1896 Survey: Mouth of Buffalo Fork (River) to Rush, AR


   Sir: I have the honor to enclose, herewith, a letter from the Chief of Engineers dated January 19, 1897, together with a copy of a report from Capt. W. L. Sibert, Corps of Engineers, dated January 9, 1897, and harbor act of June 3, 1896, of Buffalo Fork of White River, Arkansas.
            Very respectfully,                                                      Daniel S. Lamont,
Secretary of War.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Survey of buffalo fork of white river, Arkansas, from its mouth to mouth of rush creek, with a view to determine what character and extent of improvement is required.
United States Engineer Office,
Little Rock, Ark., January 9, 1897.
     General: In accordance with requirements contained in letter from your office dated September 5, 1896, 1 have the honor to submit the following report on survey of Buffalo Fork of White River, from mouth to mouth of Rush Creek, with a view to determine what character and extent of improvement is required:
    This survey was made by United States Assistant Engineer William Parkin, whose report is inclosed herewith, and to which attention is respectfully invited for detailed information concerning the stream in question.
     A tracing (two sheets) of the plat of survey is inclosed herewith. The length of river surveyed is 24.2 miles.
     The average fall per mile is 3.161 feet. Low-water discharge is 200 cubic feet per second, high- water discharge 45,000 cubic feet per second (estimated).
     My opinion is that the only way to make navigable water in Buffalo Fork of White River at all stages of water is by means of locks and fixed dams, and that this method is only practicable by making the assumption that the dams will not leak.
It would require at least five locks and dams to overcome the difference in level between the mouth of Buffalo Fork and mouth of Rush Creek. It is estimated that five locks and dams would cost $750,000, making the cost of improvement about $30,990 per mile. In my opinion the commerce that would be developed would not justify this expenditure.
     There are rich deposits of zinc ore on this stream in the vicinity of the mouth of Rush Creek, and an attempt is being made on a small scale to "flatboat" this material to White River. The timber along this stream is plentiful and is being rafted to White River, thence to market. These two sources of commerce make this stream, in my opinion, worthy of the following improvement, viz:
       To cut the overhanging timber and remove from the shoals the loose and solid rock that that project above the general plane of the bed of the shoals, from the mouth to the mouth of Rush Creek.
     It is estimated that the cost of the above work will be $3,500. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Wm. L. Sibert,
Captain of Engineers.
Brig. Gen. W. P. Craighill,
Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.
(Through the Division Engineer.)
[First endorsement.]
U. S. Engineer Office,
Southwest Division,
St. Louis, Mo., January 11, 1897 

Respectfully forwarded to the Chief of Engineers, concurring in the views of the district engineer.
J. W. Barlow,
Colonel, Corps of Engineers, Division Engineer.


Little Rock, Ark., January 4, 1897.
     Captain : In compliance with your verbal order of November 30, 1896, I have the honor to submit the following report of survey and examination of Buffalo Fork of White River, Arkansas, from Rush Creek to the mouth, made during the month of December, 1896. The actual field work was commenced December 5 and completed December 20. Levels were run from the mouth of the river across country to the mouth at Rush Creek to obtain the fall between the two terminal points, and the fall at the principal shoals was obtained by transit level while survey was in progress. Temporary gauges were established, but the river was practically stationary throughout the entire survey. Buffalo River rises in the southwestern part of Newton County and flows in a general easterly direction through Newton, Searcy, and Marion counties, an estimated distance of 200 miles.

     With its tributaries it has an approximate watershed of 1,350 square miles. The tributaries, though small, are numerous, the entire watershed being very rugged and mountainous. On account of the character of the country through which it runs the river rises and falls very quickly.

