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.
From a rocky
ravine in southern Madison
the White River slowly gains
strength from thousands of natural springs and small
streams as it winds west, then north into the edge
Returning to the Natural
as part of Bull
(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
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
to the foothills and beyond during the rainy
seasons. And, by 1905, trains were steaming along
the river from Batesville to Cotter.
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.
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 (
Johnboat float trips were reinvented for the White
and have become a trademark of the trout fishing
industry throughout the Ozarks.
on the upper extremes of the river, and Greers
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
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.
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
Recreation Area, near
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
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.
recreational opportunities along the
River are as diverse as the scenery.
Blanchard Springs Caverns, deep within the Ozark
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
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.
wanting to experience a wealth of natural beauty and
outdoor fun are still discovering that the
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.