Drew County in Its Early Years - to 1880

Contributed by Jann Woodard.


by Mrs. J.D. McCloy, Sr.
Published in the Advance-Monticellonian Feb. 5, 1942

Beginning this week we will start the history of Drew County written by Mrs. J.D. McCloy for the January meeting of the Sorosis Club. Following the history to 1880 written by Mrs. McCloy, will be a similar summary of happenings in the county from 1880 to the present written by Mrs. R.F. Hyatt.

Standing on the vantage ground of ninety five years and peering through the portals of Time at the record of deeds performed in behalf of our loved county and its citizens, a few of you may recognize some familiar faces, now lost to mortal sight - hear some familiar voices echoing through the aisle of memory - of those who played well their parts in the early life-drama of Drew County.

Away down South in Dixie I shall take you to get a bird's eye view of people who came, saw and conquered.

It was on November 26, 1846 that Drew County was born, formed from a part of Bradley County, which was formed from a part of Union County in 1840.

So with Union as her grandparent
And Bradley County her ma,
Drew registered in the family tree
Of grand old Arkansas.

Her birth in 1846,
When settlers were but few,
Was deemed by them a noble one
So they named her for Governor Drew.

Over her 847 square miles of territory seven flags have flown. First was the Spanish flag; then in 1682 the fleur-de-lis of France; in 1762 the red and gold standard of royalist Spain; in 1800 the tri-color flag of the French Republic. In 1803 the United States made the Louisiana Purchase from France, hence the American flag of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes then waved; in 1861-1865 the Confederate flag; and again the United States flag in 1868 to present time together with the Arkansas flag since its adoption in 1913.

Scarcely a month after Drew County was formed, a portion of Chicot County was attached to her. In 1848 a large section of Drew was attached to Ashley County. In 1861 a portion of Desha was attached to Drew. In 1873 the boundary line between Chicot and Drew was changed, but no changes have been made since. Its six townships at that time were Marion, White, DeBastrop, Osceloa, Bartholomew and Smith; Goodland was created a month later.

In the early thirties of 1800, people began to settle government lands. The eastern section near Bayou Bartholomew seems to have been earliest settled; Stephen Gaster and Reece Bowden settling there in 1832. The log house erected by Mr. Gaster for his home, is still standing on the Duke plantation. Fear of the Indians had kept people away, but most of the tribes were then being carried into Indian Territory.

When we get a glimpse of living conditions in those days here in Drew County, we will say, "Truly we are living in a grand and glorious time," for we have fallen heir to many inventions that make high standards of living; these are too numerous to mention. Imagine, if you can, living conditions when there were no electric lights, few or no oil lamps (kerosene had just come in and was a dollar per gallon), pine knots, and candles made in molds from grease and wax, furnishing light. Cook stoves were a rarity; the open fireplace being largely used for cooking. Coals were carefully covered at night for fire the next day, for matches had not that early come into use. Springs and well were the only refrigerators. Spinning, carding, weaving and knitting materials for clothing were done in the home, as no manufactories existed in the South. Shoes, boots, buskins, were made from the tanned hides of wild animals in abundance over the wooded country. Many tanyards early came into existence for this reason, and shoes, harness and saddlery began to be made with crude tools. Some women's shoes were made of cloth, front and side laces. Later on, people who could afford expensive shoes would get them at New Orleans. Thereby hangs another tale - the problem of getting such without railroads and roads, only trails. Imagine only forests, and far distant neighbors' homes connected only by trails. Horse back and foot methods were the most accustomed methods of traveling until roads could be cut. Stumps were left to rot. Mail was delivered once a week by horseback riders from mail boats and it was an exciting event to receive a letter. The sender merely folded the writing inside and with wax or white of egg sealed it, as envelopes were scarce if any at all. Postage was paid by the sender and the letter so stamped, as on in 1847 were stamps begun to be used by the Government.

Truly to these our pioneer citizens there was "a pleasure in the pathless woods; there was rapture on the lonely shore" and these shores were the banks of the county's streams about which were to be found an abundance of game, deer and turkey being very common, the latter selling for 30c to 50c a piece. Bear meat was plentiful, the grease fine for cooking and for soap, etc., and hides useful also. Salt was the greatest need it seems. So scarce was it that it is said the smokehouse soil, beneath where the meat hung in being smoked, was often boiled to elicit the salt for further use, as it was expensive, often as high as $20.00 per bushel. If these pioneers could re-visit the County now the legends of Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow would seem insignificant in comparison to these.

