The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Among the numerous accounts of early times in North Arkansas and the town of Yellville we submit the following.

Joseph Upton and Gentie Upton his wife went from the state of Tennessee to the north east part of Arkansas in the early days and settled on the pretty water ways of spring river locating at the mouth of a creek which afterward bore their name. The locality where they made their home is in what is now the south west part of Lawrence County. 5 children were the fruits of their marriage - 4 boys and one girl. Here on this beautiful stream Jim Upton their baby child and the subject of this sketch was born in the month of October 1830. 6 months later his mother passed over the great beyond, his father lived until the year 1836 when he too joined the village of the dead. Their remains repose in the family cemetery on the old home farm on Spring River. All the children have now passed away. None are left of this noted family to tell of the early days. Trials and hardships endured in the new country. The last one to bid adieu to friends and kindred was Jim or J. M. as he signed his name, who lived a number of years on West Sugar Loaf Creek where the Lead Hill and Harrison Road corner the creek in Boone County, Arkansas and finally went to the state of Oregon and located at the town of Union where later on the death angel visited him and called the old pioneer of Arkansas into the dark valley of rest where trial of sorrow on this earth are no more. In the month of March 1902 the author received an important letter from him which gave an interesting account of early incidents at Yellville. At the time of writing the letter Mr. Upton was barely able to sit up and was then nigh unto death and was waiting for the summons which occurred a short time afterward. Here is what he wrote during his last days. "I am enjoying the closing scenes of my earthly life In good hopes of eternal happiness. I have obeyed the gospel and am trying to live a practical Christian. The bright city and everlasting joy loom up before me. I also have made preparations for the repose of my mortal remains. My grave or vault is waiting for me in the Union (Oregon) Cemetery. It is a structure of heavy stone with fine marble front. The dimension of which is 4 feet and 4 inches wide and 5 feet high and weighs near 50 ton. I also purchased for myself and wife a metalic casket each. I bought them including the vault in St. Louis Mo. in the early part of the year 1879. Each casket weighs 125 pounds and I have them stored away for the reception of I and my wife’s bodies as soon as we are called from earth."

In refering to the early days in North Arkansas Mr. Upton wrote in this same letter, "At the age of 7 years or in 1837 I was in charge of some of my relatives and the family that had the care of me drifted to Shawnee Town where Yellville now stands. Though I was quite young yet I distinctly remember many incidents during my stay there. I well recollect seeing Hamp Tutt, Dave (not little Dave Tutt) Tutt, Bart Everette, Darity Barrett, Ben Duvall and Tomps Murphy who lived In the village. Sam Kent, John Roper, Cage Hogan and Billy Mooney lived near White River between the mouth of Crooked Creek and Fallen Ark. On Mill Greek which flows into Crooked Creek just below the village Daniel Wickersham owned a little corn mill and a still house. Mr. Wickersham seemed to deal honorable with his patrons in selling them liquor for the settlers could change one bushel of shelled corn for one gallon of pure corn whiskey which is more than a man can do these days. In giving a history of the mercantile trade at Yellville in 1837 and a year later on Mr. Upton wrote as follows: "Tomps Murphy was at that time the only merchant in the village. He bought his goods at a trading point on Black River called Pokahuntas. Mr. Murphy transported his merchandise on the back of a large oxen he called Bob. He also had a big pack saddle and plenty of bear rugs to turn rain. He also had stout ropes which he made of hickory and paw paw bark which he put in the water and allowed it to remain 3 or 4 weeks or until it was soft and pliant then he took it out and manufactured ropes out of the inside bark. When Murphy got ready to start to Pokahuntas for a new supply of groceries and trinkets he would bring Bob up off of the range and lash the saddle and other necessary equipment on the stears back then he would begin to load the animal for the start by placing on the saddle bear hides and deer pelts and the skins of coon, otter, beaver fox, mink and other hides that had a ready sale. Then with the ropes he would lash the entire pile of skins so secure on the oxens back that he would undergo but small trouble during the days drive. When all was ready Murphy would stop up the big bell which hung on the stears neck and start on the long journey. Settlers cabins were far between. Sometimes he would reach a cabin at night where he would unload Bob and unstop the bell and turn him out to graze. If he was not able to reach a hut he would unload the oxen in the wild forest and after turning Bob loose would cook and eat and lay down on his hides under the bows of a stately tree and dream of wild scenes until morning when he would wade through the tall grass wet with dew and drive Bob back to the camp or hut as it might be and reload the furs and pelts on the oxens back and start on his way again. This was repeated every evening and morning until he arrived at Pokahuntas when after taking off the load of hides and camp equipage he would again unstop the bell and let the faithful ox rest and fill up on cane in the Black River Bottom until he exchanged the hides for another supply of groceries which consisted of sugar, coffee, salt and all kinds of trinkets that was kept in a mercantile house in that day. When the merchant was ready to load the new supply on Bob’s back which amounted to 3 or 4 hundred pounds he would go into the bottom and drive Bob back to the trading post and lash the new bought stuff on his back and pick up his whip and say "Come, Bob, walk up. We have a long journey before us back home". And the well trained ox would move off slowly on the dim beaten trail toward Shawnee town again. The distance traveled on some days was short while others were long and weary. It was owing to the distance the settlers huts stood apart or the distance from one regular camping place to the other. Whether it was a light or hard days travel unloading and reloading was repeated night and morning until Murphy and his wearied freighter arrived at the village where Bob was halted at the door of Murphy’s store room and the merchandise was taken off of the animals back and carried into the house. When White River was past fording the merchant had to transport his cargo across the river in a dug out canoe and make the ox swim across. When the smaller streams were swollen the man was compelled to await on the bank until the water fell low enough to cross without danger of damaging his stuff.

Murphy’s store house was built of nice cedar logs 14 by 16 feet square and stood in the midst of the finest cedar grove I ever saw. The building was covered with long clab boards with logs laid on them to keep the wind from blowing them off. The door and window shutters and counter top was made of the same material. There was a small fire place in one corner of the room. The floor was made of puncheons split out of logs.

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