Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bruce Creek Excursion

Reading about history and investigating history can be two entirely different activities. I love reading about history; I’m a nonfiction nut. But when I have an opportunity to explore the real thing, that’s where the fun lies with hidden lessons within. My son, Alex, and I went to explore the mouth of Bruce Creek. To the contrary of opinion, I realize it was discovered before Europeans ever set foot on the continent. But to recorded history, the area was discovered early in the North American exploration by Hernando de Soto sometime after 1541.
According to the book History of Baxter County, Arkansas: From the Beginnings to 1939 by Frances Shiras McClelland, written in 1940 & The History of Baxter County, written in 1973, by Mary Ann Messick, de Soto sent a contingent of men up the White River and came to the mouth of Bruce Creek. It was also referenced in these books that his men and a group of American Indians were mining for gold & silver. As of 1939, evidence could be still been seen of the slag piles that the Spanish produced while looking for precious metals such as gold and silver. No pun intended, but it didn’t pan out.

Nevertheless, copper, lead, magnetic iron, and tin were discovered by explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1818; Dr. John C. Branner, state geologist, & Herbert Hoover found outcroppings of lead and zinc in 1896. Nevertheless, it was on these shoals of the White River & Bruce Creek that de Soto’s men discovered fertile valleys with herds of buffalo and sustenance for the journey.
Notice...concerning the above photo. 

This picture was added for emphasis.
I stole it off the Internet.  
It's actually not stolen.
It's from a government website. I'm a taxpayer...I probably paid for it many times will my children.
The buffalo pictured in this photo are a few survivors that escaped from the starving de Soto scouting party.

Still, with references listed in books, it is always nice to see it in person.

Since time is a nice commodity, I decided to do a little homework & sleuthing in order to make the most of our time. I pulled up Bruce Creek on Google Earth and took a small snapshot & geological survey of the area. I placed “Bruce Creek” & “Baxter County, Arkansas” in the search engine, and this is what I got.

An interesting feature caught my attention when looking at the map. It was the faint straight line trekking from Baxter County Road #1/Denton Ferry Road straight over to Bruce Creek. Looking at a U.S. Geological Survey Map, the line is labeled, “Railroad Grade.”

Quickly looking at the history of this area, tracks were laid on this grade for equipment to be hauled for the construction of Bull Shoals Dam.  

With map in hand, we headed to Monkey Run, Arkansas & Baxter County Road #1.This is the first area we came into heading down into Bruce Creek. The steel tracks and wooden ties are missing today, but the raised grade makes a beautiful trail.

Coming to the end of the grade, we peered off its’ precipice that’s about 25 feet above Bruce Creek. Using our mind’s eye, we imagine the train bridge that once traversed Bruce Creek below.

Scaling down the bank, through the bamboo, thistles, and ground hog holes, we hastily discovered the six concrete foundations that once supported the trestles of the Bruce Creek Bridge.

My son and I are dreamers. We not only talked about the men, the blood, the sweat in building the railroad grade and bridge, but how this was one of the first ways dependable transportation was established in the Ozarks. Not to belittle the importance of the White River and its’ steamboats. The river was fickle due to drought & flood. This railroad was the consistent artery of commerce and travel everybody was praying for.

Next, we wanted to see if it's possible to see any evidence of mining debris or a slag pile. While at the bridge, we couldn't find evidence of mining. Unfortunately, the answer was, "No." It wasn’t going to be that easy. It was probably up stream. Well…it finally came to the decision of crossing the creek and going up its’ tributary. It has been raining quite a bit lately, and the creek is thoroughly flushed and swift. In our “preparation,” we didn’t think of bringing wading boots. Oh well...since we’re here, we decided to make the best of it. I hated for both of us to get our feet wet. So, Alex climbed on my back, and we headed up stream for the first small shoal. This probably looked hilarious. Alex is only about a half an inch shorter than I am. Thankfully, he’s only 115 pounds. We really wanted to see evidence of de Soto’s men and mining.

