Sunday, February 18, 2018

La Belle' River: The Beautiful Watery Grave of the White River

I crawled into a partially burned-out, hollow tree that was still alive
on a steep bank of the White River to get this video clip.
This island in the White River, Red Bud Shoal, cuts the channel in half.
It is located 401.8 miles upstream from the Mouth of the White River.
The hindermost break in the channel, the right-hand chute, was once the
location of a stone wing dam 268 feet long, built in fiscal year 1882
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1882.
In order to increase the channel depth for steamboats, a stone wing dam,
140 feet long, was built from left bank in fiscal year 1884.
1888 condition: Dam on right bank down to low water;
only traces left of wing dam were visible on left bank.

The White River winding its way through the Ozarks and the Arkansas Delta can sometimes evoke illusions of peace and tranquility. In decades past, she has been referenced by her French namesake the La Belle' River: the Beautiful River. Yet beneath its placid ripples & shoals, mighty torrents can sweep through its channel, inundating steamboats, pilots & passengers. Below is an 1854 article from the New Orleans Daily Crescent giving a sweeping view of the White River.

The White River.--A correspondent of the Memphis Whig gives the following description of White river, Arkansas. It is a far more important river than we had ever supposed it to be. Frequently, of late, we had observed in the Memphis papers, such notices as assured us that the commerce on the White river was very considerable, but it surprised us to learn that the river itself is so great. It has just been the scene of a dreadful steamboat accident;

The beautiful "La Belle' river" of the southwest, affords about seven hundred miles of navigable water, during most of the hauling season, and about three hundred miles as good for small boats, the whole year, as the Mississippi below Memphis. Few rivers in the Union afford finer lands and greater variety of production; and no country is inviting a more enterprising, intelligent, and wealthy planting population, than White river. This trade, in a very few years, will build up and sustain a city of itself.

It disembogues its waters near the mouth of Arkansas river in the Mississippi - is navigable at times some distance in the State of Missouri - it thus drains an immense region of the best cotton land in the Southwest. Taking its rise in the Ozark Mountains, passing through the finest grain-growing region in South Missouri, and North Arkansas, that is to be found in our country, much of which is rich in minerals. [1]

Steamboat Landings and Distances on the White River and Tributaries from

Lloyds Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, 1856.
The preceding article mentions the “scene of a dreadful steamboat accident.” Most likely, the correspondent was referencing the steamboat Caroline sinking about 20 miles upstream from the mouth of the river, in the vicinity of the White River called the Carolina Reach. 

Plate 41. Map of the White River from Forsyth, Missouri, to the Mouth. Published July, 1, 1888. 
Under the direction of Capt. Henry S. Taber, Assistant Engineers James C. Long & Charles E. Taft.  
Reduction by A.E. Beadle July 1, 1888.  
Scanned by Vincent S. Anderson with permission from 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District Archives on September 18, 2014.
The Caroline was a sternwheel packet, wood hull, manufactured in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1853, weighed 103 tons, and measured 134’ x 24’ x 3.5’. The steamboat burned and succumbed to a watery grave on March 5, 1854, and the tragedy claimed 45 lives. [2] The Caroline was once known as the "Belle of the White River." [3] James T. Lloyd writes in his 1856 book, Lloyds Steamboat Directory and Disasters on the Western Waters, concerning the events of that dreadful day:

Burning of the Caroline.

The Caroline was a Memphis packet, employed on the White river. She had ascended that river about twenty miles on Sunday, March 5, 1854, when, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the wood pile near the boilers, was discovered to be on fire. The pilot at the wheel, Mr. John R. Price, steered for the shore, which was overflown by high water. Before the shore was reached, some persons attempted to escape in the yawl, which, being overcrowded, speedily sunk, and all who had embarked in it were drowned. The flames, in the meanwhile, rapidly overspread the steamer, which was soon consumed, down to the level of the water. There were many deck passengers on board, nearly all of whom were lost. The principal sufferers were women and children, who were not able to make the exertions required for their preservation. 

The names of those of the crew and passengers who are known to have perished, will be found below:

List of Killed.—John R. Price and James Creighton, pilots; Lewis Pollock, assistant bar-keeper; eight deck hands and firemen, whose names the captain, in his report of the disaster, omitted to mention ; wife and child of J. Haskins, Marshall county, Tenn. ; four children of S. McMullen, of Madison county, Tenn. ; Mrs. Haley and three children, Tippah county. Miss.; John Horton, wife, and two children, Mr. Karrell, Mr. Martin, Miss Susanna E. Pool, a son of Mr. Henshaw, Mr. Shelby, of Madison county, Tenn.; a son-in-law, a widowed sister, with her thirteen children, and another sister of Mr. Wortham; Mr. Harshaw, of Clarendon, Ark. ; George Jones, clerk of the house of Poole & Co., Jacksonport, Tenn., and a number of deck passengers, names unknown.
It is a remarkable circumstance that scarcely any of the crew or passengers who escaped with life, were injured in the slightest degree. There was considerable amount of money on board. The safe, containing $5,000, sunk in the river, and never was recovered. Mr. Penn, one of the passengers, lost $3,500. The remains of Mr. Wilbank, who died a few days before at the Commercial Hotel, Memphis, were on board on their way to his former place of residence, where the funeral was to take place. The body, however, was doomed to find a grave beneath the waters of White river. A package of money which had belonged to the deceased, and which in his dying moments, he had directed to be sent to his widow, was lost with the other money in the safe.

