Plane, Truck, and Rail
Services Succeed Keel Boat and Stage Coach of the Early Pioneer Days
J.C. Murray, traffic manager
of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, prepared the appended history of
the Arkansas’s transportation system. Beginning with the stage coach
and river packet, he has brought the article down through history to the
present day, when high speed trains, trucks, and the airplane have taken
By J.C. Murray
Arkansas Democrat – 1936
Transportation within and to
and from Arkansas commenced with the establishment of Arkansas Post by
Henri de Tonti as the first white settlement, in 1686. DeTonti sailed
from France with Rene Robert Cavalier de la Salle for the purpose of
exploring the territory which was finally purchased by this country from
France in the proceedings known as the Louisiana Purchase. LaSalle
returned to France after exploring the Mississippi river and it was on a
trip from Fort St. Louis to the gulf for the purpose of meeting LaSalle,
who was returning from France, that DeToni diverted to the Arkansas
River and established Arkansas Post.
Arkansas Post was located so
as to command the use of the Mississippi River and the Arkansas and
other tributaries, and a study of the location of the early settlements
shows clearly the importance of the rivers as the natural highways of
the people. These natural highways were supplemented by trails leading
from Arkansas Post by way of Grand Prairie to points in Conway county.
Other trails were those leading from Hot Springs to St. Louis by way of
Little Rock, and from Hot Springs to Natchitoches on the Red River, and
another branch running from Hot Springs to Monroe, La.
As early as 1820 settlements
existed at Helena, Arkansas Post, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Benton,
Cadron, Davidsonville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Mound Prairie, Maribrook,
Crystal Hill, and Biscoeville. Between these settlements the lonely
pioneers lived in cabins scattered at long intervals. Great dangers
confronted the traveler as there were few roads cut through the forests
and no bridges over the rivers. The horse and covered wagon furnished
the transportation by land while the canoe, keel-boat, and rafts were
used on the water. These pioneers have left us with rugged courage,
self-denial, and industry that is so large a share of our present
civilizations. The self-sacrifice made in their conquest of the
wilderness places an obligation on the present and future generations to
hold with reverence the memory of these pioneers.
First Roads Proposed
A road from Memphis to Fort
Smith by way of Little Rock was authorized by act of Congress in 1821
and by similar act in 1822 from Jackson via Little Rock, Washington, and
Fort Towson. These were and still are known as military roads. Using
Little Rock as a center, other roads were opened leading to Batesville.
The first mail route
established between Little Rock and Memphis commenced operation in 1824
over practically the exact route of the present U.S. Highway 70. This
route, known as the “Trail of Tears”’ is the route used in moving the
Cherokee Indians from their lands east of the Mississippi River to those
in the West. The name “Trail of Tears” originates from the fact that
hundreds of Indians died along that trail from the ravages of cholera,
while they were being moved under military escort.
As settlers moved northward,
transportation on the rivers was accentuated but even as late as 1826
the most popular mode of connection with Arkansas Post was by means of
stage coach. The first stage route in the state was established by
Wright Daniels, between Little Rock and Arkansas Post in the fall of
1826, with contract for carrying the mail between the two points and
coaches were arranged for the conveyance of passengers. The coach left
Little Rock every Tuesday at noon and arrived at Arkansas Post the
following Thursday evening; returning, it departed from Arkansas Post at
8 o’clock Friday morning, arriving in Little Rock Monday about 10 a.m.
The fare was $8 one way and each passenger was allowed to carry 14
pounds of baggage.
An interesting boat trip
combined with stage coach was the route of travel between Little Rock
and Memphis, in conjunction with rail service between Memphis and
Madison, Ark. This trip was finally made more pleasant by construction
of the Memphis and Little Rock railroad, now a part of Rock Island. On
February 20, 1862, that company advertised that trains were operating
between the west bank of the Mississippi River at Memphis and Madison,
Ark. The mode of travel then became by train from Little Rock to
DeVall’s Bluff, thence via Hanger, Rapley and Gains’ side-wheel steamer
“Charm,” from DeVall’s Bluff to Clarendon, thence via stage coach from
Clarendon to Madison, thence rail to the Mississippi River. This
shortened the service by 24 hours as compared with the previous service
using stage and boat without rail.
