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History Schoolcraft's Travels

Schoolcraft Travels Near Dora, 1818-1819 

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was an early traveler to the Bryant Creek region. His book about his travels in the winter of 1818-1819 is one of the earliest written accounts of Ozarks land and pioneer life. The book was the first information about the interior of the Ozarks to be published in the east, where most people lived at the time. It is useful now as a record of the way the land and life were in those days. 

Schoolcraft and a companion set out from Potosi, Missouri with one pack-horse in November of 1818. They walked down to Arkansas, back up to Springfield and then back to Potosi. The two men walked 900 miles in 90 days. 

The pair first crossed the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, then traveled down the Big Piney River to the North Fork River. They walked a good ways down the North Fork valley, which is the watershed just east of the Bryant watershed. Schoolcraft called the North Fork "the Limestone River" because of all the limestone in the river valley. He wrote that the river was "wholly composed of springs" flowing pure, cold and clear water. Schoolcraft visited Topaz Spring, which feeds the North Fork River and later became the site of a water mill for settlers. You can still see the old Topaz Mill on a county road about eight miles south on Highway EE, from Highway 76 east of Vanzant. Even though we know it as Topaz Spring, Schoolcraft called it Elkhorn Spring because he found an elk horn there. 

The North Fork and Bryant Creek are sister streams, with very similar watersheds. The Bryant flows into the North Fork at the manmade Norfork Lake near Tecumseh. We can assume that Schoolcraft's descriptions of the North Fork valley would also describe the Bryant Watershed. He wrote of rich bottomlands with a thick forest of elm, oak, maple, sycamore and ash. Grape vines, greenbriar, cane, and shrubs like black haw grew thickly below the trees. High bluffs topped with pine rimmed the valley. 

Schoolcraft and his companion saw flocks of turkey and ducks, as well as a great many deer and squirrels. Bear were also common. And the rivers were deep. Once, they found a place to cross the river that they thought was only two or three feet deep. The water was so clear that what looked shallow turned out to be so deep that their pack-horse fell in and had to swim across, rather than wade. This mistake cost the travelers a lot. The water spoiled or damaged much of their provisions of meal, salt, sugar, tea, and powder for their guns. At this point they were lucky to find a trail that led to a cabin where a settler family gave them food to eat. 

Pressing on after this setback, they decided to leave the North Fork valley because the cane was so thick. They walked two miles west, up out of the ravines, brush and the pine forest. At the top of the ridge, they crossed over the watershed divide into the Bryant Watershed near where Dora is today. 

This area was "an open barren" with little timber or underbrush. "Barren" was a phrase used in those days to mean a thin-soiled grassy area. Schoolcraft and his companion traveled a direct course 14 miles to the south/southwest across this mostly level ground. They saw no hills or cliffs on this route, nor any water. If you look at a map, you can see that the travelers were walking down the flat ridgetop area that divides the Bryant and North Fork watersheds. 

After not finding water, they decided to return to the North Fork valley. They found water in a spring flowing from a cave in a deep hollow rimmed with pines. They continued on down the lower North Fork river valley to the point where Bryant Creek flows into the North Fork. Schoolcraft wrote that at this confluence he could see the current of the Bryant flowing quite far upstream into the North Fork. Today that area is under the very north end of Norfork Lake.   

Source: Schoolcraft's Journal of His Trip into the Interior, recently reissued and updated by Dr. Milton Rafferty under the title Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks, University of Arkansas Press.