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During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the many rivers that coursed through Arkansas attracted settlers. The White River was one such river that saw the rise of many settlements along its banks, including Dubuque, which was one of the first to be founded in present-day Boone County. Growing to some prominence as a river crossing, the town was virtually destroyed during the Civil War and never fully recovered. Today, the town site lies at the bottom of Bull Shoals Lake.
Long before white settlers arrived, the Osage claimed the area as a hunting ground. James Coker is believed to be the first white settler in the area. He and his Native American wife settled in 1814, while Arkansas was still a part of the Missouri Territory. By the time that Henry Schoolcraft visited on December 9, 1818, the settlement, which was then called Sugarloaf Prairie, consisted of four family homesteads. Schoolcraft recorded that Coker’s cabin occupied some of the highest ground. The residents survived by farming and hunting. Even then, Coker was said to have feared the Osage who still hunted the sparsely settled area.
While a favorable river crossing was an asset to the settlement, the river was also unpredictable. In 1824, the White River poured over its banks, forcing all residents to move temporarily to higher ground. In 1832, Charles Sneed used slave labor to cut a road to the river crossing. Eventually, two roads connected the settlement to the outside world, one to Springfield, Missouri, and another to Yellville (Marion County). A post office called Mound Prairie was established to service the area in 1837 but only remained in operation for about five months. Only in 1848 was another area post office, named Worth, established.
By the 1840s, a small town was under development. Soon, a number of businesses were established, including one of the first stores in the area, opened by John E. Stallings. Bob Trimble, who operated one of the stores, also ran a saloon. John Oldham was the settlement blacksmith, and Dr. Peter Jones and a Dr. Headley provided medical care. Grains were processed at the local water-powered grist mill. By the late 1850s, commerce was stimulated by the establishment of a number of lead mines in the area. One smelter was in operation in town, with at least four more nearby.
A building for a school and church services was constructed in 1849. Joseph Coker hauled pine logs from near Omaha (Boone County) to construct the building. In the 1850s, the Marion County sheriff, Billy Brown, was killed while trying to arrest a suspect taking refuge in the settlement.
In 1851, the steamboat Eureka made a trip up the White River but, due to low water, could get no farther than just north of the settlement. While forced to spend the night in the settlement, the boat’s captain was asked for his thoughts on a proper name for the growing settlement. Apparently, some local citizens had been dissatisfied with the name of Sugarloaf Prairie. The captain suggested Dubuque, the name of his hometown in Iowa. In 1854, the name became official with the establishment of the Dubuque post office. Elijah Taylor was the first postmaster.
Just as the town appeared on the verge of prosperity, the nation was split by the Civil War. Its location on an important White River crossing put the town at the center of military activity in northern Arkansas. Local Confederate units were organized at the town. Much of the wartime attention was due to the town’s proximity to local lead mines and smelters. Some sources record that opposing armies crossed at Dubuque at least seven times during the war. A small force of Union Missouri militia entered the town in late 1862, driving Confederate forces from the town. A local doctor and a blacksmith were killed. One report stated that the entire Peter Hodgenpoole family was killed, as well as two men who refused to join the Union army. On November 30, 1862, Union general Francis Herron reported that “saltpeter works at Dubuque had been destroyed.” In 1863, a Confederate army of more than 2,500 men under the command of General Johns S. Marmaduke camped at the town. That same year, Confederate general Joseph O. Shelby attacked a Union force near the town. During the last months of the war, the area saw much guerrilla activity, and many locals moved away.
The war devastated the town, driving many of the farmers and trappers away and completely halting shipping on the river. At the end of the war, some people began to return to the town to rebuild their lives; others never came back, and many, after seeing the devastation, began to leave. By 1870, about all that remained of the once thriving town was the river landing and a ferry that had been established some years before. The last land transaction identifying the town was recorded at the county courthouse on June 11, 1870. For all practical purposes, the town ceased to exist, though the ferry continued to operate until condemned during the construction phase of Bull Shoals Dam in the 1940s. Today, the town site lies at the bottom of Bull Shoals Lake.
For additional information:Boone County Historical & Railroad Society, Inc. History of Boone County, Arkansas. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1998.
Ignenthron, Elmo, and Kathleen Van Buskirk, eds. Borderland Rebellion: A History of the Civil War on the Missouri-Arkansas Border. Ozark Regional History Series. Branson, MO: Ozarks Mountaineer, 1980.
Logan, Roger, Jr. “DuBuque Once a Thriving Boone County Town Dates Back to 1814.” Harrison Daily Times, April 30, 1969, p. 6.
Mike PolstonEncyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 4/26/2012
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