The cultural sequence of this region spans a wide range of time from the earliest occupation to the time of European settlement in the early nineteenth century. This sequence is divided into two areas: prehistoric and historic.

The prehistoric period is divided into smaller periods: Paleoindian, Dalton, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and Protohistoric or Contact. The historic period is divided into Exploration and Early Documentation, Indian Settlement/Resettlement 1700s - 1828, Early Settlement-Bottomland Farming (1828-1870), and Late Settlement Patterns (1870-1940).


Settlers in the Buffalo River area cultivated small fields to provide basic necessities for family and stock. Later, cash crops such as cotton were added. Numerous small communities developed, primarily after the Civil War. Timber and minerals were another resource to be exploited. The terrain made moving raw materials out and getting goods in difficult.
Agriculture, Industry, and Transportation
Community Development and Architecture


Prehistoric Period

Cultural Chronology of the Ozark Region


10,000 BC to 8,000 BC


12,000 to10000 BP


8,500 BC to 7,000 BC


10,500 to 9,500 BP


7,000 BC to 500 BC


10,000 to 2,500 BP


500 BC to AD 900


2,500 to 1,100 BP


AD 900 to AD 1541


1,100 to 460 BP

Historic or Contact

AD 1541 to AD 1850


460 to 110 BP


The Paleoindian Period is considered the earliest confirmed period of human occupation in the Ozarks. Distinctive artifacts include fluted and unfluted lance-like points and a diverse toolkit of drills, gravers, burins, knives, and scrapers, most of which continue with little change into subsequent cultural periods. Most Paleoindian finds reported for Arkansas have been isolated surface discoveries. No sites dating to this period have been excavated, but Paleoindian artifacts have been found in bluff shelters and open sites, especially along river terraces and older upland surfaces.


The Dalton Period is, in comparison with the Paleoindian Period, well known throughout the region. The distinctive Dalton point is the primary artifact of this archeological culture, but other tool types are known. Dalton sites have been found in a wide variety of settings from terraces along major rivers to uplands.


The Archaic period is defined by increasing diversity in tool types and a change in subsistence practices. A wide diversity in stone tools, both chipped and ground is a hallmark of the Archaic period. The mode of hafting of bifaces includes both stemmed and notched points. Grooved axes and celts appear for the first time. There are increasing quantities of tools associated with plant processing, such as grinding stones and pitted cobbles. Bluff shelters have been found to contain preserved organics in the form of twined fiber bags and sandals. Significantly, the first domesticates: squash and gourd appear near the end of the Archaic stage in anticipation of the increasing role of food production. Population increase may be inferred from the larger number of sites with Archaic materials, and from the evidence of larger individual site size and duration of occupation. In contrast with its surrounding areas, there is little evidence of interaction among archeological cultures of the Archaic Ozark.


The Woodland Period is defined by the presence of the first pottery, but otherwise is largely a continuation of trends already seen during the Archaic. Woodland people in the Ozarks do not appear to have participated in the construction and use of elaborate burial mounds with accompanying burial ceremonialism, nor is there much evidence of long-distance trade or exchange. Settlement does not appear to have changed much from earlier Archaic times.


The Mississippian Period had limited impact on the Ozarks region. Both east and west, Mississippian people built large fortified villages, temple mounds and cemeteries, and an elaborate material culture with distinctive shell-tempered and decorated pottery and small arrow points. Evidence of Mississippian culture in the Ozarks may represent seasonal visits for the acquisition of specific resources, including chert for chipped stone tools. It is entirely possible that, in the Ozarks, the basic cultural pattern remained essentially "Woodland" while in the large river basin areas to the west and east, the Mississippian culture took hold.


The Historic or Contact period marks the transition from a strictly archeological record to one augmented by ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and historic records. The archeology of this period is very poorly known in the Ozarks. Until the advent of Euroamerican culture was felt here, there would be little to distinguish a protohistoric site from an earlier one. Typically, observations made by the first visitors are used to establish a baseline and to project back in time the locations and characteristics of native societies. At contact, which officially begins with the Spanish entrada in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and struggles on with the early French and American records of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Osage appear to have been the major social entity of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Later, and well into the Historic period, the Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee make their presence known as pressure for relocation mounts. In terms of material culture, items associated with this period include metal objects, glass trade beads, and other items of Euroamerican manufacture.


Historic Period

Exploration and Early Documentation

There is very little information regarding the interface between prehistory and history for the Buffalo River. The entradas by the Spaniard de Soto in 1541 to 1543 passed well to the south. Similarly, the records left by the French Jesuits follow the major arteries of transportation and communication along the major rivers including the Mississippi and Arkansas, but did not venture up the Buffalo or White. Although surrounding areas had gradually become known during the prior century, it was not really until the early nineteenth century that the Buffalo region entered the historical record to any great extent. There are no known sites from this period on the Buffalo.


