One of the most colorful eras of White River Valley history was that of the steamboats. One of the last to ply its trade along the river in Izard County was the Ozark Queen which was built in Batesville and launched 1896 only a few years before the railroad made the boats obsolete.
Here's an excerpt from an article on the Steamboat era by Duane Huddleston, author of Steamboats and Ferries on the White River about the much-loved sternwheeler:
"The Year 1896 was especially disastrous for the steamboats serving Marion County, Gone were the T. E. MORRISON, the MYRTLE, the RALPH E. WARNER, and the J. A. WOODSON, which Captain Woodbury returned to her owners before launching the OZARK QUEEN at Batesville in September. The TYCOON was also built there, and three boats were in the trade; but the DAUNTLESS caught fire and burned on November 10.
The OZARK QUEEN was the last steamboat constructed for passenger and freight service to Marion County, and with her passing a colorful era ended. Her tremendous struggle against river hazards, the competition from other boats, and the increasing threat of the railroad, typified the last days of steam packets on the upper river.
Among the very few who remembered the OZARK QUEEN in 1972 was Mrs. Minnie B. Johnson, nee [sic] Huddleston, who is now, deceased. In her youth, she witnessed the arrival of several steamboats at McBee's Landing and could recall those exciting moments. Before her demise, she stated:
"When I was a young girl on papa's farm on the old Denton Ferry road, we could hear the steamboats distinctly as they rounded the bend and whistled for McBee's. Before the sound could fade away, us kids would yell, "The QUEEN's a comin! The QUEEN's a comin! Steamboat's here!" Then we would race like scared rabbits through the woods to see who could be the first to reach the river!"
The OZARK QUEEN vied with the TYCOON, Captain Dick Prater, master, and the JOSIE SIVLEY for the upper river trade during 1896-97 boating season. Captain Woodbury's boat was the largest, being 133 feet long, 25.6 feet wide and displacing 135 net tons, while the TYCOON was 64 tons net. The OZARK QUEEN made nine trips from Newport to McBee's, eleven to Buffalo City, one to the rapids, and one from Batesville to Sylamore, carrying 260 passengers. In comparison, the TYCOON hauled 50 passengers on 19 trips -- the JOSIE SIVLEY's captain did not render a report.
Trade was dull during the 1897-1898 boating season, forcing the TYCOON to Black River, but in late January the OZARK QUEEN and TYCOON resumed full operation, each making several trips to Buffalo City and McBee's until low water stopped their activities.
The steamers were in competition during the 1898-1899 season until the TYCOON burned in early 1899, after which the OZARK QUEEN enjoyed an excellent year. She made 22 trips to Buffalo City and McBee's, and on May 17 went to Oakland.
Captain Woodbury announced semiweekly trips to Buffalo City at the start of 1899-1900 season, leaving Batesville every Saturday and Wednesday mornings. Again the OZARK QUEEN was alone in the trade, but low water reduced her trips. She made one to Oakland, six to McBee's and five to Buffalo City.
An event in early 1899 affected the OZARK QUEEN and her competitors -- the River and Harbor Bill in Congress provided for ten locks and dams to insure year-round navigation to Marion County. One was authorized yearly until all were completed, and money was appropriated to start the first at Batesville. Construction began in the fall of 1900, and the OZARK QUEEN was no longer alone in the upper river trade; the JESSIE BLAIR, a small gasoline sternwheeler from Illinois appeared. The tiny vessel was 52 feet long, 12 feet wide and commanded by a Captain Heniken. She made three trips to Buffalo City by March 1, 1901.
The last two years of steamboating were busy ones. Construction on Lock and Dam No. 1 was completed, and work started on No. 2, some ten miles above Batesville. The White River branch of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad was also under construction. In addition to the OZARK QUEEN, more boats arrived, several being hired to haul equipment and supplies to build the railroad.
As winter approached, the captains prepared for the last season of steamboating to Marion County. During late November, Captain Stallings passed Penter's Bluff with the 65-ton JOE WHEELER, enroute to Buffalo City, followed closely by Captain Woodbury and the OZARK QYEEN [sic]. Shortly thereafter, the steamers KENNEDY, QUICKSTEP, WELCOME, BUCK ELK and MYRTLE COREY, and the gasoline boat EUREKA, joined the parade of boats to McBee's.
The OZARK QUEEN reached Buffalo City without mishap, but became stuck on the shoals. Although in a dangerous situation, she pulled free with only minor damage. The OZARK QUEEN's primary competitor for the commercial trade was lucky, with Captain Stallings having a good season, but Captain Woodbury continued to be dogged with misfortune. During the last week in December, the OZARK QUEEN was returning from McBee's with 400 bales of cotton, when she ran aground some 20 miles above Batesville. The crew worked for hours to dislodge the QUEEN, but she could not be moved. Sadly Captain Woodbury awaited a rise to free the steamer; however, it was six long weeks before the boat was dislodged.
After unloading his cargo at Batesville, the captain headed for McBee's Landing. He worked hard to recoup his losses, and the Mountain Echo reported on two occasions that he was scouring the river above Oakland for freight. Perhaps the strain was too much for the old riverman, for in March he became ill while on an upriver trip. Walter Isom, who was then working at the Buffalo City Landing, remembered Captain Woodbury's last trip:
"When the QUEEN landed, poor Cap'n was awfully sick," he recalled. "He wanted to go on up to McBee's, but just couldn't make it. We unloaded the QUEEN, and she headed for Batesville. As I watched her round out, I knew the Cap'n would never be back."
The death knell for steam packets in Marion County was sounded on Monday, August 24, 1903, when the whistle of a steam locomotive heralded the arrival of the first passenger train from Batesville to Cotter. With its coming, regular rail service was established, and the twin bands of steel completed the job of crushing river competition. The stirring whistle of the steamboat had been stilled by the lonesome wail of the locomotive."
The entire article is worth the read as it talks about the other boats as well as the people who operated them all along the White River during the era. . I encourage you to visit the page and read it by clicking here.
Note: The top three images below are of the Ozark Queen in Izard County. Mount Olive. Calico Rock, and Penter's Bluff. The bottom two are along the river in Independence County. Batesville and just below the current location of Lock 3 near Penter's Bluff (the caption says Calico Rock but we believe it to be Lock 3 during construction). The Penter's bluff photo is from the Kennedy Auction Service page where we borrowed it.