     The distance by channel measurement from Rush Creek to the mouth is 24.2 miles, and the principal characteristics of the river in this distance, as determined by the survey, are as follows:
     Valley. — Average width, 900 feet; minimum, 450 feet: maximum, about 2,000 feet, and 80 per cent of the farm lands are above overflow. All the fanning lands are good.
     Widths. — Average at high water, 325 feet. This is sometimes increased at a very few sharp bends to 600 feet, as shown by map. Average at low water, 140 feet; mini mum. 35 feet; maximum, 285 feet.
     Banks. — Average, 37 feet high and do not cave, the bend side being nearly always a rock bluff. When the concave side is not of rock the bank is heavy clay soil that caves not at all and wears away slowly. The banks are everywhere covered with heavy overhanging timber, much in the way of navigation by steamboats or barges.
     Oscillation. — From various sources the oscillation was finally determined to be 35.5 feet. At Rush Creek it was ;-(5.75 feet, and at Buffalo City about 38 fee
     Depths at present stage. — In bends and reaches, from 18 inches to 15 feet; on shoals from 5 to 18 inches for a boat 5 feet wide. When the river gets down to about low water on several shoals it takes a skillful hand to guide a light bateau through the rapids without an accident. In some cases the water is divided into several little chutes and has little depth, while in others bowlders are thick and make the channel very crooked. In fact there is no channel for anything but narrow bateaux.
     Bed of river. — Generally solid rock. Sometimes gravel and loose rock at shoals and in a few pools, but all are underlaid with solid rock at a slight depth.
     Shoals. — The shoals are 46 in number, and their names, extent, fall, and depth, together with the nature of bottom, are given in the accompanying table. The greatest fall is at Cedar Creek, where there is a descent of 4.3' feet in 350 feet. About one-half of the shoals show gravel bottom, the balance solid rock or loose rock, and some gravel. All rock shoals are full of loose bowlders and many needle- rocks projecting from a solid bed.
     Fords. — About 14 in number; all included in the above list of shoals.
     Bars. — Are gravel; no sand b irs. Nearly all the bars are covered with a growth of scrubby willow from 10 to 15 feet high, there being but one entirely open bar on this part of the river. (See map.)
     Slope.— The fall from Rush Creek to the mouth, 24.2 miles, is 76.5 feet = 3.161 feet per mile. At the time the survey was made both White and Buffalo rivers were about 0.6 foot above low water. Backwater of White River is said to come up to Tinnan Shoals, 5.3 miles above the mouth.
     Discharge. — A discharge observation was taken 1 mile above the mouth at stage supposed to be 0.6 foot above low water, and a discharge of 295.01 cubic feet per second obtained. Reducing to a stage 0.6 foot lower and assuming velocity and slope to remain the same, the discharge is 230.16 cubic feet per second. It is probable that it is very close to 200 feet per second at low water.
     The discharge at high water is estimated at 45,000 cubic feet per second.
     Obstructions. — Consist of the 46 shoals mentioned above and shown in the appended table and also on map, the steep slope, overhanging timber, and the abrupt turns in the channel. Twenty-six of, the shoals are either solid reef rock, or loose rock and gravel, while 20 appear to be gravel only. Although the water in the narrow channel is as deep on the rock as on the gravel shoals they do not so soon become passable for boats or rafts on account of the many projecting rocks that are not in the narrow and crooked low-water channel but are in the channel for a flatboat or raft, at stage at which they could safely go over the gravel shoals. Three fish traps are included in shoals. They can be easily removed.
     Overhanging timber is also very much in the way of any kind of navigation, especially in the narrow chutes and at the abrupt bends. The upper 12 miles has much more overhanging timber than the lower 12.
     The slope would seem to be very much of an obstruction also, but when it is at all distributed by about a 4-foot stage of water it can be overcome by boats of small power, the steamer Dauntless going to the mouth of Rush Creek on an experimental trip at a 4-foot stage during the year of 1896. The boat drew 12 inches. Frequent stops had to be made to cut the overhanging timber, and several of the worst shoals had to be lined over. Several boats have been up the river for the first 5 miles during high or medium stages for cotton, but the Dauntless was the first steamboat up as far as Rush Creek. The Dauntless has a tonnage of 73.49 and load draft of 2 feet 6 inches.

     With the exception of the few trips made by boats in the first 5 miles of river, and the trip of the Dauntless to Rush Creek, navigation has consisted entirely of flatboats and rafts ; the former coming out at any stage above 5 feet, the latter at as low as 4-foot stage.
     The rafts could come out on somewhat lower water, but seldom do as they prefer to wait for a good rise which will carry them quickly to market. Rafts are nearly all cedar, telegraph poles, posts, or piles. Immense quantities of this material have come out of the river for years, and now a great many oak ties are being gotten out which are rafted to Batesville on White River.
     The flatboats are generally of cheap construction, built for the trip only, with the expectation of selling at the lower end of the run or of losing as little as possible if a sale can not be made.
     This kind of navigation under the most favorable conditions is on this river decidedly dangerous, on account of the overhanging timber, the rock obstructions in the channel, and the difficulty experienced in keeping away from the timber and bluffs at the abrupt turns.
    The freight carried on these, boats consists almost entirely of zinc ore, and the miners figure on building barges to cost $1 for every ton capacity, and they generally carry a load of about 35 to 40 tons. Probably not over six of these boats go down the river in the course of twelve months. A few have come from 30 miles above Rush Creek.

