Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment

Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville SegmentRestricted - Lonoke
Location Restricted
Listed in National Register of Historic Places on 9/27/03

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The Memphis to Little Rock Road- Brownsville Segment is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with Statewide significance by virtue of its status as one of the few surviving segments of the roads traversed in Arkansas by the Bell Detachment during the Cherokee Removal. Its association with the earlier Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw Removals and its role in opening eastern Arkansas to west-bound migration augments its importance. In addition, the road section is included in the area of the initial encounter of the August 25, 1863, fighting at Brownsville during the Little Rock Campaign. The property is being submitted for National Register recognition under the multiple-property listing "Historic and Archeological Resources Associated with the Cherokee Trail of Tears."


Construction of the Military Road

The Memphis to Little Rock Road, also known as the Military Road, was authorized on January 31, 1824, when the U.S. Congress passed an act for construction of a road opposite Memphis, Tennessee, through the swamps of east Arkansas to the territorial capital of Arkansas at Little Rock. Surveyors Joseph Paxton and Thomas Mathers and Memphis contractor Anderson B. Carr were hired to lay out a route for the proposed road. Paxton and Mathers (Carr resigned from the team amid disagreement with the others about the best route to follow in crossing the White River) reported to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun on February 12, 1825, that they had selected the best possible route through eastern Arkansas, including the point where it would cross Crowley’s Ridge, a loess soil ridge towering over the miasmal swamps of east Arkansas:

"Passing up the valley of Village Creek, this road rises the hills of St. Francis on a fine Slope and passes without any difficulties through the rich, Military lands to the river Languelle."

Lt. Frederick L. Griffith was appointed superintendent of the Memphis to Little Rock Road on January 27, 1826, with instructions to make a road "at least twenty four feet wide throughout" with all timber and brush removed and stumps cut as low as possible, marshes and swamps to be "causewayed with poles or split timber," and ditches four feet wide and three feet deep to be dug on either side of the road. "The hills on the route are to be dug down and wound round in such a manner as to make them practicable for carriages or loaded wagons," Griffith was instructed.

Griffith advertised for contractors for the first section of the road, receiving criticism that Arkansas citizens were not informed and given an opportunity to bid on the road project. The Arkansas Gazette reported on July 25, 1826, that Griffith "entered into private contracts with Messrs. A. Carr, N. Anderson and W. Irwin of Memphis, for opening 60 miles of the road, commencing at the point where the road leaves the Mississippi, four miles above Memphis, at the rate of $160 per mile, with considerable deviation from the original proposals; and for the four miles immediately above Memphis, with a Mr. Hunt, also of Tennessee. The 64 miles which have thus been contracted for will open the road nearly to Bayou de View. The work is to be commenced in September, and completed in January next." This contract also spent everything remaining from the Congressional appropriation for building the entire Memphis to Little Rock Road. The first section of the road was finished and the second section started by September 14, 1826. Lt. Charles Thomas replaced Griffith as superintendent on the project in October 1826.

Despite problems with the health of workers in swampy eastern Arkansas, Thomas reported to Quartermaster General Thomas S. Jesup on January 17, 1827, that Carr was making good progress on his road contract, which was to continue to the 64thmile from the Mississippi River, located west of the Languille River. The lieutenant complained bitterly of the Paxton and Mathers report, reporting inaccuracies in both their blazing of the trail and their description of the land through which it passed. "For instance," Thomas complained, "they ‘positively aver’ after crossing the Saint Francis ‘that the road will no where be subject to inundation from any river &c’ when they were informed by persons well acquainted with the country & it is also evident from the water marks on the trees, that the county is subject to be overflowed in some places as much as eight feet and by the Mississippi & St. Francis Rivers." While Blackfish and Shell Lakes could be traversed by ferries, Thomas concluded that the areas west of the ridge around Bayou de View and the Cache River were impenetrable and that a new route would be needed to reach the crossing of the White River. TheArkansas Gazette agreed, noting in a September 4, 1827, column that "after crossing White River, the country on this side is favorable to the construction of a road, and is considered preferable to that selected by the Commissioners, on account of its avoiding several streams, requiring bridges, which their route crosses, particularly the Bayou Ouatensaw, which they have crossed three times … Lt. Thomas has (very properly, we think) determined to … suspend working on that part of the road."

