Article by Andrea Bruner
A historical marker dedication of the old Southwest Trail route through Independence County will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 at the historic Walnut Grove Cemetery between Charlotte and Cord, one block off Highway 25 on Walden Road.
Guest speaker Steve Saunders, historian and retired program assistant at Powhatan State Park, will share the history of the Southwest Trail. The trail would have an enormous impact on the population of the Arkansas territory.
What once started out as a Native American footpath became one of the major routes of migration for settlers heading toward Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and down into Mexico. The trail started in the river town of St. Genevieve, Missouri, where many travelers came via the Mississippi River.
Through the years, it has been known by various names – the Old Military Road, Nachogoches Trail, and, finally, the Southwest Trail in the 20th century. During Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Congress passed legislation to make improvements on the road, hence its name as the Old Military Road.
The trail entered Independence County southwest of Saffell, running through Hazel Grove, crossing Curia Creek, on through Walnut Grove, down what is the present-day Walnut Grove (county) Road, east of Sulphur Rock, going through the Rutherford Farm near the present-day Future Fuel park, and crossing White River at White Run Post Office located at the mouth of Salado Creek. From there, the trail turned east toward Rosie, went up the Goodie Creek valley, crossed the steep grade of Uncle Joe Warren Mountain, and came out at Fairview (present-day Pleasant Plains).
During territorial times in Arkansas, the only three towns along the route were Jackson (county seat of Lawrence County), Little Rock, and Washington in Hempstead County. Many people, including James Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Stephen R. Austin, and Henry R. Schoolcraft, traveled the Southwest Trail.
An estimated 24,000 settlers came into and through the Arkansas Territory by way of the Southwest Trail, eventually leading to the Southwest Trail’s becoming the first federally sponsored road in the state in 1831.
In the 1970s, the late Dr. O.E. Jones and his Boy Scout troop, with the help of the Independence County Historical Society, had 12 signs silk-screen printed and placed along the trail’s route, starting at Pleasant Plains and working their way back to Walnut Grove. The wagon and team image on their signs is now depicted on the native Arkansas stone marker erected at Walnut Grove Cemetery.
Established in 1840, the Walnut Grove Cemetery was one of the earliest cemeteries in the area. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Located about 15 miles east of Batesville, Walnut Grove was a thriving stop for supplies and rest on the way to new homes; the community also had a church, school, post office, blacksmith shop, general store, broom factory, and gristmill.
During the Oct. 19 marker dedication ceremony, Boy Scout Troop #220 of Sulphur Rock, under the leadership of Rich Florczak, will be presenting the flag of the United States of America and posting the colors. Megan Watson will be singing the national anthem, Kate Moody will be singing the state anthem, and the Cedar Ridge High School Choir will be singing one of the state’s songs.
Independence County Judge Robert Griffin and other dignitaries are scheduled to attend and help with the dedication.
The public is invited to attend. Please bring your own lawn chair.