Because of malarial conditions these Bayou settlers in the late thirties and early forties pushed up into the hill section farther west. Many from Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas began to pour in during the latter period, because of cheap lands and the great quantities of furs, making settlements at Independence (Rough & Ready), Rock Springs, Lacey, Longview and other small places. These came by boat and wagons, ferries transferring them across stream, and these ferries on the Saline and Bayou were kept very busy too, as Arkansas had no railroads until after the War Between the States, and only fifty miles then in 1868.

Stephen Gaster's ferry on Bayou Bartholomew was the most outstanding and was very necessary as most all supplies were hauled by team from Gaines Landing on the Mississippi River to our County via this route. In 1850 men with their slaves cut out this road from Gaines Landing by way of Monticello to Cornish Landing on Saline, thus making a through route to Warren and Camden. Some supplies however reached us by way of Saline River, boats coming up from New Orleans as far as Longview. Some of these boats were the Ora, Fleta, Howard, Morgan Nelson, Carrie Pool. Captain Bob Withers and his brother Bowen of Longview operated some of these, carrying boat loads of our cotton to New Orleans and returning with supplies of various kinds. Longview remained a thriving little river town until the railroad reached Collins in 1873. Only a few magnolias stand as monuments to the memory of those gallant souls who builded their village beside the whispering river.

This decadent condition is true of another early village - Troy, several miles south of Collins, on or near the Gaines Landing Road. In 1860 our county records state it was incorporated, laid off a mile square, had F.M. Lillard as Justice of Peace and five Aldermen. The ground for this was donated by Gen. Collins or a Mr. Montgomery. Two churches already existed, one being a Baptist Church which I was told my maternal grandmother was instrumental in organizing and building, and now silently sleeps within its shadow with numerous others. The Masons used the second story of this Church for their Lodge room.

End of article


Published in the Advance-Monticellonian, Feb. 12, 1942

Lacey evidently existed when the County was formed or immediately thereafter. A Mr. Dudley Daniel, grandfather of our Circuit Clerk, Mr. George Spencer, and Mrs. Lina Pope of this city, gave the ground for the business section, and Mrs. Pope's mother, Margaret Ann Killian, in 1856, donated ground for the Methodist Church and parsonage. Lacy Female Institute was founded January 6, 1853 and another known as Fountain Hill Academy was incorporated January 26, 1851 at Fountain Hill, just beyond Lacey. During the War, our Court, in 1863, allowed $50.00 for transportation and safe-keeping of our County records, in case the Federals invaded the town during the war, and we know they did. It is noted in the records that on July 11, 1865, Mr. Perry Lambert was allowed $10.00, and on July 16, Mr. M.H. Burks was allowed $6.00 for "hauling up the county record books." Both men lived near Lacey, and as Court met there in October 1864, all this seems to make us believe these books were stored and cared for at Lacey. We are very fortunate indeed to have all of our County Record books intact. Not all counties have been so fortunate.

Selma was another village that early began to bud, but blighted when her neighbor, Tillar, in 1879 began to bud also due to the entrance of the Iron Mountain Railroad. Business houses moved from the former place to Tillar; the same ones who had given Selma a support now did likewise for Tillar. Major J.T.W. Tillar, Dr. A.C. Stanley and Mr. Chesley C. Clayton were three of these. Mr. Tillar gave land for a Methodist Church at Selma in 1868, but a snow storm caved it in; and as the Baptists had just builded, the Methodists assumed a share of the indebtedness which Major Tillar paid for them; so both denominations have worshipped together throughout the years. Dr. Stanley gave ground for a railroad station and school house at Tillar, and built the first schoolhouse. He also built the depot and was paid for same in freight allowances. Tillar Mercantile business has operated there 63 years. It occupies almost a block now, and they operate one of the largest farms in the State. Running near the two towns is the old Military Road of historical fame, once the Spanish trail from Memphis to Mexico, the road over which Gen. Jackson transported troops, and over which the emigrating Indians were carried into Indian Territory. On the Bayou somewhere near is the Indian Village so often referred to in the county records.