By the time we made it to the second shoal, we came up on a large group of weathered rocks. Many of them were large and rectangular and squared. They were not from the bedrock of the creek but they were clearly brought to the creek. We looked up from their location to see a large ravine and could see it would be possible for this to be the location of the mine. Although it was not easily seen, I believe we found the slag pile among these stones

Was this the true evidence of de Soto?     Well..he didn't leave a sign or business card. 

Had there been some activity in the past there? Yes. 

Author Frances Shiras McClelland references of personally finding three places of crude smelting efforts and the writer has found both magnetic iron & copper in them that fused but didn't run out.

If you have read my past blogs concerning mining in Baxter County, the Bruce Creek District contained 19 mines, which were the: McCracken, Hawkeye No. 2, Cedar Gap, Rocky Hill, Richmond, Stratton, Old Spanish, Bruce, Wild Cat, Mooney King, Evening Star, Stafford, Sorrell, Big Ike, Bullion Beck, Bruce Creek, Killinger, and Big John. The link to that blog is at:

With all the activity on this creek and trying to discover the originator of the rubble, it kind of reminds me of the old Tootsie-Pop commercial..."How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Pop?" - "The world may never know."

Opposite of the slag pile & rubble was a small level field that could have easily become a camp. Looking at the composition of the rocks in that area there was a nice mixture of limestone with chert, calcite, and quartz with traces of iron and red marble. Here’s Alex sifting through the rocks looking for remnants of the slag pile and mining traces.

As we were preparing to leave, we came upon a “Discovery!” Remember…every good adventure has an element of surprise, a mystery, or a discovery. This is was a “Discovery!”

It is here…we let our imagination run wild. We were wondering if this rock contains unique markings etched on its’ façade conveying a message. Maybe a map of an unknown silver mine covered by debris…or…ancient  hieroglyphs pleading for help. Or was it some cool haphazard grooves scratched & gnarled by years of weathering and neglect. It’s probably a piece of weathered limestone, but a map to a lost silver mine seems tempting when we’re walking up a cold creek in soggy socks and squishy tennis shoes.

While pondering today’s small adventure, it makes me wonder what else is out there that is slowly ebbing away that once was a vital link of society. As we were looking for the old railroad, a missing bridge, and a forgotten mine, we were also walking along some of the Ozarks’ forgotten foundations. It reminds me of the scripture from Psalms 11:3, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? “ Though foundations are rarely seen, foundations can give us stability, purpose, and reminders. Foundations serve as reminders of our purpose and the stability to weather life’s storms. I believe that’s why history is so important. Whether it’s the lessons of Hannibal’s conquest or the slow trickle of an Ozarks’ stream, lessons should be ever present and ever gleaned. It is my hope, Dear Reader, that we all consider our past foundations. Even though Bruce Creek is an obscure trickle in the fabric of the Ozark terrain, it’s still a part of our Ozark History.


Sandra said...

Another great job of making history come alive even to people who don't care about history. We are never to old to learn.

judisharp said...

I'm so tickled to see what's up Bruce Creek from the river. My sister, mother, and I have wondered about it for a long time. Now we don't have to rent that boat!

Judi Sharp

Bert W. said...

Great job. That spot you were at is about 3 miles south from my house.


Anonymous said...

Bruce creek is on my property and I never knew some of the history of it till now.

Thank you,

Harry P> Magiera

Sherry S said...

Being a native of Monkey Run, its in my later years that I've become very interested in Bruce Creek. I've been walking it and just love nature. Glad to see this information.

Anonymous said...

Being a Monkey Run resident for about 25 years, I also love Bruce Creek. I used to hunt there, and loved listening to the creek running. I also have walked from the mouth, back up the creek. There is SO much history in Money Run. My Great Grandfather owned a very large amount of land on Brown Springs in the Monkey Run community years ago. Oh how I would love to explore all the properties around me. Too bad so much land is posted now days. Wasn't any posted in my youth around here.

Al-Ozarka said...

Have you ever seen the DeSoto inscription on Poke Bayou near Batesville?

Brett V. said...

We have 1 and 1/4 miles of Bruce Creek on our property, just after the spring comes out of the mountain. We have found old wagon wheels, and dynamite test holes from back in the day. Our home is situated where we can view and listen to this wonderful work of nature