While seeking approval for the change in the route, Thomas went ahead and contracted for 15 miles of road to be built between Little Rock and Bayou Two Prairie near present-day Lonoke. Thomas wrote on September 10, 1827, that "I have entered into contracts with Gray, Cook and Walker to open fifteen miles of the road commencing at Little Rock and extending to the Bayou of Two prairies, which is as far as the road will proceed on the present route if it is altered as suggested and is as far as it will ever be travelled until the Cache Robe & DeVieux Swamps are made passable - they have agreed to wave their right of cutting the remainder if the location is changed." This contract would have brought the road to a point just west of the Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment.

While awaiting approval for a route change, the Gazette reported that "Lt. T will be engaged … in exploring the country, and selecting a new route for the road from the 64th mile tree (from Memphis) to White river, below the mouth if Cache and from thence, in the direction of this place [Little Rock], as far as the Bayou of the two Prairies." A week later, advertisements for bids to construct roads on the new route determined by Thomas began to appear in the Gazette.

After the route change was approved, Thomas contracted with William Strong to bridge the Languille River and build the road from the 64th mile to the White River ferry at present-day Clarendon. Another contract, with Alpheus Maddox, required Maddox to "cut & clear out from the west bank of White River to the edge of the hills … also cut & clear out the road from the edge of the hills to the prairie…." The final segment between Little Rock and the White River, which includes the Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment, apparently went to Samson Gray, whose previous contract ended at the nearby Bayou Two Prairies. Thomas wrote on Jan. 1, 1828, that "Samson Gray made no written proposals neither did any one else for the section between the prairie and the former contracts of Gray & Co. I made the best bargain I could say $500 for the whole distance including log bridging."

By the end of August, the remaining sections between White River and Little Rock were completed and Little Rock and Memphis were connected. Thomas, tired of the heat and swamps of Arkansas, requested transfer to a northern post; instead, he was posted to fight Seminole Indians in Florida.

Though finished, the road faced harsh treatment, particularly in its eastern reaches, which were subject to severe flooding and were indeed impassable for several months each year. In 1832, Samuel Dickins and six other Arkansians petitioned Congress to repair the road, which would encourage settlement and protect local residents from Indian attack. (The reference to Indian attack was probably an effort to insert a little drama into the petition, as no Arkansas-based tribes presented an effective threat to settlers by the 1830s.) On July 3, 1832, Congress appropriated $20,000 for repairs to the Memphis to Little Rock Road, with Territorial Governor John Pope using the money to improve the road between Little Rock and Strong’s. More congressional funding was sought for the more extensive work needed on the eastern reaches of the road, and Congress appropriated $100,000 and ordered a new survey of the road from Memphis to Strong’s.

Lt. Alexander H. Bowman was the third subaltern to tackle the difficult route through east Arkansas, arriving in Memphis in June 1834 with instructions to make contracts for improvements on the road between "a point on the Mississippi River, opposite Memphis, and terminat[ing] at the house of Wm Strong on St. Francis." Bowman requested and in late 1835 received permission to construct an embankment "twenty four feet wide at the top, with suitable slopes, which shall be three feet above highest water" in the first four miles of the road, "creating a continuous levee, from the bank opposite Memphis to the highlands on the South Side of Grandee lake." After one contractor abandoned the project after three-quarters of his 300-man crew fell ill in the July heat, Bowman hired a second contractor who used oxen and scrapers to create the embankment. Though the initial miles opposite Memphis proved difficult, 23 miles of the road were completed by November 1834. After Arkansas became a state on June 15, 1836, Bowman was transferred to other duties as maintenance of the road became a local, as opposed to a federal, concern. During the years of federal involvement, it should be noted, Congress spent $267,000 of the $660,000 appropriated for territorial Arkansas’s transportation needs on construction of the Memphis to Little Rock Road. The eastern section of the road would continue to suffer the effects of persistent flooding for years to come, with the Arkansas Gazetteobserving in 1837 that "Emigrants continue to flock to this part of the country but they do so at the risk and cost of passing the most disgraceful bogs, wilderness, and swamps that can be found." The newspaper also advertised on May 23, 1837, that "the contractor on the Memphis and Little Rock Road (Wm. Strong, Esq.) advertises for one thousand laborers to go on that road for purposes of its completion." For all intents and purposes, however, the road that would later become part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears between Memphis and Little Rock was complete.

