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Sequoyah Research Center

Van Buren Site Report

The first known person to set foot on the north side of the Arkansas River that became Van Buren was Daniel Boyd. Boyd was a log raiser who arrived in 1818. Thomas Martin arrived shortly after Boyd, and Boyd helped Martin build a log house. Martin claimed the site by preemption rights. Daniel and Thomas Phillips arrived about 1819 and purchased the claim of Martin to the site.1 The first steam boat to pass the site was the Robert Thompson in 1822.2 The Philips brothers established a wood lot on the Arkansas River to supply fuel to the growing steamboat trade and the site became know as Phillips Landing.3

On March 30, 1831, a post office was established at the site, the name of Van Buren was given for the post office, and the town of Van Buren was established. Thomas Phillips was named postmaster and served as such until 1836. In 1836 John Drennen became postmaster and served until 1843. In April, 1836, Phillips advertised the sale of lots in Van Buren.4 The town was described as having superior natural advantages, and a reduction in price was offered to those making immediate improvements.5 Drennen and his brother-in-law David Thompson purchased the town site for $11,000 in 1836, and in 1837 the town site was laid out. Van Buren soon became the distribution center for the area.6

Thompson and Drennen established a mercantile business in Van Buren and Thompson speculated in land. Thompson died at the home of Lorenzo Clark at Morrison’s Bluff, September 12, 1839. At one time Thompson is said to have owned 150,000 acres of land in sixteen counties in Arkansas.7 Drennen built his home on a hill overlooking the river in 1836. In 1849 Drennen was appointed agent to the Choctaws and later superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southwestern district.8

Van Buren and Choctaw Removal
The Choctaws were the first of the southwestern tribes to sign and ratify a removal treaty. Removal of the Choctaws under the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek began in 1831 and ended the winter of 1833/34.9

The first removal party of Choctaw to pass the Van Buren site was conducted by P. P. Pitchlynn and was from Chief Mushulatubbe’s district in the northeast part of Mississippi.10 Thomas McGee, the removal agent for east of the Mississippi, accompanied Pitchlynn’s contingent to Memphis, Tennessee, where the party was met by Dr. John T. Fulton, the removal agent for west of the Mississippi. McGee turned 406 Choctaws over to Fulton.11 Fulton had determined that the swamps in Arkansas along the Memphis to Little Rock Road were impassible for overland travel. He hired the steamboat Brandywine and purchased two flatboats to transport the Indian ponies and the livestock of the party to Arkansas Post. The party left Memphis on October 1, 1831, on the Brandywine with the two flatboats in tow.12 On his return to Mississippi McGee met a group of about 80 stragglers from Pitchlynn’s party and he sent that group along with provisions to Memphis.13

At some point the stragglers were transported by the steamboat Reindeer, and Fulton paid for transportation of 74 Choctaw to join Pitchlynn’s party.14 Pitchlynn’s and Fulton’s party had to stay at Arkansas Post until January, 1832. The Reindeer with keels attached was able to transport the party up the Arkansas River and reached Little Rock January 22, 1832. The steamboat anchored in the river overnight and proceeded upstream with the party on January 23.15 The steamboat Reindeer was unable to proceed all the way to Fort Smith due to low water levels and Pitchlynn’s party was unloaded on the north bank of the Arkansas River near Kirkbride Potts’ tavern in Pope County. Fulton purchased salt, pork and corn for the party from Potts. Fulton ferried the party over the Arkansas River to Dardanelle and paid John J. Morse for 3,308 pounds of fresh beef and for ferriage of 476 Indians and 60 ponies. Pitchlynn’s party stayed at Dardanelle while Fulton made plans to hire boatmen to assist in transporting the party to Fort Smith in the keels.16 The party was forced to stay at Dardanelle until a raise in the river allowed the steamboat Elk, Samuel Krepps Captain, to came up river and take the keels in tow and transport the party to Fort Smith.17 The party may have stopped at Van Buren before reaching Fort Smith for Fulton purchased 564 pounds of fresh beef from Squire Griggs, a Van Buren resident.18 Pitchlynn’s party ended their journey to Indian Territory on the Arkansas River west of Fort Smith, February 20, 1832.19

No other Choctaw party passed the Van Buren site during the three years allowed for removal under the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The other parties of Choctaws bound for their land on the Arkansas west of Fort Smith during that time period traveled overland.20 Although these parties did not pass by the site, Van Buren was very involved in the removal operations. Thomas Phillips ferried some returning wagons and teams over the Arkansas River. George C. Pickett and John Gregg of the mercantile firm of Pickett and Gregg sold corn, axes, salt, coffee, sugar, nails, etc. for uses concerning the removal of the Choctaws.21

