Bureau of Fisheries

United States Fish Commission


Transcribed by : Tina Easley





Source - Bulletin of Bureau of Fisheries - 1896




Associate Professor of Biologv ami Geology in the Arkansas Industrial University.


The following paper is based on two collections of fishes made by the writer under the auspices of the United States Fish Commission and the Museum of the Arkansas University.

The first collection was made during the last week in May, 1894, along the line of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Arthur, Texas. The second collection was made during the last two weeks of August, 1894, in the St. Francis River in northeastern Arkansas. As these two regions are somewhat remote from each other, and unlike, for the most part, as to physical characteristics, they are treated separately in this paper.

For assistance in the identification of doubtful species and in the preparation of this report I am indebted to Prof. Barton W. Everaun, ichthyologist of the United States Fish Commission.


The region drained in Arkansas by the St. Francis River is low and flat, except the eastern slope of Crowley Ridge, which is more or less rolling. The river soon after passing south of the northern line of Arkansas widens, forming a lake from a few rods to 5 miles wide and about 50 miles long. On either side of this lake are many shallow bayous which quite or entirely dry up during the summer. The region between the St. Francis and Mississippi rivers is very low and contains a number of lakes, some of which are 5 or 6.miles wide and three or four times as long. Most of these lakes discharge their waters into the St. Francis, the others into the Mississippi River. In the spring nearly all of this region, including a large area west of the St. Francis River, is flooded with water from a depth of a few inches to as much as 10 feet. Thus, at least once a year, the Mississippi, these lakes, the St. Francis, and even the head waters of the Black and Cache rivers, are all united in one vast sheet of water. There is probably no time in the year when it is not possible with a small skift' to go from St. Francis through Little River to the Mississippi River.

The present conditions of this region are due to the New Madrid earthquake of 1811-12. After the quaking of the earth, which lasted for several months, had subsided large areas of land sunk several feet below their former level, while a few smaller areas became somewhat elevated. The large lakes now in this region and the broad lake-like channel of the St. Francis River are due to this earthquake. Many of the large cracks made in the earth at that time are still visible as shallow ditches 1 or 2 yards wide and 6 inches or more in depth. To the ordinary observer these would be scarcely noticed. Although the people who witnessed that earthquake have about all passed away, so vivid were their recollections of it that their descendants point out with much accuracy the marks left by it and discuss with clearness its destructive features. I visited Old River, about 10 miles east of Greenway. This was formerly the main channel of the St. Francis, but after the earthquake its new channel was formed about 6 miles farther east. The Old River is little more than a large bayou. It has but little current, has a sandy bottom, and contains only a small amount of vegetation. It varies much in width, being from half a mile to only a few rods wide. It is as much as 20 feet deep in places, and seems to be full of fish life.

It was a comparatively easy matter with a collecting seine to catch pickerel and black bass weighing from 1 to 3 pounds. The water was quite clear, and large gars, buffalo, pickerel, black bass, and sunfishes could be seen in abundance. The usual method of catching black bass (the favorite food-fish) was trolling. The parts of two days I spent on Old River I saw many black bass taken this way. Two men would be out one or two hours and return with a dozen or more black bass weighing from 2 to 5 pounds. In all of my collecting I have never seen another stream that seemed to contain the enormous amount of fish life found in Old and St. Francis rivers.

I visited the main river near Big Bay and at Marked Tree. At Big Bay the river is about 5 miles wide, although the main current is much narrower. The river contains much vegetation on each side and in shallow places in the main channel. The vegetation was too abundant in shallow water to enable us to use a seine; where less abundant the water was too deep. This made collecting very irksome and unsatisfactory, but our labors were rewarded by getting a few species not taken elsewhere.

The bottom of the river, especially in the main channel, is sandy, and the water very clear. The current was moderate. The amount of fish life in the river was very great. Large fishes were everywhere coming to the surface and with a quick motion, sufficient to agitate the water considerably, would sink below the surface. In quietly Moating down the stream in a dugout, many large fishes could easily be seen moving slowly about in the river below or resting quietly among the weeds. Professor Sampson and myself, in a half dozen strokes with a gig, caught one large gar and a 3-pound black bass. This was our first attempt to capture fish by this method.

In the spring, as the overflow water recedes, many large fishes become stranded in shallow bayous and even on level ground. Many of these are taken by farmers and lumbermen and used by them for food, while a large number are left to die as the water recedes. The buffalo are among the largest number destroyed for lack of water; some are reported of immense size.

