From: The Cotter Record, June 3, 1937
(Vol. 26, No. 16), Page 1
By Owen G. (Happy) Kendrick

Cotter, Arkansas

Some Reminiscences Connected with the
Construction of the White River Railroad Division

     In response to a request from the editor of this paper I am wiring a few incidents that occurred in connection with the building of the White River Division of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad.

     A great deal of the labor was done by Italians and Greeks. This was the first introduction of foreign labor in this country, and the first foreigners that many of the people had seen. Wages were small at that time, the "Hammer" men commanding the best pay. These were the men who wielded a sledge hammer all day long striking a drill. Three men were used at each drill until the hole got deep enough to use a drill 15 or 20 feet long. This was called "churning" and sometimes four men would be on one drill. The hammer men drew $1.25 for 12 hours work per day.

     Very few steam drills were used. Sowbelly Burke moved 53,000 yards of rock with one shot at Soldier's Rock. A row of the drill holes was made across the top of the bluff, charged, and then fired by a battery.

     The contractors depended entirely on steamboats for material and supplies. Among the boats plying the White river at the time was the Ozark Queen, Gen. Joe Wheeler, Buck Elk, Myrtle Corey, Oakland, Kennedy, Big and Little Sylvan and Negro Dan Smith's Keel Boat. The Myrtle Corey was commanded by Capt. Will Warner and did the bulk of the work in bringing supplies up the river. But during the very low stages of the water only Dan Smith with his keel boat was able to get over the shoals. This boat was operated by eight husky negroes with long poles who pushed the boat along, with Dan standing in the stern steering. Old Dan could be heard for miles calling to his men when the boat would be heavily loaded and strike swift water. I sat spellbound one time for more than an hour watching this boat come over Buck Island Chute.

     When the negroes would lean against the poles the boat would look like it was sinking, then it would suddenly come up and move ahead about two feet and then settle back again, all the time old Dan telling them when to move ahead by twos.

     The Myrtle Corey had a very pretty whistle that would make everyone stop and listen to it. On one occasion at Cajun Creek a native hailed the boat. The boat stopped and Capt. Warner shouted to know what he wanted. He then ran into the bushes and came back dragging a couple of grown girls and yelled: "Say, Captain Will, just give 'er a little toot so the gals can hear it."

     Billy Beane had a saloon on the Stone county side of the river at Sylamore. A funny incident occurred in connection with this. Billy caught and put up one of J.W. Williamson's hogs in a pen built of beer cases. After fattening the hog a big barbecue dinner was prepared, and Mr. Williamson was invited to attend. The picnic was held under the bluff just below Sylamore. The big cold spring there was dug out and 10 cases of beer put in. Mr. Williamson arrived near noon having ridden a mule from his home at Guion. Everyone voted for Mr. Williamson to carve the pig. When he cut the head off and turned it over one ear was gone, and then he discovered the joke. He raised up with his knife and said" "That's a h____ of a note to have a man ride a mule 20 miles to carve his own hog. But he enjoyed the joke as much as anyone.

     A very striking fact about the construction of this important railroad was the very few injuries among the workers. About the most serious affair that occurred was the blowing up of a powder magazine at Calico Rock. It seemed that some contractor put off a shot down under the bluff below the creek and a rock went up high and came down into the powder house which stood some place near where the present River View hotel now stands. The explosion destroyed all the houses in the town at that time. All losses were taken care of by the contractor.

     The name "Scissor Bills" was applied to the natives along the route by a newspaper reporter for the Kansas City Star. This reporter was forced by some irate citizens to climb a tall, slick sycamore tree at Penter's Bluff, but was rescued by some of the contractors before any serious harm befell him. It was his last visit to that point.

     It was said at one time there were more than 4,000 people in the big camp at Penter's Bluff; also 2,000, or more, at the mouth of Piney Creek near the present town of Boswell. Dr. Hayden, who was located at Optimus, in Stone county, rode night and day throughout the entire territory and many times would be as much as two or three days behind on his calls but he would always come.

     I have found that a number of towns along the route were named by officials of the railroad who would just cast some name onto a station, and it would stick. Of course, this applies mostly to the smaller stations.


 

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