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Photo Left:  Jackson Military Road cut exiting Washington, Arkansas, to the North East (2005)

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interest in the route and history of the Old Southwest Trail in Arkansas.

 

 

 

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The following discussion is an excerpt from a larger honors thesis by Clint Pumphrey, 2006.  We are grateful for his permission to use his research on this site.  Clint has recently left Arkansas to do graduate studies in Utah.  The following excerpts were used with his permission. 

“The Beaten Path: A Cartographical and Historical Study of the Southwest Trail in Clark County, Arkansas”

By:  Clint Pumphrey

Potential homesteaders were forced to choose a land route as an alternative to the impeded water route, and many chose the Southwest Trail.  Settlement patterns in the early nineteenth century reflected this dilemma.  Newcomers tended to settle in towns like present-day Washington, Arkansas, and even Clark County, instead of places further down the Road by the Red River.[1]  The United States Congress, anticipating the importance of the route, appropriated money for its improvement in 1803.[2]  These upgrades, which consisted of little more than the cutting away of tree limbs and underbrush, marked the point when the road became known as the Congress or National Road.[3]


 

               [1]Hanson, 32.

                [2]McLeod, 45.

                [3]Medearis, 3.

 

The small settlement that grew around the building soon became known as Blakelytown, a community renamed Arkadelphia in the 1840s.[1]  Another noteworthy pioneer, John Hemphill, arrived in 1811 from South Carolina.  Procuring salt wells from local Indians, "Arkansas' first industrialist" opened a salt refinery one mile east of Arkadelphia that would be used for the next 50 years.[2]

            Accompanying Hemphill was peddler Jacob Barkman and his wife, Rebecca.  Originally from Kentucky, the eventual “Father of Clark County” followed his dreams all the way to the Caddo River Valley where he settled on land along the Southwest Trail.  His cotton fields immediately provided bountiful harvests, and the enterpriser began to purchase additional land as fast as his success would allow.  By the time of his death in 1852, Barkman owned 22,000 acres, stretching from the Caddo River to Blakelytown.[3]

            The showcase of Barkman’s extensive plantation was his stately Georgian-style manor, the first brick structure in Clark County (Figure 3).  Erected in 1815 on the banks of the Caddo, 150 yards from the Southwest Trail, the house consisted of five rooms and a separate kitchen.  Travelers, such as Missourian William Switzler, showed surprise at the relative refinement of the estate:

                The place at which we were entertained the previous night is the first cotton farm that can             be      called extensive on the route from Boonville to the south.  It is situated in a gradual bend of the           creek and at once presents a picturesque aspect to the forest-familiar vision of the tourist on his           arrival.  The farm is on a dead level and in one corner, near the creek, rises the habitation of the                 owner.  A beautiful garden of numerous roses and lilies, with a row of Quinci and a cluster of            Catalpas, adds to the fantastical mansion of the proprietor; added to which is a well-matted yeard [sic]     of bluegrass, interspersed by nurseries of China-trees, over the top of which the tall Columbas with        prepossessing grandeur left their dignified branches.  Surrounding all is the graceful-featured farm,                 stretching from right to left its eye-attracting dimensions.  The approach to a plantation like this,      opening its diversified expanse in the midst of a wilderness, is attended with a sublime sensation,            totally unknown to those who spend a life in densely populated country.[4] 

 

Figure 3.  The Barkman House.  Reprinted from Grandison D. Royston, Jr., “The Southwest Trail: A Compilation of Notes, Photographs, and Observations,” p. 10, Southwest Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.

 

Barkman’s home served as Clark County’s first post office beginning in 1820 and a stagecoach stop after 1831.  It was demolished in 1898; only the brick cistern remains.[5]

            When Arkansas officially became a territory of the United States in 1819, the more localized Clark County government formed and held its first session in Barkman’s house.  They wasted no time in building new local roads, many of which were accessible by the somewhat improved National Road.  For example, in June 1819 the Circuit Court ordered that a new road be constructed “so as to intersect with the Public Road Leading [sic] from Jacob Barkman on the Fourche a Caddo to the little [sic] Missouri….”[6]  The frequency of these orders in the court records attests to the significant influx of American settlers in the territory served by the National Road.

