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Home / Browse / Yell County
December 5, 1840
22,185 (2010 Census)
929.98 square miles (2010 Census)
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
Population Characteristics as per the 2010 U.S. Census:
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Some Other Race
Two or More Races
Hispanic Origin (may be of any race)
23.9 people per square mile
Median Household Income (2009)
Per Capita Income (2005–2009)
Percent of Population below Poverty Line (2009)
Yell County, Arkansas’s forty-second county, was formed on December 5, 1840, from portions of Scott and Pope counties. Located in west-central Arkansas, the northern portion of the county, adjacent to the Arkansas River, is part of the Arkansas River Valley geographic region, while the southern and most of the eastern portions are within the Ouachita National Forest, and a small portion of eastern Yell County is within the Ozark St. Francis National Forest. Named for Governor Archibald Yell, the county boasts a forest products and lumber industry, poultry production and processing, row crops, and livestock production.
European Exploration and SettlementHernando de Soto’s expedition encountered strong resistance at Tula in 1541, which archaeologists generally believe to be near the contemporary town of Bluffton in southwestern Yell County. The earliest settlers belonged to various Native American tribes including the Osage, Caddo, and Cherokee, who began to migrate to the area beginning in the late 1790s and early 1800s. In 1819, Thomas Nuttall noted Cherokee settlements along the Arkansas River within the boundaries of contemporary Yell County.
Louisiana Purchase through Early StatehoodDavid Brearley, the third factor at the Spadra Bayou factory, established a home near Dardanelle Rock on the Arkansas River in 1819 and remained as an early founder of the county’s first town, Dardanelle, which was incorporated in 1855. Upon its creation, it had five separate townships and a population of 1,247.
Immigrants from Tennessee and North Carolina were prominent in its early development. By 1860, the population reached 6,333, of which 3.9 percent were slaves. Slavery was concentrated near Dardanelle in the bottom lands adjacent to the Arkansas River. Only three slave owners are certified as planters in 1860. Most slave owners were small farmers. The first cotton gin opened in 1838 in Riley Township near Belleville.
In 1832, a series of religious revivals was held, beginning with a Cumberland Presbyterian movement in the southern part of the county. In 1840, a Baptist church was established in Dardanelle, followed by the Presbyterian in 1843 and the Methodist in 1851. Cephas Washburn, who founded Dwight Mission in 1820 and retired at Norristown (Pope County) in 1857, was the first minister of the Dardanelle Presbyterian Church. A Roman Catholic church was established in the 1850s in Carden Bottoms.
In 1840, the first county seat was established at the Monrovia settlement, five miles northwest of Danville. The seat was soon moved to Danville, where the first courthouse was erected in 1844.
Steamboats traversed the Arkansas River beginning in 1820, landing at the Dardanelle Wharf and linking, via the Petit Jean River, Danville to Dardanelle. The 1823 military road between Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County), now Highway 22, was the first road. In 1841, the first mail line began operation, linking by ferry boat Norristown (Pope County) to Dardanelle, Monrovia, and Booneville (Logan County). The first newspaper, the Dardanelle Post, a forerunner of the Dardanelle Post Dispatch, began publishing in 1853. In 1860, telegraph service linked Dardanelle to Fort Smith and Little Rock.
Civil War through ReconstructionThe citizens of Yell County enthusiastically supported the Confederate cause, raising three separate units. Given its Arkansas River location, Dardanelle became a focal point of military action as both Union and Confederate troops attempted to secure control of this strategic river link between Fort Smith and Little Rock. Union troops secured control over the northern part of the county in October 1862. Three Confederate attempts between 1862 and 1865 to retake the area proved unsuccessful. These skirmishes spilled into the bottoms south and east of Dardanelle and resulted in property and crop damage and guerrilla warfare. Both the Baptist and Presbyterian churches at Dardanelle were destroyed. The Medal of Honor was awarded to First Sergeant William Ellis, Company K, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, for gallantry in action at Ivey’s Ford and Dardanelle on January 14, 1865. A review of the original 116-man roster of the Daniel’s Rifles (Company H, First Arkansas Mounted Rifles—one of the Yell County units) reveals that, by 1865, forty-one had been killed, thirty-seven had been wounded, and three were missing.
Post Reconstruction through the Gilded AgeIn 1875, Dardanelle was established as a second county seat. This dual system continues today.
In 1877–1878, more than eighteen Moravian, Slovak, and Bohemian families arrived in the county. Referred to as “the Bohemians,” these Eastern Europeans, primarily farmers and coal miners, were unique in their language, dress, cultural habits, and religion. They initially formed their own social clubs, fraternal organizations, and a community brass band; today, their descendants reside primarily in and around Dardanelle.
In 1883, the five-and-a-half-mile-long Dardanelle and Russellville Railroad (D&R, or “Dinky,” one of the shorter “short lines” still operating in Arkansas) connected Yell County to the Missouri-Pacific line in Pope County. The first bank, the Bank of Dardanelle, opened in 1895. Between 1895 and 1942, seven banks operated in the county.
The D&R was instrumental in the building of the Pontoon Bridge between Yell and Pope counties. Seventy-two wooden pontoon boats floated the river, and upon these, an eighteen-foot-wide roadway approximately 2,300 feet in length was constructed. Pilings driven into the riverbed anchored the pontoons against the river’s current. Foreman Richard Joseph Keilch from Dublin, Ireland, supervised the building and became the superintendent managing the Dardanelle Pontoon Bridge. Completed in 1891 at a cost of $25,000, this was the longest pontoon bridge in the world and operated until 1929, when it was replaced by a two-lane steel bridge.
