Volume 1, Number 10
In turning the spotlight of research on the forgotten byways of the upper White River valley, it is interesting to note how community centers emerge, flourish for awhile, and then fade into the abyss of time as new ones are born. One such social, economic, and cultural center was Arno, located about five miles southwest of Ava, Missouri.
The topography and terrain of the region around Arno destined it for a role in the history of the upper White River valley. Arno was located near the confluence of William's Hollow, Beaver Creek proper, Cowskin Creek, Prairie Creek, and Prairie Hollow. With the early establishment of roads and homesites along the flood plains of the streams and their later development along the divides, it was only natural that all roads seemed to lead to Arno.
Even before the coming of the white men, this advantageous site was not overlooked by the historic and prehistoric Indians who lived there intermittently since time immemorial. The surface layer of the soil has interspersed among it the artifacts that characterized their cultures. The area had an abundant water supply for both the Indians and the wildlife. The wooded valleys provided a habitat suitable for the bear, deer, beaver, and other species of the forest. The prairies to the east around the present site of Ava abounded with elk and many times with buffalo.
A tribe of some sixty Piankeshaw Indians were living at or near the site at the mouth of Cowskin Creek prior to the coming of the Delaware Indians to the upper White and James rivers region. It was here on Cowskin Creek that William Gilliss, a noted Indian fur trader, acquired one of his dusky brides. She was Kahketoqua, the daughter of Chief Laharsh of the Piankeshaw tribe. Gilliss negotiated for the Indian maiden through another Indian friend referred to as Baptiste Peoria. After the presentation of gifts acceptable to the chief and his squaw, Kahketoqua became the wife of Gilliss. They lived for a time at his trading post at the mouth of James River.
In due time Gilliss returned Kahketoqua to her family on Cowskin Creek while he supposedly made a trip back East, promising to reclaim her when he returned. He never returned for the Indian maiden, but from time to time sent gifts to their daughter named Nancy. Long years afterwards, William Gilliss died a wealthy man, failing to mention Nancy in his will. The heirs of Nancy brought suit in the courts and obtained a portion of his estate.
In time the Piankeshaws moved on, as did the other Indian tribes of the upper White River region. Then came an influx of pioneers from east of the Mississippi River, arriving in ox-wagons, ox-carts, and horse-drawn vehicles. They reached the Beaver Creek watershed by way of
the Green's Ferry road or the Falenash Military road.
When the government land surveys were made in 1847, John Morris was operating a grist mill on Beaver Creek about a half-mile above the mouth of Cowskin Creek. The survey plats also show the Huffman farmstead located about a half-mile due south of the site of Arno. Perhaps this was where Louisa Huffman and Jarred Huffman were born in 1855 and 1859 respectively.
Among other pioneer immigrants arriving in the area were William J. Turner and his wife, Hannah. William Turner was a Virginian who had moved from his native state to Indiana and from there to Douglas County, Missouri, in 1844. He first settled on a farmstead about five miles south of the present site of Ava. Sometime prior to 1857, Turner moved to the old Indian village site at the mouth of Cowskin Creek which was at that time in Taney County. On February 4, 1857, he established a post office on the site, naming it "Arno." The source of the name is not known, but the post office may have been named from the Arno River in northern Italy. Perhaps Beaver Creek bore some resemblance to the Italian stream.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Arno was perhaps not unlike other communities in the area. The peace-loving people who resided in the region wanted no part of the war and hated no one. But in time, they aligned themselves on one side or the other until the whole countryside was seething with bitterness and hatred. No community in the upper White River Valley escaped the awful rebellion.
According to an unpublished diary of J. A. Fulsom, Major General Samuel Curtis and his Union Army camped on Cowskin Creek, perhaps at or near the site of Arno, on April 24, 1862. His army was enroute from Camp Hawkins near the mouth of Beaver Creek to Clark's Mill in Douglas County.
On January 7, 1863, Fort Lawrence, a Union out post located just seven miles south of Arno, fell to Confederate Colonel Emmett McDonald and his brigade of Missourians. The fort was manned by Militiamen from Taney and Douglas counties. There are two unknown Civil War soldiers buried in unmarked graves just south of the village which serves as a grim reminder of the terrible conflict. Despite the efforts of Captain James H. Sallee and Moses L. Alsup and their commands, the guerrillas and bushwhackers laid waste the countryside, forcing most of the people to flee.
