Trail of Tears

Butterfield Overland Mail

Civil War

Butterfield Overland Trail National Designation

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse, Sen. John Boozman, and Marilyn Heifner of Heritage Trail Partners at Fitzgerald Station in Springdale, Arkansas.

On Monday, 10, 2020, August U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) introduced legislation to designate the Butterfield Overland Trail as a National Historic Trail. Boozman made the announcement today during a visit to Fitzgerald Station (in Springdale, Arkansas), a stop along the historic route.

The trail was used to transport mail and passengers between St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Francisco, California, serving as the route of the longest stagecoach operation in history. Much of the trail traveled through portions of Arkansas.

“The Butterfield Overland Trail played an important role in our nation’s westward expansion. Designating it as a National Historic Trail is a fitting recognition for its contributions to the growth and development of our country and the state of Arkansas,” Boozman said. “For more than a decade, I’ve been working through the process to achieve this long overdue distinction. With the introduction of this bill, we are now one step closer to accomplishing this goal.”

In June 2018, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the trail meets the requirements to become a national historic trail after conducting a study to evaluate the significance, feasibility, suitability and desirability of designating the routes associated with it as a national historic trail. The study was required by a provision of Public Law 111-11 that was authored by Boozman during his tenure as Congressman for the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

From 1858-1861, the Butterfield Overland Mail Company held a U.S. Mail contract to transport mail and passengers between the eastern termini of St. Louis and Memphis and the western terminus of San Francisco.
It became known as the “ox-bow route” due to its curved path comprised of approximately 3,553 miles of trail routes in eight states: Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The routes from St. Louis and Memphis merged in Fort Smith, and the Butterfield Overland Express stagecoaches traveled through much of the state. Stagecoaches made stops between Memphis and Fort Smith in St. Francis, Prairie, Lonoke, Faulkner, Conway, Pope, Yell, Logan, and Franklin counties. The northwestern route that came out of Missouri included stops in Benton, Washington and Crawford counties.

Four segments of the roads that the Butterfield Overland Express traveled over in Arkansas have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Potts home, a well-preserved Arkansas way station for the Butterfield Express, is still standing in Pope County and is maintained as the Potts Inn Museum on Highway 247 by the Pope County Historical Foundation.

The legislation, S. 4404, is cosponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

Williams Hollow Civil War Site Acquired

Pea Ridge National Military Park. Photo courtesy NPSCulturalLandscapes/flickr.com

The Conservation Fund and Northwest Arkansas Land Trust have announced the purchase of a key Civil War battle site in Benton County. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, with assistance from The Conservation Fund, recently acquired the historic 140-acre Williams Hollow Farm and intends to donate the property to the National Park Service once funding is secured.

Bordered on three sides by the Pea Ridge National Military Park, the property has been a conservation priority for the National Park Service since the national park’s designation during the Civil War Centennial of 1963 and is crucial to the preservation of the historic Civil War battlefield. In March 1862, U.S. Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s 10,500 troops in the Union Army of the Southwest clashed for three days with commander of the Confederate Army of the West, Major General Earl Van Dorn’s 13,000 troops. The battle ended in Union victory and prevented the Confederates from advancing into and enabling the secession of Missouri. The Williams Hollow Farm was an integral site used before, during and after the battle.

“Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is excited to partner on the permanent protection of Williams Hollow Farm,” said Marson Nance, Land Trust director of land protection and stewardship. “For over 16 years Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has worked tirelessly to protect open spaces throughout the region for protection of natural resources and our cultural and historic heritage. The Williams Hollow acquisition is a perfect example of collaboration between national, regional, and local partners working to protect sites of great ecological and historical importance. Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is proud to be a part of this effort.”

“We’re excited to continue working with our partners to protect this important battlefield. Williams Hollow Farm is important to the park as it helps tell the story of the battle that took place 158 years ago,” said Kevin Eads, superintendent of Pea Ridge National Military Park and board member of Heritage Trail Partners. “Its preservation will help to protect cultural and natural resources.”