            More substantial improvements were soon made to the National Road.  On April 13, 1830, the Arkansas Gazette reported that the United States Congress had passed a bill authorizing the survey and opening of a road from Washington, in Hempstead County to Jackson, in Lawrence County.[7]  However, the wheels of government ground slowly, and it was another year before they could report that Congress made an appropriation of $15,000 for its construction.[8]  Shortly thereafter, the Secretary of War appointed Lieutenant R.D.C. Collins of the United States Army to survey the route.  Collins began surveying southwest out of Jackson, Arkansas, and his arrival at Little Rock was reported by the Gazette on July 27, 1831.  From there he proceeded further southwest, where he concluded the survey of the 243 mile route at Washington.  This new survey followed the old National Road route in many regards, but with some variation intended to make it shorter and more durable.[9]

            In Collins’ final report to the Quartermaster General, dated August 6, 1831, he discussed at length the section of the road from Washington to Little Rock.

            That part of the road…will require considerable causewaying, as the rivers which it will pass, overflow           their banks to some considerable extent, which become extremely Miry [sic], during the winter, and     spring, months, many of the small creeks, and branches, have also bottom lands attached to them, that               must necessarily be causewayed.[10]

 

The lieutenant recommended that ferries be kept in Clark County on the Caddo and Antoine Rivers.  He noted that the Caddo already boasted a ferry boat, which Jacob Barkman probably operated.[11]  However, Collins did not believe that a ferry on the Antoine would ever pay for itself, because it rose rapidly and only for a few days at a time.  “I shall therefore build a small one, and place it in charge of some person living near the ford,”[12] he stated.  

            During the surveying process, bids were being accepted for construction of the new road.  The Gazette printed a notice that gave potential contractors the following general specifications for the new road: “The road to be opened sixteen feet wide, and bridges to be erected over such streams as may require them, and all swampy ground must be causewayed.”[13]  Nineteen competitors had placed proposals by the deadline of August 15, 1831, but the government ultimately accepted the bid of $8,987 made by Colonel James S. Conway of Lafayette County.  Conway planned to begin work the next month.[14]        

     County records are scattered with entries that document the preparations for these improvements to the old National Road.  Such an account was entered into the Clark County Circuit Court books in its July Term of 1831:

On motion of James Ward it is Ordered that he be discharged as Overseer of that part of the public Road leading from Little Rock to Washington in hempstead [sic] County Commencing at the Antoine and ending at the Little Missouri River near the Residence of John Wood and that John Wood be and he is here by appointed in his Stead and he is required to open the new established Road alteration in {the} Present roade [sic] as far as the crossing of the Antoine near D.C. Edmistons sixteen feet wide.[15] 

 

In this entry a new “overseer” was appointed to manage the “alteration in the present road" in a part of Clark County that was ceded to form Pike County in 1833.  Similar organization existed in other Arkansas counties to complete the portion of the new route that connected Washington and Jackson.

            Finally, on August 8, 1832, the Gazette reported that Congress appropriated four thousand dollars to complete the southwest and northwest extremes of the road from Washington to the Red River and from Jackson to the Arkansas border, respectively.  Upon completion of the two segments, Arkansans gained a better, more durable thoroughfare.[16]  It was then referred to as Military Road, probably because of the early military involvement in its planning.  

            The improved road brought a number of migrants through Clark County during the period between the formation of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and its admittance as a state in 1836.  Land, opportunity, repression, and war all served to bring these people; some settled while others just passed through.  Their story is very much a part of history on the National Road in Clark County.

            One of the first purposes the new road served may have been its most tragic: Indian removal.   In 1828 President Andrew Jackson was elected President, promising to remove all Indians from east of the Mississippi River, and road construction and improvement was mainly to accomplish that end.  R.D.C. Collins, the Army surveyor, kept this purpose in mind as he did his survey.  "[T]here is a considerable portion of the road that must necessarily be causewayed, or thrown up more particularly so, as it will be the route taken by a great portion of the emigrating indians [sic],"[17] he said in an 1832 letter to territorial delegate Ambrose Sevier. 

            By 1832 Choctaw were trekking from various places west of the Mississippi River, proceeding “from Little Rock, via Barkman’s, to Washington, Hempstead C.H., A.T. From Washington to the new Choctaw Country near Fort Towson.”[18]  Residents of Clark County first experienced the planned Indian removal on January 7 as numerous bands of Choctaw Indians passed by on the Military Road.  “The party of emigrating Indians who left here [Little Rock] on the 29th ult. were at Clark C.H., about 40 miles this side of Washington, on Saturday last,”[19] recounted the Arkansas Gazette.  In February 1832 another group was reported to have “passed on this side of the Caddo, waiting for a recent rise in that stream to subside sufficiently for them to cross it.”[20]  S.T. Cross, Assistant Agent of Choctaw Removal, recorded on November 27, 1832, the progress of the company of Indians with which he had joined: “Left camp early increase of sickness – crossed the Cado [sic] Some Indians crossed in the wagons and some ferried, traveled 16 miles.”[21] 

            As Cross’s account suggests, disease was a problem, and poor conditions and bitterly cold weather on the Military Road did not help the Indians' situation.  Army Captain Jacob Brown captured some of the hopelessness of one removal, commenting that "[t]he roads are horrid, horrid in the extreme.  I have large companies repairing the roads and making bridges on the route, but notwithstanding this, the roads will continue to be horrid."[22]  Some of the Choctaw had been infected with cholera,[23] and the sight of dying Indians and their grieving families trudging down muddy road must have been a horrific one to behold.

