The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Among other things that we have written from time to time is the following account furnished me by J. M. (Jim) Upton a former resident of Northwest Arkansas but finally moved to the state of Oregon where he died at the town of Union in that state. A few months before his death he wrote me a long letter that contained some interesting accounts of early times at Shawneetown in Marion County and other places in N. W. Ark. Shawneetown the Indian village stood near where the main town of Yellville the county seat of Marion now stands. Mr. Upton written in his letter that the Indians passed through Marion County on their general move from Kentucky and Tennessee to the new reservation in the Indian territory. Some of them stopped at Shawneetown and camped there several days and the white people who lived there at the time were much interested In their character and habits which at that time were quite primitive. These Indians were principally Shawnees. Originally a part of the Kickapoo tribes which had been driven south by the Iroquoise. The more important chiefs of the tribes had many wives and in some instances slaves to wait upon them. They were a very long headed race, with hair like a horses mane, and were savage and brutal in their treatment of each other. I remember as a boy the striking manner in which the big fellows would stalk through the camp, contemptuously kicking over any women who happened to get in their way and how they would wake their squaws, to get up and make a fire in the morning, by smashing them over the head or face with a billet of wood. These were the noble red men that we use to read about in the books. Their next camp after leaving Shawneetown was in the Crooked Creek Valley where Harrison now stands. Living there then were Jack and Lon Baker, old man Beller, Mending Hall and Loranzo Rush who were living very much as the early Indians did, having little or no communication with the outside world."

In giving accounts of other matter in the early history of Northwest Arkansas Mr. Upton went on to say that after leaving Shawneetown that the family he was living with went on west and stopped on Osage Creek in Carroll County "and there we found Charley Sneed, James Fancher, old man Kenner and two or three other pioneers doing well after the fashion of those days. From there we went on to War Eagle, eight miles south of the present site of Huntsville in Madison County and found that quite a little community had sprung up there also, including Tom and Will Jackson, Henry McElhan Bill Henderson and John Martin. They were all farming without fences; they didn’t need them much for there was only about one cow, ox or horse to the family and they were kept at work most of the time, but there were plenty of bear, deer, turkey, coon and possom which we all feasted on plentifully. Our corn at first was carried from Cane Hill, some 40 miles on our backs, in sacks, to make what little bread we had and furnish seed for the future crop.

To get it into meal we would chop down a tree, build a fire on the stump and burn a large bowl. We then dressed it out by scraping out the charred wood and fixed over this a spring pole with a pestle on the end of it and beat our corn into meal quicker than you would think. In addition to this contrivance we would peel a large elm tree leaving the bark in the shape of a bucket, at one end of which a deer skin with small holes punched in it was stretched, and this made us an excellent sifter which held back a little of the coarser husks of our precious corn." The contrast in the mode of travel and the manner how farming opperations were carried on in the early days and the present time is wonderful and no doubt improvements will be developed on the present way as time goes on. Here is how it was done in the primitive days as told by Mr. Upton.

"As farming opperations developed we all had to have some sort of a vehicle. Some made sleds and others crude carts to haul their products in; some drove a cow, others an ox, and a few horses. Their harness was chiefly made of hickory bark, with collars and harness in a single piece cut from maple wood. "

As soon as we began to grow corn in any quantity we built big rail pens for it, and then we started corn shuckings. The whole neighborhood would turn out in the fall evenings and shuck corn, first for one man and then for another, after the corn shucking we would let all the furniture out of the house for a dance. This was no small job, for the bed stead had but one leg and for the other three were fastened to the wall. The chairs were blocks sawed from a tree with pegs stuck in them and the table was a very heavy cumbersome affair, frequently too big to get through the door without being taken to pieces."

Some had dirt floors, but the more aristocratic ones had puncheon. The puncheon floors were made from logs out long enough to reach across the house, split open and then hewed somewhat flat on top. These floors were a little rough but we danced just the same, then as the night wore on and we mellowed to each other more we would bring in chairs for our girls and play one good long play. Before starting home in the moonlight, in this play we would all join hands and sidle around singing that good old song:

Ah Sister Phoebe how merry are we
As we all sit under the juniper tree.
Put my hat on your head to keep you warm
And take a sweet kiss T’will do you no harm.

And then we took several to wind up the evening fun." The foregoing statement as given by Mr. Upton certainly portrays the ways and customs on the War Eagle River in those early periods which held good among the settlers all over Northern Arkansas and other parts of the Ozark region going on with his letter Mr. Upton said that "our clothes were all made of flax or tow those days, and pure white, - until they got dirty. Both boys and girls wore very long white skirts, the boys with gores in the sides and the girls with drawstrings around the waist. The girls wore white tow bonnets, scooped shaped, and the boys coonskin caps. All were bare footed up th the age of 14 years old. Our young people today will find it interesting to contrast their present condition and advantages with their condition 70 years ago."

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