Once protected, the Williams Hollow Farm will secure the viewshed of the Pea Ridge National Military Park and conserve mature forest habitat for migratory songbirds and rare bats, including The threatened northern long-eared bat. Keeping the property undeveloped will also help provide water quality protection of Sugar Creek within the Elk River watershed.
“The Conservation Fund has a long history of preserving critical Civil War sites throughout the United States, and we are proud to advance this effort to conserve the Williams Hollow Farm,” said Clint Miller Midwest project director for The Conservation Fund. “The significance of this property is truly unique and multi-faceted, from protecting a key part of the battle to providing important habitat for rare species and preserving the memory of other historic events, including the Trail of Tears.”

The Williams Hollow Farm played a significant role in pre-Civil War history as well. Passing by the property to the northeast is Telegraph Road, a historic transportation route through northwest Arkansas that takes its name from the first telegraph lines in the area. Beginning in the 1830s, Telegraph Road was used as a route on the Trail of Tears, the forcible relocation of the Cherokee people and other Native Americans to Oklahoma in the winter of 1838-39 after the enactment of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The historic road was also part of the Overland Mail Company route, a transcontinental mail system that also offered stagecoach transportation to settlers, miners and businessmen traveling between St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco from 1857 to 1861.

The permanent protection and transfer of the Williams Hollow Farm to the National Park Service will depend on fundraising. Various organizations have stepped forward already to assist, including the Pea Ridge National Military Park Foundation and National Park Foundation.

“It is a rare opportunity that we have the chance to preserve our past for future generations in a setting such as this,” said Pea Ridge mayor Jackie Crabtree, who is also chair of the Pea Ridge National Military Park Foundation and vice-president of Heritage Trail Partners. “While the acquisition of this historic property is exciting, it is critical that we raise the funds to permanently make the Williams Hollow Farm part of the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Time is of the essence, and we need our community to step up and bring this project home.”

In addition, the property will be conserved, in part, by funding and technical assistance in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) made available through mitigation efforts by Plains All American Pipeline in conjunction with ongoing construction and maintenance of the Diamond Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline that currently extends from Cushing, Okla. to Memphis. The Conservation Fund serves as the administrator of the funding source and works collectively with Plains and USFWS to achieve mitigation solutions with the highest conservation value.

For more information on how you can support the permanent protection of the Williams Hollow Farm, visit: https://www.pearidgefoundation.com/get-involved/.

The Award-Winning Razorback Regional Greenway

Butterfield Overland Mail marker on Razorback Regional Greenway

Heritage Trail Partners president John McLarty speaks at the dedication of a Butterfield Overland Mail historic marker on a spur trail of the Razorback Regional Greenway near Lake Fayetteville.

The Razorback Regional Greenway was recently awarded a Henry Award at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism held in Springdale. The Greenway was presented the Natural State Award. This award is presented to a community, organization, special event or attraction which “stands out in the crowd” because of its unique appeal, media coverage, creative approach, and/or enhancement of community pride, thus benefiting the state’s quality of life.

The Razorback Regional Greenway is a thirty-six-mile trail that stretches between Fayetteville and Lake Bella Vista through Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers, and Bentonville. The paved trail contains impressive bridges, follows along several creeks, runs through farmland and wooded areas, and connects to other trails, lakes, and parks. While the Greenway offers plenty of scenic beauty, it also links dozens of popular community destinations, including six downtown areas, arts and entertainment venues, restaurants, historic sites, playgrounds, and residential communities. Several Heritage Trail sites are on or near the Greenway. Explore the Greenway virtual tour and online map and chart your own course!

The Henry Awards Ceremony began at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 1981 and has become an important part of this gathering of tourism leaders and one of the most prestigious tourism  industry awards in Arkansas. Recognizing those individuals, businesses, and organizations which have distinguished themselves during the past year is now a tradition.

The Henry Awards honor Henri de Tonti, the man historians consider to be one of the first “Arkansas Travelers.” An Italian adventurer, Tonti was a trusted friend and lieutenant of the French explorer Sieur de La Salle. After La Salle granted him extensive land and trading concessions in the lower Mississippi River Valley, Tonti sent several men in 1686 to build a trading post near the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. This “Poste de Arkansea,” as it was then called, or Arkansas Post, became the first permanent settlement in the lower Mississippi region and the first center of Arkansas hospitality for the people who passed that way.

