Volume 4 , Number 3 , Spring 1971


White River Trails

By Margaret Vickery


Long before white man ever set foot upon the Ozark hills the Indian was padding around over the rocks and rills in his mocassin feet. Their paths were numerous in all directions to hunting grounds and changed with the seasons.

The White River Trail was surveyed by government engineers across Dent County sometime during the 1830ies, for the Indians to use in making their exodus from Kentucky and Tennessee—to Oklahoma Territory. It was probably an old Indian trail before becoming a government trail and was used by the fur traders coming from St. Louis to buy pelts from the Indians at trading posts along the way.

In 1829 Congress set aside part of the Louisana Purchase for Indian Territory. In 1830 the Government passed the Removal Act for the Indians, and in 1834 the United States established the Indian Territory for the 5 civilized tribes—Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole—from Alabama and Mississippi, in what is now Oklahoma.

The White River Trail entered Dent County near Sligo, (Mrs. Lloyd Varah says that it crossed their property. John Whitaker built a little country store and named it the Square Deal Store over nearly hundred years ago. Inside the old store is a ladder leading to the loft. The old store is now used as a tool shed by the Varahs.)

Anyway, the trail then came in around Short Bend at Springer’s Mill. The fields near Short Bend and Big Wolf Cave have many arrowheads and indications are that the Indians camped at these places. Several Indian graves have been found in the Big Wolf Cave, and there is a fine spring there known as Mint Spring.

From Short Bend the trail winds around old highway 19 which pretty well followed the old trail, criss crossing 19 many times until it crossed Highway 68 near the Dr. Martin Hart property and then it wound down the lane to the Bressie Store and Trading Post where we are now gathered. The Indians and later the wagon trails often used this trail across Missouri. They stopped to camp at Bressies before continuing their journey. Ephraim Bressie had a farm of about 1,600 acres and he maintained a large barn and blacksmith shop where they could get repairs. They could swap pelts for merchandise, and camp by the big spring of pure cold water. As late as 1840 Mr. Bressie was in business. Sanford Inman now owns the property where the store was, and in the graveyard nearby—Mr. Bressie and members of his family and slaves are buried beside him.

The White River trail then proceeded across the county going about midway across D highway from Salem and Lenox and on out toward Maples on its way to Licking. The trail went by Licking because of the abundance of game and salt licks—from where Licking got its name.

I have always heard that the White River trail got its name from its destination point which was to the White River in Arkansas. It probably crossed Missouri in the vicinity of Bull Shoals Lake today. From some point in Arkansas it probably joined the Trail of Tears which led to the Indian Reservation near Muskogee, Okla. The trail also branched off towards Springfield and I feel sure that possibly the Delawares did travel almost straight across Missouri into Kansas and had their nation there.

The Osages, probably were the tribe who used the trail leading to the White River in Arkansas because later their nation was reunited near that of the Cherokee Nation.

Mr. E. W. Bennett gave me much of this information about the White River Trail in Dent County. His father, H. A. Bennett’s farm was in the area between Highway D and Highway 32 leading toward Licking. It crossed their farm and his father told him many interesting tales about the people traveling over the White River Trail. Mr. Bennett says that the engineers followed the ridge almost all the way across the county and that the rivers ran down both sides of the ridge.

However, back to the Indians—there were many Indian tribes living or had lived in this area prior to the Osages and Delawares. Some Indian Mounds are believed to be prehistoric or thousands of years old that have been uncovered especially in the Current River area. There were many trails running across Dent County. One of the oldest went toward Iron Mountain, as French trappers and

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traders came into this area from Ste. Genevieve. Ashley if known to have mined saltpeter from a huge cave above Montauk State Park and hauled it over a trail to Potosi in 1812.

The Delaware tribe who did inhabit this area about the time Dent County was being settled—came from the Algonquian Tribe on the Atlantic Coast. In the War of 1812 they fought against the British with the French and were pushed to retreat to the Mississippi Valley, and thence began their slow migration to Oklahoma territory. So thorough were the battles with the Indians that many tribes were completely exterminated and little is known of their origin or where they vanished.

The Osages came from Ohio. The tribe broke up into several tribes with them living along the Osage and Missouri Rivers in Missouri and on the banks of the Arkansas River. As early as 1802 the French traders tried to persuade the Osages to move to a new land along the Arkansas River.

During the next 30 years the Osages ceeded their lands to the Federal Government in exchange for land in Kansas, and eventually the whole tribe was reunited. After the Civil War the government decided they needed the Kansas land and the Osages sold for 9 million dollars and then they acquired 1 1/2 million acres from the Cherokee Nation in the State of Oklahoma.

As we stand here tonight together on this old Indian Camp Ground, and think of the tragic exodus to Indian Territory, and, of the settlers, who crossed over the White River Trail in wagon trains to start a new life in the West, let us be thankful, that as far as history has recorded fact, there were no incidents or bloodshed in their passing, and that for the most part, the Indians and the early Dent County Settlers were friends. And let us hope that we, as Dent Countians can be as graceful in adjusting our lives to today’s ever changing times, as our ancestors.

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