The hull of the Caroline, having burned to the water's edge, broke in two, and sunk out of sight. The whole loss of boat, cargo, money, and other property belonging to the passengers, is estimated at $150,000. There was an (sic) insurance on the boat for $5,000. She was finished in the preceding summer, and cost $12,000.[4]

In a Kentucky newspaper, The Lebanon Post, the editor relayed the tragic events to their readers:

Burning of the Steamer Caroline!!
By the arrival of the steamer Memphis Monday morning we learn that a steamer Caroline, a Memphis and White river packet, was destroyed on Sunday morning last the 5th inst., between 3 and 4 o'clock about 20 miles above the mouth of White river, whilst on her way from Memphis to Jacksonport. The Memphis Evening News, of the 6th inst., from which we glean the particulars of this terrible disaster, has the following:

We cannot find language to express the feelings awakened in our bosom on listening to the recital of the horrible disaster by Captain Folger who came passenger on the St. Nicholas. Among those who perished we notice the names of Mr. Price one of the pilots; Captain James Creighton of this city; and Lewis Pollock, a young lad. Mr. Price had but lately been married to the young and interesting daughter of Recorder Hill. She who so lately was a joyous and happy bride, now is a bereaved widow mourns the sad fate of her brave husband. Poor Price! When last seen, he was at his post endeavoring to run the boat ashore in which he succeeded and lost own life in the heroic attempt to save the lives others.

At the time of the accident the captain had about $5,000 in the safe belonging to others, which was entirely lost. When she had burned at the water’s edge, she straightened herself up and down river and sunk in about 30 feet water. There were a large number of passengers on board of which few could be saved. Out of ten deck hands but two escaped. [5]

1.Burning of the Caroline,” New Orleans Daily Crescent, New Orleans, LA, March 22, 1854. Library of Congress - Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers, 
2. Way, Frederick, Jr. “0854 – Caroline,” Ways Packet Directory, 1848-1994: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System since the Advent of Photography in Mid-Continent America. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press, (1995), 72. 
3.Huddleston, Duane, Sammie Rose, and Pat Wood. Steamboats and ferries on the White River: a Heritage Revisited. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, (1998), 39. 
4. Lloyd, James T. Lloyds Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters; Containing the History of the First Application of Steam as a Motive Power, the Lives of J. Fitch and R. Fulton, Likenesses, and Engravings of their First Steamboats, Early Scenes on the Western Waters from 1798 to 1812, History of the Early Steamboat Navigation on Western Waters, etc. One Hundred Fine Engravings, and Forty-six Maps. Cincinnati, Philadelphia, (1856), 239-240.
5. “Burning of Steamboat Caroline!!,” Lebanon Post, March 15, 1854, page 2. Kentucky Digital Library,

Friday, February 9, 2018

1891 White River Convention: Ozark Key to Transportation

Highlighting the Upper White River Region. 
Taken from George F. Cram’s book Cram's Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World, published in 1883.

The wheels of change seem to move faster in some regions of the world than others. In the Ozarks, time & progress sometimes seems to mosey at a snail’s pace. For those with fire shut up in their bones & passion flowing in their veins, it seems they have a prime directive to spread their pyromania to others and replicate their vision and fervor. 

The culmination of smoldering cinders erupted into a flame of progress in the latter part of the 1880’s and on into the 1890’s in the Ozarks. Folks of vision & industry set aside their small town thinking and castigated their petty rivalries. As communities rebuilt and evolved after the Civil War on the White River, citizens assembled and formed organizations to bring about attention to their economic needs and situation. The stepping stone to progress was the permanent clearing of the boulder riddled, channel swerving, and snag choked White River in the Ozarks. At the time, the river steamboats were the major modes of transportation for hauling in necessities and exporting cash crops (cotton) and minerals from the region. As the river had fits & bouts of consistency, a meeting of the minds was called to order, and the White River Convention met for the first time. Their goal was to ensure access for consistent steamboat transportation from Forsyth, Missouri, down river to Batesville, Arkansas. Delegates assembled at Batesville, Arkansas, on May 22, 1891, representing nine Arkansas and two Missouri counties:

