The past whispers of secrets long kept, hushed murmurs that embrace me as I walk among the tumbled headstones in a long abandoned cemetery, place my hand on the trunk of a splendid maple that has shaded the ancient Ozark soil for a century or more, and turn my face to catch the kiss of afternoon sunlight that fires great oaks into a golden glow.
Imagine arriving in this rugged mountain wilderness by wagon train, on foot or horseback to find no voices of man, woman, or child; only the mournful calls of whippoorwill and solemn owls, the chatter of the crow and playful squirrel, the "scree" of soaring red hawks whose flight darts shadows across the land, or being alone with black bears, cougars, and wolves, asleep at night in the company of the nocturnal beasts of the forest and sky, the bats, the 'possum and the odorous skunk.
The Cherokee, the Osage, the Quawpaws, all were banished to the Indian Nations to the West. Only a few of these natives linger, the pad of their moccasins unheard as they hunt the forests and valleys, seldom seen, as if they never existed.
The rocks of the region prove the age of this ancient land. They lie flat in sedimentary layers of the Paleozoic age. The highest ridges and peaks are capped by Pennsylvanian sandstone and shale. The deeply eroded valleys are cut into Mississippian limestone, and below that layer, the Ordovician dolomite.
This range contains the highest peaks in all the Ozarks, five of which have elevations at or slightly above 2,560 feet. Valleys range from 500 to 1500 feet deep. The upper Boston Mountains lie south of the heavily populated Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan area that includes Fayetteville, Springdale, Bentonville and Rogers.
These mountains are the source of rivers and streams that flow out from the high peaks in all directions, one of the reasons for emigrants to settle and remain. Within a three-mile radius of a point just west of the summits are located the sources of the White, the Buffalo and the Kings River, War Eagle, and Little Mulberry Creek. Other rivers and streams having their headwaters in the Boston Mountains and flowing downward to offer power to the many mills that were constructed during the years of early settlement are the Illinois and Mulberry River, Lee Creek, Frog Bayou, Big Piney Creek, Illinois Bayou, and the Little Red River. The Arkansas River valley separates the Boston Mountains from the Ouachita Mountains to the South.
In 1818 Thomas Nuttall conducted a scientific exploration for plants and wrote a journal that depicts the earliest lifestyle in the Boston Mountains.
Frederick Wilhelm Gerstacker visited the backwoods from 1838 through 1842. He wrote essays, short stories, and novels about the folkways, social conditions, religion, gender roles, and life in the mountains during that time.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft published the first written description of the Arkansas Ozarks' geography, vegetation, wildlife, and inhabitants. From November 1818 to February 1819, Schoolcraft explored the land from Potosi, Missouri, southwest to the White River, northwest to near Springfield, Missouri, then south by canoe on the White River to present-day Batesville, and finally northeast again to Missouri.
Into just such a frontier ventured the heroic Ozark pioneer. During the nineteenth century, westward bound families crossed the Mississippi headed for the Great Plains in huge covered wagons, some the giant Conestoga, but most the smaller versions neither so heavy nor so bungle-some. Others arrived carrying all their earthly possessions in farm wagons or carts pulled by oxen.
These courageous pioneers who settled in the Boston Mountains of the Arkansas Ozarks are rarely depicted with those thousands who traveled West. Those who embraced the wilderness of these age-old mountains were another breed. They came for the most part from Tennessee, Kentucky, the Virginias, and the Carolinas. It is often suggested that these hardy souls were on their way to another place, but the rugged mountains, the narrow valleys, the impassable trails cut by Indians and wild animals created barriers they were too weary to cross.
Yet other reasons kept them here. Many had fled land that could never be theirs, looking for that which they could own. Free of the oppression heaped upon them in territories that did not look kindly upon the commoner, they homesteaded along rivers, in valleys, on mountainsides to carve an existence from the unforgiving wilderness and embrace this new land-this new home.
Perhaps the beauty of the mountains reached out and captured the hearts and minds of these early travelers. The crystal springs and rivers, deep forests that hid secret caves, soaring bluffs and green valleys said: This is where you belong; this place will cradle your spirit like no other. They could do nothing less than settle and build a rich, fulfilling life.
Here are many stories of communities and the people who built them, people and places long gone but never forgotten. For there lies our history and our strength.
Here in the Boston Mountains-named thus because the word means a hard way to go-pioneers hacked away the gigantic oak and built their crude log homes, cleared the brambles and wild roses, and the pesky persimmon sprouts, and made a space to grow food for their families. They built schools and churches, trading posts and mills, chopped out roads on which to travel from home to church to school and back. Here they settled and brought up their children and suffered the hardships that would make them tougher and friendlier than most, definitely more stubborn, but best of all, content. They developed a culture rich in values like loyalty and honor, created their memories, both happy and melancholy, and passed them on to us, if only we will listen.