A regular line of packets
from Memphis connected with the road at DeVall’s Bluff, offering
excellent facilities for the shipment of freight at all seasons and
without the risk and delay attending navigation at that time on the
Arkansas river. This schedule provided for leaving Little Rock about
8:40 a.m. arriving Memphis the following day at 4 p.m. and returning,
leaving Memphis 7:30 a.m. arriving in Little Rock 4:30 p.m. the next
One of the advertisements of
the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad at that time showed as an
attraction: “Only twelve hours staging between Little Rock and Memphis”
The railroad called
attention of the public to this service providing relief from fatigue
because of the night ride on the boat. The fare between Memphis and
Little Rock, one way, at that time, was $10.
The general conduct of
freight business on the river was through the establishment of storage,
forwarding, and commission warehouses at strategic points, coupled with
the boat service which gradually reached the point of permanent
maintenance between New Orleans, Memphis, DeVall’s Bluff on the White
River and Fort Smith on the Arkansas River.
First River Steamboat
The earliest commercial
navigation on the Arkansas River was in March 1820, about 10 years after
the first steamboat had descended the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
The “Comet” commanded by Captain Byrne, arrived at the Arkansas Post at
10 p.m. March 31, 1820, the trip from New Orleans having been made in
The steamboat “Eagle”
commanded by Captain Morris, was the first steamboat that ascended the
Arkansas River as far as Little Rock. It arrived March 16, 1822, after
17 days’ passage from new Orleans. The boat reached Little Rock at an
early hour in the morning and Captain Morris, in order to arouse the
town, fired a salute of several guns. After a short stop at Little Rock
it proceeded to Dwight Mission and returned to Little Rock March 19, on
the trip back to New Orleans. Dwight Mission was founded by the
Presbyterian Church in the Cherokee settlement located in what is now
Pope county near the mouth of the Illinois Creek.
At the present time there is
no commercial navigation on the Arkansas river open to the public,
because the channel has been permitted, during the past few decades, to
fill to the extent that at present the ruling depth is four feet for
eight and one-half months and less than three feet for three and
one-half months of the year, from the mouth to a point near Fort Smith.
The White River is available for navigation as far as Newport, with a
controlling depth of five feet or more for 10 months and three feet for
two months of the year. There is on the Ouachita River commercial
navigation throughout the year, moving tonnage between New Orleans and
the Arkansas points principally. The Ouachita is navigable far north as
Camden. Of course, during all of this period eastern Arkansas points
were served by means of the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers.
From the time of the stage
coach and the use of dirt roads to the present, there has been great
development in this state. This development, as in other states, has
been gradual until at the present time the highway mileage, by types,
within the boundaries of the state are as follows:
Concrete Pavement: 1,061.88
Asphaltic Pavement: 577.95
Asphaltic Retread: 413.83
Gravel: 5,267.93 complete
Graded: 756.22 complete
Through towns and cities over
2,500 population: 177.72
These highways are of such
construction that transportation via motor carrier has become a great
factor in the movement of passengers and commerce, thousands of tons
moving annually for long and short hauls to, from, and between points in
Before any motor transport
line or individual truck line may operate on the highways of Arkansas,
it is necessary that a permit be secured from the Arkansas Corporation
Commission. To show the extent of this mode of transport, there has
been issued to date by the Corporation Commission, 167 permits to
freight lines and 31 permits to passenger bus lines. Practically the
entire state is served with passenger bus lines, some of which operate
over the principal highways as portions of transcontinental lines. Some
of the bus lines are subsidiary corporations of railroads; others are
independent. Truck lines are handling freight under contract or as
common carriers into Arkansas, consisting principally of manufactured
products, secure return loads of agricultural or forest products.
No doubt the time will come
when all of these services will be coordinated with the rail and barge
services into a system of transportation with a result of stabilizing
charges, services and giving the public a coordinated service necessary
in the development of the county.
