Early Settlers of Washington County, Arkansas

The first regular explorer of this portion of the State was Frank Pierce, who, about 1819, came up White River trapping and hunting. On reaching the mouth of West Fork, he ascended that stream to within two miles of Fayetteville, where he discovered a herd of buffalo. In attempting to kill one of them to get some meat for his supper, he saw a band of Indians. He lowered his gun without firing, dropped under the bank and retired for the night under the friendly shelter of a large elm. The next day he struck the waters of the Illinois, and followed that beautiful stream to its mouth, then down the Arkansas to where Lewisburgh now is, thence across to Batesville. About the year 1828 he came back and settled near the place where nine years before he had spent the night in hiding from the Indians.

The following facts concerning the settlement of Washington County are from the pen of the late Rev. John Buchanan:

“In the year 1826, before the treaty was made giving white people the right of settling in what is now Washington County, six families, to wit, John Alexander, two McGarrahs, two Simpsons and one Shannon, moved there. Their settlement being a trespass, a command of soldiers was sent from Fort Gibson to move them off. This was done in August, 1826. The settlers each had a small field of corn, which the soldiers cut down with their swords. After the soldiers returned to the fort the families shocked up their corn, and remained at their homes.

“In 1828 the treaty was made with the Cherokees, giving the right of settlement to the whites, and fixing the line which now divides the country from the Indian Territory. The immigration into and settlement of the country by the white people was rapid. Among the first were the Billingsleys, Pyeatts, Carnahans, Blairs, Simpsons, Marrs, Shannons and others, from Kentucky, and the Buchanans, Beans, Woodys, Parks, Evanses, Weddingtons and others, from Tennessee–the latter from South Carolina, and others from different States too numerous to mention.

“The first resident ministers of the Gospel were Revs. Fisher, Poston and Holcomb, of the Baptist; Sexton, Covington and Harrell, of the Methodist, and Carnahan, Blair and Buchanan, of the Cumberland Presbyterian. The first Sabbath-school was organized at the house of James Buchanan, on Cane Hill, in October, 1828, by Rev. John Carnahan, with thirteen scholars. This school has been kept up, with slight intermissions, for fifty years. Samuel Carnahan, the son of the founder, was its superintendent for twenty years, during which time he was absent only two Sabbaths. Rev. John Carnahan preached his first sermon at Crystal Hill, near the mouth of Palarm, fifteen miles above Little Rock, in the year 1812, which was perhaps the first Protestant sermon ever preached in Arkansas.”

The western, northwestern and central part of Washington County was the first settled. The settlements began at Evansville and Cane Hill, and extended in the same direction to Fayetteville. The Cane Hill country presented the greatest attraction to immigrants, and that section was quite compactly settled before some other parts of the county contained a single habitation. This region was one of the most fertile spots in the State. For a distance of four or five miles hill and dale were covered with a heavy growth of sycamore, walnut and linden, intertwined with grape-vines, and underneath and between the trees was an almost impenetrable cane-brake. So thick was the cane, and so luxuriant the vines, that horses and cattle of the settlers frequently became entangled in them, and perished of hunger and thirst before their owners could find them.

The settlements here began in 1828. As mentioned by Mr. Buchanan, the Pyeatts were among the first to arrive. James and Jacob Pyeatt, as early as 1811, set out from Northern Alabama, in company with James and Samuel Carnahan, sons of Rev. John Carnahan. They embarked in flat-boats, and floated down the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the mouth of the Arkansas, then worked their way up the Arkansas to Crystal Hill, fifteen miles above Little Rock, where they were subsequently joined by several relatives and friends. All were natives of Kentucky, but had removed to Alabama to locate upon certain Indian lands, which, upon their arrival there, they found were not yet open for settlement.

As soon as Washington County was formed Crystal Hill community removed to Cane Hill, and they and their descendants have since been among the best people in Northwestern Arkansas.

The Buchanans were from Tennessee, and were among the most influential of the pioneers. There were six brothers of them: John, Andrew, Robert, James, Alexander and Isaac. Andrew and John Buchanan were ministers in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The former, familiarly known as “Uncle Buck,” located at Prairie Grove, where his step-son, Col. James P. Neal, now lives. He died in 1857. James Buchanan located near the site of the White Church, where he passed the remainder of his life. Rev. John Buchanan was “Uncle John” to every one. For forty years or more he was one of the leaders of his church in Arkansas, and died at a ripe old age, beloved by every one who knew him.

