W. R. Jones 1891 Speech

The following speech was made on May 22, 1891, at the White River Convention in Batesville, Arkansas by W. R. Jones of Yellville, Arkansas. The  speech was printed in the Mountain Echo, and it has been transcribed within the historical parameters of the day.[1]

I rise to speak for Marion county, and I can truthfully say that the most important question confronting our citizens is the question of transportation. Yellville, the county seat of Marion county, which is also the center of the mining region of that county, is 75 miles from the nearest railroad. With the exception of a few insignificant things, none of our agriculture exports, except cotton ever find their way to the markets of the world; not because the soil will not produce a surplus, but because the cost of transportation is so great we cannot compete with agricultural communities adjacent to railroads and navigable rivers. Hundreds and thousands of tons of general merchandise, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars has been freighted to Marion county on wagon and straggling steamboats. Our people are compelled to have these things at any price, yet with all our varied products, the Chinese wall of 75 miles of rocky wagon roads and uncertain river have, until very recently, forced us to pay for our numberless and costly imports with a single export – cotton.

Picture used with permission by William Yates.
For so many years has this condition surrounded our people, they, as a rule, no longer make an effort on their farms to raise a surplus of anything but cottons of late, this method of farming has proven disastrous , but what are the farmers going to do about it? They must have some money and cotton is the only thing they can get to the markets of the world that stands a chance of competing with localities that are blessed with good transportation facilities. Until very recently the people had to depend entirely upon agriculture for support. Of the four great industries of the world, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing and mining, our people had but one and had it under the greatest possible disadvantages. We have the hope of being blessed with the other three in the near future. Marion county, and in fact all the section adjacent to Upper White river, both in this State and in Missouri, is destined to become the richest mining section on the globe. In Marion county alone over 3,000 mining claims have been located on government lands, beside there are thousands of acres deeded lands that contain valuable minerals. On at least half of the claims that have been located zinc is found literally sticking out of the ground, in at least 100 places real mines have been opened from which hundreds of tons of zinc have been taken, some of which is pure enough to ship to market just as it was taken from the ground, and there are now hundreds and may I say thousands of ore lying on the dump awaiting treatment and transportation. This if marketed would put thousands of dollars in circulation among our people and would stimulate every industry and enterprise in which they are engaged, and this would of course benefit the whole White River valley and entire State.

But standing as we are on the very verge of unbounded prosperity we are paralyzed by the transportation question. Our zinc can’t be hauled on wagons to the nearest railroad for less than $20 per ton and it is worth only about $25 per ton in market. Our enterprising boatmen say they could deliver it in St. Louis for less than five dollars a ton if the river was put in condition for regular transportation. This would be less than one fourth the cost of hauling it to West Plains, besides it would cost more to get it to St. Louis from West Plains than from the bank of the White river. To be brief, railroad transportation of our ores at the present time is out of the question. We are compelled to look to the river and are compelled to admit to capitalists and ourselves that this has been a very costly and uncertain means of transportation.

Just think of it. Some of the mining land in Marion county cannot be bought for $2,000 an acre, yet these magnificent mines, that  could fill not only the pockets of our own people but all the White river valley, full of money, are standing idle, impatiently awaiting transportation. Not only is the cost of shipping of ores heavy, but the cost of mining is much heavier than it would be if we had regular and cheap transportation. By Herculean efforts three enterprising companies have sent to Marion county as many ore crushers during the past few months. One of the plants is the finest and best in the Southwest. The cost of getting this machinery up there, considering the trouble and delay, was very considerable. The same is true of everything we import, the cost of transportation greatly enhances the selling price, yet this machinery has gone up there as has some other machinery that will greatly strengthen our infant manufacturing industry. 

As yet we have made no efforts to put marble on the market, yet assistant State Geologist that surveyed the marble area of Upper White river told me that the marble of Marion county is the same formation as the Tennessee marble that is now attracting world wide attention and is bringing great wealth to the localities in which it is found. Every county in the Upper White river country contains marble in inexhaustible quantities. I have seen bluffs of it from ten to fifteen feet high extending for miles. It is almost absolute fire proof, is often of a beautiful color and takes an excellent polish. We also have excellent deposits of lead, onyx, manganese and various other minerals that will prove valuable just as soon as the great question confronting us is solved.

Not only has Upper White river a good farming country and untold mineral wealth, but it has the finest supply of timber now standing in the country. Vast forests of pine, oak and cedar are silently awaiting transportation, when they will give employment to hundreds of our people, wealth to their owners and prosperity to us all. With good transportation facilities a more desirable place to live could not be found in this broad land of ours. Our soil will produce almost every agricultural product grown in the U. S. Every kind of fruit and vegetable can be grown in great profusion. There is no healthier climate in the world. Why, there was hardly a census enumerator in all that region but had trouble in getting his money for his work.  The death rate for the census year has been so low, the census department thought the reports were either carelessly made or purposely fraudulent. No section of the state has a better class of citizens than has Upper White river. The mountain air, the vast primeval forests and the music of the rippling streams have made nature’s noblemen out of them. Some of the towns are building churches and school houses that would put to shame many a railroad town. The educational sentiment is making wonderful headway and no section of this fair state or this great nation has a people with more piety or better moral character.

I mention these things to show that the commonly accepted theory of the people of Upper White river is untrue, and show those who are not acquainted with the true facts, that we have a people up there that is worthy of much better advantages than they now have, and to show that we have a country that, if developed, would not only enrich the people living there, but would bring prosperity to the whole White river valley, largely increase the wealth  and prosperity of the entire state and be felt over the country. In my honest opinion, untold millions of dollars are hid in the hills of Upper White river, to say nothing of the timer and productions of soil. Little of this vast wealth will be developed until the transportation question is solved, and the White river is the key to the situation. I do not believe that this wealth will ever be fully developed until we get railroads, but I do believe that it could be largely developed if we had regular river transportation; and I further believe that the quickest way to get railroad transportation, is to get regular river transportation.

