Transcribed by : Tina Easley


Source - Report of Chief of U.S. Army - 1886


Letter Of D.B. Pankey

The Dunklin County Transportation Company,

Kennett, Mo., May 31, 1886.

Dear Sir: In reply to yours of 24th instant, I would beg leave to make the following statistics of the commerce upon the Saint Francis River between the towns of Kennett, Mo., and Saint Francis, Ark., viz:

Acres of cotton annually 15,000

Acres of corn annually 10,000

Bales of cotton annually 7,000

Bushels of corn annually 25,000

Tons of cotton-seed annually 3,500

Tons of merchandise annually shipped to this portion of the county 500

Six hundred thousand staves shipped last twelve months, and that branch of business rapidly on the increase.

Seven hundred thousand feet of lumber will be shipped from July 1, 1885, to July 1. 1886 , and this business is increasing more than any other branch of business here.

For further information I would refer you to William M. Satterfield, of Caruth, Mo., and James M. Douglass, Senath, Mo. Hoping the above will be satisfactory, I am, very respectfully,

D. B. Panky -Secretary Dunklin County Transportation Company.

H. S. Taber , - Captain United States Corps Engineer




Memphis, Tenn., July 12, 1886

Sir: In reply to yours of the 5th instant, Saint Francis River usually shipped to New Orleans and Memphis 25,000 bales of cotton, 250,000 sacks of cotton-seed, and about 175 tons of merchandise per week. Very respectfully,

O. K. Joplin ,- Captain

H. S. Taber,- Captain, United States Corps of Engineers.



Saint Francis, Ark, June 12, 1880.

Dear Sir : Yours of the 10th instant received and duly noted. In reply would say:

The commerce of this section of the Saint Francis River is composed chiefly of lumber staves, and cotton, and so far has proved to be an important business, and only shows what it could be advanced to if the river was only improved, so that navigation would not bo impeded by fallen timber and one or two sand-bars that can be easily remedied.

The number of cars of lumber and staves shipped from this station for the paid three years, coming off the river, will average 500 car loads per year.

From 8,000 to 12,000 bales of cotton would be moved this way, besides thousand of bushels of corn that is raised yearly in the vicinity of Kennett and points below, this finds no market, on account of the extreme cost and present disadvantages that producers have to contend with at present.

There will be several mills and stave factories located down on the Saint Francis River in the next six years, that expect to bring their products this way if the river is properly opened, which can be done with a very reasonable appropriation.

It would have a tendency to open thousands of acres of the finest farming land at this section of the two States, Missouri and Arkansas.

The country is here to back the, business, and all that is necessary is a chance to show what it can be increased to. Yours, truly,

G. W. Kiger, Agent

Capt, H. S. Taber,

United States Corp of Engineers.



Sunk Lands, June 23, 1886.

Dear Sir: Your favor of the 24th ultimo was received somo time ago. You request, me to furnish you prior to July 1 "as complete statistics of the commerce upon the Saint Francis River as I may be able to secure," .

I will state here that owing to the present condition of said river, mach of the produce of the country is hauled to the railroads, thereby depriving, to a great extent, the steamboats of an immense amount of freight.

If work should be properly done on Saint Francis Lake and River, such as deepening, straightening, and removing stumps and logs, so as to enable boats to run the entire year, except perhaps the months of June, July, and August, the freight that goes out in other ways would be carried out by the boats, thus giving shippers easier and better facilities for removing their products, and at the same time add from one-third to one-half to the commerce upon the Saint Francis.

You will bear in mind that this is one of the best timbered sections in the Southwest, and that each year vast quantities of walnut, cypress, gum, &c., are floated and boated out of said lake and river, aggregating in value at least a quarter of a million of dollars. Remember, this is only from the (now) head of navigation down.

The head of navigation now is Lester's Landing, iu Craighead County, Arkansas.

You cannot scarcely imagine the amount, much less compute the value of the additional timber and other products that would be boated or floated out, if the Saint Francis should be made navigable from said Lester's Landing up to the Saint Francis crossing of the Narrow Gauge Railroad in Missouri.

In addition to this, large quantities of various kinds of staves are being carried out when the water will admit.

G. M. Rosengranz, of Paragould, Greene County, Arkansas, had from two to four steamboats running from Lester's Lending to Mark-Tree during most of the last fall and winter, carrying out staves, but this work is suspended now on account of the low stage of the water. This alone was high up into the thousands.

Many others would engage in similar enterprises if facilities for getting to market were better.

Besides all this, we must take into account at least 5,000 bales of cotton that are produced by the farmers in this section ; also, the thousands of bushels of corn and the many other products, such as potatoes, onions, cabbage, &c., which the rich land produces in abundance.

