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A RETRACEMENT

In July of 1854, Deputy Surveyor, Granville McPherson was conducting a resurvey of a township straddling the St. Francis River under a contract with Henry Rector, the Surveyor General of Arkansas. The weeks work retracing the township line drew to a close on Saturday, July 23, and he concluded his notes as follows: 65 ch. To the ruins of an encampment where some religeous *sic+ denomination worshiped their Creator in by gone days. This has the most ancient appearance of any place I have seen in the State of Arkansas. Near by stands a Beech bearing the date 1661. Perhaps McPherson and his crew spent their day of rest at these ruins. There is an ample spring-fed branch there, though the water is salty, and the surrounding high ground of Crowley ridge provides some sanctuary from the ample mosquitoes. A casual contemporary retracement along the line McPherson ran that day encounters no beech trees just oaks and undergrowth until the narrow bottom where the branch runs. There beeches abound in a two-acre grove along the creek. Most are small a few reach 30 inches in diameter. A visit in 1992 found a dead, barely standing 48-inch beech there. Its decayed bark was scarred with a now indecipherable message barbed wire was ingrown a foot deep into its trunk. The light, durable bark of beeches has always drawn humans to carve mementos. The European explorers left the claims of their empires and churches blazed on the huge beeches along the bluffs of the upper Mississippi River. Today, the 48-inch beech is now dissolved into the humus of the forest floor and McPhersons beech is long gone as well. It is reasonably certain that the deputy surveyor, who took his notes under oath, saw what he recorded: an ancient encampment that appeared to be a place of worship an altar or a timber cross? - and nearby a beech inscribed with the year 1661. History states that after Desotos expedition through this area in 1541, no white men returned until the French under Marquette and Joliet descended the Mississippi in 1673. Another Frenchman, Henri DeTonti founded the first white settlement, Arkansas Post in 1686 25 years after someone carved the year of our Lord into the Beech McPherson wondered at. Retracement always involves uncertainty and includes supposition the notes are never complete enough to answer all the questions and witnesses succumb to Time. Surveyors are historians by necessity the past must be retraced and restored. Lost places are reclaimed and perpetuated by monument and record to be lost again. The one certainty is that another surveyor will come along someday. Reviewing a few sources on the early history of Arkansas, including Morris Arnolds Colonial Arkansas , an enlightened supposition can be made about what the deputy surveyor saw. Desotos visitation brought disease to the American Indian tribes along his route up the St. Francis River. The area was almost completely depopulated in his wake. With the hunters gone, the game population flourished. French hunters and trappers easily descended the Mississippi River from Canada and they were drawn to this rich hunting ground long before settlers. These coureurs de bois [rovers of the forest] found the ridges along the St. Francis River particularly hospitable. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture describes their enterprise: At the end of every summer hunters from Canada and

the lower Mississippi River traveled on the great river to rendezvous at the St. Francis River, where they remained through the winter. Once hunting season was over, the hunters collected their products and began the process of making bears oil, a skill they learned from the Indians, and preserving the meat. One technique of meat preservation was to salt the meat. The area around the St. Francis River proved valuable in the latter process because salt was easily available in the area. Around 1700 French missionary priests began descending the river. They established missions among the Quapaw Indians and it would seem likely that they would have ministered to the encampments of the coureurs de bois. Perhaps McPherson sheltered in the ruins of a large hunters encampment established in 1661 and existing at least until the early 1700s when a visiting priest set up a place of worship. All we have are the survey notes and a scribble of 4 squares with old camp ground on the government plat. The gravel in the brook and its steep-cut loess bank disclose no artifacts. There may be the imprints of cellars cut into the ridge. Five hundred feet to the southwest the quadrangle sheet shows a nameless graveyard. It can be discerned in the woods next to a sunken road there are no markers. There is another oddity in these notes. The deputy surveyors were diligent men, spare with words they recorded their measurements and markings and seldom more. They have been described as faceless men unseen behind their unadorned record. Occasionally a complaint about the hardships or the laziness of their chainmen punctuates the laconic calls. But McPherson chose to include his impression of a vacant ruin as if he were writing a travelogue. And on Monday when his retracement reached the edge of Crowley Ridge he enthused: 60 ch. To the top of a high hill (or mountain) From this point there is a very sublime and romantic view of the surrounding country. To the East, NE and South are beautiful fields of corn in the valley; the stalks heavily laden with fast ripening ears and green blades waving most gracefully to the gentle breeze. This type of romantic limning of the government notes is rare. A review of Granville McPhersons notes for a resurvey of another township completed in November of 1854 reveals another entry of descriptive and extraneous prose: This is one of the most lovely evenings I ever saw it is sunset and our shadows have lengthened oer the level plain if I were not departing from my instructions I would say something in regard to the sublimity of a sunset on the prairies. But it would be well enough for I dont suppose that I could say anything worth the attention of those who would see it Edmund Tiffin did not have this type of expository note in mind when he wrote his instructions. Who was Granville McPherson? The record reveals that a young man of that name, an apprenticed printer, settled in Arkansas and married in 1849. He worked for the Arkansas Advocate, a newspaper in Little Rock and became a friend of Albert Pike, former owner of the newspaper, politically influential attorney, and leader of the Masonic Order which McPherson joined. It may be that good connections helped the 28 year old McPherson receive the resurvey contracts. Later the McPherson known to the history that exists beyond GLO records founded newspapers (and Masonic Lodges) in

Oklahoma and Texas. It seems unlikely that there were two young men named Granville McPherson among the 210,000 inhabitants of Arkansas in 1854. If they were one in the same, obviously the young deputy surveyor was more drawn to writing than surveying. None of the researched biography of the journalist McPherson mentions his being a deputy surveyor. Perhaps he did not feel that his brief work in the Arkansas backwoods was a noteworthy point on the trajectory of his career on November 10, 1854 his notes contain a less poetic aside: Quit and go to camp late in the evening sick and tired, and the following day: my hands are so cold I can scarcely write at all. Doubtless, full- time writing was becoming attractive. It might be possible to search the archives of the several newspapers Granville McPherson owned and editorialized for to see if he ever mentioned his time as a surveyor in Arkansas perhaps as a cautionary tale. However, his several publications went defunct by the end of the 1800s and all of that newsprint may have moldered away without a trace. It may be that the only lasting imprint of that avid writers earnest words is found in his notes as a deputy surveyor.

This writer is indebted to the late J.T. Long who years ago shared some of McPhersons notes with me and to Ben Kittler, of the State Surveyors office, who ably provided me with additional notes and plats.

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