Now the question arises can the White river be made permanently navigable? I certainly believe it can, and I further believe this magnificent river had been in Penn., it would have been made permanently navigable long ago. The Monongahela river is not naturally half as good a river as the White river, yet it is in splendid boating condition and untold millions of mineral wealth have been floated down to Pittsburg. It took probably millions to make it navigable, but the Penn Congressmen had the cheek to ask for these millions and the ability to convince the Congress and President that these appropriations were necessary. In my humble opinion this is exactly what we will have to ask of our congressional delegation in the future. No people in all this broad land of ours have a better right to ask an appropriation than the people of the Upper White river. Nothing seems more unjust to me than that Galveston, which is gridironed with railroads, should receive $6,000,000 to improve her harbor, while a small empire of people, absolutely dependent on the White river for transportation should only receive for the improvement of that stream the pitiful sum of a few thousand dollars. We do not propose to criticize our congressmen for the past, but earnestly hope and will expect that they will go down to Washington next year with the question of improvement of White river burning their ears. I am proud to say we have a congressional delegation that is second to none in the point of ability and devotion to the people, and I hope and believe from this time on  they will make the question of regular transportation for White river of paramount importance. Especially will we expect the representative that is chosen from this sixth district to be devoted to this cause. The sixth district is essentially a White river district and the man who expects the support of the people of this district should begin to study the question, which is more of importance to our people than any other public question. He should be a man in the prime of life, with no moss on his back, with first class ability and with moral character sufficient to give him weight and prestige in Congress. The press of the district should begin to educate the unknown gentleman in advance, so that he may know what is expected of him. if we can get such a man as this to represent us he will certainly have the hearty co-operation of every representative and senator in the State, when we get our congressional delegation thoroughly committed to this great work, and terribly in earnest about it, be it one, five or ten years, the question of sufficient appropriations is assured.

When the necessary appropriation is secured, it will be the duty of the people of the White river valley to see it economically and judiciously expended. And our brethren of the press, who are with us to-day, should watch this thing carefully and say what they think fearlessly. If they think the men who have expending of the money for the improvement of the river are doing their duty, give them every encouragement. If they think they are simply spending money to get rid of it, without doing the river any good, tell the people about it in vigorous terms, and if the people are betrayed, let them rise up as one man and demand the removal from office of those who have betrayed their trust.

I believe the White River can be made navigable to the Missouri border, and even beyond that point. I have for nearly a year been getting the ready print on which my paper is published, at McBee’s Landing, away above the Buffalo Shoals, and I have never failed to bring my paper out on time. It is true that I run risks on this that many others will not take, but it even shows that even as White river is, it is being navigated by oar enterprising boatmen.

McBee Steamboat Landing in 1888 at mile 404 near present day Cotter, Arkansas.           

Map of the White River from Forsyth, Missouri, to the Mouth.

Scanned by Vincent S. Anderson with permission from

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District Archives on September 18, 2014.
Give the river the necessary appropriation, see that it is honestly and sensibly expended and in less than five years a standing advertisement will be found in every newspaper in the White river valley, announcing just when each boat will reach and leave each landing. Then the merchant can order his goods by the river without any risk; then the miner can ship his ores when the market is at its best; then the lumberman can ship his timber in time to fill a contract; then the passenger that wishes to go down or come up the river can have some idea as to  when he can start; then the farmer that wishes to ship his produce can do so before they starve to death waiting on a boat; then the R.R. Co.’s, seeing themselves deprived of a vast amount of freight, will push into Upper White river from every direction, thus adding to the advantages that a regular river transportation would bring up. The Gentlemen you will see that Upper White river will be Birmingham of the Southwest. You will see the magnificent water power bring every kind of manufacturing industry into the valley; you will see mines developed that will astonish the world; you will see a commerce established, both by land and river, that will make cities out of what are now mere villages; you will see its agriculture products going out to seek a wide market in the world. In short you will see this section of the most; if not the most, prosperous sections of this great state, and in my honest opinion, White river is the key by which the fruition of our hopes may be speedily realized.

In co-operation there is strength. The press of this state is a unit on all questions of progress and prosperity. Every newspaper man in the State is interested in the prosperity of every section of the State. When the coal fields of Sebastian and other counties in the western part of the State first came into prominence, thousands of capitalists flocked to the coal section from every part of the U. S.  Did this benefit only the coal district? No! There is hardly a county in the State but has been largely benefited. Many that failed to make investments in the coal section drifted to other portions of the State. Their friends have since been attracted to Arkansas, some settling in one place and some in another, thus bringing a good class of emigrants and considerable capital to almost every county of the State. The press, from the rocky peaks that overhang White river on the North, to the level prairies where the magnolias grow on the South, helped advertise the coal fields to capitalists abroad, and they have been amply repaid for their space. 

This is only a single illustration of what has been done and can be done by co-operation of the Press. Let the press come to the relief of the Upper White river. Help us to advertise our wonderful resources to the world. Help us urge Congress to make our only means of transportation available, and in a short time the blessings that will come to us will overflow and you will receive your share.


1. W. R. Jones, “Upper White River: A Plea for Better Transportation Facilities,” Mountain Echo (Yellville, AR), June 5, 1891, microfilm, reel AR460, Mountain Home, AR: Baxter County Library Archives.
2. W. R. Jones photo by William Yates https://old.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27140788.

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