Melvin Nathaniel Dyer, Baxter County, Arkansas
Milton Y. Todisman, Independence County, Arkansas
C. B. Woodberry, Independence County, Arkansas
Judge Richard Henry Powell, Izard County, Arkansas
A. B. Smith, Jackson County, Arkansas
Augustus S. Layton, Marion County, Arkansas
J. N. McBride, Searcy County, Arkansas
George Richard Case, of Stone County, Arkansas
R. H. Poe, Van Buren County, Arkansas
John Robison Reed, Ozark County, Missouri
M. Y. Moore, Taney County, Missouri

The delegates amassed with the objective of further opening navigation and removing snags along the Upper White River region. The convention, tantamount to the Little Rock Board of Trade, was called to order, and it was immediately decided to form a permanent organization. The initial election rallied Melvin Nathaniel Dyer as the Chairman of the Convention and Milton Y. Todisman garnered the poll as Secretary of the organization. 

The Vice-presidents elected were:
G. R. Case, of Stone County
Capt. Richard Henry Powell, Izard County
R. H. Poe, Van Buren County
J. N. McBride, Searcy County
A. S. Layton, Marion County
Capt. C. B. Woodbury, Independence County (Steamboat Captain)
Capt. Albert B. Smith, Jackson County (Steamboat Captain) [1]

The Committee on River Statistics consisted of:
Theo Maxfield
C. R. Hanford
Capt. C. B. Woodbury [2]

Capt. Henry Sheldon Taber,
U. S. Army Corps of Engineers
Following, U.S. Senators James Henderson Berry and James Kimbrough Jones gave approving speeches at the inaugural meeting, along with Congressman William Henderson Cate of the 1st Arkansas District and William Leake Terry, Congressman-elect of Arkansas’s 4th District. Additionally, one other guest attending the convention made the event a hallmark of the occasion, and he had proven to be a facilitator who could deliver the federal funds and manpower to transform the White River and its future: Capt. Henry Sheldon Taber of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District. All county delegates present took the opportunity to give their speech, and the leading oration was made by the editor of the Mountain Echo, W. R. Jones, of Yellville, Arkansas. Mr. Jones' oratory was an empassioned and pointed speech as he laid bare the facts, mingling his pleas & exhortations that would contend with any revival preacher.

Click to read W.R. Jones' speech
W. R. Jones by William Yates, Find a Grave
After the morning speeches, festivities, and lunch, all the delegates gathered at the local steamboat landing to board the Ralph at one o’clock for an inspection trip. The distinguished flotilla viewed obstructions to navigation up the White River. 
Among those on the assessment excursion were:
Senators Jones and Berry
Congressman Terry and William Henderson Cate
Edgar L. Givens, editor of the Batesville Guard
Capt.  Albert B. Smith, owner the steamboats Alberta, Alberta No. 2, Alberta No. 3, Batesville, and the Winnie
Col. Neill and several other prominent citizens of Batesville, Arkansas.[4]

After the inspection tour on the river, Senators U.S. Berry and Jones stated in the meeting that they would “ask for a million dollars if Capt. Taber would recommend that much,” and Capt. Taber gave the impression that he would do it “if the condition of things demanded it.” Mr. W. R. Jones made the declaration that, “It is now the business of every man in this section to give Capt. Taber all the information possible. In addition to the work of various statistical committees will do, every enterprising man in this section of the State should write Mr. Taber a personal letter at Little Rock.” [5]

Ironically, according to W. R. Jones, if Capt. Taber proved to be successful in clearing the White River, Taber's improvements & plans would eventually show the necessity for railroad transportation along the White River. The railroads would eventually dwarf the need for river transportation. Eventually, there would no longer be the need for steamboats laboring up the White River. Nevertheless, Capt. Taber chose to set his intentions on the desires of the Upper White River above his own long term ambitions. [6]

I ask you Dear Reader: Are you willing to give up your own desires to fulfill the dreams & needs of others? It's not an answer that should be discounted as elementary. American economist, Milton Friedman stated, "I want people to take thought about their condition and to recognize that the maintenance of a free society is a very difficult and complicated thing and it requires a self-denying ordinance of the most extreme kind."
The epitaph at the base of Capt. Taber's monument in Little Rock, Arkansas, declares an objective he emulated and goal set forth on behalf of future leaders: And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. [8]

So, I ask myself, and you too: Are we wise enough to shine? Enjoy your Ozarks' History.

1. W. R. Jones, “Upper White River: A Plea for Better Transportation,” Mountain Echo, June 5, 1891. 
2. W. R. Jones, “Local Echoes,” Mountain Echo, June 12, 1891.
3. W. R. Jones, “Upper White River," Mountain Echo, June 5, 1891. 
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Milton Friedman, Interview with Richard Heffner on The Open Mind, 7 December, 1975.  
8. Daniel 12:3, King James Version.