Though this study focuses on the road’s importance to the Cherokee Removal, the building of the Memphis to Little Rock Road also opened an overland route between the Mississippi River and the state capital, the importance of which led the Gazette to observe: "We venture to assert that that there is no one single subject of so much importance to Arkansas as the having of good roads from the interior of the country, to the Mississippi river." Fifty-three years later, the writers of The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas acknowledged the road’s impact:

In 1832, the United States Government constructed a road west from Memphis to Little Rock, over which they moved the Indians from the States east of the Mississippi River. . . and immediately after its construction [it] became the grand highway for emigration for western points. This was the only passage through the Wilderness, as the Mississippi bottoms were called at that time, and Texas received its flood of pioneers from over this highway, as did Kansas, Nebraska and Western Missouri; so from the time of its completion till 1860 there was hardly a day of any month in all those years, but what, from any point along its path, long trains of wagons could be seen slowly wending their way beneath the overhanging trees, and through the swamps that often lay for many miles along their track.

Choctaw Removal Along the Memphis to Little Rock Road

Between 1786 and 1825, the Choctaw Nation and the United States government negotiated eight different treaties in which the Choctaws ceded rights to their ancestral lands in what is now the State of Mississippi. On October 27, 1830, a ninth treaty, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, surrendered remaining Choctaw claims in Mississippi, setting the stage for the tribe’s removal to Indian Territory. The first contingents of some 4,000 Choctaws set out under civilian leadership in November 1831, generally following land and/or water routes beginning from Memphis, Tennessee, or Vicksburg, Mississippi. While few of these traveled overland from Memphis, the Arkansas Gazette reported on December 14, 1831, that "a small part of 18 or 20 Choctaws, having in charge about 100 head of Indian horses, arrived on the opposite side of the river on Sunday evening last, and left there yesterday morning for Fort Smith"; as with other contingents driving horse herds, this small group would almost certainly have traversed the Memphis to Little Rock Road between the Mississippi River and Little Rock. By March of 1832, 3,749 Choctaws were registered at four stations in Indian Territory.

In an effort to cut costs and increase efficiency, the next removal contingents were placed under the authority of the U.S. Army. While they would again depart from Memphis and Vicksburg, at least part of the emigrating Choctaws would travel by the Memphis to Little Rock Road. On September 26, 1832, the Arkansas Gazette ran an advertisement for sealed proposals for prospective suppliers of rations and forage for the removal parties, stating that some would move "from Post of Arkansas, A.T., via Mrs. Black’s and Samson Gray’s to Little Rock, A.T.", a route that would take them through the Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment, as Mrs. Black’s was located in Sections 9 and 16, Township 1 North, Range 5 West east of the segment and Gray’s was located in Section 31, Township 3 North, Range 10 West just west of the Brownsville section. "The calculation at present," the Gazette article notes, "is that the Indians will reach the Mississippi by the 1st of November next."

The Choctaws who rendezvoused at Memphis were split into two parties who would meet their fellow emigrants at Rock Roe on the White River. Though steamboats were available, many of the Indians were fearful of cholera and chose to travel overland under the command of Capt. William Armstrong. Following the Memphis to Little Rock Road, they entered a nightmarish landscape where fall flooding caused them to travel through knee- to waist-deep water for more than 30 miles. The parties consolidated at Rock Roe, still following the Memphis to Little Rock Road, and headed toward Little Rock, with the Arkansas Advocate reporting on November 21, 1832, that "the party in charge of Col. Rector, consisting of about 19 hundred, left Rock Roe on Friday last … This party lay at Mrs. Black’s on Monday night." Traveling over land the last of the emigrants passed Little Rock by December 2, 1832. On December 5 the Gazettereported that "about 1200 Indians and 80 wagons … who came through the Mississippi swamp from Memphis, and who design locating in the vicinity of the Arkansas, are probably now within about 75 miles of Fort Smith." By February 5, 1832, around 5,000 Choctaws were in Indian Territory at the conclusion of the second phase of removal.