As a result of the turmoil in the area, the Arno Post Office discontinued services on November 16, 1863. William J. Turner, founder and name-giver of Arno, moved to Linn County, Missouri, where he died. Near the end of the Civil War, that portion of the Beaver Creek watershed embracing Arno became a part of Douglas County.
William J. Turner's sympathies lay with the Union in the great conflict and so did those of his eldest son, Samuel, who later became the prime moving force in the history and development of Arno. Soon after the outbreak of the war, Samuel Turner volunteered in the Webster County Home Guards where he served for a time, after which he enlisted in the 73 Regiment of the Enrolled Missouri Militia. After serving six months in the Militia, he enlisted in the Sixth Provisional Regiment of Missouri Volunteers under Colonel Sheppard where he served as assistant quartermaster-general. The last outfit to which he belonged was the Sixteenth Missouri Cavalry where he served until the end of the war, being discharged with the rank of Captain.
Perhaps it was Samuel Turner's contacts with Colonel Sheppard that secured him a job after the war with the Springfield firm of Henry Sheppard & Co. After working for a time in the employ of the company, he became a partner, establishing both a retail and wholesale store at the site of his father's old post office at Arno. He was a member of the A.F. & A.M. and I.O.O.F, lodges and was associated with the church. Samuel married Sarah J. Lyons, the daughter of Joseph Lyons, a prominent miller who built what was later known as the Jackson Mill located some ten miles southwest of Ava.
Soon after Samuel Turner established his mercantile business at Arno, he re-established the post office on May 30, 1867. He served the Arno community as postmaster and merchant until his death in 1892.
Other postmasters and their dates of appointment who served the Arno community following the death of Samuel Turner were:Sallie J. Turner April 12, 1892
Post Office discontinued February 15, 1933.
From the time Samuel Turner established his mercantile business at Arno, he accomplished much for himself, his community, and a wide expanse of territory adjacent to Arno.
Soon after the Civil War, three far-east town ships voted out of Douglas County to join Howell County. The old county seat at Vera Cruz was then considered too far east of the center of the county. In 1869 the people of Douglas County voted more than two to one to move the county seat to Arno. For a short time, circuit court was held at Arno in a building some 30 feet wide and 38 feet long which stood just west of the main store building. Lumber for the new courthouse was reportedly hauled from Rockbridge and stacked on the Peter Malloy farm near the mouth of Prairie Creek, and was washed away in a flash flood. In time the three townships that had joined Howell County rejoined Douglas County, thus putting the county seat at Arno too far west of the center of the county. Considerable dissatisfaction developed over the Arno location, and a compromise was reached establishing the county seat out on the prairie at the headwaters of Prairie Creek. Some government land was secured at the compromise location for the county seat town of Ava.
Arno had no sooner lost the county seat when A. J. Thurman of Mountain Home, Arkansas, became interested in establishing a Normal School at Arno. Samuel Turner offered to furnish the lumber, nails, and other building materials for a suitable structure to house the Academy, as it was referred to then. Sufficient labor was donated to erect the building. Edward Turner and Peter Malloy dragged logs with oxen to burn the lime necessary for the plaster. Peter Malloy supervised the carpenter work on the structure. Professor Thurman soon found himself with a satisfactory building for his educational endeavors. The Arno Normal School opened in 1870, being the only such educational institution between Springfield, Missouri, and Berryville and Mountain Home, Arkansas.
In the beginning the school had no dormitory, and the students boarded at various nearby homes for one dollar per week. Among those kept by Ned Turner were Pleasant Eddings, George Siler, a Mr. Thurman, and two Stafford girls. Professor T. A. Kay taught a Teachers Course at the Academy for prospective teachers who paid one dollar per month tuition.
During the 1870s and 1880s, the school was a growing success drawing students from many miles in all directions. According to J. E. Curry's History of Douglas County, the Amo school was making fine progress in 1890. Professors Kay and Morris were offering a good educational program, and Samuel Turner had just completed a new dormitory building to house the students.
