1820 and Territorial Randolph County

When The Arkansas Territory was created in 1820, the first Territorial Legislature met at Arkansas Post.  The importance of Randolph County is shown in that the three most important offices of that first legislature, President, Secretary and Congressional Representative, were all residents of what’s now Randolph County, within part of the original, huge “Lawrence County” made up of much of northern Arkansas and part of southern Missouri.

The 1820 US Census showed that 40% of the residents of Arkansas Territory lived in what was then Lawrence County even though many of the 33 counties that made up Lawrence County had already split off. Randolph County was the center of that population.

Also, 80% of the early settlers of Arkansas entered the state at Pitman’s Ferry (called The Gateway to the Southwest) in Randolph County on the Old Military Road (also known as the Southwest Trail).

Trail of Tears In Randolph County: 175th Anniversary

In November, 1838, twelve hundred Cherokee and Creek Indians left northern Alabama on a forced march to Oklahoma, where the government was forcibly relocating them. They crossed Tennessee into Kentucky in an unusually cold winter. They then crossed the Mississippi into Missouri and took the Old Military Road (Southwest Trail) into Arkansas.

They crossed into Arkansas on December 9, 1838, by fording the Current River at a spot still called Indian Ford, approximately 500 yards upstream from Pitman’s Ferry. They would have to ford (swim across) four of Randolph County’s five rivers in the cold of December.

We have eye witness accounts of their burying eight of their party near the community of Supply. An eyewitness account of the party when they camped at Foster’s Ford on the Fourche River and a newspaper account of their overnight stay at Old Jackson attest to the pitiful condition of the travelers and the great emotions they caused in any who witnessed their plight.

The Benge Route of the Trail of Tears, which runs from extreme northeast Randolph County to just south of Imboden, is now part of the National Park Service’s National Trail system (to be marked with signage later this year) and is one of three Arkansas Heritage trails that run through historic Randolph County.

Randolph County and The Civil War

We have several important 150th anniversaries from our Civil War History here this year:

  • In July, 1863, Confederate General Jeff Thompson, known as The Missouri Swamp Fox, was captured by a Union raiding party from Missouri along with several locally prominent Confederates at the St. Charles Hotel. This hotel, the largest in northeast Arkansas when it was built in 1852, occupied almost the entire east side of the Pocahontas court square.  Thompson got his nickname for the resources he showed in many battles and skirmishes in the swamps and wetlands of southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas.
  • In August, 1863, the proprietor of the St. Charles Hotel, William Evans, was assassinated in the lobby of the hotel on Bettis Street.  Evans was a confederate army recruiter for northeast Arkansas.
  • In November, 1863, a Union raiding party from Missouri arrived in Pocahontas with the purpose of burning the local newspaper, the Randolph Herald (owned by James Martin).  The fires they set also burned most of downtown Pocahontas.  Some reports say the raiders also went up and down residential streets burning homes.

[fancy_box title=”Photo”]The St. Charles Hotel was already 50 years old when this photo was made. The 1872 “Old Courthouse” is on the right.[/fancy_box]