One of the most noticeable features of Old River is the immense numbers of mollusks found in the sandy bottom and the banks of the stream. The Arkansas hogs feed on the mollusks in the shallow water; they root the mollusk out of the sand, crack the shell, and extract the meat; they also destroy many gasteropods, which are very abundant, by the same method. The hogs also consume many of the stranded fishes. Minnows were found in the St. Francis in much less quantities than one would at first suppose. They are probably reduced in number by the abundance of large predatory fishes. Crawfishes seemed quite scarce; only two species, the young Cambarus palmcri, and a small new species, Cambarus /a.coni, being all that were found in the river.

At Marked Tree the St. Francis is confined to an ordinary river channel. It has clear water, a rather slow current, and a sandy bottom. About -' miles above Marked Tree the Little River, its most important tributary from the east, empties into the St. Francis. When visited the water was low, there being scarcely enough water in Little River to enable us to get a small boat more than a mile above its mouth. The Little River is the outlet of Big Lake, and other smaller lakes between the St. Francis and the Mississippi rivers. Its water was clear and its current more swift than that of the St. Francis River. In places its sides and bottom were covered with vegetation. In dry weather it does not have enough water for the larger fishes, except in an occasional hole along its course. It afforded excellent opportunity to collect the smaller fishes, and nearly all of those listed from Marked Tree are from Little River.

At the mouth of the Little River the St. Francis is wide and very deep. Large schools of minnows, Hybo(/natltun nuchalis, seem to loiter on the shallow sandbar bordering the deep water. We baited our hooks with some of these minnows and soon had a nice string of striped bass, Morone intcrrupta.

Near Greenway we seined in a small bayou. Only a few species of fishes were found in it and most of them in abundance. Among the most abundant was Aphredoderus sayanun and Xoturun gyrinun. Several specimens of Amia calva and one specimen of Umbra limi, besides a few others of less importance, were taken.

At Paragould we did some seining in Eight-mile Creek, a western tributary of the St. Francis. This creek goes nearly dry in the summer. Like the bayou, it has a muddy and sandy bottom. The day before our visit a heavy thunder-shower had so swollen the stream as to render seining somewhat difficult and unsuccessful.

The time at my disposal did not permit me to visit the Cache River which drains the western slope of Crowley Ridge. This river is much smaller than the St. Francis, but is reported as being of considerable importance from an ichthyological standpoint. It is also said to suffer in this respect on account of the large quantity of sawdust deposited in it by sawmills. The injury the sawdust does to the fish is not fully appreciated by either citizens or sawmill men, or it is quite certain it would be stopped.

Northeast Arkansas and adjacent portions of Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee are especially inviting to the biologist. A large portion of this region is yet wild and thinly settled. Thus the balance of life has not been seriously disturbed by man. On account of malaria some naturalists are prevented from visiting this region in the summer. Reports as to the uuhealthful condition of this region have been considerably exaggerated. It no doubt contains its full share of malaria, but with moderate care no evil results need be feared. The people who live in this region, and who are engaged in cutting timber, suffer very little from malaria.

In making the collections at Greenway I was assisted by Mr. S. E. Mitchell, a former student of the Arkansas University. At Paragould I was assisted by the Oxley brothers. At Jonesboro I was the guest of a fishing party consisting of Professors Sampson and Johnson, Mr. H. C. Townley, Mr. Freer, and Mr. George Peters. Mr. Peters also accompanied me to Marked Tree, and to him I am under special obligations. At Paragould I was entertained by Mr. Richard Jackson.


In order to abbreviate, I have used the names of localities as follows:

Bayon .= Bayou near Greenway, Arkansas.

Old River = Old River at Buckhoru Landing near Greenway, Arkansas.

Paragould = Eight-mile Creek near Paragould, Arkansas.

Big Bay = St. Francis River near Big Bay, Arkansas.

Marked Tree = Little and St. Francis rivers near Marked Tree, Arkansas.


Large-mouthed Black Bass. Very abundant throughout the St. Francis region, and is the favorite game-fish. Specimens frequently weigh from 4 to 6 pounds. The small-mouthed black bass is very scarce, if found at all, in St. Francis River Basin in Arkansas. Bayou, Old River, Paragould, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, abundant.

Goggle-eye; Rock Bats. Big Bay and Marked Tree, common.

Sunfish; Perch. Bayou and Paragould, common.

Sand Darter. Marked Tree, Big Bay, and Old River, abundant.

Forbes. Old River, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, scarce.

Hay . Paragonld, Big Bay, Old River, and Marked Tree, scarce.

Girard . Marked Tree, scarce.

Log Perch. Marked Tree, scarce.

Calico Rant. Big Bay and Old River, common.