The Billingsleys, together with Charles Adams and Samuel Williams, came from Tennessee to Arkansas Post in 1814, and in 1816 located on Big Mulberry. Two years later they removed to near Fort Smith, and in 1828 or 1829 came to Washington County.

Mark Bean was a well-to-do and influential pioneer of the Cane Hill country. He was a native of Tennessee, and had come to “Lovely’s Purchase” among the first immigrants. He was there engaged in the manufacture of salt. When driven out he went to Crawford County, where in 1829 he was elected to the Territorial Legislature. Soon after he came to Washington County, where he remained until his death. He is said to have been originally a Democrat, but having quarreled with A. H. Sevier, he allied himself with the Whigs, and became one of the leaders of the party in Washington County.

Of the Parks there were three brothers, Robert, Aaron and Joel, who lived on the Fayetteville road not far from the White Church. Robert was a farmer and Aaron and Joel kept a store. Afterward Joel went to Texas, and Aaron located on White River. The first stores on Cane Hill were opened by William Dugan and S. D. Lowell.

In 1830 James Coulter came from East Tennessee and settled on the place where Joseph Moore now lives. The next year James B. Russell, his son-in-law, with other relatives followed. Mr. Russell is still living. After living one year near Rhea’s Mills, he removed to near where Boonsboro now is, and has since been identified with that community. In 1832 a school-house was built near Boonsboro, and Maurice Wright, a brother-in-law of Mr. Russell, was the first teacher. The next year Mr. Russell himself taught the school. Here attended the youth for the whole Cane Hill neighborhood, but not long after two schools were established, one at the White Church and the other at Elm Spring or Salem Church.

Among the pioneers of the Cane Hill region, besides those already mentioned, there were Thomas Pogue, who located on the site of Boonsboro; William Woody, at one time a judge of the county court; William Rhode and Hay Crawford, William Maxwell, Henry E. Campbell, William Wright, Isaac Spencer, Levi Richards, James Mitchell, A. Whinnery, Charles McClellan, Joseph and Benjamin Garvin.

The settlements in the vicinity of Evansville were made at a slightly earlier date than those on Cane Hill. Mr. Buchanan’s recollection of them has been given. Other pioneers of this part of the county may be mentioned as follows: Samuel and Daniel Vaughn, William Reed, Coleman Cox, George Gibson, Thomas Tennant, Jesse Goddard, Charles J. Sievers, Thomas Ballard, George Morrow, John Morrow, John Ish, John Williams, Lewis Evans, S. F. Gray, Henderson Bates, D. C. Edmiston, John Cole and William Oliver. Coleman Cox came from Warren County, Ky., with his family in 1821, and lived in Sebastian County until 1828, when he removed to Washington County, and located on the head of Barren Fork, four miles south of Boonsboro. He had three sons, Edmiston, Samuel and Burwell, and two daughters, one of whom married Peter Pyeatt. Rev. Thomas Tennant came to Arkansas in 1819, and lived in Pulaski County until 1829, when he took up his residence in Washington County. He died near Evansville in 1885, at the extraordinary age of one hundred and fourteen years. He was a minister in the Methodist Church for ninety years. Thomas Ballard, George Morrow, S. F. Gray and Henderson Bates are still living. D. C. Edmiston, who was a native of Tennessee, came to the State when thirteen years of age. He lived in Clark County until 1835, when he removed to Washington County, and resided four miles south of Cane Hill until his death. In 1831 Lu C. Blakemore, the father of Dr. F. Blakemore, of Greenwood, Ark., came from Sumner County, Tenn., and after living a year or two in Fayetteville located eight miles east of Boonsboro. Other pioneers in the latter vicinity were Claiborne Lewis, Stephen Talkington, Elisha Dyer, John Billingsley and his father, James Billingsley, John Rutherford, William Stirman, Benjamin and William Strickler and James and David McWilliams.

