The White River
The White River has been a very important part of Arkansas history. It starts in north Arkansas at Bull Shoals, but it never really ends. It just becomes part of the mighty Mississippi. The White River, once known as the Unica or Nika, was named for its very clear water. The White River has affected the people in this area with its history, commerce, and recreation.
Most of Woodruff's County's first settlers came up the White on keel boats. This was the only mode of transportation. The keel boats were large enough to accommodate a cabin for shelter and the bottom was thick enough to withstand scrapping over sand bars or bumping into snags. It is believed this is where the ferry boats came from. The ferry boats were used by many people for transportation of stock and household goods in time of floods. The first recorded license to operate a ferry for public use was issued to Mr. and Mrs. Ransom Chambers. They came to Arkansas from Alabama and settled on the west bank of the White across from Taylor Bay.
River traffic on the White to and from such points as Memphis and New Orleans on the Mississippi, Cairo and Cincinnati on the Ohio, and Little Rock, on the Arkansas River, experienced a boom in growth from the time of the invention of the steamboat until the war between the states turned the use of the river towards military objectives. The war changed the White from a highway to a military road controlled by the Union. The single most devastating shot fired in the Civil War was off the bank of the White River at St. Charles. A Union steamboat was patrolling the White when they encountered some Confederate soldiers. The Confederates fired a single cannon ball that went straight into the Union's boiler room. The boat immediately exploded killing everyone aboard. After the war the travel on the White picked up again, although heavy traffic was not all that good.
In 1851, the Clermont no. 2 sank just a few miles from Augusta. The steamboat hit a snag in the middle of the night and quickly sank. There were 22 casualties. The passengers could have been saved if they would have listened to the warning of another passenger. Worried that something was wrong a woman woke up her husband and some other passengers. The passengers thought nothing of her warning. The woman was saved but she lost her entire family in the sinking of the Clermont No. 2.
In 1854 the Caroline burned taking 45 passengers. The Caroline was known as the "Belle of the White River" because it was so beautiful. The "Legal Tender" hit an underwater snag and would have gone down with a great loss of life had not the "City of Augusta" come to the rescue of passengers and crew.
Generally speaking most tragedies are thought to be sinking or drowning. This is not the case. in 1927 seventy-five homes were lost because of the flooding of the White. Although there were no deaths, it is still a tragedy to lose that many homes.
The last and most beautiful of steamboats to glide down the White River was the Chickasaw. The Chickasaw was the first steamboat the have electric lights. There were parties, to display the new invention, at the towns along the river. The biggest party was at Augusta. The captain and builder of Chickasaw, Captain Postal stated:
"At Augusta we were received by officials of the town and county. I declare there were some mighty fine folks at that dinner the officials gave to us. I believe some of the prettiest women I ever saw in my life were there, all beautifully dressed. You see, Augusta then boasted of having some of the wealthiest people in Arkansas living there, and that was no idle boast, because at that time, Augusta was the 'Queen of the White River Valley'. For that's the way it was when the big White River steamboats landed at Augusta!"
Somewhere beneath the muddy waters of the White lurks the White River Monster. Many years ago there was a button factory at Jacksonport (A port on the White.) An old man was searching for shells on the bank of the White when he heard a funny sound. Rising above the water was what was later to be known as the White River Monster. He described it as being as long as three or four pick-up trucks with gray peeling skin. There have been numerous sightings all along the river. Beware of what lurks beneath the muddy waters of the mighty White River.
Almost everyday during the summer months there are many water crafts on the White. Many Families go to the White River on Sunday afternoons to enjoy boating, skiing, jet skiing, picnicking, and visiting. Camping is a favorite among the families entertainment list. The upper White has many recreation parks in which families can go camp next to the White. Teenagers enjoy floating the bend at Augusta. Many of them take floating rafts, coolers, and sometimes radios to float the bend. To float the bend one must jump in at the Augusta boat ramp and float almost the the train trestle then get out on the right side of the river. There is a small piece of land to walk over then it's time to jump back into the river. Then float back to the boat ramp at Augusta right back where it all began. Fishing on the White is used for recreational and commercial purposes.
Barge traffic is big on the White River. Grain is the main commodity on the White River. Fertilizer is also transported on the White. The upper White has several dams to help control along with producing hydroelectric power for Arkansas Consumers.
So many people live close the White but don't take advantage of what it has to offer. The White has affected the people in the area with its history, commerce, and recreatiion.
White River Bridge
If you want some history on the White River Bridge click here.