and Information-White River-Arkansas
From: Arkansas Department
of Parks and Tourism
(With Some Links Added by Cotter Trout Dock)
River is Perpetual Gift of Nature
Ogilvie, travel writer
Department of Parks and Tourism
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
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
Departing 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
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
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."
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
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.
Beaver 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
The 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.
The 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