The town of Collins dates back to early fifties. In 1852, Gen. Benjamin Collins builded a large two story tavern there which today houses Drew County's only Antique Shop. It was the only hotel Collins ever had. He operated it, a farm, gin, store and tanyard. He donated ground for the cemetery, the business section, the Baptist Church and builded same. Drew County's first railroad came to Collins in 1873, eight years before it reached Monticello, when its east terminus was changed from Chicot City to Arkansas City. Several men who became wealthy got their first business start at Collins, as J.T.W. Tillar, A.E. Harris, C.M. Boyd, Jas. Courtney and others perhaps.

Going to the western and northern parts of our County, there were no towns of any consequence, due perhaps to proximity of earlier towns in Bradley County or Pine Bluff, where farmers from Drew often hauled their cotton, three and four days being required for the trip. There were splendid neighborhoods, however, and churches and schools established. In fact the first Methodist Church south of Little Rock was at Montongo (Camp Ground) in 1845, and the State Conference met there in 1846. Rev. Fountain Brown is said to have been one of its earliest ministers. Throughout the years, now nearly a century, these camp meetings have been held the last week in August. Many years those from a distance camped in tents and frame shacks built for the purpose.

In the early fifties, Mr. J.H. Cavaness, a large land owner, bought and located here, erecting a general merchandise store and taking charge of the post office. He donated 20 acres by the Church for a cemetery, one of the best kept in the county, and ten acres not far away to the negroes for some purpose. Methodist Churches were erected at an early period at Barkada and at Rock Springs prior to which a community home was used for Church and Sabbath School.

In 1849 when Monticello came into existence (for it is a Forty-niner), a Mr. Brandon taught a school of one hundred pupils at Camp Ground. Mr. A.J. McQuiston was teacher at the beginning of the war when many of his fine young men volunteered for service in the war. For many years Mr. McQuiston was prominent in County school work.

A few miles north of the Camp Ground, in 1858, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian builded a Church at Relfs Bluff; Mt. Zion it was called. Dr. J.M. Brown was its minister for more than thirty years. In 1867 it became a Presbyterian U.S. Church. A school of much notoriety was located here also, known as Lyell Female Institute, named for Sir Charles Lyell, noted geologist, and friend of the founder, Dr. W.D. Kersh and wife, Jane Stirling Moore Kersh, highly educated and cultured people who came from South Carolina for the express purpose of establishing such a school in Arkansas. Because of the high location this place was selected by them. This was a boarding school where English branches, Science, higher Mathematics, Music on guitar and piano, as well as etiquette, were taught. So popular was it that not only did those within riding distances attend, but boarders were had from plantations up and down the Arkansas River, from Texas and other states. They were assisted by the Misses Moore, sisters of Mrs. Kersh, also from South Carolina. They continued their school until Dr. Kersh's death, more than thirty years. He was buried in the cemetery by the Mt. Zion Church, four Masonic lodges officiating.

We find many early schools, both common and private, of about two and three months duration, usually taught in the Church or Meeting House as then called. In 1842 Gaster Schoolhouse on Gaster Hill where Stephen Gaster had moved his family, was the voting place for Marion Township, of Bradley County, of which Drew was then a part. As early as 1836 there was a school at Independence; very likely it was the log schoolhouse beyond and near Union Ridge (Scrouge Out) known as Rodgers Schoolhouse, which later was used by Drew County's early court for a meeting place, for it was at Independence (Rough and Ready) that our County seat was first established. It seems to have been a thriving little village, beautifully located on a high ridge. There were several stores, residences, a tanyard of note and a distillery, fed by an everflowing spring branch just across the road from one of the County's oldest cemeteries. No court house was ever built there as our county records will testify. The building that by many was thought to have been the old courthouse, a large square two-story frame building located among a lovely grove of huge oaks, facing west, and which was occupied as a residence by Judge E.K. Haynes at one time, I believe, must have been what was called the Mansion House in those early days, and if so it was builded, with the consent of court, by B.C. Hyatt in 1849 and early '50 as a tavern to accommodate those traveling to and fro on the Gaines Landing road. In April 1850 court met there.

