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Harrison to Cotter


We cross Crooked Creek as we leave Harrison, continuing our trek across north Arkansas on U.S. Highway 412.

The stream, famous among those who fish for smallmouth bass, begins south of Harrison in Newton County. It flows north into Boone County and under the highway here before turning east. We’ll cross the creek again at Pyatt in Marion County.

Crooked Creek eventually enters the White River. Jerry McKinnis made the creek famous with numerous episodes on his nationally televised fishing show.

The website “Fishing the Arkansas Ozarks” describes the creek as one that flows almost 80 miles “through oak-hickory hardwood forests, cedar glades and pastureland until it converges with the White River below Cotter. Its streambed is composed primarily of limestone gravel, boulders, bedrock and sand. In few places does the stream exceed more than 80 feet in width. Influenced by numerous springs, the water is clear and cool. In most reaches, the gradient isn’t steep, and flows are usually mild.”

The most popular floating area is the 20-mile stretch from Pyatt to Yellville.

The website describes the creek as “one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in America, and anglers from more than 20 states fish it regularly. It’s one of Arkansas’ two Ozark Blue Ribbon Smallmouth Streams (the other being the nearby Buffalo River). When various aspects of its smallmouth fishery were compared to those of other famous streams, it invariably ranked within the top three in all categories. These categories included density (number of smallmouth per mile), catch rates (fish per hour), growth rates, size structure of fish population, yield (pounds harvested per hour), fishing pressure (hours of fishing per acre) and others.”

Crooked Creek was compared to top smallmouth streams in Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri and Wisconsin.

“None of those streams ranked as high consistently in all categories,” the website states. “Smallmouth do so well because Crooked Creek has excellent habitat (many deep pools, deep runs, boulders, large woody debris and undercut banks), the water is cool and highly aerated by numerous riffles, the growing season is long, and forage (crawfish, sunfish and minnows) is abundant. Every year, a number of four- to five-pound smallmouth are caught on Crooked Creek. … It isn’t uncommon for an angler to catch more than 40 fish in a day. Catches of more than 100 in a day have been reported to creel clerks. Crooked Creek also contains an excellent fishery for Ozark bass in the one-pound class. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish and green sunfish are fairly common.”

The downside is that Crooked Creek is also a good source for sand and gravel.

According to the website: “Because of rapid population growth and attendant construction in the Ozarks, demand for these materials became high. Large-scale gravel mining became a serious threat to the quality of the stream.”

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission operates the Fred Berry Conservation Education Center along Crooked Creek near Yellville. Fred Berry, a local teacher, gave stock in a Yellville bank worth almost $2 million to the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. A 421-acre tract along the creek was purchased, removing a 2.75-mile section of the stream from the threat of gravel mining. Buildings and trails were then constructed.

We leave the Harrison city limits and find ourself in Bellefonte, which was the first temporary county seat of Boone County.

“The first white settler at the site that would become Bellefonte was John Simms, who purchased 80 acres of land from the U.S. government in 1854,” Steve Teske writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System. “The land included a productive spring of fresh water. Simms was later joined by the Freeland, Laffoon and Williams families. Two stores and a saloon were built. The men of the community reportedly chose to name their settlement for the spring. One of them supposedly said that ‘belle fonte’ is Latin for ‘beautiful spring.’ In truth, the French ‘belle fontaine’ comes closer than any Latin expression for a spring.

“A post office was established in the settlement in 1848, but it was called Hussaw until 1852 and then bore the name Mount Pleasant until 1871. According to the 1860 census, the community included a Baptist minister, two physicians, an attorney, eight blacksmiths, eight merchants, a tanner, a wagon maker, two masons and two carpenters. The settlement was known as a market for cattle raised in the Ozark Mountains.”

The community produced both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War.

In 1869, Boone County voters chose to make Harrison the county seat. The post office at Bellefonte changed its name from Mount Pleasant to Bellefonte in 1871.

Bellefonte was incorporated in 1872.

“By this time, the town had dozens of businesses, including a drugstore, a millinery shop, a livery stable, two saloons, a cotton gin, a flour mill and a leather factory that manufactured saddles, bridles and shoes,” Teske writes. “It also had an academy called North Arkansas College. A grade school was built. … Fourteen buildings, including the academy, were destroyed by fire in 1882. This fire slowed the growth of the town.”

The Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad completed its line through Bellefonte in 1901.

“A railroad depot was built, a hotel opened and business increased at the cotton gin and flour mill,” Teske writes. “The school burned down in 1901 and was again replaced. Another fire in 1912 destroyed the hotel and several stores and residences. The town failed to grow due to these setbacks. Several small school districts were consolidated into the Bellefonte School District during the 1920s. In 1929, several new homes were built, and a lake was constructed near the spring for which Bellefonte was named. In 1936, a lumber mill was built.”

The railroad ceased operations in the early 1960s, the post office closed in 1965 and the school district consolidated with Valley Springs.

Bellefonte had a population of 454 in the 2010 census, up from 300 in the 1970 census.

We continue east on Highway 412, passing through the community of Harmon before entering Marion County.

“The first white person born in Marion County is believed to have been A.S. ‘Uncle Bud’ Wood, the son of William Wood,” Sherry Sanders-Gray writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “William Wood moved from Tennessee as a young man between 1815 and 1820. One of the earliest white families in Marion County consisted of Mike Yocum and his three brothers — Jess, Solomon and Jake. These four men came to America from Germany in the 1820s or 1830s and settled at the mouth of the Little North Fork of the White River. Mike Yocum owned a mill located there.”

What’s now Marion County was created by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature in 1835 and called Searcy County for a time. In September 1836, the year Arkansas became a state, the Legislature named the county for Gen. Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero. The first courthouse was in the home of Thomas Adams, but the county seat was later moved to Yellville. The city was in the center of the county and on a military road that connected Batesville and Fayetteville.

“A significant free African-American population existed in Marion County beginning with David Hall, who moved from Tennessee with his family and settled on the White River near the mouth of the Little North Fork around 1819,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The 1850 census listed 129 free blacks and 126 slaves in Marion County, meaning that African-Americans made up 12 percent of the county’s population. Until passage of the short-lived Act 159 of 1859, mandating the expulsion of free blacks from the state, there existed for three decades little discord between the white and black populations of the county. By late 1860, however, the free black population had shrunk to eight.”

Few Marion County residents owned slaves, and there was strong Union sentiment during the Civil War, though the county did supply solders to the Confederate Army.

“As more and more men were recruited and left home, the county saw an influx of men from other areas who sought to evade service and began to plunder the largely defenseless homes and farms,”  Sanders-Gray writes. “These bushwhackers, along with groups of Union soldiers invading the county after the Battle of Pea Ridge, wrought vast devastation. … Yellville was occupied at various times by both forces and was controlled during the winter of 1864-65 by a large band of bushwhackers. By the end of the war, Yellville had been almost completely destroyed by fire. Rebuilding Yellville and the rest of the county happened slowly during Reconstruction.”

The county’s population grew from 3,979 in the 1860 census to 11,377 in the 1890 census due to the start of mining for lead and zinc. The area was helped in the early 1900s by the arrival of the Iron Mountain Railroad, which stopped at Pyatt, Yellville and Flippin.

Marion County’s population fell during each census in the first half of the 20th century, however. It bottomed out at 6,041 residents in the 1960 census.

“When the mining industry declined, people began to leave Marion County, seeking jobs elsewhere,” Sanders-Gray writes. “The Great Depression increased the exodus from the county. Several banks in Yellville and Flippin closed, and some stores went out of business. The Civilian Conservation Corps was active at Buffalo State Park (land now occupied by the National Park Service’s Buffalo National River) and in a small soil conservation project in the community of Eros. … Money-making efforts included digging for mussel shells and even occasional pearls in the White River, as well as raising herbs. Cotton had been a principal crop of Marion County since steamboats first came up the river in the 19th century, but tomatoes and fruits replaced cotton as the primary crops.

“During World War II, tomatoes continued to be a main crop in Marion County. The federal government purchased tomatoes from several farmers to feed American soldiers. After the war ended, the industry faltered. An attempt to raise strawberries in the southern part of the county similarly failed. Eventually, most of the agricultural land was converted to pasture or to fields of hay to support a growing cattle industry.”