Thirty-three railroads serve
the state of Arkansas with a combined mileage of 4,960 miles and
including eight lines classified by the Interstate Commerce Commission
as “Class One” railroads. Railroads of this class are those reporting
gross earnings of one million dollars or more per year. The balance of
25 lines are short lines operating in various sections of the state and
while of great importance in the development of the territory that they
serve, act as feeders to the Class One roads. The Class One railroads
and their mileages operated within the state are:
Missouri Pacific Railroad – 1,784 miles
St. Louis Southwestern Railway – 712 miles
St. Louis, San Francisco Railway – 707 miles
Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway – 701
Kansas City Southern Railway – 154 miles
Missouri and Arkansas Railway – 296 miles
Louisiana and Arkansas Railway 48 miles
Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (serves
Helena, Arkansas only)
There is a great deal of
romance in the history of the principal line and great engineering feats
were performed in overcoming the natural obstacles to their
construction. Many miles were constructed in territories which were
subject to extreme hazard due to overflows of the Mississippi, Arkansas,
White, Red, and Ouachita Rivers and their tributaries and in the
mountainous sections expensive tunnels and trestles were necessary.
Eastern Arkansas was at times covered with waters from the Mississippi
and St. Francis Rivers for 50 miles into the interior and it was
necessary to actually tie the rails in place for protection against
periods of flood.
While the highways are fast
being developed for the transportation of commerce, the railroads still
remain the backbone of transportation. Most of the lines are
temporarily in financial difficulties due to the results of the
depression era through which we are passing and through competition by
transport on the highways and water.
Missouri Pacific Lines
This great transcontinental
system of railroads operating a total mileage of 10,147 miles, leading
from the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans and
the Missouri River at Kansas City and Omaha, serves all of the
Southwestern states and forms two routes to the Pacific coast, one via
Denver and its connection the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the
Western Pacific and the other through Texas, connecting with the
Southern Pacific at El Paso. It also provides through routes to Mexico
via El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville and serves the gulf coast at New
Orleans and Lake Charles, La.; Houston, Galveston, Brownsville, and
other Texas ports.
The construction of this
road southwesterly dates back to the formation of the Cairo & Fulton
Railroad Company, which had as its first president, Roswell Beebe, whose
remains rest in Mount Holly cemetery at Little Rock, Ark., after and
exceedingly aggressive life devoted to the welfare of Arkansas. It was
for him that the town of Beebe, Ark. Was named.
The Cairo & Fulton Railroad
was incorporated April 1852, to construct a railroad from the vicinity
of Cairo, Illinois to Fulton, Arkansas, on the Red River near
Texarkana. Surveys were commenced and in 1871 the first train arrived
at Argenta, Ark., across the river from Little Rock. The line was
completed into Texarkana in 1874, after completion of the Red River
bridge, March 20th of that year. The Barring Cross Bridge
Company was organized April 8, 1873, with James M. Loughborough as
commissioner and this company constructed the bridge across the Arkansas
River from Argenta (now North Little Rock) to Little Rock. The bridge
was named for Baring Brothers, bankers of London, England, who agreed to
finance the construction of the bridge.
In April 1874, the Cairo and
Fulton railroad was merged with the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, & Southern
Railroad and the merger provided through train service between St.
Louis, Cairo, and Texarkana. The St. Louis, Iron Mountain, & Southern
Railroad constructed additional lines as follows, in the years above:
Gurdon to Camden 1881
Forrest City to Helena 1881
Camden to El Dorado 1882
Knobel to Forrest City 1882
Diaz to Batesville 1883
Batesville to Cushman 1886
Little Rock to Arkansas City 1887
Bald Knob to Memphis 1887
Little Rock to Fort Smith 1906
Pine Bluff to Benton 1909
Little Rock to Hot Springs 1909
All of the properties were
included in the present Missouri Pacific system, which was incorporated
in 1907 with John G. Drew as president. Lewis Warrington Baldwin was
elected to the presidency in April 1923, and the properties have been
operated since that time under his excellent leadership, with
headquarters at St. Louis, Missouri.