One small group from the final phase of removal in 1833 would use the Memphis to Little Rock Road. A party of some 800 Choctaws arrived at Memphis in late October, with some traveling by water to Rock Roe while others pushed through the Mississippi Swamp in eastern Arkansas to join them at Rock Roe. The party split into two groups at Mrs. Black’s place in modern Prairie County, Arkansas, and a group of 176 led by John M. Millard would head to Fort Smith while the rest would head toward the Red River from Little Rock. Miller’s group would almost certainly have traversed the Memphis to Little Rock Road-Brownsville Segment. The Gazette reported on November 13, 1833, that Millard’s party "will proceed up, via the Cross Roads, 25 miles north of the place, to Fort smith, and settle on the north side of the Arkansas River, above that place." This route would have made them the last land-borne party to travel Arkansas during the Choctaw Removal.

Creek Removal Along the Memphis to Little Rock Road

Seven Creek chiefs signed a treaty in Washington, D.C. in March 1832, ceding all of the traditional Creek lands east of the Mississippi River to the U.S. government, thus culminating decades of negotiations and intratribal factionalism regarding ownership of the Creek homelands. It was reported that year that 2,500 members of the Creek tribe moved west, leaving 20,000 more to be removed.

The first major contingent to move through Arkansas was a party of 630 Creeks under the command of Capt. John Page in 1834. The party originated in Alabama, but split in January at Memphis, with the majority boarding steamboats for transport via the Mississippi, Arkansas and White rivers while another party drove the group’s pony herd along the Memphis to Little Rock Road. Poor boating conditions caused the riverine travelers to take almost three weeks to reach Little Rock, where they stopped on February 24, 1835. They camped north of the Arkansas River to await the overland group under William Beattie of the Sanford Emigrating Company, which despite traveling overland via the Memphis to Little Rock Road had already passed Mrs. Black’s by the time the steamboat contingent reached Little Rock. The reunited party left the Little Rock area on March 1. Only 469 of the 630 Creeks in the Page party were alive when it reached Fort Gibson on March 28, 1835.

A second party of 511 Creeks, conducted by Beattie but accompanied by Lt. Edward Deas of the U.S. Army, who sought to ensure the emigrants were properly supplied, left Alabama in December 1835. They reached Memphis and crossed the Mississippi on December 31. Again, the party split, with most traveling by boat as, Deas reported on January 1, 1836, "the Party with the Ponies were … assembled opposite the town … to proceed west through the Mississippi Swamp." The Indians traveled by boat arrived near Little Rock on January 8 and five days later Deas reported that "the Party with the Ponies … arrived within a quarter of a mile of this place this afternoon in good condition. This is the first time we have heard of them since leaving Memphis." The group proceeded westward, arriving at Fort Smith on January 22 after delays caused by low water on the Arkansas River.

In July 1836 more than 2,300 Creeks who had resisted resistance were gathered in Alabama and sent by boat to New Orleans, where they were handed over to the J.W.A. Sanford Emigrating Company for transportation to Indian Territory. They were taken to Rock Roe, on the White River below the mouth of the Cache River, by July 29 and remained there until August 8 as the contractors sought wagons and animals for the overland trip to Fort Gibson. This overland trip probably followed the Memphis to Little Rock Road and would have traversed the Brownsville Segment in August. The destitute band arrived at Fort Gibson on September 3.

Several parties of Creeks headed west in Fall 1836, and a lack of transport led to some 13,000 Creeks bottlenecked at Memphis in October. These groups were led by Capt. M.W. Batman, Lt. R. B. Screven, Marine Lt. John T. Sprague, Deas, and John A. Campbell. Sprague sought to steal a march on Batman and Screven, who had arrived at Memphis before him, to ensure his party received adequate measures of the scanty supplies set out for the Creek emigrants. Sprague put 1,300 people, mostly women and children, aboard the steamboat John Nelson and two flat boats and sent between 600 and 700 men with the group’s horses along the Memphis to Little Rock Road through the Mississippi Swamp. Most of the overland group joined their river-borne companions opposite Little Rock on November 4, though many of the men stayed in the swamp to hunt bear. Sprague sent agents after these stragglers and brought them to the camps opposite Little Rock in mid-November. The Sprague party reached Fort Gibson on December 7, having lost only 29 people during the journey.