Marilyn Heifner
Heritage Trail Partners Board of Directors

The Benge Detachment of Cherokees on the Trail of Tears

Trail of Tears commemorative park in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Alongside a busy intersection in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a small park has been set aside to remember the Cherokees of the Benge detachment who passednear here on their way to Indian Territory in January 1839.

By Gloria Young
Heritage Trail Partners Board of Directors

The Indian Removal Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830. This act put in motion the systematic removal of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Muskogee Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast to Indian Territory in what is today Oklahoma.

By June 1838 there were still about 15,000 Cherokees in the southern Appalachians who had not removed. They were rounded up into detainment camps and then forced to move west in seventeen traveling groups called detachments. Thirteen of these detachments traveled through Northwest Arkansas by several different routes, mostly overland, but at least one by river.

The first four detachments traveled with military escorts, but the thirteen subsequent detachments were allowed to complete the removal under the leadership of Chief John Ross. Each detachment was led by a Cherokee leader called a conductor. John Benge was the conductor for a detachment that traveled a different route from any of the other detachments—one that led them across southeast Missouri and northern Arkansas.

On September 28, 1838, some 1200 men, women, and children started west from Wills Valley, Alabama, just south of Fort Payne. Many were related by blood, marriage, and/or religious affiliation. (There were many Methodists as well as a number of Baptists.) Though some in the group were poor, others were wealthy enough to own slaves. More people—including some Creeks and 114 enslaved people—departed each day until the final group moved out on October 1. Some additional families joined the detachment as it traveled up the Tennessee River. There were thirty-three deaths along the way; most were likely from measles and whooping cough. Three births were recorded. A final tally upon arrival in Indian Territory numbered 1132 people in the detachment.

The U.S. government allotted $66.24 for each Cherokee person for eighty days of travel. Even though the Benge detachment averaged ten miles per day, a fast pace among the groups traveling overland, the eighty-day monetary allotment was not enough. Their 768-mile trip took 106 days to complete.

Members of the detachment rode in sixty wagons and on horseback, some astride what were reported to be “fine riding horses.” Some 600 horses had to be fed along 1,200 people, so provisions had to be purchased along the way. Because there is no existing diary or description of the day-to-day travel or route taken, some information about this detachment must be gleaned from the records of food and fodder purchased on the trail. Newspaper reports from towns along the way also provide insight.

The detachment crossed the Mississippi River into present-day Missouri at Iron Banks, now Columbia, Kentucky, in mid-November 1838. They turned southwest and crossed into Arkansas at Indian Ford on the Current River around December 8. Following the route known as the Southwest Trail or the Old Spanish Road, they passed through Smithville and near Batesville, where some of the party halted for wagon repairs. Turning westward, they crossed the White River near Talbert’s Ferry. Rivers were low, so instead of taking the time to use the ferries at any of the river crossings, they drove, rode, or waded through the icy water.

Trail of Tears commemorative park in Fayetteville, Arkansas

A quiet place for reflection, the park includes a historic marker and an outdoor sculpture made up of three stone monoliths.

The detachment passed through or near Carrollton and Osage (Carroll County) and Huntsville (Madison County), arriving at a place described as Stone’s Farm or Johnson’s Switch near Fayetteville on January 13, 1839.They camped along a creek and up the hill from what is today the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Stadium Drive. (In 1998, a small park was created and a historical marker erected on the northwest corner of MLK Boulevard and Stadium Drive.)

On January 14, 1839, the detachment was on the road to Cane Hill (Washington County). The Benge detachment ended their journey at Mrs. Webber’s farm near present-day Stilwell, Oklahoma, on January 17, 1839.

The above information is taken from a report to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (2002) written by Duane King and from papers presented at the Benge Detachment Symposium sponsored by the Arkansas Chapter, Trail of Tears Association, in Pocahontas, Arkansas, March 29, 2014.