The Chicago, Rock Island,
and Pacific, known to everyone as the “Rock Island,” is a present under
the supervision of Frank O. Lowden, James E. Gorman, and Joseph B.
Fleming, as trustees, with E.M. Durham Jr. chief executive officer,
headquarters Chicago, Illinois. It consists of properties constructed
under the organization of railroads earlier in corporate history, so far
as Arkansas is concerned. The Little Rock and Memphis Railroad Company,
incorporated by act of the general assembly, approved January 10, 1853,
was formed for the purpose of building a railroad from Memphis to Little
Rock. The idea started in 1845 and was forecast by Gen. Edmond P.
Gaines in a convention called the “Pacific Railway Convention” assembled
in Little Rock in 1849.
By 1857 the road was
completed for a few miles from a point opposite Memphis to Hopefield and
to Madison on the St. Francis River early in 1858. Trains began running
over that part of the line from DeVall’s Bluff to Little Rock in 1862.
Construction was stopped during the Civil War and a section between
Madison and DeVall’s Bluff was not completed until nearly 10 years
By the act of July 31, 1868,
entitling the company to state aid, the railroad was encouraged to
complete the entire line, Little Rock to Memphis, the last spike being
driven April 11, 1871. Construction of this line, which was the second
railroad incorporated under the laws of Arkansas, encountered many
difficulties. Before the close of 1854, Bacchus Ford, chief engineer,
had completed the survey for the entire distance of 133 miles to Little
Rock. The rails weight 52 pounds to the yard, were brought from France
to New Orleans and up the Mississippi river. The St. Francis levee had
not been constructed and the Mississippi river frequently covered the
territory for 40 miles west, with moving water from two to eight feet
deep. Many miles of the rails and ties were held to the embankment by
means of chain, wire and rope, fastened to trees on the upstream side of
the track, for a considerable section of the road.
The Memphis and Little Rock
railroad was headed by R.C. Brinkley, as president, for whom the town of
Brinkley is named. The rehabilitation and completion of the entire line
was arranged by Mr. Brinkley and his associates, Messrs. Worsham,
Goodloe, and Williams in the latter part of 1865.
Early in 1866 on the west
bank of the White River the town of DeVall’s Bluff was laid out, the
railroad owning the town site and it was then the general opinion that
DeVall’s Bluff would develop into one of the principal cities of the
The Memphis and the Little
Rock railroad properties, after several reorganizations, was sold to the
Choctaw and Memphis Railroad Company October 25, 1898, which in turn was
sold to the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad, June 30, 1900, and this
company extended construction westwardly into Oklahoma. It still has
its corporate existence but the properties are operated by the Chicago,
Rock Island, and Pacific Railway company.
At the present time the Rock
Island handles passengers from Little Rock to Memphis in two hours and
forty-five minutes, whereas with a combination stage, boat, and rail
trip, 20 hours were consumed.
The engines used in the
early days were small eight-wheel wood burning locomotives with
cylinders 14 inches in diameter and 24 inches long, whereas the present
engines are the most modern available, with super-heated freight engines
handling 2,750 tons.
The St. Louis Southwestern
The St. Louis Southwestern
Railway Company, commonly known as the Cotton Belt route, is under the
supervision of Daniel Upthegrove, president, with headquarters at St.
Louis, Mo. This road operates in the state of Missouri, Arkansas,
Louisiana, and Texas, a total mileage of 1,811 miles serving St. Louis
and Memphis gateways with direct connections to the gulf, Arizona, New
Mexico, and California.
Mere mention of the Cotton
Belt brings before us two outstanding citizens, Col. Samuel W. Fordyce,
for whom Fordyce, Ark. Is named, and J.W. Paramore, for whom Paragould
is named. The name Paragould is a combination of a portion of the name
Paramore and the name Edwin Gould, who was also one of the outstanding
builders and developers. These two Arkansans stand out conspicuously as
builders and developers of this transportation facility.
The Cotton Belt began with a
line twenty-one and one-half miles long, Tyler to Big Sandy, Tex..,
October 1, 1877. The northern section had its inception in the Little
River and Arkansas Valley Railroad Company, which was organized
September 6, 1876, and completed as a three-foot gauge line in Missouri,
connecting New Madrid and Maiden, a distance of twenty-six and one-half
miles in January 1878.
