Vol. VIII, No. 4, 1995


up the Buffalo-

Voyage of the


by Sammie Rose and Pat Wood
The OZARK QUEEN, which operated in the shallow upper White River, may be similar to the DAUNTLESS.

This article has been adapted from Steamboats and Ferries on White River: A Heritage Revisited, by Duane Huddleston, Pat Wood, and Sammie Rose, recently published by the University of Central Arkansas Press. While canoes are the primary rivercraft seen travelling the Buffalo River today, there was a time when the poignant melody of steamboat whistles resounded along the lower reaches of the fiver. From the 1850s to the turn of the century, a number of White River steamers travelled, when water permitted, to "Gin Eddy" (sometimes called "Big Eddy,"), a spot only about one and one-half miles from the mouth of the Buffalo. Here, farmers brought their cotton for downriver shipment to market.

The development of the zinc mines along the Buffalo resulted in even more interest, and frequent requests were made by mine owners to the U. S. Corps of Engineers to make the stream navigable for small steamboats up to the mines at Rush, in order to provide easier transportation of the ore from the mountainous area. The requests, though unheeded by the Corps, did focus attention on the Buffalo River and the diverse market which existed there.

On Easter Sunday in April of 1896, Captain Albert Cravens contributed to that attention when he turned the bow of the T. E. MORRISON, carrying a group of excursionists, up the Buffalo and made a successful trip of several miles. Captain Cravens was so pleased with his journey he notified the editor of the Mountain Echo in Yellville that he planned to take his little steamer about 85 miles up the river to win a $100 bonus. (85 miles would have brought Captain Cravens more than half way up the entire length of the river, to Mt. Hersey, some 25 miles upstream of where present highway 65 crosses the river.) There is no record of that journey ever being made.

Cravens' excursion trip with the T. E. MORRISON, did, however, spark the interest of another White River steamboatman and resulted in an historic trip in the spring of 1896.

The spirit of adventure burned deep within the steamboat captains, and, although all were friends, they were also fiercely competitive. When news of the success of Captain Cravens reached Captain Will T. Warner, the desire to excel Craven's feat was intense. Fortunately for Captain Warner, an opportunity soon presented itself. The officials of the Morning Star Mine at Rush, Arkansas, contracted with Captain Warner to make a test run with the DAUNTLESS to see if the Buffalo River could be proven navigable. On the trip, Captain Warner was to take some machinery and passengers to the mouth of Rush Creek.

Among the passengers on the steamer were Captain Warner's wife and his niece, Leone McGuire. The daughter of Mollie and Will McGuire, Leone was visiting in the Warner home at Batesville when the Buffalo River trip developed. Realizing the importance of the trip, Mrs. Warner wanted her niece to experience the adventure and took the girl on the boat without the permission of her mother. In defense of her actions, the captain's wife wrote her sister:

Dear Sis: This is such a temptation for Leone that she can't resist it. The boat is going up the Buffalo River and it is such a nice trip, she is crazy to go. So don't be mad at her, and when we come back, I will come over and keep house for you and let you and Will go whenever you want to ....


At the time of the trip Captain Warner was thirty-one years old and his wife was about twenty-six.

The account of the adventuresome trip was recorded by one short paragraph in the May 1, 1896 edition of the Mountain Echo:

Forty miles up Buffalo River are the mouths of Rush and Clabber Creeks. Heretofore, it had been considered one of the impossibilities for a steamboat to go up the Buffalo River on any stage of water, but last week, Captain Will Warner of the Dauntless, having some freight and passengers for the Morning Star determined to do the impossible, and so, without accident, he made the run with the staunch little steamer Dauntless 40 miles up the limpid and virgin stream, awakening with steam whistle the silent echos of those uncovered mountains of zinc. The water was above average stage and he proposes to make another trip up the Buffalo hereafter.

From this description, one wonders why other boats had not been navigating the Buffalo River, since the journey of the DAUNTLESS sounded fairly uncomplicated. Other narratives, however, recounted a more difficult trip.

Many years later, Walter L. Isom, who was a passenger of the DAUNTLESS on the Buffalo River trip, clearly remembered the difficulties encountered in ascending the various shoals and rapids between the mouth of the Buffalo and Rush Creek.

When Mr. Isom was a young man of twenty-one, he was working with Bob Trimble on a farm on Cow Creek, some three miles from the mouth of the Buffalo. As the young men worked along the bottoms, they heard a steamboat's whistle pierce the quiet of the fiver valley. They raced to the edge of the Buffalo, where they saw the steamer DAUNTLESS puffing slowly up the swift waters of the river. In open-mouth amazement, they watched the boat glide nearer and nearer. When she was quite close, Captain Warner shouted to the observers on shore and asked if they wished to "take a little boat fide." It took only a brief consultation between them before the young men accepted the invitation and climbed aboard the steamboat. A few other watchful natives also joined the adventure as the DAUNTLESS crept toward her destination.

Progress up the Buffalo was extremely slow, with the steamer having to stop frequently so that the crew could chop away overhanging tree branches that would catch on the smokestacks of the vessel. The crew became quite adept in wielding an axe. Shoals along the river's path presented another problem. When each shoal was reached, the crew would lay a line to some distant tree on the riverbank and attach the other end to the capstan on the bow of the steamer.

"It was operated like a windlass," stated Mr. Isom. "Six or eight men would insert poles in the device and turn it so as to reel in the line, thereby pulling the boat over the shoal."

Progress was so slow that, although Walter Isom and Bob Trimble boarded the boat one day, they did not arrive at the mouth of Rush Creek until during the second day of the trip. Upon reaching his destination, Captain Warner supervised the unloading of the cargo, then immediately headed the DAUNTLESS toward the mouth of the Buffalo and the deeper waters of White Riven

The extraordinary feat by Captain Will T. Warner again raised the demand to improve the Buffalo River for navigation. This time, some positive results were obtained. A survey of portions of the fiver was made by the U. S. Corps of Engineers. The study covered the Buffalo from where it enters White River to the mouth of Rush Creek, the exact route of the DAUNTLESS. The distance was computed to be 24.2 miles, with the river falling an average of 3.161 feet per mile. It was determined that navigation was possible only by constructing five locks and dams costing $750,000. After reading the report, Captain Silbert, the officer in charge of U. S. Corps of Engineers improvements on the upper White, recommended that commerce on the Buffalo did not justify such expenditures. His findings ended the hopes of significant steamboat navigation on the Buffalo Riven

The navigational feat of Captain Will T. Warner and the DAUNTLESS stands unequaled in Buffalo River history. While other steamboats continued to travel up the Buffalo as far as "Gin Eddy," no other boat even approached the achievement of Captain Warner and the DAUNTLESS. Unfortunately, the little DAUNTLESS caught fire and burned on November 10, 1896, only six months after its historic voyage.


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