As above stated, much of the cotton—from one-third to one-half—goes to the railroads.

But little corn is shipped, and the reason of this is that the boats cannot run until it is almost winter, and 12 to 20 miles is too far to haul a wagon-load of corn of only 15 or 20 bushels.

Up to now I would say that each year the commerce on Saint Francis Lake and River has been as follows, as nearly as can be approximated, viz: Timber of all kinds, $250,000; staves of all kinds, $150,000; cotton, corn, and other products, $250,000.

This will be below rather than above the aggregate amount of commerce on the Saint Francis Lake and River, from Lester's Landing to Mark-Tree, for any one year during the past five.

While it is slowly increasing, it would almost double itself in one year, in ?? judgment, if the river and lake were improved so as to enable parties engaged in getting out timber, staves, and other products to enjoy better and easier facilities. I remain yours, very respectfully,

Will A. May.

Capt. H. S. Taber, United Statee Corps of Engineers.

P. S.—By permission I refer you to Rev. William Y. M. Wilkinson, Arnold Stotts, James Stotts, and G. M. Rims for information on this subject.

W. A. May.



Other Notes on Arkansas Waterways :

Source - Prairie and Rocky Mountain Adventures - 1870

Arkansas has no sea-board, but the Mississippi River (which receives all the waters of this State,) coasts the almost entire eastern boundary, and renders it accessible to the sea from many points. Probably no State in the Union is penetrated by so many navigable rivers as Arkansas : owing, however, to the long-continued droughts which prevail in the hot season, none of these streams can be ascended by vessels of any size more than about nine months in the year.

The Arkansas is the principal river that passes wholly through the State. It enters the western border from the Indian Territory, and sweeping almost directly through the middle of the State for about 500 miles, (the whole distance navigable for steamboats,) after receiving a number of small tributaries, discharges its waters into the Mississippi. The White River and the St. Francis, with their affluents, drain the north-east part of Arkansas. They have their sources in Missouri, and their outlet in the Mississippi River. The White River, which debouches by one channel into the Arkansas, and into the Mississippi by the other, is navigable for steamboats 500 miles, the Big Black River for 60, and the St. Francis for 300 miles.

The Red River runs through the south-west angle of the State, and receives some small tributaries within its limits. It is navigable for steamboats beyond Arkansas. The Washita and its numerous affluents drain the southern part of the State. The main stream is navigable for 375 miles, and its tributary, the Saline, for 100 miles. The bayous Bartholomew, Bceuf, Macon, and Tensas are all tributaries of the Washita, and have an aggregate of 635 miles of navigable water. They all arise in the south part of Arkansas, and flow into Louisiana, where they join the Red River. The little Missouri and bayou D'Arbonne are western branches of the Arkansas, the former navigable 60 and the latter 50 miles for light steamboats. There are no considerable lakes in Arkansas.


Source - Western Journal of agriculture , manufactures - 1848

The St. Francis River rises in St. Francis and Cape Girardeau counties, in Missouri, and running a southerly course, nearly parallel with the Mississippi, through great swamps, empties into the Mississippi, a few miles above Helena, in Arkansas. It is believed to have been navigable, formerly, for upwards of five hundred miles.

Steamboats can now ascend but one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth, owing to the obstructions caused by the earthquake of 1811. By that earthquake the original channel of the river was broken up for nearly thirty miles. Imbedded logs and fallen trees have been so closely interwoven  the river in some places, that complete bridges are formed, upon which vegetation grows, and which entirely conceal the channel.

The valley of the river became, and remains, a succession of swamp , extending about three hundred miles in length, with a width varying from fifty to seventy-five miles. All varable lands intervening, are said to be of the most fertile description, producing abundant crops of wheat, corn , tobacco, and good cotton. But there are stated to be forty-five townships in the State of Missouri alone, returned as drowned lands, not worth, in their present condition, the cost of surveying them. Yet practical men, well acquainted with the country, believe it to be perfectly feasible to drain those lands, and thus restore to the world, a country and a soil, capable of sustaining a very large population. Little River is one of the tributaries of St Francis and navigable for a short distance.



Source - Locomotive Fireman's Region Magazine - 1904

A Little-Visited Region

Southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas constitute a section of country that is little troubled by visitors from without A few hunters from St. Louis go down every winter to shoot the abundant deer and wild fowl, the slaughter of which is fostered by the lax game laws of the State of Arkansas. If you turn to the map, you will find the western boundary of the "heel" of Missouri to be formed by the St. Francis river, which separates it from Arkansas at that point. It was the writer's privilege to pay two visits to this region, in the interest of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, a couple of years ago.

