Trail of Tears

Butterfield Overland Mail

Civil War

Cane Hill

cane-hillSettled by Anglo pioneers in 1827, Cane Hill is one of the earliest settlements in Washington County. The community was a witness to both Trail of Tears and Civil War activities. The Cannon detachment of Cherokees passed through here in 1837 on their forced removal to Indian Territory. Still standing and currently undergoing restoration is the Methodist manse. Built in 1834, the building is under review for inclusion as a “witness structure” on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Cane Hill was also the site of a Civil War skirmish in 1862.

Several properties in Cane Hill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Cane Hill, a non-profit organization currently restoring many historic sites in the community, also operates a museum.

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park

By Don Montgomery
Former park historian

The Battle of Prairie Grove was the last time two armies of almost equal strength faced each other for control of northwest Arkansas and Missouri. When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi withdrew from the bloody ground on the night of December 7th, it seemed clear that Missouri and northwest Arkansas would remain under Federal protection. Cavalry raids and guerrilla warfare continued to plague the region until the war finally ended in 1865.

pg-2Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi attacked the Union Army of the Frontier under the command of Brigadier Generals James G. Blunt and Francis J. Herron on December 7, 1862. There were about 12,000 in the Southern Army from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, as well as the Cherokee and Creek Nations. The Federal Army had about 10,000 soldiers from Arkansas, the Cherokee and Creek Nations, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The battle took place near the Illinois River on a ridge and valley called “Prairie Grove,” named after the small log church which sat upon the high ground.

The battle began at dawn with the defeat of Union cavalry by Confederate horse soldiers a few miles south of the ridge. The Federals retreated towards Fayetteville with the Southern cavalry in pursuit. The panicked Union soldiers stopped running when General Herron shot one soldier from his horse. The Confederate cavalry skirmished with Herron’s troops before falling back to the Prairie Grove ridge where General Hindman’s Confederate infantry and artillery waited in the woods in a line of battle.

After crossing the Illinois River under artillery fire, Herron’s Union artillery exchanged fire with the Confederate cannons near the home of Archibald Borden. The superior range, accuracy, and number of Union guns silenced the Southern batteries, allowing the remainder of the Union army to position themselves for an attack of the ridge. Before charging the high ground, the Federals pounded the ridge with cannon fire for almost two hours.

The Twentieth Wisconsin and Nineteenth Iowa Infantry regiments crossed the open corn and wheat fields before surging forward up the slope, capturing the Confederate cannons of Blocher’s Arkansas Battery. They continued to advance until suddenly; the woods erupted with small arms and cannon fire. The Confederates surrounded the two Union regiments on three sides and quickly forced them to retreat to the safety of the Federal guns in the valley. The Confederates under General James F. Fagan counterattacked down the slope onto the open ground where they were met with case shot and canister fire from the Union artillery and hastily returned to the cover of the wooded ridge.

Again the Union Army attacked sending the Thirty-seventh Illinois and Twenty-sixth Indiana Infantry regiments up the hill into the Borden apple orchard. Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Black of the Thirty-seventh Illinois led the way with his right arm in a sling, caused from a wound received nine months earlier at Pea Ridge, and wearing a red cape. Outnumbered, the Federals fell back to a fence line in the valley where they stopped a second Confederate counterattack using the Colt revolving rifles carried by the men of companies A and K in the Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.

The Confederates began massing their troops on the right flank of General Herron’s blue clad troops in order to overwhelm the outnumbered Federals. Before they could attack, two cannon shots rang out from the northwest, announcing the arrival of General James G. Blunt’s Kansas Division who quickly deployed and assaulted the Confederate left flank. Blunt’s Union soldiers were at Cane Hill that morning expecting to be attacked by the Confederate Army. When they heard the roar of battle at Prairie Grove, they marched to the battlefield arriving in time to save General Herron’s command.

The Southern Army responded by stopping the Union advance, forcing the boys in blue to fall back to their cannon line in the valley. Just before sunset, the Confederate Missouri Infantry under the command of General Mosby M. Parsons charged out into the Morton hayfield in hopes of overwhelming their foe. The intense fire from all forty-four cannons in the Union Army tore into the Southern ranks. The gray clad soldiers fell back to the cover of the trees as darkness settled over the field.

