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Fort Smith
Monday, October 3, 2022

The Unfinished Story

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By Dr. Curtis Varnell

The trail looped back and forth, each loop steeper and more rugged than the one before.  The four-wheelers chugged away, trying to gain and keep traction on the rocky surface.  We were somewhere north of the Mulberry river out of Turner Bend; five of us following a local explorer intent on finding a local Civil War site.

Finally, our guide stopped his vehicle, the rest of the journey would be on foot and straight down the mountainside.  I could faintly see Indian Creek, some distance down the cliff face and to our west.  Carefully, we clung to trees and outcrops of rock as we descended the mountainside.  About half-way down the mountain side, we turned sharply to our left under the overhanging bluff.  Exposed was a tumble of exposed rock, and there it was!!! Carved into the light surface of the sandstone was the memorial that we had risked life and limb to see.

By 1864, the state was essentially divided into camps.  Rebel forces under General Sterling Price held the southern part of the state, Union forces held the major towns of Fort Smith and Little Rock and the northern portion.  The middle portion, the Arkansas River Valley was essentially controlled by no one and was afflicted by bands of conflicting guerrilla forces.  Deserters and bushwhackers were common and preyed on the locals.

A group of three deserters had discovered this site above Indian Creek.  It was isolated, difficult to get to, and easy to defend.  To survive, the men stayed hid out and survived by stealing from the locals.  Eventually, the local home guard discovered where the men were camped.  Slipping quietly down the hillside we had just traversed, they silently creeped upon the three sleeping deserters.  A tumbling rock, a broken limb, some sound alerted the three.  A fire fight ensued and two of the deserters were killed.  The third rolled down the hill, the enemy firing repeatedly as he tumbled.  The hill of his boot was shoot off but yet he continued in flight until he reached the creek bed below and fled.  Pursued throughout the day and night, he eventually escaped.

Two years later in 1867, he returned to the site and created the memorial to his fallen friends and colleagues.  It must have taken some time because the rock work was intricate and well done.  Carved upon the stone was the inscription; Here the last night of their lives lie JM, MC, and VS 1865.  There is additional lettering and then his initials and the date 1867 as the time that he returned.  The lettering is still clear; although the slab has been broken by rock tumbling from above.

I have searched war records, talked to locals, visited area cemeteries but have yet to match the initials with entire names.  The partial story handed down by tradition creates an interest in knowing more.  Who were these men?  Were they locals or bushwhackers from afar?  What families did they leave behind?  So much we would like to know.  It is truly and unfinished story!!

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Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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