Going from the noisy, smoky, dirty city of St. Louis, a night's ride lands one beyond the Missouri boundary, in the little Arkansas town of Paragould, the business of which is to make lumber and ship apples. From there one takes, or is taken, by a little train that starts when it gets ready and goes as fast as it has to, eastward through the swamp toward the St. Francis river, which is reached at the station called Bertig, on the Arkansas side, opposite the extreme southwestern portion of that little downward projection of Missouri territory we have called the "heel." Bertig is a platform in the midst of a cypress swamp, with a little house adjoining, the owner of which accommodates the visiting hunters with board, lodging, and stories. The writer was after some plants that grew down in the depths of the swamp somewhere, and was to find some one who could pilot him into its fastnesses. All of this region from Bertig east to the Mississippi is typical of a large portion of the middle Mississippi drainage territory, and that of its tributaries, for many miles east and west of the great river, where it runs through southern Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee. The country is intersected by streams and spotted with lakes, ponds and inlets from the rivers, which merge into the swamps of cypress trees constituting the dominant physical feature of the region. The rivers are clear, swift flowing, grading off without definite banks into the swamps on either side, and broken up and bordered by bulrushes and reeds, which often so completely fill the streams that an inexperienced boatman will miss the channel and go wandering off through the open spaces into the labyrinths of winding waterways among the reeds, to become easily and very effectually last in an uninhabited swamp.

Th|e writer borrowed a boat and proceeded to navigate in search of a guide. Now the natives of the country, who are few and of rather poor quality, spend their days in hunting and fishing and, during the hunting season, in acting as guides to city sportsmen. Their lives are not particularly arduous, the climate is rather mild, food can be had for the taking, and there are neither rent, taxes or the other adjuncts of strenuous living to disturb the unruffled calm of their existence. Indeed, one would not suspect their presence unless one were to spend a little time at one of the swamp stations, such as Bertig, where a postoffice and a flour and-bacon store dispense the indispensables of our civilization to such of the inhabitants as please to come for them.

At about train time, therefore, one may see here and there, up and down the river from their lonely habitations in the swamp, dug-out canoes skillfully propelled, bringing their owners to witness the one solitary "event" of the peaceful day—the arrival of the bumping little train which manages to wriggle its way into and out of the jungle once every twenty-four hours. A few hours of slouching around the station, a few ducks or minks exchanged at the "store" for a little flour and coffee and the inevitable plug of "terbakker," and the gaunt, malarious denizens of the Arkansas and Missouri backwoods, braced with a liberal "chew," and perhaps further fortified by a jug of something or other under the seat of the boat where it will be handy, glide back in their dugouts into the silent wilderness from which they came, leaving the postmaster and the storekeeper free to set fish lines, clean guns and swap opinions about the last visitor from St. Louis. It was for one of these care-free citizens that the emissary from the Botanical Garden was hunting, and he was found at last.

The Arkansas native, with his boy, had a canoe. It didn't look very secure on its bottom, being very long and "reachy," narrow amidships, and innocent of a keel. The St. Louis man preferred to do his own navigating, so the boat already referred to was borrowed again, and the procession started for the froggy home of the swamper.

Now, the next time the writer visits this region he will penetrate its fastnesses in a native boat or not at all. Boats, like all tools, are the products of their environment. The narrow canoe of the native, propelled by two persons, one erect in the stern with a long pole flattened at one end to form a narrow paddle, the other seated in the bow with a short, broad oar, is a machine capable of going at high speed, is easily managed, and glides in and out with snake-like ease through the little bayous and the narrow, winding channels of the reed-choked rivers. The boat which the writer hereof unluckily manned was the property of a city man who had imported it for his own use. It was built on the usual lines of the park pleasure boats, in which the bank clerk softly rows the typewriter girl of a Sunday afternoon, on the manufactured lagoons in a Jackson or a Lincoln park in Chicago. It is a good boat for the purpose for which it was made, and the conditions under which it works— smooth open water, short distances, and general purposeless idling—but for business purposes in the swamps of Arkansas that boat was as ludicrous and as helplessly out of place as a canary in a cornfield.

