AN INCIDENT OF THE GREAT RISE IN WHITE RIVER IN 1824
By S. C. Turnbo
Seeing the old settled farms along White River calls to mind the names and residences of old time people and incidents that have transpired in the long ago. Our thoughts revert back to the time when the transparent waters of White River afforded hundreds and thousands of the finny tribe and herds of deer subsisted on the tender herbage and the howling wolf prowled around in quest of prey, and the fat bear shambled along through the cane brakes and the panther made night with its piercing screams. Wild beasts of all kinds that were natives of the Ozark hills were met with frequently. Seeing wild animals were so common with the early settlers that they were not looked on as any thing remarkable. The early day people are nearly all gone and so is the ferocious wild beast pretty near all gone now. Instead of seeing big game roaming through the forest and the ancient hunter with his old fashioned rifle and hunting dog following him, we notice that the river bottoms are converted into productive farms and here and there or on a hill we observe a little town or village. Church and school buildings are found all over the country. This is a wonderful change from the scattering settlements of the pioneer days. Though while the modern settlers of the White River Valley are making some strides in building up the country and railroads are being constructed through these hilly regions, erecting telegraph lines, and the telephone is being established all through the country and villages towns and cities are springing into existence in many quarters, yet we must not forget the pioneer settler who visited the beautiful White River and made the first move in ridding the country of wild beast and building their cabins in the gloomy shade of the forest where there was a cool spring of sparkling water.
Just below the river bottom known as the Jake Nave Bend in Boone County Ark. is a tall bluff where a precipice reaches high up to the summit. Here one day recently I had a fine view of scenery along White River for several miles which includes a birds eye view of the Nave Bend. At the lower end of this bottom is where Buck Coker pitched his tent January 8, 1815. Here on the bank of the river he and family sheltered in this tent which stood in the midst of tall cane until he could build a small cabin to protect them from the cold wintry blast. In the course of a few years Cokers wife sickened and died and she was buried near by where the dwelling stood. This was the start for a grave yard there which we have referred to so often in other sketches. Among the old time residents who lies in this village of the dead is Billy Holt and his kind and industrious wife Mary L. Or Aunt Polly Holt as she was commonly known. Here also lies their daughter Peggie wife of "River" Bill Coker, and their unmarried daughter Mary Ann. Here also lies Mary Coker Nave daughter of Ned Coker and the first wife of Jake Nave, and also Aunt Winnie wife of Ned Coker. This land is known now as the Dave McCord Farm. A short distance above this land at a fine spring of water is where Jake Nave lived and died and lies buried in the cemetery at Pro-Tem. Just below where Buck Coker lived is the mouth of Pine Hollow at the head of which is a small pinery where Ned Coker and "River" Bill Coker had their negro men to fell pine trees and out off loge of the desired length and haul them to the river at the mouth of this hollow with ox teams where the logs were made into rafts and floated down the river to Mike Yocums saw Mill in the mouth of Little North Fork where the logs were converted into lumber, and the negroes hauled it back home on ox wagons. The remarkable rise in White River in September 1824 was probably the greatest flood in this stream during the l9th century. The torrential rain storms that produced this freshet were so frequent that the hunters were driven from the forest and sought shelter in their cabins. Allin Trimble son of Bill Trimble said that he was 9 years old when this high water swept over the bottoms. At the time of its occurrence he was living with his grandfather Buck Coker. Also two other grand sons were staying with him at the time. These were "Prairie" Bill and Herrod Coker, sons of Joe Coker. Jesse Yocum son in law of Cokers was also there and when the waters began to threaten to reach the top of the bank Coker sent them all to higher ground, but Coker himself refused to go with them. The family thinking he would be willing to vacate the house when the water rose higher rested easy about him until the waters surrounded the cabin. There was no canoe available but Jess Yocum owned a fine horse he called Paddy that was a renowned swimmer. They owned other horses but Paddy was the best swimmer in the bunch. As the raging flood of water spread over the bottom Yocum swam his horse twice to the Coker dwelling and back to try to induce his father in law to leave the house but he declined. The river continued to rise rapidly and was becoming deeper every hour between the house and the hill. The family were alarmed for the safety of him and his son in law made the third trip back to the cabin to make a last effort to persuade Mr. Coker to vacate the dwelling. The raging waters had rose to the level of the floor. Driftwood was riding over the cane and lodging against the trees in the bottom. This last trip for Yocum and his faithful animal was hazardous for the current was growing swifter and deeper. When Yocum reached the house he informed his obstinate father in law that this was his last trip to try to rescue him for the current was getting to be too swift and deep to make an attempt to come back again and if he intended to leave the house at all now was the time and the old man looked at his son in law as he sat on his beautiful but wearied horse as he stood in the water over knee deep. He seemed to admire the man and appreciated his untiring energy in braving the strong and muddy current in an effort to save his life, then he cast his eyes over the great expanse of seething and foaming water that was spreading from hill to hill and then glancing his eyes once more toward his son in law he gave his consent to go and Yocum took him up behind him and reining the horses head around toward camp the horse started with his double weight and was soon in deep water but the true and ever faithful horse carried both men safely to shore. The highest stage of water reached the door head of the cabin before the flood began to subside. The family used graters to make meal for bread and after the great tide of water had spread over the field where there was a small crop of corn Mr. Cokers plucky grandsons "Prairie" Bill and his brother Herrod would ride their horses into the water where the corn was and gather the ears of corn to grate. It was interesting and certainly dangerous work for the boys to swim their horses around over the field and reach down into the water and feel for the corn and pull it off of the stock."
Buck Coker lived in this bottom until after the big freshet in May 1844 when he went to West Sugar Loaf Creek where he died in 1855 at the extreme age of nearly 100 years. It is said that a year or more before his death he selected a spot of ground on the old Charles Coker farm for the burial of his body and his remains were the first interment in this small grave yard. According to accounts the big freshet in the river in May 1844 did not cover the bottom land where Buck Coker lived as deep as that of 1824.
Springfield-Greene County Library