Trail of Tears

Butterfield Overland Mail

Civil War

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


Since our founding in the early 2000s, Heritage Trail Partners has worked to preserve and promote historic routes in Northwest Arkansas. Many of our projects involved partnerships with local, state, and national organizations. Our accomplishments include:

Research, design, and installation of interpretive markers
  • Trail of Tears
    • Evansville (western Washington County)
  • Butterfield Overland Mail
    • Lake Fayetteville Park
    • Pea Ridge National Military Park
  • Civil War
    • Cane Hill (Washington County)
    • Head’s Ford (Washington County, east of Springdale)
Public programs and educational activities

“Cherokee Footsteps in Northwest Arkansas” symposium (follow the links to download a podcast of each session from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History’s iTunes U site)

“History Right Under Your Feet: Traveling the Heritage Trail in Northwest Arkansas” (follow the links to download a podcast of each session from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History’s iTunes U site)

“Hardships on the Home Front: Civilians and Soldiers in the Civil War Ozarks” living history event

Butterfield Overland Mail trail ride

Support of University of Arkansas’s Indigenous Peoples Day event

Professional development workshop for educators

Publication of Driving Guide to Butterfield Overland Mail Route (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma)

Publication and free distribution of Butterfield Overland Mail Route driving map through Benton and Washington counties

Installation of Heritage Trail signage along designated roads in Benton, Crawford, and Washington counties

Some of our project partners
  • Arkansas Chapter, Trail of Tears Association
  • Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
  • Benton County
  • Benton County Historic Preservation Commission
  • Benton County Historical Society
  • Bentonville USA
  • City of Gentry
  • City of Siloam Springs
  • Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission
  • Pea Ridge National Military Park
  • Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park
  • Rogers Historical Museum
  • Sells Agency, Little Rock and Fayetteville Arkansas offices
  • Sen. John Boozman
  • Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
  • Trail of Tears Association
  • Visit Rogers
  • Washington County
  • Washington County Historical Society
 Ways you can help
  • Become a member
  • Adopt an interpretive panel
  • Adopt a Heritage Trail roadway sign

Contact us if you’d like to become involved!

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.

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, Arkansa

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.

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.