 It was maddening to watch the unstudied ease in the motion of the two rowers ahead. Erect as a gondolier, the elder sculled at the stern, sending his narrow craft scudding along by apparently careless and effortless movements. They were plainly paddling lightly for the benefit of the toiler in the tub behind. It was necessary for the latter to keep the canoe constantly in sight, for by dozens of openings the river channel divided among the giant reeds, and it was no difficult matter to lose sight altogether of the elusive current that alone marked the real course of the stream. To do this, it was imperative, of course, to face the boat's bow and row backward, which did not materially add to the comfort of the rower. But even beneath the shower of perspiration from under the eaves of his hat, he could not fail to recognize the beauty of the mysterious wilderness. A glowing sunset lighted up the water, tipped the reeds with gold, and against the luminous sky the weird bodies of the great cypresses stood black and forbidding. They would loom up suddenly upon the boat's bow, as a bend in the river was reached, seeming to block the very course of the stream. Coming closer one saw that every little hummock of half-emerged ground in the midst of the river bore its burden of cypress.

Not like our familiar land trees are these swamp cypresses, nor indeed does the tree reveal its weird possibilities when grown on ordinary drained soil, for in the water the boles, at the point where they emerge from the surface, swell out like gigantic pumpkins, while from the top of these great wooden globes the rest of the trunk rises with a much reduced diameter. One imagines the shivering trees drawing their lower extremities up out of the ever-present water into a compact and huddled ball for protection. Moreover, all through the swamp there projected from the half-submerged surface the queerest looking lot of irregular sticks, two to six inches in diameter at the base, narrowing in their foot or two of height to a blunted point These meaningless-looking brown wooden objects covering the watery flats excite the curiosity of the most uninterested non-botanical observer, and even to the botanist who knows something about them in advance, to see them for the first time is an odd experience. These swellings of the trunk and the projecting cypress "knees," as they are called, are the outcome of the effort of the tree to increase its rootaerating surface, since the ground on which they grow, being constantly covered with sluggish water, is poorly supplied with air; so the roots have to come up to breathe. On the trunks of the cypress there was seen a most interesting fern, gray and dry at the time, easily crumbled to powder in the hand, apparently dead. But left for a few hours in water, the dry, gray leaves become moist and green, unroll, and reveal the form of the plant, which is scarcely recognizable in the curled and crumpled ball which it becomes during the dry weather.

Here and there the water surface was covered with a dense mat of the floating aquatic fern, Azolla, glowing with golden autumn coloration.

One of the most primitive of liverworts, likewise an acquatic representative of a land group, Riccia natans, formed another colony of floating plants. The American lotus or Chinquapin, Nelumbium lutevm, was everywhere present Among the plant oddities, the corkwood tree, Leitneria floridana, the timber of which has a specific gravity less than that of cork itself, and the sole species in its isolated family, deserves mention as a characteristic small tree of this region.

It was through this interesting nature world, empty of men, inhabited by wild birds and animals, that our boats progressed, until turning by a lateral waterway we passed out of the comparatively open river into the very heart of the gloomy cypress swamp. On a little island, somewhere in the midst of this, fit for the home of a water pirate, full of suggestions of wild and joyous possibilities in the way of endless adventure to the mind of any small American boy, lived the family of the canoeman—himself, a wife and two unusually interesting and attractive children. A one-roomed log cabin was kitchen, dining-room, receptionroom and bedroom in turn, as the household exigencies and the hour of the day demanded. Miles and miles from help in case of sickness or death, away from schools, newspapers and taxes, free from all the burdens of society, living on the results of the good marksmanship of the father, a professional market hunter, this kind-hearted, good-souled if unlettered family gathered its learning as it went along from nature at first hand. Many a zoologist from a pretentious laboratory could go to school to this humble guide in the Arkansas swamps, so far as knowledge of the habits and ways of wood folk is concerned. The Fenimore Cooper Indian's unerring recognition of the inevitable broken twig which revealed the path of the pursued was no more remarkable than this man's swift reading of the "signs" of the wild animals of his region. He was, withal, a man of character, too; one who by sheer force of example had broken up the drinking habits of a dozen other men, like him, inhabitants of the woods, and like him subject to the temptations which the Missouri side of the river offers at the settlements. One is surprised to find the Arkansas side, in that locality, at least, prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors.

Night settled down on the swamp and the silence was only broken by the occasional cry of some wild bird or animal. One amusing incident the writer remembers : He was awakened in the morning by a vigorous scratching at the door, which he was informed was caused by the energetic efforts to enter on the part of an old hen that had always been accustomed to go to roost on the top of the food cupboard, and which was manifesting its displeasure at an unwonted interference with its established privileges.

Room is not here to tell of the interesting exploration of the swamp, with all its fascinating wildness, but perhaps this much may serve as an account of nature and man in a quiet, remote region of great interest to the botanist, and perhaps as wild and undisturbed a place as one can expect to find in America, despite its comparative nearness to lines of transportation.