Van Buren and Muscogee (Creek) Removal
The Muscogees signed their removal treaty in 1832. In anticipation of removals of the Muscogees, ads for proposals to furnish Indian rations were published in the Arkansas Advocate in October 1834. The rations were to be ready from November 10, 1834 to March 31, 1835. One proposal was for “all rations that shall be required at Grigg’s, eight miles east of Old Fort Smith.”22 For Muscogee removal the government contracted with private emigrating contractors to handle the removals.23

The first party of Muscogees to pass the Van Buren site was from Fish Pond, Kealeji and Hilibi tribal towns in Alabama. They were conducted by William Beattie of the J. W. A. Sanford Emigrating Company and accompanied by Lieutenant Edward Deas of the U. S. Army. Deas was sent along to see that the private contractor provided for the Muscogee under the terms of the emigrating contract.24 The steamboat Alpha with 511 Muscogee on board arrived at Little Rock, January 8, 1836. The steamboat anchored about an hour in the river and proceeded up stream without letting any of the Indians off the boat.25 Because of low water levels the steamboat did not pass Van Buren until about January 21 and arrived at Fort Smith January 22.26

The next party to pass the Van Buren site was Muscogees that had fled to the Cherokee nation. This group, led by Lieutenant Edward Deas, arrived on board the steamboat Black Hawk at Little Rock May 31, 1837, and stopped about an hour. The Arkansas River water level was good and the steamboat proceeded upstream without delay. The boat passed the Van Buren site early in June and reached Fort Gibson on June 4.27

In October 1837 seven steamboats left New Orleans with the last of the Muscogees from the Muscogee Nation and steamed up the Mississippi River. This large contingent consisted of 776 warriors that had gone to Florida to assist with the Florida Indian uprising and the families and relatives of those warriors. William A. Campbell was the representative for the Alabama Emigrating Company that had contracted to remove these Muscogees. Captain Page was general overseer for the U. S. government and A. H. Somerville, Lt. T. T. Sloan and Noah Felton were is charge of the three divisions of the contingent.28

Four steamboats, the Farmer, the Far West, the Black Hawk, and the Cavalier left New Orleans first on or about October 26, 1837. They were followed by the Monmouth, the Yazoo, the John Nelson brought up the rear. 611 Muscogee were aboard the Monmouth. The captain of the Monmouth ignored orders to bring the boat to shore at night. He continued to run on the night of October 31 and was running on the wrong side of the Mississippi when the Monmouth was struck by the Trenton near Prophets Island. The Monmouth broke apart and sank in 15 minutes, and 288 Indians and 34 black slaves belonging to the Muscogees were drowned.29

The Yazoo and the John Nelson picked up survivors, tried to salvage belongings and buried the dead. After this the boats proceeded up the Mississippi to the mouth of the White River. The plan was for the contingent to go up the white River to Rock Roe and unload and proceed overland to Indian Territory. The water level in the White Rive was too low for the steamboats to proceed to Rock Roe so the six remaining steamboats had to unload the Muscogees at Anderson’s Bluff. Two of the steamboats were discharged immediately but the Farmer, the Far West, the Black Hawk, and the John Nelson stayed at Anderson’s Bluff three days while the wagons that were waiting at Rock Roe were sent for and arrived.30

Chief Tuskenah, a very large, helpless, unwell man asked the Alabama Emigrating Company to transport him by water as he felt that he could not go by land. Campbell consented and allowed the John Nelson, which belonged to the Alabama Emigrating Company, to attempt the trip to Indian Territory by water. Tuskenah was allowed to select others to go with him and 450 members of the contingent, many of them warriors that had been in Florida, boarded the boat. The John Nelson passed through the White River cut off and steamed up the Arkansas River, passing Van Buren on their way to Fort Gibson. The John Nelson experienced great difficulty completing the journey because of low water levels in the Arkansas River.31

Two additional contingents of Muscogees passed by the Van Buren site in 1837. These Muscogees had fled to the Chickasaw country after the 1832 treaty, and because the Chickasaws were removing, these Muscogees were rounded up and removed. The steamboat Fox was reported heading up river from Little Rock on November 17, with Muscogees on board. On November 25 the Itasca headed upstream from Little Rock with 800 Muscogees on board.32

