Polk Co. History

  Polk County Arkansas ...

Established December 30, 1844 (date it was approved by Legislature.

Polk County lies on the western tier of Arkansas counties, and is bounded north by Scott County, east by Montgomery and Howard Counties, south by Howard and Sevier Counties, and on the west by Oklahoma.

From 1844-1898, the county seat was at Dallas, (now referred to as Old Dallas).  In 1896, the town of Mena was founded and by 1898, it had grown to the point that most of the merchants of Dallas had relocated to be near the new railroad and the hub of business in the county.  A petition was circulated and a vote taken, which passed  and Mena became the new county seat in 1898.

The county was originally covered with a dense growth of timber, and as the railroad moved in the timber moved out.  Several varieties of trees grow in the area, and both hardwoods and pines became sources of income after the coming of the railroad provided transportation for shipping them to other markets.  Cotton was grown as a staple crop, furnishing cash money to local farmers.  However, as business increased and lumber companies moved in providing job opportunities, cotton farming eventually fell away.  The rocky hills had never provided a congenial place to grow cotton.  

There were several reasons why pioneer settlers moved to the county, but by far the primary reason was free land.  Arkansas was one of the states offering cheap land and homestead opportunities.  As the thirteen original states filled up and land went at premium prices, settlers looked to the West to find space to grow food and grains and to raise animals enough to support their large families.  Arkansas was also the "gateway to the West" and many pioneers "found" Arkansas while actually on their way to Texas.  Indians were still active in warfare in Texas and this caused many settlers to turn back and settle in Arkansas.  Some also found the black, sticky land in Texas unsuitable to the crops they were accustomed to raising in their Southern homeland.  

Pioneers also came to reunite with other family members.  Still others came here as hunters and trappers.  Lastly, some came to escape some run-in with the law.  There was little in the way of law in this territory and Polk County provided an easy "doorway" into Indian Territory or Texas.  

Later, the lure of silver and gold  brought miners to the area.  The Worthington Mines were located about two and a half mile south of Dallas, and the Burns Brothers Mines, were about twelve miles southeast of Dallas.  Worthington was a gold and silver mine owned by Lee Worthington, Clarence Swartout, and Martin Durham.  The Silver Leaf and Copper Queen mining companies also had claims in the same area.  The Burns Brothers had a manganese mine.  

Judge Thaddeus Mack Carder was a leading horticulturist in the county and had extensive vineyards in the Dallas area.  Apples, peaches, plums, blackberries and strawberries were also grown.  Perhaps one of the most popular fruits was and still is the mountain grape also known as the muscadine.  Wild huckleberries also grow profusely on the mountainsides.  They are especially found in clear cut areas.  Hazel and hickory nuts are two popular local nut trees that grow wild.  Pecan trees have been planted successfully in the past, but few exist today.

The leading orchard in the county was owned by James Owens of Dallas.  Those with notable vineyards were Thaddeus M. Carder, M.J. Hopkins, W. Nall and J.F. England, of Dallas.  T.J. Tate, W.C. Smith and O.T. Allison in the Cove area.  S.C. Bates and M.V. Lee at Egger (Cherry Hill), and James S. Standridge on the Big Fork Creek.  Wine was made in considerable quantity.

No one knows exactly when the first white man  appeared in what is now Polk County, but they were undoubtedly early hunters and trappers.  Somewhere around 1830, settlers began settling, rather than just passing through.  Thomas Griffith came from Illinois and settled near what became Dallas.  About the same time Jacob Miller settled two miles east of Dallas, where Ben Thompson later resided.  George Wiles settled in the same neighborhood.  In December, 1833, James Pirtle from Tennessee settled on a farm one half mile north of Dallas.  His son B.F. Pirtle later owned the farm.  (Note, the Pirtle name is also found spelled Purtle).  Also in 1833, came Ben and Isaac Pirtle from Tennessee.  Ben settled in Dallas, while Isaac chose the Mountain Fork area near what is today known as Rocky.  Others coming in 1833, were Walter Scott and Allen Trousdale, from Tennessee, and both settled on Board Camp Creek, east of Dallas.  Isaac Jones came the same year.  He settled at Dallas and later sold his improvement to John B. Stewart.

About 1835, James Cantrell settled in what was known as the Miller neighborhood, east of Dallas.  Kennison Shults came in the Shults wagon-train from Missouri, and settled on Six Mile Creek, near the  present town of Cove, and Joseph Shults settled on Mountain Fork.  Thomas Edom settled four miles west of Dallas, and William Josling, from Missouri, settled two and one-half miles north of Dallas.  Jacob Ritchie was an early settler on the Ouachita, twelve miles east of Dallas.  George M. Winton, from Missouri, settled several miles west of Dallas.  Other pioneers coming in the 1830s were Richard Powell, from Tennessee and who settled near Rocky; Fred Lunsford, who settled a few miles east of Dallas, and Elisha Baker, who settled near Baker Springs, (now in Howard County).

In 1840, Isaac A. Morris came from New England and settled at Dallas, near the same time Joshua Cox settled three miles southeast of Dallas.  In the fall of 1854, Rev. H.C. Ridling came from Mississippi and settled on the Ouachita about twelve miles east of Dallas.  

In the 1850s there was only one cotton gin in the county, located three miles northeast of Dallas and owned by Alfred H. Kuykendall, who came from Kentucky.  He was found in Crawford County in 1830, and Scott County in 1840, before coming to Polk County.  James Ashford of Tennessee, set up the first steam saw and grist-mill in the county, about 1867.  There were three water-powered mills in the county in the 1860s.  The first was erected on Two-Mile Creek, but it was gone prior to 1854.  Two mills were on Big Fork Creek.  Before any of the mills were erected the pioneers ground their grain on steel hand mills, which they brought with them.  In those early days the settlers depended largely upon their hunting skills.

Little Rock and Camden were the only trading points where store goods and groceries could be obtained.  Peltry, venison, bear meat and other goods were hauled to these points to trade for the "necessities of life, such as whiskey.  Real necessities consisted of mostly salt and tools.  Practically everything a family needed was provided by the land they lived on, and their own ingenuity and hard work.

For a list of County Officers CLICK HERE pdf file

Copyright by Shirley Shewmake Manning

© Shirley Manning 2004