Things turned around with the construction of Bull Shoals Dam (1947-51) and the tourists and retirees the project later brought to the county. The population was back up to 16,653 by the 2010 census.

We pass through or near Pyatt, Snow and Summit before stopping to walk around downtown Yellville, best known statewide for its annual turkey festival and the live turkeys that once were dropped from planes as part of that festival.

“In 1817, the federal government declared parts of the White River and Arkansas River valleys in northern Arkansas a Cherokee reservation,” Teske writes. “The Cherokee invited other tribes to join them on their land, and the Shawnee of the Ohio River Valley were one group who accepted the invitation. One of their settlements was on Crooked Creek, about 20 miles from the White River. An estimated 300 Shawnee lived there until 1828 when a new treaty moved the Cherokee farther west, opening northern Arkansas to settlement by Americans of European descent. The Shawnee also left, moving to Texas and to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). White settlers began using the houses and farms that the Shawnee had built, calling the settlement Shawneetown.”

When this became the county seat, the settlement was renamed to honor Archibald Yell, the state’s first representative to Congress and second governor.

“A community legend states that Yell wanted the city to be named for him and offered city leaders $50 for the honor but he never paid them,” Teske writes. “In 2005, two of Yell’s descendants, David Yell from Michigan and Sonny Yell from Georgia, visited Yellville and gave the city a gift of $50 in the name of their ancestor.”

The current Marion County courthouse at Yellville — the fifth in the county’s history — was built in 1944 on the site of the courthouse that had burned in January 1943.

And what about that turkey festival?

Teske writes: “After World War II, the American Legion post in Yellville elected to hold a festival celebrating the wild turkey. Wild turkey hunting had been suspended in Arkansas because hunters had depleted the species. The National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot was held every October in Yellville on the second Friday and Saturday of the month. … Part of the celebration traditionally included dropping live wild turkeys from low-flying planes in an effort to replenish the species. Reportedly, the effort has on occasion killed rather than freed the birds. National attention was given to the turkey drop, including a memorable 1979 episode of the sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati.'”

We head east out of Yellville and then make a short detour to the north in order to visit Flippin. The town, which had a population of 1,355 in the 2010 census, is best known as the home of Ranger Boats.

“In 1968, Forrest L. Wood and Nina Wood established Ranger, a company generally credited with the introduction of the modern-day bass boat,” Eve West writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The first six boats produced by the company were built in Flippin’s present-day city hall. In 1971, the original plant was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt.”

During the construction of Bull Shoals Dam, rocks needed for the project came from a quarry on Lee’s Mountain between Flippin and Bull Shoals.

“A conveyor belt, four feet wide and seven miles long, carried rock blasted out of the mountainside to a site near Bull Shoals, where the dam was being built,” West writes. “The belt ran 24 hours a day, and the quarry and dam’s construction provided jobs for many. The completion of the dam in 1951 and the creation of Bull Shoals Lake caused tourism to flourish along the upper White River. Resorts and fishing guide services sprang up, and what was to become Marion’s County’s largest industry was established.”

The first white settlers in this part of the county established homes in an area known as the Barrens.

“Established sometime in the early 1800s, the Barrens was a small settlement that included a general store, flour mill and cotton gin,” West writes. “The name later changed, and local legend purports that the owner of the general store, a man named Johnson, wasn’t pleased with the wares being sold by a peddler and therefore sent him away. Johnson was assisted by a goat that butted the peddler’s backside, and the settlement assumed a second name that it retained for years thereafter — Goatville.

“The name Flippin Barrens originated with Thomas H. Flippin, who migrated to Arkansas from Tennessee in 1837. He married Elizabeth Baugh and had two sons, W.B. and Thomas. He and his wife were farmers, and Flippin also served as Marion County clerk. Flippin died in 1856, leaving many descendants.”

The community’s first post office opened in 1878. People later began to move closer to the railroad, and that town was incorporated as Flippin in 1921. The first mayor was James Keeter. The population was 325 residents in the 1930 census.

We get back on Highway 412 and head to Cotter, which was once an important railroad town and is now known for the trout fishing there on the White River.

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