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Current River

The Current River crosses into Arkansas from Missouri at the border between Randolph and Clay counties and flows for approximately forty miles before merging with the Black River near Pocahontas (Randolph County). The river was the site of four Civil War skirmishes at Pitman’s Ferry in Randolph County. This is a well-known river for canoeing and was made a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park located in southern Missouri, in 1964.

The Current River arises in the Ozark Mountains from the confluence of Montauk Spring and Pigeon Creek in Dent County, Missouri. Numerous other springs pour into the river as it progresses through Missouri, thus giving it a fairly constant flow of water throughout the year; in fact, spring water constitutes for approximately seventy percent of the Current River’s total. In this respect, it is similar to the Spring River in northern Arkansas. Aside from Pocahontas, other towns along or near the river in Arkansas include Datto (Clay County), Reyno (Randolph County), and Biggers (Randolph County).

Numerous prehistoric sites have been uncovered along the course of the river. The Osage are among the historic Native American tribes to dwell in the watershed; they were eventually forced to cede their claims upon the territory in 1825. French trappers explored the area and dubbed the waterway La Riviere Courant, or “the running river.” Early American settlers established water power mills along the river, but the landscape remained relatively unchanged until the advent of large-scale logging operations in the late nineteenth century. Several companies operated along the river, including the Current River Lumber Company, which was the last company to operate the large West Eminence, Missouri, mill complex, finally shutting it down in 1927. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) oversaw some reforestation work in the 1930s, as the river began to attract more visitors interested in the natural scenery of the Ozarks.

In the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began considering damming the Current River in order to provide flood control for southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas. The plan was very popular in Arkansas but was met with a mixed reception in Missouri, where the towns of Big Spring and Eminence would have been put under water by the two proposed reservoirs. Conflict between the pro-development forces and those who wanted to keep the river free-flowing continued through the 1940s. Finally, President Harry S. Truman established the Arkansas-Red-White River Basin Interagency Committee to undertake a flood-control survey for the larger region. The committee released a study in 1954 that recommended that the Current River and the Eleven Point River, which flows through Missouri and Arkansas, be preserved in their natural state. On August 27, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the act establishing the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, marking the first time that an American river system was specifically protected by federal law (it ultimately did not include the Eleven Point River).

Though the Current River arises in the Ozarks of Missouri, in Arkansas, the waterway acts for its short span as something of a geographical boundary between the Ozark Plateau and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (commonly called the Delta). The Little Black River flows into it just northwest of Datto. In both Missouri and Arkansas, the river is popular with canoeists and fishermen, being home to rainbow and brown trout, as well as smallmouth bass and channel catfish.

For additional information:
Gould, Joan L. “Crossing the Current: Retrieving the Early History of Current River Crossings.” Independence County Chronicle 58 (January 2017): 30–46.

Hall, Leonard. Stars Upstream: Life along an Ozark River. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Kohler, Steve, and Oliver Schuchard. Two Ozark Rivers: The Current and the Jacks Fork. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways. http://www.nps.gov/ozar/index.htm (accessed July 29, 2010).

 

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 1/25/2017

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