Crappie. Old River and Big Bay, apparently less abundant than the preceding.

Warmouth; Bed-eyed Bream. Big Bay, one specimen; color, nearly uniform black. Old River, scarce.

Black-tided Darter. Old River, Paragonld, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, common.

At Marked Tree nearly all of the collections were made in the Little River from its mouth to about 1 or 2 miles above it. This stream and the St. Francis resemble each other very much. The Little River has a little more current and is much the smaller. A few hauls were made in the St. Francis, but they resulted in nothing new.

Pirate Perch. Bayou and Old River, very abundant. A few taken at Paragould, Big Bay. and Marked Tree.

filterside. Old River, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, apparently scarce.

Eastern Pickerel; .lackfish. Quite a favorite and an important food-fish in the St. Francis River region. Only a few taken by us, but many others were seen in the water. Old River and Big Bay.

Little Green Pickerel. Old River, Bayou, Paragonld, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, apparently an abundant species.

G-ambusia affiuis (Baird & Girard). Bayon, Old River, Paragonld, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, common.

Mud Minnow. Bayou , one specimen.

Top Minnow. Bayou, Old River, Paragould, Big Bay, and Marked Tree, apparently not common.

Fundulus scartes, new species.

Type locality: St. Francis River, Big Bay, Arkansas, where two specimens were collected in August, 1894.

Type, No. 47301, U. S. Nat. Mus.; Co-type, Xo. 2277, L. S. Jr. Univ. Mus.

Head, 3t; depth, 4; D. 8; A. 10 or 11; P. 4. Scales, 36-11. Body compressed, back slightly arched, head depressed in usual way. Mouth small, subterminal, lower jaw projecting slightly. Interorbital space, H eye. Eye equal to snout, 3 in head. Dorsal fin short, beginning slightly behind anal, neither fin reaching caudal. Teeth in narrow bands, outer row enlarged. Scales large, closely imbricated and minutely spotted with black. Color, dark-green above, becoming lighter below; belly, yellowish; large spots of white on some of the scales give appearance of several ill-defined silver bars on sides. Two small specimens, the longest 11 inches long, from St. Francis River, Big Bay, Arkansas. Although but two small specimens of this species were taken, it is quite common. Many were observed where vegetation was entirely too abundant to enable us to use a net. When frightened, these little fishes will jump out of the water, lodge for an instant on some portion of a plant above the surface, and then dart back into the water. These two specimens I caught in my hand. I made many attempts to catch others, but failed to do so. I at first supposed them to be the young of X. notatus. , one who leaps.

Golden Shiner. Bayou, Old River, Paragould, and Big Bay, common.

Shiner. Paragould, common.

Common Redliorte. Old River, scarce.

Silvery Minnow. Bayou and Old River, scarce. Very abundant in the mouth of Little River at Marked Tree.

Striped Sucker. Bayou and Old River, common.

Sucker. Bayon, Big Bay, and Paragonld, common.

Small Bullhead. Not common. Bayou, Old River, and Paragould.

Long-nosed Gar Pike. Very abundant in tbe Old and St. Francis rivers; only a few specimens taken, but many were seen floating near the surface of the water.

Short-nosed Gar. Less abundant than the preceding. Gars over 10 feet long are reported from the St. Francis. No doubt these large specimens are the alligator gar.

Grind Quite abundant and very well known in northeastern Arkansas; used as food to some extent. Bayou, abundant; Old River and Paragould, common.

Channel Cat; White Cat. A few specimens were taken at Marked Tree. A very common and highly esteemed food-fish in the St. Francis River.

Stone Cat. Bayou and shallow stagnant pools along Old River, very abundant. A few specimens also taken at Big Bay and Marked Tree.

Quillback. A few specimens taken in Old Kiver. Buffaloes in abundance and of large size are reported in the St. Francis River. Many large ones are captured as the overflow eaoh year recedes.

Hog Sucker; Stone-roller. Marked Tree, a few specimens seen in Little River.

Blunt-nosed Minnow. Apparently scarce; a few specimens from Old River, Paragould, Big Bay, and Marked Tree.


The total number of species of fishes obtained by me in western Arkansas and eastern Indian Territory is 58. The total number obtained in the St. Francis River is 61. No fewer than 25 of the 61 species found in the St. Francis were not found in western Arkansas and eastern Indian Territory.


No special effort was made to collect the mollusks occurring in the water examined. Some little time was given to collecting the different species in Old River, the names of which are given in the following list. I am indebted to Mr. Charles T. Simpson, of the National Museum, for the specific determinations and for the technical notes on each.