The builders of the Cotton
Belt planned a narrow-gauge route from St. Louis to Eagle Pass, Tex. In
1879 the name of the road was changed from Tyler Tap railroad to the
Texas and St. Louis Railway Company and in 1881 the Texas and St. Louis
Railway Company of Arkansas was organized to construct the line from
Bird’s Point to Maiden. On July 1, 1881, the two companies consolidated
as the Texas & St. Louis Railway Company and in 1882 the road was
completed from Pine Bluff, Ar. To Gatesville, Tex. In the same year the
road was completed from Bird’s Point on the Mississippi River to
Clarendon. The bridges across the White and the Arkansas Rivers were
opened to traffic between Clarendon and Pine Bluff on August 12, 1883.
A re-organization was
effected and in January, 1891 the present names of the system, viz., St.
Louis Southwestern Railway Company and the St. Louis Southwestern
Railway company of Texas were given to the properties.
The change from narrow to
standard gauge was completed in January, 1887. In 1901 contractual
arrangements were made for freight and passenger service over the St.
Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern tracks into St. Louis and in 1912,
with the Rock Island for use of its line from Brinkley to Memphis.
The Cotton belt operates
through the alluvial St. Francis basin in southeast Missouri and
northeast Arkansas with main line and branches into Shreveport, La. From
Lewisville, Ark. It operates through the rice and cotton belts of the
Control of the properties of
the Cotton Belt was purchased several years ago by the Southern Pacific
lines, thus giving Arkansas another transcontinental line and giving the
Southern Pacific entry into the Mississippi river at St. Louis and
The Cotton Belt also
operates through its subsidiary, the Southwestern Transportation
Company, organized in 1928 with headquarters in Texarkana, truck service
on the highways of Arkansas in the territory served by the Cotton Belt
and thus co-ordinates train and truck service.
St. Louis, San Francisco
The construction of the
various small railroads which finally were consolidated into the present
operating company commenced in 1882, extending to the early years of
this century. The line operates from St. Louis through Missouri,
Arkansas, Oklahoma to Texas. It also has a line from Kansas City to
Memphis through Arkansas.
The Texas route reaches
Arkansas near Rogers and enters Oklahoma near Fort Smith, while the
Kansas City – Memphis line reaches Arkansas near Thayer and crosses the
river at West Memphis.
This company also operates a
line from St. Louis to Memphis, serving northeast Arkansas in the Wilson
– Blytheville, Leachville district.
It has made a very great
contribution to the development of northwestern and eastern returns to
The properties are operated
under the supervision of J.M. Kurn as president, with headquarters at
St. Louis, Mo.
Louisiana & Arkansas Railway
This property was originally
conceived as a logging road, built by William Buchanan, one of the most
prominent lumber men in the south. He had a lumber mill at Stamps,
Ark., and built a logging road into the timber, extending to Spring
Hill, La., and then incorporated the Louisiana & Arkansas Railway in
Through purchase of the
Arkansas, Louisiana, & Southern Railway, it was extended to Sibley, La.,
and further extended from time to time both though construction and
purchase to Alexandria, La. In October 1906, the Louisiana Railway &
Navigation Company completed its line into the city of New Orleans from
the Shreveport territory, and in 1928 this line was purchased from its
trustees and consolidated with the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway.
These properties are under
the control of Harvey C. Couch, chairman of the board, with headquarters
at Pine Bluff, Ark., and the properties are operated with C.P. Couch as
president, with headquarters at Shreveport, La.
Harvey Couch has meant much
to the development of our state and is constantly studying the
development possibilities, in his endeavors to develop the state, not
only along the rails of the Louisiana & Arkansas Railway, but elsewhere
in the state.
The line now extends from
Hope, Ark., to New Orleans and to Vidalia, La., also from McKinney,
Texas where it has immediate connections for Dallas and Fort Worth to
New Orleans via Shreveport.
