were mostly officials of the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railroad, the parent company of the Current River Railroad. With lumber from the Grandin mill, the members built a clubhouse six to eight miles south of Van Buren on a bluff overlooking the Current.

In 1912, another Springfield group incorporated a club, Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club, and built cabins on the Jacks Fork. Again, as the purpose of the corporation stated, it solicited an exclusive membership:

“The object and purpose of this club shall be to furnish facilities for bringing together as often as may be, gentlemen in commercial, manufacturing and professional pursuits throughout Southern Missouri for educational, and for recreation and improvement . . . [and] to develop the mental and moral faculties of its members.”

The Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club out lasted the other organizations and continued to exist into the 1980s.

The records of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club described something of the logistics and recreation activities of late nineteenth century float trips down the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Because of the club’s association with the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad (later part of the Frisco line) and because of this railroad’s partnership with area lumber companies, club members had ready access to the main KFS&M lines and the lumber trains. The sportsmen often traveled by train to Chicopee or to Chilton and from there headed the short distance downstream to the clubhouse. The favored pastime was floating and fishing down the rivers and, at least until 1930, most parties recorded in the club registry their catch and sometimes highlights of their trips. A 1907 entry by sportsmen from Carthage, Missouri, stated:

Put in Jack’s Fork about 3 miles above Eminence May 24, 1907, and floated to Club House. River about 18 inches high. Caught 60 bass, one jack salmon, one shad. Saw first engine cross Jack’s Fork. E. B. Jacobs caught a double consisting of two 3-pound bass. Had a fine time and good ride with Andy Pitman (guide) in gasoline boat.

This brief trip record noted an important transportation improvement furnished by the lumber railroad crossing the Jacks Fork. Before the construction of the tram in 1907, the fishing parties heading for the upper Jacks Fork had to depart the KFSM track at Birch Tree or Winona and travel overland by wagon to the river. They then floated downstream in canoes or johnboats, the latter was most common on the Current. The early johnboats were built of pine planks sixteen to twenty-four feet long. They were narrow (often three feet wide), flat bottomed, with slightly beveled sides. “Bow and stern [were] blunt, and the bottom at both ends tapered upward so that the boat [could] be swung easily in the current by a boatman operating with a single paddle from the stern.” Boards for making boats were carried to the departure point, along with the other sporting gear, and local woodsmen/carpenters built the boats on the spot for the fishing parties. The club records indicated that members organized float trips of varying lengths. Some excursions started up at Round Spring, on the Upper Jacks Fork, at Van Buren, or a number of other locations.

During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the tallies of fish caught boast of the Current and Jacks Fork as a “fisherman’s paradise,” but a marked decline appeared after 1900. In 1946, Charles Callison, secretary of the National Wildlife Federation, demonstrated the decline by examining the number of fish caught by members of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club during the decades 1890-1940. The last column of the table, displaying a person’s average catch per day, reveals two dramatic declines: first, after 1900, the catch dropped from 13.5 to 7.3 and then, after 1920, fell from 8.8 to 5.9. The number of recreational fishing trips, themselves, decreased sharply during the Great Depression decade of the 1930s. Yet the trend reflected more than just the extensive removal of fish by sportsmen. The gigging and illegal dynamiting of fish by the residents of the Current River basin also contributed to the decline.

(Excerpt From the National Park Service)

White River Monster

15 Feb

The City of Newport is located in Northeast Arkansas it’s a sleepy little river community of about 8,000 where industry, education and community leaders are working together to create a great town. Newport has been involved in numerous programs that are aimed at keeping our community the kind of place everyone would be proud to call home. From being a Keep America Beautiful Affiliate to being and Arkansas Community of Excellence, they do what it takes to live up to their motto, “Proud Past, Bright Future.” But in it’s early days sometime during the civil war things changed the town forever.

The White River Monster is a legendary large creature reportedly first spotted off the banks of the White River near Newport in northeastern Arkansas.

Some believe the White river monster may have had an impact on the Civil War. The river was used for transportation, and the monster was supposedly responsible for overturning a boat. Sightings of the monster began in 1915. On July 1 of that year, an owner of a plantation near the river saw the monster. He reported it having gray skin and “as wide as a car and three cars long.” As the news spread construction of a rope net began, but ended due to lack of money and materials.

The White River Monster was sighted again in the summer of 1971. That year, eyewitnesses who encountered the creature described it as “the size of a boxcar” with a bone protruding from its forehead. “It looked as if the thing was peeling all over, but it was a smooth type of skin or flesh,” said one, and it made strange noises that sounded like a combination of a “cow’s moo and a horse’s neigh.” Other accounts of the White River Monster described three-toed tracks, 14 inches (360 mm) in length, on Towhead Island leading down to the river through a path of bent trees and crushed bushes

The monster gets national attention.

From season 2 of The “Lost Tapes” episode. Lost Tapes depicts fictional, traumatic scenarios in which cryptids, aliens or supernatural creatures attack people. Although the series is shot in a documentary style, it is a fictional work. The series never states that its footage is real, only that it has been “inspired by the possibility that hidden creatures exist.” Normally, the episode with a quick fact introduction with conducted interviews by experts explaining the science and folklore behind the creature; however, by season 3, the factoid introduction is omitted in favor of a violent prologue committed by the episode’s creature, which set up the events in the episode.

Time Magazine in 1937 reported…
One hot morning early in July the wife of Dee Wyatt, Negro sharecropper living on the banks of White River near Newport, Ark. shuffled out to her backyard pump, drew a bucket of water, groaned a mite as she paused to rest her back. Casually she glanced across the turgid river, then shrieked and scurried into the ramshackle house after her husband. Dee Wyatt popped his head out, took one look, and straightway headed for the home of Bramlett Bateman, nearest white farmer. He and his wife, he informed Farmer Bateman, had seen a monster. Neither of them had been drinking. Farmer Bateman skeptically stepped over to the river, then let out a whoop. Sure enough, there was a monster, “as big as a box car and as slick as a slimy elephant without legs.” Farmer Bateman rushed off to Newport, six miles away.

This White River story was warmly welcomed by the nation’s press, for 1937 has been a dull year for monsters. Preliminary indications were that Newport’s might be the monster-of-the-year. Twelve reputable citizens bore out Discoverers Bateman and Wyatt. Farmer Bateman and the Newport chamber of commerce built a fence around the viewing spot, charged 25¢ admission. Signs were tacked up on all roads—”This Way to the White River Monster.” The story skyrocketed when the chamber of commerce announced that Charles B. Brown, a diver from Memphis, had been hired to investigate at the spot the monster was seen.

After talking to the discoverers, Diver Brown said, “In my opinion it’s nothing more than a large fish—maybe a catfish.” He had a razor-edged, eight-foot harpoon prepared. In Washington, the Bureau of Fisheries said it might be an alligator gar, which reputedly grows, sometimes, to be 20 ft. long. Other guesses: water-logged tree trunk, sunken barge, eruption of subterranean gases throwing up leaf accumulation, devil fish, sturgeon, or Old Blue, the legendary giant catfish of the Mississippi who every so often gets stuck in a canal lock or nudges in the bottom of a barge. As Diver Brown prepared for his first descent, Newport called an unofficial holiday. Lining the shore were hundreds of out-of-towners munching Farmer Bateman’s barbecued goat sandwiches and sipping his cold drinks. A loudspeaker was erected and after much ado on the great morning, Diver Brown went down into the swirling river, rendered muddier than usual by recent rains. He reported that visibility was only three inches, came up after 75 minutes of fumbling around. In the afternoon he descended again, returned with no report. Far into the night spectators amused themselves at a “Monster Dance” beneath flickering lamps. Next day attendance fell off, but Diver Brown descended again. When an air valve jammed in the helmet of his diving suit, he popped unexpectedly to the surface, still having seen nothing. By this time the crowds had melted completely away and so, presently, did Diver Brown.

A River Monster in Arkansas?
by Dale Cox

In a deep eddy of the White River near the town of Newport, Arkansas, believers say that the South’s version of the Loch Ness Monster resides. The White River Monster has been reported since at least the early 1900s, although some monster fans have vaguely suggested that it might have been involved in the sinking of a boat on the river during the Civil War. Boats were sunk in the White River during the war, but nothing in the official records of the Civil War armies and navies suggests a monster was involved.

