Volume 1, Number 9
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century the most accessible route into the upper White River valley was by way of the river. The early settlers who came into the region during that period of time came up the river in boats.
By the early 1830s some of the pioneers began arriving by way of overland routes. For some time they came by either the Green's Ferry road or the Falenash Military road. The Green's Ferry road brought them into the prairie region near the present site of Springfield, Missouri, and upper James River. Within a short time immigrants were arriving in the southern portion of the upper White River watershed over the Falenash Military road which ran through the present sites of Yellville, Carrollton, and Huntsville, Arkansas.
As the regions around Carrollton, Forsyth, and Springfield became more populated, the need for a road between them became more apparent.
After Greene County, Missouri, was organized in 1833, its first county court ordered a road opened from the Springfield region to the mouth of Swan Creek on White River, thereby giving that region access to commerce on the river. About the same time or soon thereafter, a road was opened from the present site of Carrollton to White River opposite Forsyth, thus completing the first north-south road across the upper White River valley. Immigrants arriving at both ends of this road prodded their slow-moving oxen toward White River seeking new home sites and new opportunities in a new land.
Soon the number of pioneers living in the vicinity of these three towns warranted the establishment of postal services. Both Carrollton and Springfield established post offices in 1834. The communities of Yellville, Carrollton, and Huntsville are believed to have been served by a mail route over the old Falenash Military road from Talbot's post office located near the mouth of Big North Fork. The Springfield region was served by a mail route from Boonville, Missouri.
In 1837 a mail route, eighty miles in length, was established along the Carrollton-Forsyth-Spring field road. The mail was carried once a week. A contract for this route was let to Hogan and Smith for $650 per year. The route ran from Springfield via White Oak Grove, Ozark, Hoover's Mill, Bull Mills, Mount Prarie, and Forsyth to Carrollton.
From the description of this mail route, it can be seen that by 1837 several communities had been established along the way. Bull Mills obtained its own post office in 1840. White Oak Grove and Mount Prairie have long ago lost their identity, and few people today know the location of the long-forgotten Bull Mills.
The establishment of the Carrollton-Forsyth-Springfield road opened the outside world to the region's earliest settlers along White River who had heretofore used the river as their chief outlet.
The following is a brief description of the road as it appeared about 1840:
From Carrollton the road ran eastward, south of Long Creek, some three or four miles before turning in a northerly direction passing through the vicinity of Sycamore Springs to a junction near Shaver, a short distance east of Long Creek. The road leading southeast from this junction ran to Yellville, with a road to Dubuque, Arkansas, branching off the Yellville road a few miles east of the Shaver junction.
From the junction near Shaver, the Carrollton Forsyth-Springfield road ran in a northeasterly direction to the main divide at the present site of Burlington, Arkansas, on US Highway 65. From that point, the road ran in a northerly direction along the main divide via the present site of Omaha, Arkansas, Murder Rocks, and the present site of Kirbyville, Missouri, to Forsyth.
The portion of the road between Forsyth and Springfield, known as the Mail Trace road, ran from Forsyth up Swan Creek to the Oliver sawing and grinding mill which is believed to have been in operation at that time. From the Oliver mill the road ran in a northeasterly direction, much as it does today, via the present sites of Dickens, Taneyville, and Swan to a point on Blue Creek about 1 1/4 miles above the Christian County line where it turned west, ascending the main divide between Blue Creek and Bull Creek. After reaching the apex of the divide, it ran in a northerly direction along the main divide to a point near Low Gap where it turned in a northwesterly direction descending the slopes to Bull Creek. It then ran up Bull Creek by Bull Mills and beyond the mouth of West Fork where it ascended the main divide east of West Fork following the divide around the head waters of Elk Creek to Ozark and from there to Springfield.
From the Shaver junction northeast of Carrollton, travelers from the regions around Dubuque and Yellville used the Carrollton-Forsyth-Spring field road in reaching Forsyth, Ozark and points north until more direct routes were opened for travel.
Marketable goods consisting of furs, cotton, lead ore, beeswax, etc., were hauled over the road to the river for "down-river" shipment to markets at Batesville, Memphis, and New Orleans.
As the population increased in the White River
watershed, travel increased on the road. There were grain
to be hauled to the grist mills, logs to the sawmills, and various kinds of
merchandise to and from the river and trading posts along the route. In time
the mail hack or stage replaced the lone mail carrier on horseback. The circuit
riders and missionaries used the road in caring for their flocks at distant
places along the way. The passage of strangers, making their way north or south
along the road, was not uncommon.
When the Civil War came, the old road played an important part in the movement of troops and supplies. Corn and forage for the horses of the cavalry were hauled from the upper Long Creek and Osage valleys in Arkansas to the Union Garrison at Forsyth. Messengers and their escort guards, as well as spies, were dispatched over the road to and from Springfield, Ozark, Forsyth, and Carrollton. Many expeditions of the Union and Confederate cavalry traversed the roads to Ozark, Forsyth, Carrollton, Dubuque, and Yellville seeking knowledge of the intentions of the enemy or skirmishing with them in bitter contest over the jurisdiction of the upper White River valley. The infantry, the cavalry, and the artillery with their supply trains moved to and fro over the road, often challenged by guerrilla bands roaming the countryside. Wagon trains, composed of loyal Union sympathizers with their livestock and belongings, were sometimes escorted northward over the road from places in Arkansas to relative safety beyond the reach of the Rebels. Many people of Southern sympathy loaded their wagons and escaped southward over the road to places of safety in Arkansas. At war's end many of the inhabitants who had used the old road to flee the valley used it again to return.
Soon after war was over, the railroad came to Springfield, bringing increased travel over all or parts of the old Carrollton-Forsyth-Springfield road. Long lines of freight wagons, laden with cotton or other products of the farms or forest could be seen waiting to cross the ferry at Forsyth en route to the railroad town of Springfield. Herds of cattle, sheep, and swine were driven northward the Springfield markets. Even the horses of the Baldknobbers struck sparks from the rocks of the old road bed in their nighttime pursuits. The drummers, doctors, preachers, and lawyers traveled over it on their many missions. The medicine shows and the peddlers traveled it as did everyone who had business north or south along the route.
With the coming of the White River Iron Mountain Railroad across the White River valley, the major portion of freight and passenger service over the old road ceased. In time the stage coach and the mail hack slowly rolled to a final stop. Other roads and ways more accessible took many travelers from the old route. The once popular county seat town of Carrollton has almost disappeared from the map. The ghosts of Murder Rocks less frequently visit their once-favorite haunts, and the legends of the Rocks are swiftly fading into the abyss of time. The dashing cavalry of the Blue and Grey have passed into oblivion. The firing muskets echo no more, and their once shining sabers, dulled with rust, are broken and scattered to the four winds. Long ago, eternity claimed the souls of these daring soldiers who once passed along the old road. The ideals for which they fought and died are scarcely remembered. Today only a part of the old road bed has implanted upon it the modern highways we now travel. Few today remember that it was a great road, tying together four popular and thriving county seat towns. Many legends and much of our early history are entwined about the old Carrollton-Forsyth Springfield road.
(Reference material: Official Postal Records, Official Government Land Survey Plats and Field Notes, Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, History of Greene County (1883), numerous old newspaper files, as well as other sources).
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly