The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

In the early spring of 1840 the writer’s father James C. Turnbo, who was born and reared on Sugar Creek five miles south of Mount Pleasant, Maury County, Tennessee, left his father’s old home there bound for Taney County, Mo. He was 20 years old and was accompanied by two other young men of the name of Shipman and the three men went to Memphis afoot where they embarked on a steamboat for Little Rock, Ark., where they arrived safely. After stopping at Little Rock to rest a few days they went aboard another steamboat which was bound for the village of Ozark situated on the north bank of the Arkansas River some distance above Little Rock. At that early date the settlements along the Arkansas River were scarce and wide apart and the towns were small. Little Rock itself was nothing more than a trading point then. Disembarking off of the boat at Ozark the three travelers struck out Into the wilderness in the wilds of Arkansas. They found the country in northwest Arkansas so thinly settled that they were compelled to lay out in the forest on several nights and waded the streams as they come to them. After a tedious and lonely journey through the almost uninhabited region of mountains and valleys except wild beast they reached the trading point known as Carrollton in Carroll County. From there they followed a bypath that lead over rough hills and across deep hollows until they reached the beautiful White River with its crystal waters and swarms of the finny tribe. The river bottoms was covered with a thick growth of tall cane and a heavy growth of excellent timber. Hills and valleys were overrun with game and there were numbers of cool refreshing springs of water. The soil in the river bottoms were rich and fertile, and with these advantages my father decided to make the upper White River valley his permanent home. At that time Forsyth was a very small hamlet but an important trading point for the few settlers who visited the place from far and near to purchase their groceries. The white settlement there was only three years old on my father’s arrival there in 1840, and the river bottom at the mouth of Swan Creek where Forsyth started up was mostly covered with a heavy growth of cane and big trees.

The first man that employed my father to work after his arrival in Taney County was Sam Nelson who lived on Beaver Creek where the little town of Keesee Mille now stands. He hired to Nelson to help him build the first mill there which was a small affair. The mill was built during the summer of 1640. In the fall of that same year my father and the two Shipmans were employed by Dr. A. S. Layton to cut saw logs in the pinery 12 miles south of Forsyth where shortly afterward Layton built a saw mill. The writer has never been at the exact locality where this mill stood but it is said to be on a high ridge near where a spring of water runs out of a bluff of rock in the head of a hollow. I am told that the spot where the mill stood contains one store and a blacksmith shop. It is said the place is situated on the head of Bee and Turkey Creeks and near 6 miles south of the present site of Kirbyville. They took a camping outfit with them including provision and tools and did the first work in that then wild pine region. They took neither dogs nor gun for Layton did not hire them to hunt but to work and they did not want to put in their time at hunting. They at first built a small hut to store their provision in and to stay and sleep in during inclement weather. They slept In the open air of nights when the weather admitted. The woods there seemed wild and lonely but they were too busy during the day in felling the stately pine trees and cutting off logs to feel much lonesome. But the solitude of the nights were deeply felt by listening at the howling of wolves, barking of the fox, screaming of the restless panther and other animals and the night birds making their usual noise. On the second day after they began work they discovered a rich bee tree without hunting for it. They quit cutting logs at once and felled the tree and robbed the hive and ate all the honey they were able to consume and got smartly sick over the feast. A fine supply of rich honeycomb was left over and on the following day after their sickness began to wear off they carried it to camp in such vessels as they had brought with them and made it secure in their little storage room. That night following this a bear approached camp and scenting the honey and come right into camp and come near running over the men before they were aware of its presence which created a scene. The three scared men gave Bruin all the room he needed but they were so boisterous In getting out of his way that the bear himself was frightened and left camp on double quick time and did not disturb them anymore that night.

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