Screven’s party of 3,142 Creeks also split at Memphis, with most going to Rock Roe by boat while the horse herd followed the Memphis to Little Rock Road, arriving opposite Little Rock on November 20.

Deas party, which numbered 2,320 when it left Alabama, set out from Memphis on November 5, 1836, intending to split as had the earlier groups. A sizeable group of Creeks refused to board the boats, choosing instead to follow the horse herd along the Memphis to Little Rock Road under the leadership of a conductor who Deas appointed. The water-borne party waited at Rock Roe, but only a portion of the overland party arrived with the conductor. After waiting two weeks, Deas set back toward Strong’s place on the St. Francis River to round up the stragglers. He found 300-400 starving, stranded Creeks, some of whom had been with the parties of Batman and Screven, scattered along the route and arranged for their escort to join the rest of his band. Deas’s main group arrived opposite Little Rock on November 27 and stayed there until December 9, allowing most of the stragglers to rejoin them. After moving three miles, he learned that another large group was still a few days behind him, so he again encamped until December 17, after which he ordered the party to proceed toward Indian Territory while he went back along the Memphis to Little Rock Road to look for stragglers. The Deas party finally arrived at Fort Gibson on January 23, 1837. His was the last major Creek removal party to travel the Memphis to Little Rock Road.

Chickasaw Removal Along the Memphis to Little Rock Road

On October 20, 1832, representatives of the Chickasaw Nation, under pressure from the U.S. government and white settlers anxious to move into the Chickasaw homelands in northern Mississippi and Alabama, signed the Treaty of Pontotoc in which the tribe ceded its property for sale as public land. The government would hold proceeds while tribe members decided where they wanted to move in the West. An exploring party of 21 chiefs left Tuscumbia on October 16, 1833, crossing the Mississippi River at Memphis and then heading to Little Rock and on to Fort Towson - a journey that would have traversed the newly constructed Memphis to Little Rock Road. Negotiations with the Choctaw Nation to procure western Choctaw land failed, as did similar parleys in November 1835. Finally, in January 1837 the Choctaw Nation sold a large strip in the western part of Choctaw lands in the Indian Territory for the use of the Chickasaw, also allowing the tribe to enjoy most of the privileges of Choctaw citizenship.

On March 9, 1837, A. M. M. Upshaw of Pulaski, Tennessee, was appointed superintendent of the Chickasaw removal. Upshaw established three camps in the Chickasaw Nation, and on July 4 he led a party of some 500 emigrants to Memphis. John M. Millard, assisted by W.R. Guy, Capt. Joe A. Phillips and Dr. C. G. Keenan, took over as the conductor of the party and crossed the Mississippi River to Arkansas. Millard, expecting additional Chickasaws to join his group and awaiting anticipated rations, tarried on the Arkansas side for three days before heading west on the Memphis to Little Rock Road. By the 9th of July they had crossed Blackfish Lake and by the 11th had traversed the section of road that now runs through Crowley’s Ridge. The party camped for two days about three miles west of Strong’s, then headed on the 13th to the Languille River and beyond, arriving at the site of modern-day Clarendon on July 17 and at Rock Roe Bridge on July 19.

Millard’s wrote in his journal:

July 19, Camp at Rock Row Bridge

We finished crossing the wagons and horses over the river and passed through the noted white river bottoms 4 miles to this place. All the Indians, now more than five hundred in number, are in camp and impatient for the march through the great Prairie.

20th July Left Rock Row at 6 ock. P.M. and passed through the prairie 25 miles and arrived at Mrs. Black’s before light on the morning of the 21st.

The next morning, Millard and his Chickasaw charges traveled nine miles, then continued on that evening. It was probably during the march of the July 22-23 that the group traversed the Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment.

Traveling some nine miles per day, the party of 516 Indians, 551 ponies and 13 wagons arrived at modern-day North Little Rock on July 24. The party split up there, with Millard, Morris and Keenan taking 150 Chickasaws and all of the baggage on board the steamer Indian for transportto Fort Coffee in the Indian Territory, Guy leading a party of 30 Chickasaws, 100 horses and two wagons by land for the same destination, and the remaining Chickasaws, led by chief Sealy, headed southwest, "determined to go by Red River and stop, when and where they pleased."

After arriving at Fort Coffee on August 2, Millard returned to Little Rock and set out in pursuit of Sealy’s detachment, finding "many of them very sick" only 35 miles from Little Rock. After battling a lack of provender and the depredations of horse thieves, the frustrated Millard finally threatened the slow-moving Chickasaws with the prospect of a full military escort if they did not follow his instructions. After much hardship, the remaining Chickasaws finally arrived in the Indian Territory and Millard left the party on September 10, 1837.

Millard rejoined Upshaw in Memphis, where the latter had assembled some 4,000 additional Chickasaw emigrants, most of whom would travel west by steamboat. Millard led another party along the Memphis to Little Rock Road, leaving Memphis around December 3. The winter journey was more difficult as the Millard Party encountered the same difficulties that had bested the road’s builders 10 years earlier. A correspondent to the Arkansas Gazette wrote the newspaper on December 11, 1837, that:

Capt. John Millard, conductor of a party of Chickasaw Indians, reached Strong’s last evening, with almost 300 Indians, 38 wagons, and 1100 Indian ponies. - The balance of his party, supposed to be from 700 to 800 in number, is still in the swamp, and will not reach here for some days owing to the desperate condition of the road. Capt. Millard thinks that not less than 70 or 80 Indian ponies have been bogged and left dead in the mud. This party will remain at this place for several days-indeed until the balance of the party comes up. The whole party of Indians, we understand, will come by the way of this place [Little Rock] - or rather, the opposite bank of the river."

This party apparently followed the Military Road to Little Rock and would have traversed the Brownsville Segment of the Memphis to Little Rock Road. After arriving at Little Rock, Millard convinced some of his charges to take steamboats the rest of the way to the Choctaw Nation, while the remainder traveled overland with their horses and oxen.

Cherokee Removal on the Memphis to Little Rock Road

The Cherokees who had signed the Treaty of New Echota traveled separately from their fellow tribesmen in a detachment that mixed-blood Cherokee John Bell conducted and for which U.S. Army Lt. Edward Deas was chief administrator. This detachment of some 660 Indians left the emigrating depot at Fort Cass near Charleston, Tennessee, on October 10, 1838. It was the only Cherokee Removal detachment that would take the Military Road from the Mississippi River to Little Rock and beyond.

Deas reported that the Bell Detachment had crossed the Mississippi by November 24, 1838, noting that he "shipped up the Arkansas River a considerable quantity of the Baggage, Potware &c. &c, on very low terms, which I think will result in a good deal of saving in time and expense." This report is the last known to survive from Deas during his travels with the Bell Detachment, but historian Duane King has assembled Deas’s expense vouchers from the National Archives, providing an account of where and when the Bell Detachment traveled along the Memphis to Little Rock Road.

Deas’s vouchers show that the party crossed Blackfish Lake on November 28, when he paid H.N. Ferguson to ferry the Cherokee across (The Blackfish Lake Ferry Site was listed on the National Register on 04/10/03). Four vouchers show that the party purchased supplies from William Strong. Voucher #98 shows that on November 29 & 30, Strong ferried 650 Cherokees across the St. Francis River. Voucher #34 shows that on November 30, 1838, Deas purchased 50.5 bushels of cornmeal at $1 per bushel and 1,776 pounds of beef at 4 ½ cents per pound for at total of $130.42. Voucher #99, also dated November 30, shows Strong sold Deas 59 bushels of corn at $1 per bushel and 1,016 bundles of fodder at $4 per hundred bundles for at total of $99.64. Each of these vouchers was paid off on December 2. An unnumbered voucher dated December 1, 1838 reads: "Recd of Dr Eddington Four dollars for 1 gallon of French Brandy for the Cherokee Emigration." Based on these vouchers, it probably was between November 30 and December 4 (the date of the last voucher paid in St. Francis County) that the Bell Detachment traveled the well-established Memphis to Little Rock Road segment that now traverses Village Creek State Park (NR 04/11/03).

The next vouchers, dated December 5 and 6, were made out to John Cotton, who lived near modern-day Brinkley south of what is now Henard Cemetery Road. The Bell Detachment would thus have traversed this road segment between December 4 and 6 (The Memphis to Little Rock Road - Henard Cemetery Road Segment was listed on the National Register on 05/30/03). Vouchers dated December 8 and 9 show the party crossed the White River at the Mouth of Cache (modern-day Clarendon) on those dates, and others dated December 10 were paid to Daniel Wilder in "Munroe County" for corn and fodder. On December 12, Deas made a payment to Cy Harris in Pulaski County, indicating the party had crossed the county line. It is thus most likely that the Bell Detachment traversed the Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment on December 11.

The Bell Detachment traveled 707 miles in 89 days and disbanded at Vinyard Post Office (present-day Evansville) in Washington County, Arkansas, on January 7, 1839. Twenty-one of the 660 Cherokee Indians who began the journey in Tennessee died en route.

The Memphis to Little Rock Road in the Civil War

The Memphis to Little Rock Road - Brownsville Segment also played a part in the Little Rock Campaign of 1863, which is described in detail in the "Historic and Archeological Resources of the Little Rock Campaign of 1863 Multiple-Property Documentation Form" approved by the National Park Service on December 31, 2002. In that campaign, Union forces under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele advanced across Arkansas’s Grand Prairie in July and August 1863, facing little resistance from Confederate forces as they advanced on the state capital.

The first sizable encounter between the two armies occurred on August 25 near the hamlet of Brownsville, "a small town situated on a broad, flat and extensive prairie, about thirty miles distance in an easterly direction from Little Rock." It was here that the Rebel rear guard under Brig Gen. John Sappington Marmaduke, outnumbered four-to-one in men and eight-to-one in artillery, attempted to slow the Union advance.

Lt. Col. B. Frank Gordon commanded seven hundred or so men of Brig. Gen. J.O. Shelby’s Iron Brigade when the order came on the morning of the 25th, "ere the men had partaken of their scanty meal," to form line of battle at Bayou Two Prairie and block the Little Rock Road, including the section at Brownsville. One section of Bledsoe’s battery was placed on the road while Maj. Benjamin Elliott’s battalion moved a mile and a half ahead on the prairie to act as the Confederate advance and skirmish line. Marmaduke’s six hundred men under Col. William L. Jeffers formed on the edge of Brownsville, with Charlie Bell’s battery in place on the right and elements of Burbridge’s and Jeffers’ regiments and Young’s battalion on the left.

"The enemy’s lines, extending across the prairie, could be plainly seen advancing, supported by a large body of cavalry with artillery, and when within about 200 yards of our lines Major Elliott, from his entire line, opened fire upon them, which was immediately returned, and the charge sounded by the bugles of the enemy brought their columns sweeping across the prairie and down upon our retiring column like a whirlwind." Bledsoe’s cannon opened on the Yankee horsemen "as soon as our men had approached sufficiently near to distinguish them from the enemy." "A few shots from the artillery drove the enemy’s advance back." Gordon’s troops lost one man killed and four captured "by their horses and mules falling with them" in this first contact with Davidson’s troopers.

Union participants remembered the battle in less grandiose terms. Trooper Petty of the Third Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) dismissed the entire action with a sentence: "When getting within two miles of Brownsville we encountered rebel pickets; they were charged and driven in; we soon shelled the rebs out of the place and occupied it."

The Rebels fell back through Brownsville to a position on a second prairie some six miles west of their original position. The Yankees approached cautiously, pausing to shell the initial Confederate position and then a band of timber on the eastern border of the prairie where the Southern horsemen reformed. Captain DeMuth of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) remembers that "we shelled him for an hour probably, when our regiment prepared to fight on foot. We went into the brush and searched all round for him, but could not find him, he gave us the slip."

On seeing the Rebel cavalry, the Union troops again moved to the attack. "’Here they come!’ is again passed up the lines, and, as one column filed right and another left, in the most perfect order, with their banners gaily streaming in the wind, we could but admire their perfect discipline and soldierly bearing," Gordon wrote. When the Union cavalry was about half way across the two-mile-wide prairie, Bell’s battery "mischievously ambushed" the Second Missouri Cavalry (U.S.), also known as the Merrill Horse, a regiment mounted on white horses. This "was the signal for Captain Bledsoe, who sent crushing through their lines shell after shell, throwing them into the most beautiful confusion."

Davidson ordered up a pair of batteries that then proceeded to throw "a shower of shells" into the Rebel lines, which Gordon claimed "fell harmless." DeMuth remembers this action thus: "We proceeded some farther, shelled him again, but cannot catch him." This ended the battle of Brownsville, with the Rebels falling back to their works at Bayou Meto and the Yankees holding at Brownsville, "very well satisfied with our days work." Nevertheless, Marmaduke’s delaying action succeeded in slowing the Union advance as Davidson halted to wait on the infantry column. Little Rock eventually fell to Steele’s army on September 10, 1863.

The Memphis to Little Rock Road- Brownsville Segment is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with Statewide significance by virtue of its status one of few surviving segment of the roads traversed in Arkansas by the Bell Detachment during the Cherokee Removal. Its association with the earlier Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw Removals and its role in opening eastern Arkansas to west-bound migration augments its importance. In addition, the road section is included in the area of the initial encounter of the August 25, 1863, fighting at Brownsville during the Little Rock Campaign. The property is being submitted for National Register recognition under the multiple-property listing "Historic and Archeological Resources Associated with the Cherokee Trail of Tears."



American Native Press Archives, University of Arkansas at Little Rock,

Arkansas Advocate

, November 21, 1832.

Arkansas Gazette, July 25, 1826; May 23, 1837; December 19, 1837.

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas

(Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890)

Bolton, S. Charles. Arkansas 1800-1860, Remote and Restless (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1998)

Carter, Clarence E., comp. and ed., Territorial Papers of the United States, Arkansas Territory, 1825-1829 (Washington, D.C., 1954)

Chowing, Robert W. History of St. Francis County (Forrest City, AR: Times-Herald Publishing Co., 1954)

Christ, Mark K., ed. Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1994),

Demuth, Albert. The Civil War Letters of Albert Demuth and Roster Eighth Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, ed. Leo Huff (Springfield, MO: Independent Printing Company, 1997)

DeRosier, Arthur H. Jr. "The Choctaw Removal of 1831: A Civilian Effort" Journal of the West Vol. 6, April 1967.

Dougan, Michael B. Arkansas Odyssey (Little Rock, AR: Rose Publishing Co., 1994)

Edwards, John N. Shelby and his Men: or, The War in the West. (Cincinnati: Miami, 1867. Facsimile reprint, Waverly, MO: General Joseph Shelby Memorial Fund, 1993)

Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972)

Glenn, Jordan H. "Choctaw Colonization in Oklahoma" Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 54, Spring, 1976. Cemetery Transcription Library,

King, Duane. "The Emigration Route of the John A. Bell Detachment of Treaty Party Cherokees within the State of Arkansas, November 25, 1838 - January 7, 1839," Research Paper, 2001

_______., e-mail correspondence, July 8, 2002

Litton, Gaston, ed. "The Journal of a Party of Emigrating Creek Indians, 1835-36," The Journal of Southern History, vol. 7, May 1941.

Longnecker, Julia Ward. "A Road Divided: From Memphis to Little Rock Through the Great Mississippi Swamp." Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLIV, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985)

Lothrop, Charles H. A History of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry Veteran Volunteers(Lyons, IA: Beers & Eaton, 1890)

Meals, Jennova. "Paths of the Past: The Old Military Road in East Arkansas." Research Paper.

Millard, J.M., Journal, September 23, 1837, copy supplied by Dr. Dan Littlefield, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Paige, Amanda L., Fuller L. Bumpers and Daniel L. Littlefield, Jr. "The North Little Rock Site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: Historical Contexts Report," June 15, 2003

Petty, A.W.M. A History of the Third Missouri Cavalry: From Its Organization at Palmyra, Missouri, 1861, up to November Sixth, 1864: With an Appendix and Recapitulation (Little Rock: J. Wm. Demby, 1865),

Pulaski County, Arkansas, land patents, cited at

Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen Generals and Soldiers (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1895)

Savage, William J. Jr. "Creek Colonization in Oklahoma," Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 54, Spring 1976.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

. 70 vols. In 128 books and index. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901. In The Civil War CD-ROM. Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1996.

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