THE MARKED TREE’ A Story of How Our Town Got Its Name Years Ago
Marked Tree, Arkansas, is the only town in the world named Marked Tree. Moreover, we can’t find another town in the world located between two rivers a quarter of a mile apart flowing in opposite directions.
In the spring of 1881 a railroad camp was moved southward over the newly laid tracks as work continued on the last 30 miles of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad (now the Frisco railroad) between Kansas City and Memphis. The camp, for the lack of an established name, was called Edwards, Arkansas, after Mr. Jonathan C. Edwards who was in charge of building the railroad and to whom the camp’s mail was directed.
It was slow, hard going. A hundred or more workers used mules and scrapers to build an elevated right of way where they could in these “sunken lands”, or for long stretches they put the tracks up on trestles to allow the overflow water to flow through. “Sunken lands” were caused by the great New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1813 which caused this entire area to sink 3 to 9 feet. Until levees were built in 1893 the land overflowed every spring; the major floods of 1912, 1913, 1927 and 1937 were caused by levees breaking.
It took 2 ½ years to complete this last gap in the railroad and during this time a small number of settlers attracted by the railroad moved into the area. These settlers and the trappers and traders who lived from place to place in the general area found they could send and receive mail at the railroad camp. Mr. Edwards foresaw the need for a permanent post office after the railroad was completed and the camp left the area. Accordingly, he advised the settlers to decide upon a name for the settlement so a petition would be made to Washington, D.C. for a post office. When the first train to Memphis passed through on November 21, 1883, Mr. Edwards went with it and the camp pulled out.
Why “Marked Tree”
The settlers chose “Marked Tree” because of the “old marked tree” on the bank of the Saint Francis River near the railroad camp. Now we come to the most interesting part of all – how did the “marked tree” come to be in the first place?
The aboriginal people in the region of the Saint Francis and Little Rivers were Indians. In the early 1800’s the Osage and Cherokees roamed these woods largely by using the rivers as their highways. There was a superabundance of game and all the rivers abounded with fish. Pioneer Arkansas was widely known as a sportsman’s country also suited to farming.
The Indians traveling northward up the Saint Francis River marked a tree at the first point at which Little River is only ¼ mile distant across the land between the rivers. By dragging their dugout canoes across this short portage to Little River they could continue their trip northward and eliminate eight miles of up-river paddling.
There is another legend from the 1830’s about the mark on this huge oak tree. The John A. Murrell outlaw gang had hideouts in the White River swamps below Helena. They gambled, robbed, waylaid travelers, stole horses and even slaves, and resold what they could in east Arkansas and west Tennessee. They found the short portage at the “old marked tree” and marked it with a big “M.” They used this site as a place to rendezvous.
Whichever legend handed down to people still living here you believe (they both may be true), the “marked tree” was undermined and fell into the river during the overflow of 1890. This large oak was a few hundred feet from the original bridge across the Saint Francis River. During the digging into the bank to build a new bridge in 1971, a large well preserved oak tree trunk was unearthed. This tree trunk is believed to have been the original marked tree and has been put on display with a historical marker in the center of Marked Tree.
In any case, there is not another Marked Tree in the world. What could be more unique than that?