Van Buren and Florida Indian Removal
The Florida Indians were a diverse group of tribes consisting of at least eleven individual tribes. The removal of these tribes has often been lumped together and called Seminole Removal. The first group of Florida Indians to pass by the Van Buren site was Holata Imahla’s band of pro-removal Indians. They passed the Van Buren site on board the steamboat Compromise in May of 1836.33

May and June of 1838 saw more Florida Indians passing the Van Buren site. Micanopy’s, Emathla’s, and Jumper’s bands were the first parties to pass by on board the steamboats Renown and South Alabama. Co ho lata’s band passed by on the Fox. Talmas Neah’s party passed Van Buren on board the Livingston. Halpata Hadjo’s (Alligator’s) party steamed by Van Buren on the Itasca.34

On October 29, 1838, Major Daniel Boyd left Florida with a contingent of 242 Apalachicolas and 34 Muscogees for removal to Indian Territory. The Muscogees had fled to Florida and had been rounded up and kept as prisoners at Dog Island, Florida. The party traveled on two schooners to New Orleans. At New Orleans the party was loaded on the steamboat Rodney for the trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers to North Little Rock.35

Because of low water, the Rodney, could not go any further up river than North Little Rock and the party was transferred to the steamboat North St. Louis. The North St. Louis ran aground on Taylor’s Bar in the Arkansas River, and the party was unloaded near Cadron.36 Wagons were obtained and the party traveled to opposite Dardanelle where the party was ferried across the river. At Dardanelle a rise in the river allowed the steamboat Liverpool to pick up the party and transport them to Arbuckle’s Island. Here again the party was forced to unload as low levels in the river prevented further travel by water. Boyd hired wagons to transport the party to Fort Gibson. By the time the party had reached Fort Smith, Boyd was out of funds and he sent his assistant George Beard back to Little Rock for more. Beard paid $1.00 in ferriage from Fort Smith to Van Buren to obtain transportation for himself to Little Rock for the funds. The party of Apalachicola and Muscogee were finally able to reach Fort Gibson in January 1839.37

Other parties of Florida Indians continued to travel by steamboats up the Arkansas River to Indian Territory from 1839 through 1859. These parties would have passed the Van Buren site on their removal journeys.38

Van Buren and Chickasaw Removal
The Chickasaw signed a final removal treaty in 1837. Chickasaw removal began under A. A. M. Upshaw in the summer of 1837. The first group of Chickasaws was led by John Milliard with Captain Joseph A. Phillips as disbursing agent. The group traveled overland to Memphis and crossed the Mississippi on July 4, 1837. The party traveled over the Memphis to Little Rock Road to North Little Rock where they arrived July 25. The plan was for the group to split at North Little Rock with the women, children, old and infirm to go by steamboat and the men and horses to go overland to Fort Coffee. The part of the party to go by water left on the steamer Indian and reached Fort Coffee without delay.39 The trip to Fort Coffee would take the party by the Van Buren site.

Lt. J. Van Horne was assigned the task of preparing for the Chickasaw emigrants in June and July 1837. Van Horne’s expenditures including supervising the building of storehouses for provisions, for procuring building material, for hiring and providing workman with board, and getting building materials and supplies transported. In connection with this duty Van Horne claimed $83.60 “For his actual traveling expenses from Fort Gibson to Fort Coffee, then to Van Buren, … to build storehouses and store Chickasaw provisions.”40

Lt. Gouvernor Morris was also involved in obtaining rations and supplies from May through September, 1837. Morris also joined a part of the first party of Chickasaws that had crossed the Arkansas River at Little Rock and traveled south to Fort Towson in the southern part of the Indian Territory. In connection with his duties Morris paid for passage on the steamer Indian for himself and horse, “from Van Buren, Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee” and claimed expenses “to Van Buren, to meet a steamboat to proceed to Memphis.”41

In the fall of 1837, about 4000 Chickasaws enrolled for removal and marched to Memphis. At Memphis the party was to split and the men and horses were to go overland and the women, children, old and infirm were to go by steamboat. Some of the Chickasaws refused to board the steamboats because of fear, but four boats were able to load and depart Memphis on November 25. The Fox, the Dekalb, the Kentuckian, and the Cavalier made good time on the river and were able to reach Fort Coffee in 8 to 10 days. The party passed the Van Buren site of their way. The overland group were weeks on the road.42

Other parties passed the Van Buren site in December 1837 aboard the Fox and the Cavalier. Removal of small parties of Chickasaws continued until 1850.43