Source - Missouri  Botanical Gardens Annual Report - 1904


A tract of land lying in Dunklin County, Missouri, and in Greene County, Arkansas, furnishes an excellent area for the study of a semi-southern river swamp. Through this territory runs the Saint Francis River, and it, together with its tributaries, covers wide stretches of the lowlands with a varying depth of water. At some seasons one may pass dry-shod over miles of woodland, which at other seasons is covered with water to a depth of two feet or more. It is this variability in amount of water which renders the conditions of these swamp lands peculiar, and makes their study particularly interesting. In the vicinity of Bertig, Arkansas, there is an average fluctuation of about twenty-four inches during the year, though this has been observed to reach as much as forty-four inches. In the spring when the water was some fifteen inches below its maximum mark, observations were begun. In open spaces where the water is sufficiently quiet, the Polygonum. densiflorum seems to be the first in order of succession of those plants which obtain a foothold in the soil and lift themselves out of the water. A large proportion of the river bottom is covered with Myriophyllum, Ceratophyllum, Potamogeton and Cabomba, and this filling up of the channel and consequent slowing down of the current renders it possible for such amphibious plants as Polygonum and Zizaniopsis miliacea, which succeeds it very closely, to secure a foothold.

A willow undergrowth marks the beginning of what may be considered the next zone, and, quickly following the willows, one notes the Cephalanthus occidentalis which soon becomes conspicuous. Where the underbrush is interrupted, immense areas of Nelumbo are found interspersed with Nuphar advena, the great leaves crowded together in dense masses. In this zone closely following the button bush and willows the tupelo gum (Nyssa uniflora) and the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) first make their appearance, and the characteristics of these two trees and their relations to the swamp lands are worthy of a thorough investigation.

In very early spring when the areas in which the tupelos are growing are flooded, one may find the inch long fruits floating everywhere, and shortly after the water has subsided, the ground is thickly covered with little seedlings whose continuance depends on their ability to keep their heads above water when it rises. In the latter part of October, they were observed to be about a foot in height and growing vigorously and rapidly. The soil at that time was comparatively dry. Every gradation in size may be observed in the tupelos of these river swamps. In one region they were mere shrubs, not exceeding twenty feet in height. In certain other areas where the Nyssa is entirely dominant, young trees from thirty to fifty feet in height are standing straight and close together, the crown of leaves high up and very few branches below. Near the water line occurs the characteristic bulge in the trunk which becomes so pronounced in the older tree. For a considerable space above and below this water line, the trunks in April were covered with a species of Porella which seems to thrive luxuriantly in this habitat. As the tupelos in the swamp grow older, one finds the lower portion of the trunk continuing to increase in diameter and soon forming a dome-shaped base quite different in appearance from the cone-shaped cypress base in a similar habitat. This process is accompanied by the dying away of the tops and the decay of all central tissue until the tree consists of a hollow dome with the shaft above usually broken off thirty or forty feet above the ground, a few scattering limbs bearing what scanty foliage remains.

The tissue of the tree is often torn partially from the roots as the base enlarges, and infoldings occur at the ruptured points which become covered with bark. Similar crevices or splits above the roots often appear as the trunk increases in size, and the bark soon covers the edges and extends some distance within the inner surface.

The habitat of the cypress is quite similar to that of the tupelo ; though it seems probable that the cypress is not the equal of the tupelo in the struggle for the occupancy of this territory. The seedlings and young growing trees of the latter are much more numerous than those of the former tree. The groves of young cypress are not so unmixed in the Bertig region as those of the tupelo.

The young trees early acquire the conical butt and the roots are soon lifted above the surface of the ground or water, forming the conspicuous " knees " of the cypress forest.  It is very noticeable in the Bertig region that the young and middle aged trees have the conical base, while the oldest trees have not, although in the latter case the knees are enormously developed. This is not true of the tupelo, as the base continues to increase in size during the life of the tree. The enlargement of the base of the cypress does not seem to be attended by decay and death, as in the tupelo, but this enlargement, as well as the development of the knees, Accompanies the growth in swamps. When growing in dry soil, neither phenomenon occurs. If, as currently reported, there has been a general subsidence of these so-called " sunken lands," it may account for the fact that the older cypresses have not the enlarged base, that is, they may have occupied relatively higher and drier ground until they were well grown and not subjected to the conditions which cause the enlargement of base. After subsidence the newer roots might have developed the knees which are now present. When the usual waters have subsided, the writer has observed these upgrowing roots to have attained a hight of eight feet above the surface of the ground. The general impression exists that these are " breathing roots " and serve the purpose of conveying oxygen to the parts submerged in underlying mud.

However, near the confluence of the Varner and St. Francis Rivers, fifteen miles above Bertig, there are large groves of cypress covering many square miles of which very few other trees are found.