End of Article


Published in the Advance-Monticellonian, Feb. 19, 1942

The first court, however met on March 22nd, 1847, in the home of A.W. Rawles, presided over by W.H. Wells, County Judge, Thos. S. Newman and C.T. Reynolds, Associate Judges. Also present were Hiram Bryant, P.H. Baldy and Jefferson Thurman, Justices of the Peace. The following presented their official bonds as the county's first officers:

Wm. Guice, Treasurer
Thos. Hales, Coroner
David D. Greer, Sheriff
Y.R. Royal, Clerk of Circuit Court and Ex-officio Recorder
E.G. Howard, Surveyor, presenting bond later
Wm.D. Ford, Constable for Marion Township
Joseph Renfro and Josiah B. Royal, Deputy Sheriffs, at the request of the Sheriff for help

Assessors for each township were appointed in 1850; Henry Crook was appointed for Marion township.

Patrols for each township were also necessary to assist in keeping order, in looking after run-away slaves, those strolling at nights over the country and getting into various kinds of trouble; for Marion Township, Rodgers, E. Smith, John S. Royal, John O'Neill, Thos. Wells, William Greer, David Cotham and William Maroney were appointed. Many of us recall this little ditty that was sung by some of our ancestors, "Run, nigger run, the patterole 'll git you; Run, nigger, run, hit's almos' day." So numerous were wolves that $5.00 was offered as a reward by the Court to anyone killing a wolf in the county and exhibiting its scalp before any Justice of the Peace.

Peddlers must have begun to be numerous, or probably more money was needed, for Court decided to place a tax upon all hawkers and peddlers; if on horseback, a tax of $5.00; if in a wagon, $10.00 tax; and if selling clocks in the county, $20.00. In 1855 it was remade with higher taxes. Perhaps the lightning rod agent had not made his advent that early or he surely would have been included. Some of the peddlers really proved a blessing to housewives, by bringing things right to the door. One of those was Ben Martin who peddled dry goods when there were but few stores in the town of Monticello. It must have continued a custom for several have told me of one such in the seventies, a Dock Hendon, who drove a big brindled steer named Dixie hitched to a buggy. His wife was a very aristocratic society lady of Virginian birth.

A petition to sell liquor was also granted to Jesse Newton at this first Court, and it was decreed its next meeting be moved to Rawles Meeting House, possibly this was the "old Baptist Church" existing there, and it is stated that they met in the "old Baptist Church" in July 1850. Prior to the latter date however Court had met in Rodger's school house, and in April, 1850 in B.C. Hyatt's tavern. This Mr. Hyatt was a physician, minister, contractor and hotel manager. He and his wife moved to Independence in 1846 from South Carolina.

Isaiah Holcomb, J. Milton Carr, and John Sanders had early been appointed Commissioners to find an appropriate county seat. There seems to have been many crimes and murders around Rough and Ready, and this may have been the reason that a change was thought the best. At any rate in June 1849, Fountain C. and Polly Austin, living three miles west of the present town and in whose yard was the first post office, in the log storehouse of a Carney O'Neill, which was called Montongo post office, after the Masonic Lodge here at the time, donated 88.02 acres to these Commissioners for the county seat. This was surveyed and platted in July and on August 1, 1849, reported to Court. The contract for building a temporary courthouse was let to Wm.D. Ford for $174.00 and in October 1850 was first used for this purpose. $460.00 was allowed by Court for building material, to be paid for by sale of town lots.

The original plat of lots consisted of 35 blocks, the one left un-numbered, being the town square proper. For it 170 feet square was allowed, for all streets bordering the square 50 feet width was allowed; all others were to be 40 feet in width. Those running east and west, bordering town square were named Main (as it is today) and Academy. The one on the north was North Street, and on the south was Jefferson Street (now Gaines Avenue). Lot No. 1 on the plat was the residence lot of Mr. Robert Knox, Sr., for many years. The boundary lines of the town as laid out on the original plat run due west to John Kimbro place, due south to fifty seven feet beyond where the railroad now is, then due east to a line running just about where Ridgeway Hotel now is, thence north to and including No. 1 lot.

End of article


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Last updated 12 Apr 2010