The fighting on the western end of the ridge raged near the Morton House where four families huddled in the cellar for shelter from the storm of bullets and cannonballs above. Nightfall brought an end to the savage fighting with neither side gaining an advantage. The Confederate Army retreated during the night by wrapping blankets around the wheels of their cannons. They were short of ammunition and many of the men had not eaten for some time. The Union troops spent the night on the field with no campfires and only a few blankets, coats, and tents despite frigid temperatures.

The two armies lost a total of 2,700 men who were wounded, killed, or missing in action. The battle was a tactical draw, but a strategic Union victory as the Federals would maintain control of Missouri and northwest Arkansas for the remainder of the war. The remainder of the conflict in the region descended to guerrilla warfare with bushwhackers (Southern supporters) and jayhawkers (Union supporters) destroying the countryside and forcing many families to become refugees. It would take many years for the people of northwest Arkansas to recover from the effects of the Civil War.

Take a look at the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park website for more information.

Cato Springs

Located in southwest Fayetteville, the area historically known as Cato Springs is named for the John Henry and Jacob Cato, brothers who homesteaded here in 1849. Three large springs made the location a favorite camping spot for troops during the Civil War. Cato Springs was also the scene of many Confederate reunions after the war. A marker honoring Co. K, Arkansas Infantry, CSA, can be found on Cato Springs Road about three miles south of Fayetteville. Commanded by Capt. T. J. Kelly of Cato Springs, Co. K was the first Confederate company organized in Fayetteville. The markerl was erected by local chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.


Dutch Mills

The western Washington County community of Dutch Mills was originally called Hermannsburg. It was founded by German immigrants led by brothers Johann and Karl Hermann, who came to the area from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1852. The German settlers established a flour mill, lumber mill, and woolen mill, and carried on a profitable trade with customers from nearby Indian Territory. The Civil War, however, spelled ruin for Hermannsburg. The settlement was situated on a route used by both armies as well as bushwhackers, putting the residents of Hermannsburg in constant danger. Pro-Union in their sympathies, the German families fled to Missouri after the Battle of Prairie Grove in December 1862.

Hermannsburg was renamed Dutch Mills after the Civil War.

Elm Springs

Land entries reveal that Anglo settlers were living in the Elm Springs vicinity of Washington County by 1831. There are a number of springs and creeks in the area; such a plentiful water supply led John Ingram to build a water mill here in 1844, the first of several milling operations to be located here. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate forces sought control of the mills at Elm Springs. The numerous springs also made the area a good campground for troops. General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate army gathered here before the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862.


The pioneer settlement of Evansville (in western Washington County) was named for Capt. Lewis Evans, a local storekeeper, miller, postmaster, and the first county sheriff.

In 1827, John Conner and several families left Illinois bound for Arkansas. When they reached present-day Evansville, they found several Anglo families living there. At that time, the region was officially Cherokee land. Soldiers from Fort Gibson in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) were sent to evict the white squatters, but many of them ignored the order to leave. The Treaty of 1828 removed the Cherokees to what is now northeastern Oklahoma, legally opening this section of Washington County for settlement. Evansville soon became a center of trade.

Both the Benge and Bell routes of the Trail of Tears passed through Evansville. A Trail of Tears interpretive marker is located at the intersection of Arkansas highways 156 and 59

Early in the Civil War, Evansville was occupied by Gen. Stand Watie’s Cherokee Confederate troops. 

Evergreen Cemetery

Fayetteville’s beautiful Evergreen Cemetery contains the graves of hundreds of people who left their mark on Washington County and Arkansas history. Established in the 1840s as the Thomas-Pulliam family burying ground, Evergreen was  deeded in 1871 to the city by the Masonic and Odd Fellows lodges.