            The Choctaw continued to come through for another year, and then the stream of Indians became but a trickle.  It was not until the removal of the Chickasaw in 1837 that the numbers began to increas again.  The Army shipped most of this tribe by steamboat up the Arkansas River to their new homes. 

                The remainder of the party, having refused to go on the steam-boat, have mostly left or are                preparing to leave, by land, with their ponies, for their destination west-some by the route on the               north side of the Arkansas, and the remainder crossing the river at this place, and proceeding south      to Red River, and from thence west.[24]

 

Through 1838, hundreds more passed by on their way to Indian Territory by way of the Military Road to the Red River.  Thus, the Military Road in southwest Arkansas became part of the fabled Trail of Tears.   

            With abundant land in the new territory becoming available, many opportunists traveled the National Road with the intention of getting rich by land speculation.  One such speculator, more associated with Texas than with Arkansas, was Stephen F. Austin.  In 1819 the future statesman hoped to buttress his faltering finances by acquiring promising town sites that he could divide and sell to newcomers.  He selected three locations for their proximity to the Southwest Trail, one at the juncture of the Caddo and Ouachita rivers.  The promising venture fell through only a few months later when he discovered that he could not acquire a legal claim to the unsurveyed lands.  He sold his interests in June 1819 for $900.00.[25]

            Many other famous men were drawn down the Military Road through Clark County by the revolutionary events in Texas.  While whispers of independence by farmers and aspiring revolutionaries were coming out of Texas, Sam Houston was going into Texas.  In 1832 he rode southwest down the Military Road, sent by President Jackson to make peace with Indian tribes in Texas.  He was a rough, well-built man who had a weakness for the bottle, and he looked quite out of place as he galloped through the wilds of Arkansas wearing a Mexican poncho and straddling a saddle adorned with solid silver plates.[26]  British traveler George Featherstonhaugh confirmed Houston’s presence on the Road when he reported in his "Excursion through the Slave States" a shady occurrence in Washington, Arkansas:

I was not desirous of remaining long at this place.  General Houston was here, leading a mysterious sort of life, shut up in a small tavern, seeing nobody by day and sitting up all night...but I had been in communication with too many persons of late and had seen that this little place was the rendezvous where a much deeper game than faro or rouge-et-noir was playing.  There were many persons at this time in the village from the States lying adjacent to the Mississippi, under the pretence of purchasing government lands, but whose real object was to encourage the settlers in Texas to throw off their allegiance to the Mexican government.[27] 

 

Another eventual Texas hero followed Houston's path down the Military Road in November of 1835.  David Crockett, the esteemed Tennessee woodsman and congressman, arrived in Little Rock on his way to join Houston's army in Texas.[28]  He had just lost a re-election bid for his seat in the United States Congress and had set out for the Lone Star State, staying true to his famous ultimatum: if his constituents elected him he would "serve them to the best of my ability; but if they did not, they could all go to hell, and I would go to Texas!"[29]  People traveled to Little Rock from all over the region to hear speeches and to cheer the great statesman before he continued his journey down the Road. 

The day after our public dinner I determined to leave my hospitable friends at Little Rock, and cross Arkansas to Fulton on the Red River, a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles….Finding that I was bent on going, for I became impatient to get into Texas, my kind friends at Little Rock procured me a good horse to carry me across to Red River.[30]

  

In three months he met his bold demise at the Alamo.

            Many travelers came to Clark County in the early 1830s to stay, further populating the land that Blakely, Hemphill, and Barkman had worked to build.  Much of the population lived around the Caddo and Ouachita rivers, but in his memoirs, Whelen Springs doctor Willis S. Smith noted five improved farms on the Military Road west of Terre Noir Creek belonging to Charles Gollorhar, Martin Pathram, John H. Mosley, “Humpy” Thompson, and Jeremiah Lehram.[31]  Altogether, the county’s population totaled 1,369 by 1830, making it the ninth most inhabited in Arkansas.[32]    

            The year 1836 was of special significance to everyone along the Military Road. On June 15, Arkansas officially received statehood.  Since October of the previous year, the Road had been buzzing with politicians and other men of influence who were traveling back and forth between their homes and the territorial capital at Little Rock.  They were busy forming the constitution and government that would govern their new state, the twenty-fifth state of the United States of America.[33]