Mount Nebo State Park, containing 1,000 level acres on its summit and numerous freshwater springs at its bench 300 feet below the summit, lies seven miles west of Dardanelle and rises 1,800 feet above sea level. The park stands where, in 1889, the Summit Hotel opened for business. Three stories high, it featured 100 guest rooms, a ballroom and casino, overflow cottages, billiard rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, stables, a post office, and medical services. This luxury hotel was a well-attended tourist stop for the wealthy prior to its 1918 destruction by fire.
Early Twentieth CenturyIn 1907, the Dardanelle, Ola and Southern Line was completed, which carried freight and passengers and made twelve daily runs; it became the Rock Island Line in 1911. The first telephone service was initiated before the end of the nineteenth century.
Politics has always been serious business and a form of Yell County entertainment. The county’s political mystique was enriched in 1915 during a circuit judgeship special election. The Yell County candidate, A. B. Priddy, carried the county and barely lost in the other two counties involved, and yet he won the election by 2,500 votes. It was reported that names taken from tombstones and birddogs were recorded as voters in Yell County. Thus was born the phrase, “The Free State of Yell,” signifying a tendency of the county to act as an independent nation.
As elsewhere, Yell County suffered from the effects of the Depression. The drought of 1930 only added to the economic misery. The American Red Cross in 1930 advised the planting of turnips for feeding families and livestock, and it donated seed for gardens and pastures. Property tax delinquencies rose dramatically from 1930 through 1937 and caused schools to request federal aid, shorten school terms in order to maintain operations, and pay teachers in credit warrants redeemed by local merchants as long-term credit purchases. Banks failed, suicides increased, local businesses reverted to a cash-only basis (except for teachers), and the Dardanelle Post Dispatch decreased its number of pages and slashed subscription rates twice. It also consistently ran editorials advising support for local businesses and promoting the importance of optimism, working together to redeem prosperity, and growing Irish potatoes in home gardens.
New Deal programs produced positive effects. In July 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work on cabins, trails, and roads at Mount Nebo. In that same month, 2,269 county cotton farmers signed contracts to reduce planting. By August 1933, county businesses were pledging participation in the National Recovery Act. By November, 1,800 men had requested work with the Civilian Works Administration (CWA). The county’s CWA quota was originally set at 533 jobs, mainly road and bridge work, but this was increased in mid-December 1933 to 733. By January 1934, CWA jobs were limited to a maximum of twenty hours weekly in order to employ more job seekers. In 1933, Yell County was one of the first counties in Arkansas to meet its agricultural allotment reduction and payment quota. During the 1934–35 crop season, the pre-Depression average cotton acreage of 50,000 acres had been decreased to 30,000 acres, which provided $560,000 in payments to Yell County farmers. By 1937, fifty-five percent, or 1,742, of Yell County farmers were tenant farmers.
World War II through Modern EraDuring the late 1940s, Yell County was part of the vanguard of Arkansas’s emerging poultry industry. Harold Snyder opened Arkansas Valley Feed Mills in Dardanelle in the fall of 1946. In February 1949, Snyder and the Dardanelle Chamber of Commerce promoted new broiler house development. In 1959, Snyder’s Arkansas Valley Industries purchased the Dardanelle Fox Deluxe Plant, which was then purchased by Tyson Corporation in 1984. As of 2007, the Dardanelle plant has 269 growers, 1,100 employees, and processes 1.3 million chickens a week. In Danville, Wayne Farms opened in 1970 and currently has 865 employees and 163 growers.
Major floods, especially of the Arkansas River, were recorded in 1898, 1904, 1908, 1916, 1927, 1943, 1945, and 1957. Each time, the Arkansas River deposited sand atop the rich bottomland topsoil and temporarily displaced hundreds of families. In 1969, the Dardanelle Lock and Dam was completed, part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, and ended the flooding. Lake Dardanelle, the reservoir created by the dam, offers water sports and fishing.
The county’s public schools desegregated during the 1960s. The two largest, Dardanelle and Danville respectively, both desegregated without incident during the 1964–65 school year.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hispanic immigration increased. Attracted primarily by poultry industry employment, the Hispanic population in 2010, concentrated in Danville and Dardanelle, numbered 4,230, or 19.1 percent of the population. The 2010 census reveals that white residents account for 86.7 percent of the population.
Dardanelle contains twenty-one state championship trees. Several notable citizens include attorney Marcellus Davis, U.S. consul to Trinidad and the Yucatan during the late nineteenth century; professional golfer John Daly; and comedian Carol Burnett, who spent childhood summers with her grandmother in Belleville. The county was also featured in Charles Portis’s novel True Grit, with the heroine, Mattie Ross, hailing from “Yell County near Dardanelle.”
The current impact of tourism is great. Given the county’s six lakes, three rivers, inclusion as part of two national forests, Mount Nebo State Park, Tri-Peaks Professional Bicycle Race, and the Holly Bend National Wildlife Refuge, Yell County attracts numerous sports and outdoorsmen. Major tourist activities include hiking, hunting, fishing and water sports, camping, bicycling, and bird watching.
For additional information:Banks, Wayne. History of Yell County, Arkansas. Van Buren, AR: The Press Argus, 1959.
History of Yell County Vertical Files. Arkansas River Valley Regional Library, Dardanelle, Arkansas.
Nuttall, Thomas. A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory During the Year 1819. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.
Sadler, Genevieve Grant. Muzzled Oxen: Reaping Cotton and Sowing Hope in 1920s Arkansas. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2014.
Yell County Historical and Genealogical Association. Yell County Heritage: A History of Yell County, Arkansas. Bedford, TX: Curtis Media, Inc., 1997.
Mildred Diane GleasonArkansas Tech University
Last Updated 4/22/2014
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