     The section tributary to Buffalo River is exceedingly well watered. Creeks and springs are numerous, and few fail in the dryest weather. The forests are practically untouched with the exception of the cedar which has been cut for about fifteen years, and most of it near the river is gone. The two principal and most valuable timbers now are oak and pine. Post, white, overcup, and red oak are the prevailing kinds of oak, while all the pine is of the short-leaf yellow variety. Other timbers are gum, ash, sycamore, beech, elm, cottonwood, and elm, but oak and pine is the real timber of the country.
     On account of the country being so rough the farms are generally small until the flats are reached in the uplands, from 5 to 8 miles from the river. In these table lands the country is more settled, the farms larger, and there most of the villages are located. Many of the people who farm the bottom lands stay there only until the crops are laid by, when they return to the uplands till time to gather the crop.
     I understand that a statement is being prepared by the board of trade of Yellville, the county seat of Marion County, which will show the total production of all kinds in Marion County, but nothing of the kind is at present available.
     That the country is rich in minerals, especially in zinc and lead, there is no doubt, but few of the mines are now working, partly on account of the business troubles during the past year or two, but principally on account of the dislike of capital to invest in an enterprise so far away from regular lines of transportation.
     I examined only two properties while there, the Morning Star, on Rush, and the Lion Hill, on Warners Creek. At the former the hillside has been opened up for over 2,000 feet at various points, the main mine or rather quarry, for it is little else, being about 250 feet long and having a face of over 30 feet in height. In addition to this there is a shaft extending 30 feet below the floor of the mine. The walls of both shaft and quarry and the floor of the mine are full of zinc in its several formations, and very much of it, in fact fully half of it, is free ore that can be shipped without crushing. Of late this mine has made no shipments, although there are several hundred tons on the dumps and hundreds more in sight.
The Lion Hill mine is not nearly so extensive as the Morning Star, so far as actual development is concerned, but on the other hand it has a well-equipped plant, that will crush 100 tons per day. A little mining is going on, but no shipments have been made for some months.

     To sum up the above briefly: Buffalo Fork of White River, Arkansas, between Rush Creek and the mouth, a distance of 24.2 miles, is a mountainous stream, flowing through a rich valley averaging 900 feet in width, practically all of which is in cultivation and little overflowed. The total watershed of the stream and tributaries is about 1,350 square miles. Course tortuous; current varying from practically nothing in the pools and 6 feet per second on the shoals at low water to 5 or 6 miles per hour during high water.
     Banks 37 feet high, and do not cave. Average width at low water, 140 feet; high water, 325 feet; minimum low-water width, 35 feet; oscillation, 35.5 feet.
     Depth in bends at low water, 1 to 15 feet, and on shoals as little as 5 inches for a bateau.
     Bed of river generally rock, some gravel ; 26 rock and 20 gravel shoals. Slope, 3.161 feet per mile.
     Low-water discharge, about 200 cubic feet per second. High water estimated at 45,000. The obstructions besides slope and the shoals consist of overhanging timber.

     Without locks and dams it is not possible to render the river navigable at all stages. It is believed, however, that if the overhanging timber was removed and the rock shoals improved by removing loose and solid rock obstructions that project above the general plane of bed of shoal, as was done in White River between the Rapides and Batesville in 1895, and by tearing out the fish traps, of which there are three, navigation could be safely carried on at a stage much lower than at present. It at least would put the stream in a clear condition, and it could be navigated safely when there was water, which is not the case now at any stage.
     Judging from past experience, it is believed that the river could be improved as above outlined for $3,500. It could probably be done in one low-water season. The map of survey is in two sheets, drawn on a scale of 600 feet to the inch, and accompanies this letter.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
            Wm. Parkin, Assistant Engineer

Capt. Wm. L. Sibert,
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A

     Survey of the Buffalo Fork of the White River: Letter From the Secretary of War, Transmitting, With a Letter From the Chief of Engineers, Report of Survey of White River, Arkansas - Refereed to the Committee on Rivers and Harbors. 54th Congress, 2d Session, Doc. 207. 1897. January 27, 1897. pp. 1-5.  United States. Congress. House. Committee on Rivers and Harbors., and United States. War Dept. Washington, D.C.  https://books.google.com/books?id=X5E3AQAAIAAJ&pg=RA24-PA4&lpg=RA24-PA4&dq=#v=onepage&q=Buffalo&f=false

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