Among those buried at Evergreen whose stories intertwine with the Heritage Trail:

  • Sophia Sawyer, who served as tutor to the children of Cherokee chief John Ridge and Sarah Ridge. She also established the Fayetteville Female Seminary in 1839 as a school for Cherokee girls.
  • Thomas Gunter, a colonel in the Thirteenth Regiment, Arkansas Volunteers (Confederate).
  • Former slave Adeline Blakeley (1850–1945), perhaps the only African American burial in the cemetery
  • Lafayette Gregg, a colonel in the Fourth Regiment, Arkansas Federal Cavalry Volunteers

Evergreen Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Headquarters House

Headquarters House, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Courtesy Washington County Historical Society

Built in Fayetteville in 1853 by Jonas and Matilda Tebbetts, Headquarters House is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Arkansas. The house is just a few blocks north of the Butterfield Overland Mail’s Fayetteville Station, which was located at the present-day site of the historic Washington County Courthouse. During the Civil War, the Tebbetts home served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops, hence the name “Headquarters House.”

Today the property is owned by the Washington County Historical Society. Headquarters House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The Archibald Yell Law Office was moved to the Headquarters House campus in 1992. Heritage gardens featuring heirloom plants make the grounds a lovely place for a stroll.

Tours and living history presentations are available by appointment. For more information, visit the Washington County Historical Society website.

Mount Comfort

The Mount Comfort community, now part of northwest Fayetteville, was settled about 1830. One of the first settlers at Mount Comfort was William Cunningham. He built a fine brick home, perhaps the first brick house in Washington County, on his farm about one mile northeast of the present-day Mount Comfort Cemetery. At least two Cherokee detachments on the Trail of Tears  passed by the Cunningham home on their journey to Indian Territory. Records kept by the B. B. Cannon detachment note that on December 25, 1837, the group “halted a half mile in advance of Mr. Cunningham’s at a branch, 3 o’c P.M.” Dr. William Morrow, physician assigned to the Richard Taylor detachment wrote that on March 21, 1839, he “passed through Fayetteville and met detachment at Cunningham’s, 3 miles from town.” 

During the Civil War, Mount Comfort was the location of Confederate recruiting posts and a Unionist farm colony. The Mount Comfort Church was used as a hospital during the war.

Text of the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission’s marker at Mount Comfort:

After the August 10, 1861, Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo., four of Washington County’s first Confederate war dead—Sgt. S. R. Bell, Sgt. Wm. Brown, Pvt. Henry Fulbright, and Pvt. Samuel McCurdy—were buried in Mount Comfort Cemetery. The 34th Arkansas Infantry (CS) raised troops at Mount Comfort in 1862 and would fight at Prairie Grove and Jenkins’ Ferry. The community held hospitals for Union and Confederate troops and hosted a Unionist colony late in the war, where local farmers banded together for mutual protection from bands of marauders infesting the area.


Pea Ridge National Military Park


Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

The campaign that would culminate in the Battle of Pea Ridge began December 25, 1861, with the appointment of Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis to command the Union Army of the Southwest. Curtis’s mission was to destroy, or drive from Missouri his main opponent, Major General Sterling Price and about 8,000 troops of the Missouri State Guard, then wintering in Springfield. Hoping to catch Price when he was most vulnerable, Curtis launched his 10,500 troops during the bitter winter cold of early February, 1862. Outnumbered and ill-equipped, Price led his troops out of Springfield, south along Telegraph Road into Confederate held Arkansas, relentlessly pursued by the dogged and determined Federals. Skirmishes erupted daily as the two sides trudged south, often buffeted by freezing winds, rain, sleet, and snow. Reaching Cross Hollow Arkansas, Price united with a larger better supplied regular Confederate force commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch. On February 17, the pursuing Federals slammed into McCulloch’s rear guard in the first Civil War battle in Arkansas, on James Dunagin’s farm near present-day Avoca. Bloodied, but not deterred, Curtis slowed his advance, allowing the now combined forces of Price and McCulloch to withdraw safely into the Boston Mountains near present day Hog Eye and Strickler. During their retreat, the Confederates burned their barracks at Cross Hollow and then ransacked the military supply depot in Fayetteville, burning several city blocks in the process, thus making Fayetteville the first American city burned during the Civil War.

With the unification of Price and McCulloch, Curtis lost the strategic initiative. Two-hundred miles from his primary supply base, and with the Confederates increasing in his front, Curtis deployed his army to cover the approaches and prevent the enemy from reentering Missouri, then he settled down to wait. By the first week in March, Curtis’s livestock was so weak from food shortages that he feared he might not be able to transport his artillery or ammunition wagons if the Confederates made a sudden movement. Providentially, Curtis ordered the fragmented parts of his army to assemble on the bluffs overlooking the north bank of Little Sugar Creek just north of modern day Avoca. Dirt, rock, and timber breastworks were constructed, further strengthening an already formidable position.