Connecting with the Frisco
at Hope, it provides a short route from Oklahoma to the Gulf at New
Kansas City Southern Railway
About 44 years ago, the
Texarkana and Northern, a lumber road, organized in 1885 and operating
for 10 miles north from Texarkana became the nucleus of the Kansas City
Southern Railway. Extensions both north and south under various
corporate organizations were made until in 1900 the Kansas City,
Pittsburg and Gulf became the Kansas City Southern Railway, possessing a
line from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico, operating throughout the
western section of Arkansas near the Oklahoma line.
This line has contributed
very greatly to the development of western Arkansas, and is a direct
line between the Missouri River at Kansas City and the gulf at Port
Arthur, Texas, where during 1899 a canal sufficiently deep to
accommodate ocean-going craft was completed, along with necessary
terminals, wharves, etc.
This property is under the
supervision of C.E. Johnston as president, with headquarters at Kansas
Missouri & Arkansas Railway
The corporate history of this
property started with the Eureka Springs Railway Company in June 1880.
The St. Louis and North Arkansas Railway Company commenced operating
between Seligman, Mo., and Eureka Springs, Arkansas in August 1906.
This company extended the line to Leslie by 1903, and together with
trackage rights in Missouri and its own lines in Arkansas, completed
operation from Joplin, Mo., to Helena, Ark., in 1909, with a total of
Both of these properties were
then combined or consolidated under the name of the Missouri and its own
lines in Arkansas, in 1909, with a total of 335 miles. Both of these
properties were then combined or consolidated under the name of the
Missouri & North Arkansas Railway Company, which now is the Missouri &
This property was originally
projected for the development of Eureka Springs as a health resort, and
was patronized very greatly by St. Louis citizens. The extensions were
largely for the purpose of developing timber and mineral resources, but
it has become an important avenue of transportation to that section of
the state, and has mean a great deal to its development.
The property is in charge of
Joe A. Kell, president with headquarters at Harrison, Ark.
In June 1931, the American
Airways established the first regular air service across the state of
Arkansas, with landing field at Little Rock.
These properties are now
operated by American Airlines, Inc., and provide two transcontinental
services daily, including schedules between Little Rock and Los Angeles
vis El Paso Little Rock, and New York, the latter being served over two
routes, one via Columbus, Ohio and the other direct through Nashville,
Knoxville, and Lynchburg to Washington.
These lines offer fast air
service for passengers mail and express which is a great convenience to
The time from Little Rock to
Memphis is 43 minutes as compared to the 20 hours consumed prior to the
complete construction of the Memphis and Little Rock railroad. The time
from Little Rock to Washington to Little Rock is six hours and 16
minutes. This is illustrative of the progress made in transportation
since the early days of our history.
This chronological history
of transportation in Arkansas covering more than a century shows great
progress in the transport of people and commodities, resulting in the
great development of this state.
Within a 24-hour period a
resident of Arkansas may now reach almost any city between the Allegheny
and the Rocky Mountains, with slightly longer to the Pacific and
Atlantic coasts by rail, and should more prompt dispatch be necessary
almost any important city in the country may be reached through airway
Thus from 1822 when we
consumed 17 days from New Orleans to Little Rock, we now use 16 hours by
rail, and where in 1826 we used 54 hours from Little Rock to Memphis, we
now have two hours and 45 minutes by rail or 43 minutes by air.
The state is very completely
served by transportation upon its railroads and highways. Certain
portions are advantageously served by water, and while the air service
is now limited to east and west service across the center of the state,
it may not be long before this service also will be more general in
Transportation has indeed
progressed and only as transportation progresses may any territory
likewise be developed.
Arkansas had unexcelled
transportation facilities. Rail lines, of course, form the backbone of
the system. The main lines of the Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, and
Cotton Belt cross the state from border to border. The Frisco, Kansas
City Southern and Louisiana & Arkansas serve important territories.
Arkansas’s elaborate highway program has thrust ribbons of concrete and
asphalt to all sections. Little Rock is a regular stop for
transcontinental plane of the American Airways.
The heavy black lines on the
attached map show the through highways. The rail lines are shown, as in
the American Airways route, indicated by the crossed lines from Memphis