Volume 8, Number 9, Fall 1984


Memories of the Kimberling Ferry

by Fred Baker in 1973


(Editor’s note: In the following article, Fred Baker of Forsyth recalls his memories of the Kimberling Ferry).

During the month of March in 1925 I helped ford the White River at Kimberling Bridge with five hundred and twenty head of two year old steers. At that time we only had two ways to move cattle--by rail or by foot. My dad, Arthur Baker and his partner, Jim Morris, were in the livestock business at Rogersville, Mo. During the month of February each year they would go to Berryville and Green Forest, Ark. (in Jim’s Model T Ford) and buy big steers they were going to graze that summer on pastures around Rogersville from April to October. At that time they were shipped by rail to the stockyards in St. Louis. The weight on the steers in St. Louis would run from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds each. In October 1925 we shipped eight hundred head, which at that time was a train load, and they brought eight cents per pound.

Dad and Jim had forded the White River at Kimberling a number of times, but this was the only trip I made. Dad called home and said that my older brother Charlie and I were to ride our horses and lead his old bay mare down there so that we could help drive the cattle home. I was just a kid and it was a thrilling experience for me to make this trip. Getting to be out of school for a whole week was a joy in itself.

To add to the excitement, the week before a strange woman had come to Rogersville, made a few speeches around town including the school and among other things, and predicted that the world would come to an end the very day we started on this trip to Arkansas. Her predictions ran through my mind many times that day, especially when I told my mother good-bye that morning at four o’clock.

The little horse I was riding wasn’t the rocking chair type, but we made the forty miles to Reeds Spring by four o’clock that afternoon and stayed at the old hotel there. I remember how good the family style table full of food looked that evening after a full day in the saddle.

At Green Forest we met my Dad, six cowboys and their stock dogs hired to help with the drive home. Dad bought a big team of four year old iron gray mules and thought he was going to have to hire an extra man to lead the mules. The old man from whom he had bought them spoke up and said that he had raised them and trained them to work and since he wanted to take a trip anyway would we mind if he went along to take care of the mules.

This was a six day trip back home with the cattle and Jim had arranged for overnight stops along the way to include food and lodgings for the men and horses as well as the cattle.

The crossing of the White River at Kimberling with that string of Hereford cattle was a beautiful and thrilling sight. It’s not easy to get a bunch of big steers to plunge off in that cold swift water in March, but with the help of good stock dogs and good horses we made it.

After crossing the river we drove the cattle to Sharp’s farm on the Hill south of Reeds Spring for another overnight stop. We stayed at the old hotel again.

They called me the pig tail on this trip. I stayed at the back of the herd and when a car came along it was my job to say "follow me" and I would take it through the cattle. When a car came along meeting the cattle it would just have to wait until we drove past them.

Before leaving Reeds Spring that morning to start that day’s drive my dad had checked at the depot to see when the next train was due. This bunch of cattle had been raised in the north Arkansas hills and had never heard a train whistle. The station agent said that the next train was due about noon. But at nine o’clock, just as the first bunch of steers was about to go under the underpass of the railroad track here comes a train around the corner sounding three long blasts of the whistle and the stampede was on. Five hundred and twenty big steers took the town of Reeds Spring. In an effort to try and turn back the steers leading the stampede, my brother ran one of them up on the wood porch in front of the store buildings and through a glass plate window. I was alongside the old man with the mules trying to keep my little horse and me from getting run over. Dogs were barking and people who had come out of their houses to see the cattle were trying to get back in. At one point I looked down and saw a little Boston Bulldog that was airborne. He had run out of his yard and bit one of the mules on the hind leg. The mule had kicked him clear back in the yard where he had come from.

It took five hours to get the cattle rounded up and on the road again. The cattle were tired from being on the road or I think we would have been five days getting them back together.

Our last night on the road was spent at Rich Kissee’s place at Ozark. From there we put the cattle on a four hundred acre place at Cody, three miles west of Rogersville.

We had good weather on the whole trip except for the last day when about noon we had freezing rain, sleet and snow mixed together. We always carried big raincoats, called slickers, on the back of the saddle and when we put it on it covered man, saddle and all.

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The only parts exposed were hands and face. My slicker was frozen so stiff by the time we got home that it would stand alone in the barn lot.

I thought Dad was crazy when he paid four hundred dollars for that team of mules, because that was more than Jim’s model T Ford cost, but after he cleaned them up, roached their manes and tails, he took them up town on Saturday morning and sold them for six hundred.

The changes in the way we live and particular the way we handle livestock, in a few short years, is almost unbelievable. I hope that they get a good stand of grass on the month before they start taking cattle up there right now it looks like a heck of a dusty place for a stampede.

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