The first documented case of something strange in the river actually dates from about 50 years later. In December of 1912, an Arkansas newspaper reported that timber workers floating rafts of cedar on the White River below Branson, Missouri, had seen something large and strange on the bottom. At first they thought it was a boulder, but then they became convinced it was a gigantic turtle: They estimated its weight at 300 pounds. The report of the big river monster created quite a sensation among the sportsmen of Branson, and Tom Brainard, one of the local anglers, organized a party to go and capture it. As it will be impossible to gig the turtle they took a number of strong ropes which they will endeavor to loop over it and land it in that manner.

The White River Monster? This aerial photo appears to show a large mass moving across the White River, trailed by a barely visible serpentine wake.

One thing is certain, the nation’s newspaper editors were looking for an exotic story to splash across their pages and the White River Monster fit the bill. The story spread across the United States and by July 13, 1937, even the Trenton, New Jersey, carried the story of a state bridge toll collector’s effort to snag the beast: Newport residents fashioned a big rope net today in the hope of being able to snare a mysterious “monster” whose presence in a 60-foot deep White River eddy six miles south of here has frightened Negro plantation workers. W.E. Penix, State toll bridge collector, directing the net making activities, ordered it be constructed 40 feet long and 15 feet wide with meshes of six or eight inches. He estimated it would require a week or 10 days to complete the net and said a convoy of motorboats would sweep the eddy with it. Six days later news went out over the Associated Press that a “river bottom walker” was going after the monster. Hired by the local Chamber of Commerce, Charles B. Brown of the U.S. Engineer’s Office in Memphis reported that he did not expect to encounter anything dangerous in the White River, but would carry along a giant harpoon just in case. He was convinced the monster was a fish of some sort, most likely a giant catfish.


When will the next sighting take place? Could the monster have moved up river before the dams on the White River were built? Could the monster be in the stretches of James River below Hootentown? Only time will tell.


14 Feb

Riverdale, once a thriving settlement on the banks of the Finley River. Its history goes back to 1819, when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote in his journal on December 31, of seeing rolling plains and well-wooded bottom lands along the Finley. When Schoolcraft’s account of his exploration of the land between the White River and the James was published a wave of settlement began. The only other residents before 1830 were Delaware Indians.

The mill at Riverdale circa 1902

Around 1840, Benjamin H. Hooten (One the the original founders of Hootontown) built the first mill on the banks of the Finley at Riverdale. For most of the ensuing century a succession of owners operated that mill or others built on the site. In 1867, a much-improved mill-dam was constructed across the river of hand-hewn hardwood logs. Changes in the mill itself culminated in the building of a three-story structure between 1891 and 1896. By then, the community included a post office in the general store, and the name Riverdale became official.

The mill at Riverdale circa 1902


Wagons carried sacks of “White Rose Flour” from the Riverdale Mill to towns throughout the region, crossing the Finley via an iron truss bridge erected in 1906. A little later, a concrete dam was built to replace the 1867 log dam. The bridge, raised and strengthened for flood resistance, and the dam are still functioning today.

Riverdale’s importance as a milling center ended in 1926, however, when a fire broke out in the mill building and burned it to the ground. This ended the production of White Rose Flour, although a small gristmill was built fur local use. First attempts to promote tourism came in the 1930’s. Within the memory of many people alive today are the pleasures of swimming, camping, and picnicing at Riverdale.

Early Riverdale community residents were the John Turners, who owned a nearby farm. There Ben Turner, their son, was born in 1896. A guest at Sunday’s meeting, Ben Turner had interesting tales to tell of growing up at Riverdale, where he still lives. Among his mates at the old one room schoolhouse were “Ma Barker’s Boys.” Even in their youth three of the four Barker boys showed the inclinations that involved them in violence and crime in later years.

In 1982 the Turner family was deeply involved in the move to bring new life to Riverdale. In working on the old mill pond, they uncovered the ancient timbers of the early dam, underwater for 115 years but still worth salvaging. Also underwater was the 75 year old turbine that had been installed in 1906 in the mill by a Springfield, Ohio company. The Turners, seeking to put the turbine to use in generating electricity, sent the old machinery to Ohio for rebuilding. The manufacturers claim it will be as fine a water-powered small turbine as any they could supply to replace it. The plan is not only to use the Finley’s waters to generate electricity, but also to restore old buildings of Riverdale and possibly open a museum.

By Parkerpics DAN & LEILA PARKER - January 28, 2009

Riverdale is reached via U. S. 160, by a gravel road branching off to the East about four miles South of Nixa.