Among the first settlers in the neighborhood of Walnut Grove were John Conner, Josiah Trent, David Reese, Ralph Skelton, Henry Tollett, G. A. Pettigrew, William Bonham, Joseph Lewis, John Pierce, Robert Anderson, Abel Johnson, George Lawrence, Samuel Woolsey, John Hart and Hugh, Abram and William Allen. John Conner was a Georgian by birth, but had been reared in Kentucky and Indiana, and had lived for a time in Illinois. In 1827, in partnership with several other families, he built a keel-boat, and set out for Arkansas. He remained one year in the vicinity of Evansville, where he found John Alexander, James Simpson, Hugh Shannon and John and William McGarroh. He made a permanent location near the present village of Farmington, and his daughter, who married A. W. Arrington, is still living in the neighborhood, an intelligent chronicler of pioneer days.

Josiah Trent was also a Georgian by birth. He first located in the southern part of the State, but in February, 1829, came to Washington County, and pitched his tent on the place where his son now lives. There he remained until his death, in 1877. For many years he was a local preacher in the Methodist Church. He was the son-in-law of Samuel Woolsey, who came to the county at about the same time.

George A. Pettigrew was a North Carolinian by birth, but had lived in Georgia, Kentucky and Missouri. From the latter State he came to Arkansas in 1825, and after a residence of five years in Hempstead County removed to Washington County. Helived one year on Cane Hill, and then made a permanent location seven miles west of Fayetteville. He was a prominent Whig, and in 1840 was elected to the Legislature. He was the father of Col. James R. Pettigrew and Z. M. Pettigrew.

The Allens were brothers, and old bachelors, and lived together for many years. Anderson, Click and Pierce all lived on the Illinois River. Among the first school-teachers in this neighborhood were Pleasant Tackett, Stephen Strickland and Alfred W. Arrington.

Of the first settlers in the Mount Comfort neighborhood may be mentioned Solomon Tuttle, William Cunningham, Isaac Murphy, W. A. and James McCurdy and Hezekiah Appleby. Tuttle and Cunningham were both men of wealth and substance, and had grown-up families. Murphy located here, and taught school before he began the practice of law. This was an intelligent and progressive community, and the first school of more than local reputation was established here. It was called “Far West Seminary,” and was presided over by Robert Mecklin, the founder of Ozark Institute. The seminary was opened about 1835, in the brick church erected at this point by the Cumberland Presbyterians.

It has been mentioned that Rev. Andrew Buchanan made a settlement in Prairie Grove Valley in 1829, but a settlement had been made by Isaac Marrs nearly two years earlier, on the creek which bears his name. This was, doubtless, the first settlement in Prairie Grove Valley. The next year, his brother, James Marrs, settled what is now known as the Patton place. Both reared large families, and several of the prominent citizens of the county are numbered among their descendants. They came to Arkansas from Logan County, Kentucky, as early as 1817. Alexander Marrs, a member of another family, was also a pioneeer of the county.

About 1830 James Crawford came from Tennessee and located near Viney Grove. He reared a large family of sons and daughters. The former numbered five–William, James, John, Mack and Robert, and the latter, four. Among his sons-in-law were John Moore, William Morton and James West.

One of the first settlers of the county was Eli Bloyed, who located on West Fork, several miles south of Fayetteville, and for the first year lived upon the flesh of wild animals alone. Among others of the pioneers in this portion of the county were John and Christy Horness, Samuel Mayes, P. and J. H. Estes, Jacob Coats, Alexander Rutherford and George Reed.

Among the early residents of the White River country, and that part of the county east of Fayetteville, were Dr. James Boone, Robert McCarny, Peter Mankins, Cortez Hitchcock, Rial Williams, Thomas Smith, Robert Marshall, James West, Daniel Ritter and Jacob Sheay. McCarny was from Alabama. He was the first county judge of Washington County; was elected to the Territorial Council in 1831; to the Constitutional Convention in 1836, and to the State Senate in 1836, in 1844 and 1848, retiring from the office in 1852.

Dr. Boone came to the county in 1830, and remained until his death, in 1856. He was a Whig in politics, and was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1836. He also served one term in the House of Representatives.

Peter Mankins came to the county from Illinois in 1832, and although then past sixty years of age, he lived an ordinary lifetime after his arrival here. He was born on September 19, 1770, in Maryland, and died in 1881 at the age of over one hundred and eleven years.

The settlements in the north part of the county, in the vicinities of Springdale and Elm Springs, are mentioned in connection with those villages.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

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