It is not known when the Arno Normal School ceased operation, but as late as 1899 the Douglas County Herald reported a reunion at Arno. Among those present were Professor Thurman, the Rev. Scoggins, Kenneth Burdett, T. W. Davis, W. J. Turner, Miss Joan Percy, Mrs. Sallie Adams, and T. A. Kay.
Arno secured a "Job High School" (two year high school) after an enabling act was passed by the state legislature in 1923. It flourished until the coming of better roads which brought an end to its needs in the mid-1930s. During that period of time, one of its teachers was Mrs. John Bragg. An elementary school continued to operate at Arno until 1955. Boyd Wise was the last teacher at Arno, thus closing the curtains on the last scene of its educational history.
In addition to the educational activities at Arno, there were lodges of Odd Fellows and Modern Woodmen. Arno possessed retail stores and a wholesale house that supplied many of the merchants in adjacent areas, especially to the south. One of the main roads to Springfield passed through Arno which meant a lively business for the blacksmith shop and livery stable. Prior to 1875, Simon Lakey was the village blacksmith. From about 1881 to 1886, Jim Shelton ran the blacksmith shop. Dudley Pettit operated the shop and livery barn from Shelton's time until about 1896 when Aus Herrell took over the duties associated with the business and served until about 1920. From then until about 1935, Lum Snow was the village blacksmith.
Samuel Turner engaged in livestock raising and farming in addition to his many other enterprises. About 1883, he built a horse-powered cotton gin that served the inhabitants of a wide area during the years cotton farming was profitable.
Among other merchants who served the Arno community in addition to Samuel Turner were Ned Turner, Doc Hutton, Bill Denny, Frank Hartley, Erwin Denny, and Cecil Creech.
Arno, for some period of time, was considered the cultural center of a wide area. In addition to its fine educational institution, the community possessed a spirit of Christianity with good churches, among which were Baptist, Christian, and Methodist. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Missouri Association of General Baptists. It is reported that in the early years a minister from
Kentucky, whose name is now forgotten, moved into the Arno community determined not to preach in his new location. He might have been regarded as a Jonah fleeing the commands of the Lord. The death of a child occurred in the community, and there was no minister present to preach the funeral. On the spur of the moment and without thinking, he yielded to the command of God and preached the child's funeral. He did so well that the community persuaded him to preach once a month. This he did well, too. Adjacent communities soon sought his talents and services. Soon he was pastor of four community churches. He then wrote back to Kentucky and secured a man to come to Arno to organize the four churches into the Missouri Association of General Baptists. It is believed that the many General Baptists churches in the upper White River region came from this early organization.
Arno, true to the heritage of its people, filled its mission, and passed to other generations, though perhaps far removed, the spirit and courage of their forefathers. As one recounts the events of the past, he cannot help but pause and in silent prayer pay homage to those hardy pioneers who settled the upper Beaver Creek water shed. But change must come as all things human change.
The Piankeshaw Indians have long ago gone to their happy hunting grounds. The remnants of the old John Morris Mill are perhaps today unidentifiable. The elk and buffalo no longer roam the upland prairies, nor does the bear pause and drink beside the rippling streams. The trials and tribulations of the Great Rebellion are scarcely remembered. The cotton fields have faded from the distant landscapes, and the echoes of the wood-man's axe no longer vibrate from the abandoned homesites. Many voices who sang the sacred hymns are forever stilled. The laughter and glee of the social hours are but fleeting memories to those who still survive. The old Academy stands forsaken and forlorn, and upon the hill above the village many Arno pioneers lie in deep repose. Arno, the cultural, civic, and commercial center of the upper Beaver Creek watershed, has left a worthy (and perhaps unseen) mark upon a region, a people, and a nation.
Research in the preparation of the Arno manuscript included the following: U. S. Census Records, 1840 and 1850; History of Greene County, 1883;
U. S. Government Land Survey plats and field notes, 1847; U. S. Postal Records for Taney and Douglas counties; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion; A Reminiscent History of Douglas County, 1857 - 1957, by J. E. Curry; Letters to the Territorial Governors of Missouri; the unpublished Diary of J. A. Fulsom, a soldier in General Samuel Curtis' army; A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region; personal letters and contacts with Cecil Creech, Claude Hibbard, and others.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly