Local Indian Tribes: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

One of the interesting exhibits at the Faulkner County Museum is the Indian exhibit. It includes a vast collection of artifacts, many of which were collected by Fred Wilson, the mail carrier in Greenbrier for a number of years. My grandmother told me they often found arrowheads while farming cotton and put them in the mailbox for Wilson.

Several historic tribal Indian groups lived in or near Faulkner County—the Quapaw, Caddo, Osage and Cherokee. Others traveled through on their way to Oklahoma during the Indian removals that took place in the 1830s.

Probably the best known of the three tribes who lived in the area are the Quapaw who lived along the Arkansas River from its mouth all the way north to Russellville. They were settled farmers who lived in villages and they were known to be excellent pottery makers.

The Caddo Indians lived in the southwestern part of the state but ranged fairly close to Faulkner County. They farmed corn, beans, squash and tobacco. They are best known for their elaborately decorated ceramics.

The Osage actually lived mostly in southern Missouri but ranged into the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, including northern Faulkner County. They were also farmers but did a lot of hunting to supplement their diet with meat. They were the most aggressive of the three tribes and often attacked Quapaw villages.

The Cherokee were originally from the southeastern United States—Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas—but they were forced to move to the Cherokee Reservation in north central Arkansas as European settlers pushed into their lands. The Cherokee Reservation included the extreme northwest portion of Faulkner County.

In 1818, an early settler and trader, John McElmurry and three other investors, established Cadron, a town on about 64 acres at the mouth of the Cadron Creek. He built a blockhouse to be used as a residence, tavern and protection for his fur trading which was mostly deer pelts.

A ferry crossed both the Arkansas River and Cadron Creek and roads and trails connected Cadron to Arkansas Post, St. Louis and Hot Springs. Weekly mail service started in 1820 when it became the seat of Pulaski County and was being considered for the territorial capital. Unfortunately the legislature relocated the county government to Little Rock the next year.

The Cherokee stayed in Arkansas from 1817 to 1828 when they, as well as the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw, were eventually removed to Oklahoma. The removal of the Indians cut deeply into the fur trade in the state and Cadron settlement, which had been named the temporary seat of Conway County in 1825, began to decline.

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and an estimated 60,000 Indians passed through Arkansas on their way to Oklahoma. In addition to the above-mentioned tribes, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee and Seminole Indians, as well as members of various other tribes, traveled through the state over the next decade on their way to Oklahoma.

Many of the removed Indians traveled overland on what was called the Memphis to Little Rock Road. At Little Rock, they were ferried across the Arkansas River to continue their journey westward. The water route used was the Arkansas River with many traveling upriver by steamboat.

Large caravans as well as small independent groups traveled by wagon along Arkansas’ primitive roads. Some had wagonloads of possessions and herds of horses. Supplies of food, fodder and firewood were arranged along the way by the military, private contractors or tribal leaders.
In 1834, a large group of Cherokee Indians traveling to Oklahoma, possibly over 700, was stranded at Cadron by low water in the Arkansas River. They stopped at the remains of the settlement of Cadron, which had declined to such an extent that only one storage building remained there. A cholera epidemic swept through the group and many died.

During the winter of 1838-39, more Cherokee were removed to Indian Territory by land and water routes on the infamous Trail of Tears. Arkansas experienced one of its coldest winters and one of its driest summers during that year. Even with physicians assigned to care for the travelers, many died from infectious diseases like cholera, dysentery, measles and smallpox.

Several Cherokee, especially the sick and dying, were often left at the abandoned Cadron Creek settlement in Faulkner County. No one knows how may were buried along the trail or even how many survived.

In 1991, when the Faulkner County Historical Society did a cemetery census, it identified 44 Indian graves and 36 unidentifiable graves at Cadron but there were probably more that were left unmarked.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.