Buffalo National River Flows Through History of Civil War, Reconciliation

 Welcome to Day #223 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.


I hope that like me, you are enthralled with the depth and breadth of information about our country, available at the places where it actually happened, that I've been sharing in this series. Parks are physical places that we go, and touch (and there's one near you!) where we become suffused with the healing radiance of nature. Moreover, our history can be read in the earth, the rocks, the trees, and the structures that populate the parks.


Mist rises off the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, the first river to be designated 'national.'  Buffaloriver.org Photo


Having visited 170 units of the National Park System as well as scores of forests and wildlife refuges, I can say unequivocally that the artifacts show we have a common origin and a common destiny: We are human, we are immigrants (Native Americans came across the Bering Bridge), we exploited other humans and the land to get where we are today, and now it's time to reconcile and set about healing our planet. The message is written on the land, and as more of us experience it in the benevolence of nature, I believe we will have a more unified and proud society. That's why I am intent on sharing our common Legacy on the Land.


The trigger for my rumination this morning is the Buffalo National River in Arkansas, the first river in the country on which this designation was bestowed. It is one of our last free-flowing, undammed rivers in the Lower 48. No sooner had I got that beautiful vision than I read how its placid 135 mile corridor had been the scene of vicious battles, family against family, one side supporting the North and the other supporting the South as the Civil War raged.


     Beauty above and on the river below. Buffaloriver.org Photo


Really?! Our parks are an unending source of discovery for me. The National Park Service is featuring this park in its Getaways.


According to the park's website,


"Established in 1972, Buffalo National River flows freely for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.


"In fact, a number of people realized this and fought to keep the river untouched by dam builders. On March 1, 1972, Congress established Buffalo National River as the country's first national river.


"Once you arrive, prepare to journey from running rapids to quiet pools while surrounded by massive bluffs as you cruise through the Ozark Mountains down to the White River.


"Pure, clear, water flowing down a 132-mile meandering course; pouring over rapids; strained through gravel bars; drifting through long pools while caressing tree-covered banks is Buffalo National River.


"The valley bottom has open grassy meadows with grazing elk. The shores are tall multicolored bluffs steep, wooded hills filling the countryside.



  Canoeing on the river is a favorite activity.  Buffaloriveroutfitters.com Photo


"Place yourself in a canoe drifting down the river surrounded by an occasional turtle sunning on a log, a snake in the water as it explores the depths of the river, bass breaking the water's surface and herons stalking the river's edge. You've experienced many of the facets of Buffalo National River.


"Its ancient current gives life to more than 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels, and aquatic plants. In addition, on land there are many more natural wonders to behold: caves with hidden formations and underground waterways, tall cliffs creating long waterfalls, and old pioneer farmsteads  providing forage for wildlife such as elk, deer, and turkey.


"The Ozark Region has a long human history. People have lived here since the Paleoindians beginning about 10,000 years ago, through early European settlement in the 1800s to farmers, loggers and miners in the 20th century. The park strives to protect the historic structures, landscapes, and artifacts that tell the varied stories of people who once called these ridges and river valleys home.


 The Sod Collier farm near Tyler Bend represents the last wave of farming in the early 20th century. NPS photo




"While the focus of Civil War interpretation is often on the battles, the history of this conflict in north central Arkansas and neighboring areas. . .was truly a civil war insofar as it was the pitting of families and neighbors against one another within the context of small rural communities. . .


"Civil War (1861-1865)The Period of the Civil War along the Buffalo can be characterized by these activities: (1) officially-sanctioned skirmishes resulting from Union or Confederate patrols through the area; (2)irregular activities of guerilla groups on both sides; (3) the saltpeter cave nitre production.

"The most visible effect of the Civil War was the denuding of the land, the burning of numerous homesteads, and the total disruption of family and community life. This part of the story of Buffalo River exists mostly as oral history. Skirmish sites, saltpeter caves, and other tangible reminders of the war period can be identified along the river. 

"Regarding the conflict, opinions varied as much along the Buffalo as they did throughout the nation. Newton County (upper river) represents the strong division of the inhabitants between North and South, even of family member against family member. The "Mountain Feds" (Union sympathizers) were here, as were staunch Confederate supporters.




"The middle portion of the river, although showing both Union and Confederate sympathizers, appears to have been more sympathetic to the Confederate cause; this may have been due to the influence and activities of James Harrison Love, a Confederate captain from Searcy County who was involved in several engagements along the Buffalo. Middle river inhabitants also became part of the so-called Peace Society, an extension of similar activities from other mid-south areas.


"The lower river had fewer wartime encounters, partially because it was a more sparsely-settled area. After 1864, Yellville became a garrison for Union troops.  
One of the main activities of the Confederate supporters in the area was the use of caves rich in bat guano, from which extracted nitre for gunpowder. Destroying the "saltpeter works" remained a mission of the Union troops.. ."


I look forward to visiting this park so I can enjoy the benefits of nature and learn more of the history it contains. Divided perspectives on human freedom played out violently along the corridor of this pure river. Human rights triumphed as the North won the Civil War, and people from the area thought ahead to protect the river for posterity and to tell that story. All in all, a pretty good outcome. I would love to find out how they have reconciled.


 If you've missed any of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventures, find them here  (Archive)

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