            The next major event on the Military Road was the mobilization of American troops for the Mexican-American War.  The Road was the main route for travel to Mexico, not only for Arkansas volunteers, but also for soldiers from other states like Tennessee and Kentucky.  By June 1846 Arkansas troops were marching down from Little Rock, to Washington, "the place designated as the general rendezvous for all the western volunteers."[34]  A few weeks later, the Gazette reported that a regiment of Kentucky cavalry was camped in the vicinity of Little Rock, waiting to leave for Fulton, on the Red River, "as soon as its horses are recruited and the wagons repaired."[35]  After a decisive American victory at Buena Vista in 1847, infantry, cavalry, and artillery began to return home up the Military Road.[36]

            The interwar years were a prosperous time on the Military Road as the production and sale of cotton came to dominate local business and commerce.  "White gold," as the crop was sometimes called, was ideally suited for the fertile lands along the Caddo and Ouachita rivers.  The number of ginned cotton bales produced in Clark County increased ninefold, from 826 in 1850 to 7,203 in 1860. [37]  Hundreds of these cotton bales were sent down the Military Road to the Red River where they were then shipped to New Orleans.    

            The Camden Expedition of the Civil War was the last major event facilitated by the


 

                [1]Wendy Richter, ed., Clark County Arkansas: Past and Present (Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 1992), 10-11.

                [2]Richter, 10, 539.

                [3]Farrar Newberry, "Jacob Barkman," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 19 (1960): 315-16.

                [4]William F. Switzler, “My Second Tour in the South or Multum in parvo, tempore mores prateres,” Entry of October 10, 1836, Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas; original in Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri Library.

                [5]Newberry, 317.

                [6]Clark County Circuit Court Records, Book A, p. 9, June Term 1819.

                [7]Arkansas Gazette, April 13, 1830.

                [8]Arkansas Gazette, March 30, 1831.

                [9]Territorial Papers, Vol. XXI, Arkansas Territory, 1829-1836 (Washington, 1948), 361.

                [10]Territorial Papers, Vol. XXI, Arkansas Territory, 1829-1836 (Washington, 1948), 361-62.

                [11]Southwest Trail [map].

                [12]Territorial Papers, Vol. XXI, Arkansas Territory, 1829-1836 (Washington, 1948), 362.

                [13]Arkansas Gazette, July 13, 1831.

                [14]Arkansas Gazette, August 24, 1831.

                [15]Clark County Circuit Court Records, Book C2, p. 56, July Term 1831.

                [16]Arkansas Gazette, August 8, 1832.

                [17]Territorial Papers, Vol. XXI, 455.

                [18]Arkansas Gazette, September 26, 1832.

                [19]Arkansas Gazette, January 11, 1832.

                [20]Arkansas Gazette, February 8, 1832.

                [21]S.T. Cross, “1832 Journal of Occurances,” Sequoyah Research Center, American Native Press Archives, <http://www.anpa.ualr.edu/trail_of_tears/indian_removal_project/eye_witness_accounts/eye-witness2.htm> (30 March 2006).  

                [22]Medearis, 18-19.

                [23]Arkansas Advocate, November 7, 1832.

                [24]Arkansas Gazette, August 1, 1837.

                [25]Robert L. and Pauline H. Jones, "Stephen F. Austin in Arkansas," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 25 (1943): 338-39. 

                [26]Medearis, 21.

                [27]G.W. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion Through the Slave States (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1844), 119.

                [28]Arkansas Gazette, November 17, 1835.

                [29]Mark Derr, The Frontiersman: The Real Life and the Many Legends of Davy Crockett (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1993), 224-225.

                [30]Richard Penn Smith, Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas (Philadelphia: T.K. and P.G. Collins, 1836), 61-62. "A pseudo-autobiography; the preface purports to be written by Alex. J. Dumas, who claims that he received Crockett's manuscript from a Charles T. Beale, who wrote the final chapter. The work is generally ascribed to Richard Penn Smith."

                [31]Willis S. Smith, “Scrapbook of Dr. Willis Smith, Clark County, Ark,” p. 14, Arkansas Collection, Huie Library, Henderson State University.

                [32]University of Virginia, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, Historical Census Browser, 2004, <http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html> (2 April 2006).

                [33]Medearis, 30-32.

                [34]Arkansas Gazette, June 8, 1846.

                [35]Arkansas Gazette, July 27, 1846.

                [36]Arkansas Gazette, July 8, 1847.

                [37]U.S. Census of Population, 1850; U.S. Census of Agriculture, 1860.

 

 

 

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