Cotter Trout Dock Sign

History and Information-White River-Arkansas

From: Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
(With Some Links Added by Cotter Trout Dock)

White River is Perpetual Gift of Nature
By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

It's just a coincidence that the upper section of the White River is shaped like a giant fishhook, encircling the heart of the Ozarks before flowing a total of 720 miles to the Mighty Mississippi. However, for untold centuries, the intriguing White has served as a lifeline, food source, passageway and recreational haven for both residents and visitors.

Bull Shoals Dam
From a rocky ravine in southern Madison County, the White River slowly gains strength from thousands of natural springs and small streams as it winds west, then north into the edge of Missouri. Returning to the Natural State as part of Bull Shoals Lake (photo at right), the river descends southeast out of the foothills and into the eastern Arkansas delta. River enthusiasts boast that the White offers unmatched beauty and diversity.

Exactly how prehistoric natives used the
Ozark Mountain rivers may never be fully known. But, according to archeologists, rock shelters overlooking the White and other highland streams were occupied during prehistoric times. Others followed, including natives who farmed the rich soil where smaller streams entered the White. Large native "cities" were situated along the lower river and well into the foothills country. These urban centers were active at the time of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto's visit in 1541, and many exceeded the populations of present-day riverside towns. A century later, the large native cities had vanished.

Early Europeans experiencing the
White River were mostly French trappers and traders during the 18th century. Descendants of those hardy mountaineers were present when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft ventured into the Ozarks in 1818. A native New Yorker, Schoolcraft was trained in the fields of chemistry and geology but had little experience in survival techniques. His goal was to search for minerals on the upper White River, but his papers also provided the first historical documentation of northern Arkansas.

Potosi, Missouri, Schoolcraft and a guide, Levi Pettibone, soon became lost in the foothill country to the southwest. Exhausted, hungry and out of ammunition, the "explorers" wandered for 20 days before finding their way to a hunter's cabin, near the North Fork River. Schoolcraft and Pettibone would become lost again before finally reaching the White some 20 miles above the present town of Bull Shoals.

Although warned that Osage Indians had recently detained several hunters along the river, the adventurers continued their trek up the river to the mouth of Beaver Creek, where Schoolcraft and Pettibone spent Christmas, 1818.

Clear Water-
                      White River-Arkansas-Cotter Trout Dock
Schoolcraft noted in his journal that White River contained the clearest and purest water possible, adding that when frozen the river was as transparent as glass (click image at right). Beaver, otter, turkey, deer and bear were abundant in the hills, he wrote. Buffalo also roamed the region in small herds. Furs were floated downriver in canoes for trade at the mouth of Black River, later the town of Jacksonport.

The expedition continued deep into Osage hunting territory, where Schoolcraft passed three abandoned Indian camps. He noted that the small wigwam-type houses resembled "inverted bird's nests," but added that they were very warm, even during the coldest weather.

Schoolcraft and his guide departed from the mouth of Beaver Creek on Jan. 9, 1819 in a large canoe purchased from two hunters. The swift White River River carried them downstream at a fast clip. Journal entries mention the "delightful scenery and magnificent limestone formations" along the route. Passing the multi-colored, stratified rock outcroppings at Calico Rock, Schoolcraft recorded that the bluffs' diversity could only have been created by "the inimitable pencil of nature."

The two explorers reached Poke Bayou (Batesville) on Jan. 19, and were welcomed "with great hospitality." He described the little port settlement as "a dozen houses" and Robert Bean's store. Schoolcraft sold the canoe and followed the old Southwest Trail back into Missouri.

Soon afterwards, settlers began nudging their flatboats, loaded with all their worldly goods, up the White to establish farms and communities along the river valley. By the 1830s, steamboats were pushing river commerce from the
Mississippi to the foothills and beyond during the rainy seasons. And, by 1905, trains were steaming along the river from Batesville to Cotter.

 The World War II era and afterwards brought the greatest changes ever witnessed along the White River. Under the federal Flood Control Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Norfork and Bull Shoals dams in Arkansas and Missouri. Almost overnight, the middle section of the river was forever changed from a lazy tepid stream to a more predictable flow of cold water.

Congress authorized the Norfork National Fish Hatchery in 1955 to help offset the warm-water fishery losses below the big dams. The hatchery launched one of the state's most successful industries with trout marinas and resorts opening at almost every access between Bull Shoals and Guion (
Izard County). Johnboat float trips were reinvented for the White and have become a trademark of the trout fishing industry throughout the Ozarks.

Lake, on the upper extremes of the river, and Greers Ferry Lake, on the Little Red River tributary, (both completed in the 1960s) completed the flood control plan. The four lakes were built to harness the powerful White, but all have served as a sparkplug for Ozark recreation. Combined, the big lakes hold almost 150,000 surface acres of freshwater to provide great fishing, recreational boating, scuba diving, shoreline camping and other water-related activities.

White River, along with its tributaries and lakes, holds 16 state fishing records and a few world-record catches, including a 40-pound, four-ounce brown trout landed May 9, 1992 on the Little Red River by "Rip" Collins of Heber Springs.

Buffalo National River, perhaps the best-known tributary of the White, winds 150-miles through some of the most scenic territory in mid-America. Towering limestone bluffs, great whitewater canoeing and unspoiled natural wilderness are among the wonders of this free-flowing stream. Highways and bridges offer glimpses of the Buffalo, but the best way to experience its beauty is by floating down its course. Outfitters, camping and cabins are available at several access points and nearby towns.

Buffalo Point Recreation Area, near
Marshall, offers rustic cabins, hiking trails and camping under the auspices of the National Park Service. Tyler Bend, off U.S. 65 north of Marshall, has camping facilities and a spacious visitor center.

At Batesville, the White begins a slower pace as it travels in snake-like fashion another 300 miles across the delta. Catfish, bass and crappie fishing are popular in the warmer waters of the river. The lower White is also excellent duck hunting territory during the winter; and the final stretch of the river is preserved within a federal wildlife refuge that covers 155,000 acres.

The recreational opportunities along the
White River are as diverse as the scenery. Blanchard Springs Caverns, deep within the Ozark National Forestnear Mountain View, is ranked among the most beautiful limestone caves in North America. It remains a "living cavern" thanks to extraordinary planning and design more than 30 years ago. Massive underground rooms, million-year-old formations, excellent facilities and an underground stream make Blanchard a favorite of visitors.

And, it has a river connection. Sylamore Creek gets a major boost from the cavern springs and winds for several miles before entering the White. A popular hiking trail follows the creek most of the way.

Visitors wanting to experience a wealth of natural beauty and outdoor fun are still discovering that the
White River has it all. It offers world-class fishing, major recreational lakes, federal and state parks, awarding-winning nature trails, million-acre hardwood forest preserves, resorts, historic towns and places, cultural centers, museums and great accommodations.