Queen of the Valley

by | Apr 1, 2012 | Features

Story by Dr. David Bachman

Mount Nebo, Queen of the Arkansas River Valley, has an intriguing and beguiling past. Long years ago, the Quapaw Indians roamed near Mt. Nebo. Those Indians were not warlike – they followed farming, hunted in the forests or fished nearly streams.
Occasionally from across the waters of the Mississippi, marauding Chickasaw Indians from Tennessee came to raid their hunting grounds. On one of the raiding trips, the Chickasaws brought their women and made camp there.
Ohonto, son of Tohonka, chief of the Quapaw, chanced to see a young Indian maiden in the Chickasaw village fairer than any he had ever seen. For many days Ohonta dallied around the Chickasaw camp, and at last obtained permission to speak to the maiden. They fell in love and arranged trysts atop Mt. Nebo.
One of the Chickasaw braves, who also desired to win maiden, Chisca, followed them and found their hideout. He returned to camp andwarnedthemembersofhistribe.They surprised the lovers and surrounded them, then, sounding the Chickasaw war whoop, captured Chisca. Ohonta fought bravely, but was overcome by his enemies – rather than fall into their hands, he leaped to the topmost crag of the mountain, raised his arms toward the skies with a cry to the Great Spirit and flung himself to the foot of the precipice.

Chisca, in despair, broke from her captors, crying, “Ohonta, Ohonta, I come, I come” and leaped from the promontory to join her lover in death.
Col. Sam Dickens of Virginia, along with his slaves, built the first house on Nebo – he also discovered Dickens Springs, which bears his name. All this was destroyed during the Civil War.
By all accounts, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis White built a house in the 1860’s. It was a crude structure of logs. The mountain reminded the pioneer woman of the biblical Mount Nebo where Moses saw the Promised Land. With that in mind she gave the mountain its present name.
Mrs. White experienced many creepy feelings when the wolves, panthers and bob cats howled at night.
From 1878 through 1881 business men of Russellville, Little Rock and Dardanelle attempted to interest people in the healthful features as well as the recreational possibilities, of the mountain.
In 1887, Captain Joseph Evins, a Kentuckian and businessman, traded whiskey for the mountain with Indian chief Black Fox, who represented the Cherokee Indians at the famous Council Oaks meeting.

Evins cleared 40 acres of land and planted fruit orchards on the top of the mountain – they flourished up until the 1920’s. This energetic man even built a grape orchard and had wine manufactured for several years. The mountain also produced vegetables of a great variety.
The first road up the mountain was no better than the packhorse trails used by early settlers.
During the 1930’s, the CCC established a camp for World War I veterans who widened the road, black topped it and placed strategic boulders along the roadside.
After much effort, a 200-bed hotel was built atop Mount Nebo – the Summit Park.
The multi-structured hotel featured a separate building for laundry, bakery, kitchen and storerooms. The grand opening of the hotel was June 15, 1889 – it was a most gala event.
Room rates were $2 dollars a night, $10 to 12 dollars for a weekend $35 to $45 dollars for a month.
Another building, two stories in all, housed recreation rooms, post office, doctor’s office and a telephone exchange. Drive ways, bridle paths, bicycle paths and boardwalks were built for the convenience of the guests who came to this noted resort from practically every state in the Union.

Pavilions were built covering the many springs. A large ballroom, bowling alley and billiard room were built for year-round recreation. Water was obtained from Dicksen’s springs and pumped to the rooms by way of pump some distance down the mountain. Passengers going up the mountain were met at the bench, which was known as “Hell’s Gate” by an African- American boy. The young boy stood with a team of mules, which were then attached to the carriage load to help the horses over the steepest part of the mountainside.
Later a road was dug out of the mountainside over which horse drawn carriages traveled. Hauling food up the mountain was a most difficult task – it had to be horse-drawn up the mountain at night (during the cool hours before dawn).
Purveyors always had to carry guns to ward off mountain lions.
The handsome hostelry flourished with a high degree of popularity throughout the Mississippi Valley for more than a decade. Arkansawers did not have to go to New Orleans or Atlanta to enjoy Southern Society in its most colorful form.
The hotel was repainted, renovated and refurbished in 1913. The lavish hotel was destroyed by fire in 1918. Popularity of the mountain declined after that time.

Prior to the Summit Hotel, most people lived on the “bench” – an area just below the top of the mountain. Here stood the Blevins hotel housing 120 guests plus 25 cottages. The hotel was destroyed during the CCC encampment.
A third hotel, the Normal Hotel, was built in 1889 and used for the Normal School. It consisted of a 20-room dormitory, a restaurant, two cottages, a large study hall and many other buildings.
Mount Nebo was incorporated as a town in 1895 – with its own city administration including a mayor, marshall, treasurer and five Aldermen.
During the twenties the administration ran into trouble – women, all relatives of the elected officials, decided they could do a better job than the men. After the administration ignored all their suggestions for improvement, they organized a ticket in opposition and won.

Not only did they win the election, but accomplished all the things they had asked the former administration to do – get rid of mosquitoes, repair the Pavilion, provide music for dances and other entertainment, repair locks on buildings, provide benches for Sunset Park, repair trail steps with rocks and provide money for a watchman during winter months. The ladies did it all and received favorable publicity in several out of state papers.
Today, Mount Nebo is a quiet little community peopled by many summer residents and renters of the many State run cabins.
Winter finds a few hardy families “toughing it out” – toasting their winter wonderland created by occasional snows.
For many years, until recent times when the annual festival was relocated along the Arkansas River in downtown Dardanelle, the serenity of this “mountain in the sky” was transformed into a boisterous, fun rousing day – the Mount Nebo Chicken Fry. After that brief 24 hours, the mountain would return to the peace and tranquility it has enjoyed for so many years.

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