Indian Settlement/Resettlement 1700s - 1828

The theme of Indian settlement and resettlement embraces the Indian influence prior to and in the early years of Anglo settlement. Indian groups included the Osage, Cherokee, and Shawnee, of which the Cherokee had the greatest impact on the area, although their major settlement was south of the Buffalo River area.

The Osage primarily were based in Missouri. Schoolcraft's journey through the Ozarks (1818-1819) noted Osage hunting parties in the Buffalo River area and noted that white settlers preferred to avoid the area when the Osage were in residence. The Osage were removed from the area after treaties in 1808 and 1818.

The Cherokee first entered the Arkansas area (south of Buffalo River) by 1800. In 1808 a portion of the Cherokee nation petitioned for land and in 1817 was granted a portion of the former Osage lands, including all of the Buffalo River watershed. A treaty of 1828 rescinded the 1817 treaty and exchanged the Arkansas lands for land in Indian Territory. The Cherokee left over a period of time, but oral history indicates that they may have returned periodically to the river. The strongest legacy of the Cherokee seems to be in the bloodlines of the early Buffalo River settlers, many of whom apparently entered into Anglo/Cherokee marriages. Cherokee use of Anglicized names has made it difficult to decipher ethnic lines from the written records of the Buffalo; however, having Indian blood is now considered a positive aspect by Buffalo River descendants and thus references to Indian blood have begun resurfacing in oral histories.

Groups of Shawnee are said to have lived in the Buffalo River area during the time of the Cherokee. Yellville, the Marion County seat, was known as "Shawneetown" prior to 1830s.


Early Settlement-Bottomland Farming (1828-1870)

The first settlers to the Buffalo River chose land situated on fertile bottomland fields. Small fields were cultivated to provide basic necessities for family and stock. Usually a nearby water source was a prerequisite to settlement.

Settlement along the Buffalo River watershed began in the late 1820s. Legal ownership of the land was not possible until after the federal survey had been completed. Surveys in the Buffalo River watershed began in 1829 and continued through subdivision surveys of 1845. (A series of resurveys were done in the 1930s for several townships in the White River area).

The field notes and drawings of the federal surveyors reinforce the settlement patterns along the waterways. The notes also gave information on vegetation, natural features, settler names, roads, and significant structures as well as identifying waterways by name. The field notes are a valuable source for re-creating the historic scene of the Buffalo River area from 1829-1845.

Many early settlers did not purchase their farms when the land became available at public sale. Most of the land purchases in the Ozarks date from the later Homestead period. Much of the history of the people who first settled along the Buffalo is known only from oral history or is simply lost. For some, like the Cecil family, their name endures as a natural landmark - Cecil Creek.

The early settlement period extended until the Civil War. Following the Civil War the Homestead Act was used increasingly to claim land. The farms of this early period are found on the choicest sections of Buffalo River and tributary land. Although perhaps divided up and later transferred, their history can be traced with the help of the General Land Office notes and oral history.

According to the drawings of the federal surveyor, 57 field areas were located along the Buffalo River or its tributaries between 1829 and 1845. Using only the records of the federal surveyor, it can be concluded that these areas of the Buffalo had the greatest settlement in this early period: Big Creek (lower river); Rush; Calf Creek; Richland; Mt. Hersey; Erbie; Centerpoint area; Boxley. All of these sections had at least three, some as high as eight cultivated areas shown.


Late Settlement Patterns (1870-1940)

The majority of entries in the public land books date from this latter period, particularly the 1880-1915 period, as the remaining public land was entered both by prospective homesteaders and by timber companies taking advantage of the timber resource of the Buffalo. At times the two came into conflict, as "squatter land" was legally entered by outside interests. The homesteaders of this period in many cases were trying on a wilderness life style for the first time and needed help in even constructing a simple one-room log shelter. Descendants of older settlers reused log structures, incorporating many into farm outbuildings or reusing the logs in new structures.

Most of these homestead entries were located on less desirable land, away from the river valley and main tributaries. However, new road systems and travel made the ridge-top dweller more accessible to the rest of the world than the earlier settlers would have been. In addition, the increase in schools, churches and community centers aided in decreasing the isolation of these later settlers.

Entries date as late as 1956 for the Buffalo River Valley (when an additional 40 acres was added to the Clagett farm). The 1933 Sod Collier homestead probably notes a more traditional cutoff point for homestead entries along the Buffalo.

The late settlement period also showed an increase in farm size and productivity for the older bottomland settlers. Cotton became the cash crop of the later nineteenth century, while the overall variety of crops increased.

Last updated: November 4, 2020

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