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Arkansas Chapter of the CoHT . . .

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Early History of Mount Magazine

by Don Simons


Mount Magazine is the highest point in Arkansas and is a prominent feature on the landscape. Its rugged beauty and mild summer climate has attracted human interest for hundreds of years. The Arkansas River played a very important role in the history of our state and Mount Magazine. The first Arkansans lived and traveled along it and its tributaries long before this New World was “discovered” by Europeans. Since there were no roads, rivers were the main arteries for transportation.

Bernard de la Harpe made the first recorded journey of any distance up the Arkansas River in 1722. He was possibly the first European to see Mount Magazine. French and Spanish hunters from Arkansas Post may have explored this area before that but there is little documentation of their observations. Most historians believe the DeSoto expedition crossed the river too far east to have seen Mount Magazine in 1542.

France held Louisiana until signing the Treaty of Paris in 1762. Spain held it until 1800. Then France took possession of it again until the United States purchased it in 1803 for $15 million. This doubled the size of our country and opened it up to more exploration and settlement. President Thomas Jefferson was anxious to learn about the resources of this vast area. A number of scientific military expeditions were planned under his administration and succeeding presidents.

The first American expedition into what is now Arkansas was that of William Dunbar and Dr. George Hunter. They were originally scheduled to explore the Arkansas River but feared being attacked by Osage. Therefore, they ascended the Ouachita River to Hot Springs in 1804.

A number of various tribes lived in Arkansas during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Many were people from east of the Mississippi River who had been displaced by American settlers. Cherokee were the most numerous of these groups. Their way of life was very similar to contemporary white settlers. Eventually, many Cherokee settled in northwestern Arkansas. This area was traditionally Osage hunting grounds. Raids and counter raids between the two tribes threatened to breakout into open warfare.

One of the first Americans to venture up the Arkansas River was Major Stephen H. Long, who had orders to choose the location and design of the first garrison where the Osage boundary met the river in 1817. The fort was named for General Thomas A. Smith, commander of the Ninth Military Department, and was established to prevent open warfare and raiding between the Osage and the Cherokee.

At that time Arkansas was part of the Missouri Territory, established in 1812. The Arkansas Territory was established in 1819 and it included part of what is now Oklahoma. Arkansas Post was the capitol until 1821, when it was moved to Little Rock.

In 1819, naturalist Thomas Nuttall explored the Arkansas River. His journal is filled with details on plants, animals, and geology of the region. One map in his journal indicates Magazine Mountain to be very near Dardanelle. Its name in French refers to a resemblance to a barn. That mountain is now called Mount Nebo. The mountain we know as Mount Magazine is labeled “Castete Mt.” on Nuttall’s map. In the text of his journal, Nuttall describes “A lofty blue ridge …, called by the French hunters the Cassetete [notice the different spelling] or Tomahawk mountain….” “…the Cassetete mountain appears very distinct, and somewhat resembles the Magazine; being a long ridge abrupt at either end.” The editor of Nuttall’s journal made some assumptions in his foot notes that appear to be incorrect. He thought Nuttall was referring to Short Mountain, which is a low mesa near Paris. He also was mistaken about the elevation of the mountain.

Nuttall described Cherokee, Osage, and whites living along the river. There were also a few trading posts in the area. It might not be far fetched to image a hunting party from the Cadron or Mulberry settlements exploring Mount Magazine in search of bear, deer, elk, bison, cougar, turkey, and small game. Perhaps a squad of riflemen from the garrison at Fort Smith made a reconnaissance mission through the area.

That brings us to the scenario for an event to be held in Mount Magazine State Park on September 26 – 28. The Historic Hunters Encampment will not be a typical rendezvous. We will portray a hunting party exploring the mountain in 1820. Clothing, camp gear, and firearms must be period and regional correct. Shelters will be kept to a minimum. Wall tents, teepees, or marquees will not be welcomed. Each participant should limit camp gear to no more than he or she and a pack animal can carry in on one trip. No pets will be allowed. However, canine hunting companions and pack animals will be permitted. All firearms should be flintlocks.

Squirrel season will be open and our encampment will be within walking distance of some of the finest squirrel woods in Arkansas. Programs for tourists will be held on that Saturday. The park will provide hooters nearby. Water can be dipped out of a nearby quarry and should be boiled before consumption. Firewood will be provided by nature. This will be a relatively small event so traders probably will not find it worth their time and expense. Our goal is to develop an event that is as historically correct as possible. The Highpoint Rendezvous might be scheduled for April of 2009.

RSVP. For more information, contact: Don R. Simons, Mount Magazine State Park, 16878 HWY 309 South, Paris, AR 72855, (479) 963-8502, email: Don.simons@arkansas.gov

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