Van Buren and Cherokee Removal
Authority for removal of the Cherokees came from the treaty of New Echota signed in 1835. The New Echota treaty was signed by only a small number of Cherokee and disputed by the majority of the tribe but was ratified by the U. S. Congress.44

The first party to be emigrated under the New Echota treaty was conducted by Dr. John Young and was accompanied by Dr. C. Lillybridge as physician. This party consisted of 466 Cherokees and was made up of mostly treaty supporters. The party left Ross’ Landing in Tennessee on March 1, 1837, by water. Lillybridge kept a detailed travel journal of the party including the medical complaints of the Cherokees.45 The steamboat, Revenue passed Van Buren the night of March 27 and reached Fort Coffee on March 28.46

By May 1838 the time had passed for removal under the treaty, and U. S. troops and local militia began rounding up the Cherokee and placing them in camps. The first enforced party to pass by the Van Buren site was under the direction of Lt. Edward Deas. The party reached the North Little Rock site on June 17, 1838. The party anchored in mid-stream for about an hour and passed up river. The Arkansas River being in good boating order, the party arrived opposite Fort Coffee in two days.47 The party would have passed Van Buren June 18 or 19.

The last party of Cherokee to pass Van Buren was the John Drew detachment. John Drew was the conductor of this party, and the members of the party included Chief John Ross and his family and members of the Cherokees that were too ill to travel by land. Ross purchased the steamboat Victoria at Tuscumbia, Alabama, and traveled by water towards Little Rock. Shortly before reaching Little Rock, Ross’ wife Quatie died. The Gazette of February 9, 1839 reported on Quatie’s death and her burial in the city cemetery of Little Rock. The Drew party continued on their journey up river on the Victoria taking them by Van Buren in February 1839.48

1 Retrieved January 10, 2007

2Eno, Clara, History of Crawford County, Arkansas (Van Buren: :The Press-Argus, 1950) p 27

4Eno, History of Crawford County pp 397-98, 447

5The Arkansas Gazette, April 23, 1836

7Eno, History of Crawford County p 55

8Ibid pp 56, 73

9Paige, Amanda L., Fuller L. Bumpers, and Daniel F. Littlefield Jr., The North Little Rock Site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: Historical Contexts Report (Little Rock: American Native Press Archives, 2004) p 18 .

10Ibid p 20

1123 rd Congress, 1st Session, Senate Executive Document 512, I p 757 Hereafter referred to as Doc. 512

12Foreman, Grant, Indian Removal, The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians ( Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953) p 51

13Doc. 512, I p 757

14Ibid, I p 1070

15Paige, et al, North Little Site p 20

16Doc. 512, I pp 1069-70, Gazette February 1, 1832

17Gazette February 22, 1832. Doc. 512, I pp 1014, 1070. Foreman, Indian Removal p 52 states that the Reindeer was the steamboat that transported the party to Fort Smith but the Gazette and Doc. 512 prove otherwise.

18Doc 512, I p 1070

19Foreman, Indian Removal p 52 , Gazette February 22, 1832

20Paige, et al North Little Rock Site p 19-23

21Doc. 512, I pp 1017, 1023, 1063-67. Eno, History of Crawford county pp 96, 99

22The Arkansas Advocate, October 31, 1834

23Paige, et al North Little Rock Site pp 23-24

24Ibid p 25

25Gazette, January 12, 1836

26Paige, et al North Little Site p 25

27Ibid p 32

28Record Group 75, Special Files of the Office of Indian Affairs, National Archives Microfilm Publication. M574 R61

29Muscogee Removal, William A. Campbell file, Sequoyah Research Center, Little Rock

30Muscogee Removal, John G Reynolds files, SRC

31Muscogee Removal, William A. Campbell file SRC

32Paige, et al North Little Rock Site p 33

33Ibid p 35

34Ibid pp 35-7

35Record Group 75, Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, National Archives Publication, M234 R290

36Paige, et al North Little Rock Site p 37

37Muscogee Removal, Daniel Boyd files, SRC

38Paige, et al North Little Rock Site pp 37-44

39Ibid, pp 45-46

40Payments made from the Chickasaw fund, on account of their removal and substance. Doc. No. 8, Chickasaw files. SRC


42Paige, et al North Little Rock Site p 46

43Ibid pp 47-48

44Ibid p 49

45Foreman, Indian Removal pp 274-76

46Ibid p 277

47Paige, et al North Little Site pp 50-51

48Littlefield, Daniel Jr. The John Drew Detachment, Resources on Indian Removal No. 2, Sequoyah Research Center. pp 1-4

Updated 5.4.2010