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Footprints of History

The Northwest Arkansas Heritage Trail links historical events and sites relating to pioneers, Native Americans and the Civil War.
By Diana West

A network of areas intertwined by historic events from the mid-1800s are designated the Northwest Arkansas Heritage Trail. The Trail of Tears, Butterfield Stagecoach route and Civil War battles occurred on the Old Wire Road from the Missouri-Arkansas state line south to Fort Smith, Ark. Today, Heritage Trail signs guide visitors through Benton, Crawford, Sebastian and Washington counties in Arkansas. Hiking, biking and driving routes link these events together through markers, statues, buildings, cemeteries, and state and national parks.


Above: Opposite: Lake Fayetteville Trail is a 5.5-mile paved walking and biking trail. Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission photo

Below: Pea Ridge National Military Park preserves the 1862 battle that occurred there, and visitors can hike, bike and drive through portions of the park. Pea Ridge National Military Park photo


Trail of Tears

From 1837 through 1839, thousands of Native Americans were removed from their eastern lands to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Many died on the trip, now known as the Trail of Tears. Several Cherokee groups traveled through northwest Arkansas from Missouri to Fort Smith.

According to diaries kept by party leaders, they camped at the Elkhorn Tavern in today’s Pea Ridge National Military Park. One group reportedly had approximately 1,000 to 1,300 Cherokees. Cross Hollow is a section of the Old Wire Road located northeast of Lowell. Today, the section remains much as it was when Cherokee trod upon it.

A sculpture at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that will open in November represents families as they trudged along the trail. The Museum of Native American History, also in Bentonville, displays Indian tools, pottery, clothing, and history spanning five different time periods dating back 14,000 years.

Butterfield Stage Coach

From 1858–1861, John Butterfield operated the longest stagecoach route in the world–2,800 miles one-way, from Tipton, Mo., to San Francisco, Calif. Carrying passengers and mail, the stagecoach ran 24 hours a day with stops scheduled about every 20 miles. The first official westbound stop in Arkansas, where teams of horses were changed, was Callahan’s Station in Rogers. A marker in Frisco Stage Park on south First Street between Elm and Walnut notes that Callahan’s Station was located a half-mile northwest.

Spend some time in downtown Rogers, where old-fashioned storefronts enclose cafés, shops and offices along eight square blocks of brick-paved streets.

The stage proceeded south through Cross Hollows on the way to Fitzgerald’s Station in Shiloh, later called Springdale. Fitzgerald’s, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still has the original rock barn built by Butterfield’s crew.

The Butterfield Trail intersects the 5.5-mile paved biking and walking trail around Lake Fayetteville Park at the lake trail’s three-mile marker. Alongside Lake Fayetteville Trail are the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks on North Crossover Road. Stroll through nine gardens for a small fee.

Follow the Butterfield Trail into southern Washington County where mules were hitched at Hogeye for the treacherous trip over the Boston Mountains. The stage crossed into Crawford County stopping at Brodie’s Station in Lee, then Woolsey’s Station in Cedarville. The next 10 miles over rugged Ozark hills were the roughest part of the trip. At Van Buren Ferry Landing, the stage was ferried across the Arkansas River into Sebastian County. Arriving in Fort Smith, they met a stage with mail from Memphis and were ferried across another part of the Arkansas River into Indian Territory.

Civil War Sites

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Several significant sites dealing with the war are noted on the Heritage Trail.

On March 7 and 8, 1862, Northern and Southern troops faced off at what is today the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Southern forces soon lost Gen. Benjamin McCulloch and Gen. James McIntosh. With Col. Louis Herbert captured, the Confederates were left leaderless and confused. More than 20,000 men fought, and both sides suffered high casualties and deaths.

Today, the park landscape remains much as it did 150 years ago. Before or after touring the park, pick up lunch at Cannonball BBQ, 14696 E. Highway 62, for a picnic. Relive the event as a park ranger presents a 20-minute overview of what led up to the battle. From the visitors center, drive, bike, hike or ride horses in designated areas throughout the park. Follow troop movements through a seven-mile driving tour with 10 vantage points and placards that explain events. Elkhorn Tavern, commandeered by both sides at various times, ended up as a Union telegraph station since the Wire Road ran alongside it.

Follow Arkansas Highway 62 south to Prairie Grove where the final major Civil War battle in northwest Arkansas occurred on Dec. 7, 1862. Now Prairie Grove State Park, it offers a look at how the war affected families. Four families hid in a cellar at the Borden House while fighting ensued. The next morning, they saw the land littered with dead. About 2,700 men were killed, wounded or missing, with casualties about equal on both sides. While neither side won on the field, the Union claimed victory when the Confederates left in the night.

A one-mile walking tour passes the Borden, Morrow and Latta houses with smokehouse, gardens, blacksmith shop, sorghum mill and an apple orchard. Guided tours are available through the historic Latta and Morrow Houses. A six-mile self-guided driving tour weaves through the park and town where placards give various perspectives of the battle.

Later, in Fayetteville, a skirmish occurred on April 18, 1863, at the Headquarters House, 118 E. Dickson St., which served as headquarters for both sides when each had control of the city. A bullet hole from that conflict remains in a doorway. Flower, herb and heritage vegetable gardens, maintained by Washington County master gardeners, are based on diaries of Marian Tebbetts, who lived in the home during the 1850s.

The Confederate Cemetery on East Rock Street, a National Register of Historic Places site, features four sections of many unknown graves surrounding a tall soldier statue and Confederate flag. Union dead are buried in National Cemetery, 700 S. Government.

A one-mile walking tour of downtown Fayetteville includes two dozen historical homes, businesses and sites of interests to the area. Top off your trip with shopping and fine dining downtown and a stay at The Dickson Street Inn, 301 W. Dickson, a restored Victorian B&B, offering luxury suites and delectable breakfasts.

Finally, see the seven-minute film, “In Dreadful Conflict,” at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, 118 W. Johnson Ave., in Springdale. The film is based on a letter written by Jane Page, a local resident, on Nov. 14, 1866, in which she tells of the suffering citizens experienced during and after the war. “Times is hard, hard, very hard,” she said.

Traveling to these sites and seeing where these historical events occurred helps us to better understand and appreciate our heritage.

Diana West is a contributor from Joplin, Mo.

Mar/Apr 2011 Issue


For more details, contact Arkansas Parks and Tourism, (800) NATURAL (800-628-8725), and ask for the guide to historic Arkansas trails, or click on

To visit northwest Arkansas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. View a list of offices to serve you .

Order free information about Arkansas through the Reader Service Card, found online at

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