Meanwhile, Major General Earl Van Dorn was appointed to command all Confederate forces west of the Mississippi. Van Dorn assumed command of the newly christened Army of the West including all the troops under McCulloch and Price. Hoping to destroy Curtis’ army while it was still scattered, Van Dorn turned his army northward on March 4 during a late winter storm. Moving north to Fayetteville, and then up the Elm Springs Road, Van Dorn arrived at Bentonville the morning of March 6. There he encountered a small Union force of about 600 troops and cannon led by Brigadier General Franz Sigel. Sigel had been camped near modern-day Centerton, but had received orders from Curtis to consolidate forces along Little Sugar Creek. A running fight began as the rebels chased Sigel east out of Bentonville along modern day Highway 72, across I-49 near the Marriott and down into Little Sugar Creek valley. Sigel’s force rejoined Curtis late in the day, and the Confederate army bivouacked along Little Sugar Creek near Highway 94.

Hoping to draw Curtis out of his strong position, Van Dorn led his army on long, difficult night march along the Bentonville Detour toward the Telegraph Road, squarely on the undefended rear of the union army. But as the sun rose March 7, Van Dorn began to realize too late that rapid marching in bitterly cold wet weather, coupled with food shortages had seriously crippled his army. McCulloch’s troops had fallen behind, and were still eight miles to the rear. Undaunted, Van Dorn pushed ahead with Price and the Missouri State Guard to open the battle, at the same time ordering McCulloch to rejoin him by a shorter route following the now obscure Ford Road.

pea-ridge-elkhornResponding to reports of enemy activity behind him, Curtis methodically began withdrawing troops from his earthworks to accept the rebel attack from the north. Union forces encountered McCulloch’s troops, including two regiments of Cherokee Indians, just north of the little hamlet of Leetown about noon. Fighting raged for at least three hours, including a savage and bitter struggle in a densely forested thicket known as Morgan’s Woods. The deaths of McCulloch and his second in command Brigadier General James McIntosh, coupled with the timely arrival of Union reinforcements decided the issue. Tired, discouraged, and beaten, the Confederates retreated in disorder.

Two miles to the east another fierce battle raged as Van Dorn and Price with about 5,000 Missouri State Guard troops collided with about 2,200 young men fresh from the farms and small towns of Iowa and Illinois. Van Dorn had successfully flanked the Union troops by reaching the Telegraph Road to the north of Curtis’s position along Little Sugar Creek. The outnumbered Federals gamely held their ground near a two-story hostelry known locally as Elkhorn Tavern. By nightfall, the Federals were forced back about ¾ of a mile where they spent a cold, wet, cheerless night in a muddy cornfield.

During the night, the survivors of the Leetown fight rejoined their respective armies for another day’s battle in the open fields south of Elkhorn Tavern. Determined to break the Confederate hold on his supply line, Curtis unleashed a massive and well-coordinated artillery bombardment, followed by a dramatic infantry assault reminiscent of Napoleonic grandeur. doug_bagleyBy early afternoon, the attacking Federals had recaptured all the ground they had lost the previous day and chased the last of the Confederate rear guard off the field. Earlier in the day, Van Dorn ordered the army to retreat after realizing that he had failed to order his supply train forward, and was unable to re-supply his artillery with much needed ammunition. Acknowledging the many errors in planning at all levels, one Confederate officer said “We have fought a battle and been whipped. Or rather we whipped ourselves.”

The Battle of Pea Ridge, often erroneously referred to as the largest battle west of the Mississippi, was in fact the most strategically decisive Civil War battle ever fought west of the great river. It crushed the best efforts of the Confederates to reestablish a presence in Missouri, guaranteeing that state’s political loyalty to the Union. From a military standpoint, it permanently shifted the balance of power in the region to the Union, making possible other larger campaigns for control of the strategic Mississippi River.

For more information, visit the Pea Ridge National Military Park website.