Andy ostmeyer old cabins, homesteads along buffalo river tell ozark stories lifestyles entertainment, life and more physics c electricity and magnetism study guide


Ozarkers know the history of the Buffalo River: In the 1960s, a battle broke out between conservationists, on one side, led by Neil Compton and the Ozark Society, and what Compton called the “dam-building brotherhood” on the other side. The former group wanted to see the river protected and declared a national park; the latter group envisioned another large lake for the Ozarks, with all the flood control, hydroelectric power, and commerce and development that came with it.

You know the outcome, too; conservationists won, and on March 1, 1972 — 100 years to the day after the creation of our first national park, Yellowstone — 135 miles of the Buffalo were protected as the country’s first free-flowing national river.

In 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the National Park Service, The Globe is profiling parks each month, both world-renowned and close to home. Buffalo National River is loved for its water quality, dramatic bluffs, waterfalls and wildlife, but the park is much more than that. The National Park Service also has protected numerous prehistoric and historic sites, including ancient bluff dwellings, pioneer cabins, 19th century farmsteads, early cemeteries and humble, unadorned country churches.

Henderson’s house tells the story of a third group of people who had a vision for this place, who favored neither the dam nor the park. Some were the descendants of those families who arrived first in the river valley, who built those cabins, cleared the river bottoms for farming, fought over it in the Civil War, and are buried in those historic cemeteries. They felt their hard work and sacrifice building a life along the Buffalo earned them the right to be left alone.

Henderson was no fan of the park, and in 1978 — the year before she died and six years after the park had been authorized — representatives of the National Park Service approached her about buying her 167 acres of land, part of 95,000 acres it would eventually own on both sides of the river.

“They came out here one morning while I was turning the cows out,” she told the Springfield News-Leader in one of her last interviews. “They said they aimed to buy my land and asked what I thought of it. ‘I don’t think much of it,’ I told them. I said it kind of short, because I meant it short.”

Logs used in the main cabin date part of it to the late 1830s, making it the oldest surviving building in the park and taking it back to that first generation to arrive in the river valley. Like Granny Henderson’s cabin, now in the Ponca Wilderness Area, this farmstead appears much more isolated today than it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the nearby community of Erbie was thriving.

According to “Rugged and Sublime,” a book edited by Arkansas historian Mark Christ, the Parker-Hickman homestead was near a number of important roads in the region in the 1860s, and skirmishes and guerrilla actions occurred nearby in the latter part of the Civil War. He wrote that according to oral tradition, the house was even used as a temporary hospital after a skirmish along what is now Webb but was then called Parker branch.

It was in the early days of the Great Depression that the Colliers and four of their seven children arrived in the Ozarks, some of the children huddled in the back of the truck, wrapped in a tarp to keep warm. According to National Park Service records, it had taken the family the better part of a week to get here from their home in Kentucky, and when they arrived, Sod Collier had but 15 cents left in his pocket. The family lived in a storage shed initially.

The Colliers claimed their land under the 1862 Homestead Act and through hard work and sacrifice, built a log home on their 40-acre claim, followed by barns and a smokehouse. Within a decade, the Collier family had made needed improvements to the place and became its official owners, one of the last claims in the region granted under the Homestead Act.

The first dam had been proposed for the Buffalo about the time the Colliers became the official owners of the farm, but that was brushed aside by World War II. Similar proposals soon followed, including a dam just downstream of the Collier homestead, near Gilbert. It would have backed up the river for maybe 40 miles, and the high, rocky ground that the Colliers owned and farmed would offer a lake view today, according to the park service. Who knows how much their property would have been worth.

It is an irony that the same government that had been giving away land even into the 1930s was now wanting it back, within the lifetime of the children of those homesteaders. The National Park Service bought the Collier place in 1977, stabilized their log cabin, rebuilt the wooden fence and porch and more.

A half-day float downstream from Tyler Bend and just a few minutes’ walk from the river is the Gilbert General Store, built in 1901. It’s now the headquarters for Buffalo Camping & Canoeing and rents cabins and canoes and sells supplies. It offers something else, too — the antidote to summer heat. More than once, floating the Buffalo, we’ve stopped there to buy boxes of ice cream sandwiches and consumed them in the shade of the front porch.

This is a former post office for the small community of Gilbert, and it retains much of its original character. It doesn’t take much to imagine that some of those early pioneers, perhaps even some of those first-generation settlers, as well as those who fought in the local skirmishes during the Civil War, cooled off on the same front porch on a different summer day long ago.

There are many other historic sites along the Buffalo, including a church and mill in Boxley Valley, historic cabins near Ponca and other buildings near Erbie, all on the upper river. Hidden near the mouth of the Buffalo, in a wilderness area along the lower river, is an 80-year-old stone school building, a Depression-era project that also testifies to the fact that the isolation some people seek on the river today, the escape from civilization it offers, is a modern invention.