The first permanent white settlement in central Arkansas was near the confluence of Cadron Creek and the Arkansas River, about five miles west of Conway in Faulkner County. In the early 1800s, the term “Cadron Settlement” was used loosely in reference to thirty to forty white families that were scattered along the Arkansas River in the vicinity of Cadron Creek.
In 1818, an early settler and trader, John McElmurry, who had arrived before 1818, and three other investors laid out a town, Cadron, on about sixty-four acres at the mouth of the Cadron Creek. Although the original plat map of the town has not been found, historical evidence suggests that as many as fourteen blocks, each with six half-acre lots, surrounded a central square. A primary motive for the town seems to have been land speculation similar to that occurring downriver at Crystal Hill (Pulaski County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County). Ownership of the land, finally patented to McElmurry by the U.S. government in 1830, three years after his death, depended on shaky preemption rights claims as indemnification of injuries suffered in the War of 1812. As many as twenty-four lots might have been sold to no more than six families, yielding the investors as much as $1,300. But by 1823, “land fever” at Cadron was over—a half-acre lot sold for $3.50.
Cadron seemed well situated for development. McElmurry had built a blockhouse to be used as a residence, tavern, and protection of his fur trading (mostly deer pelts), with Cherokee Indians living on Indian land to the northwest. A ferry crossed both the Arkansas River and Cadron Creek, and roads or trails connected Cadron to Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), St. Louis, and Hot Springs (Garland County). Weekly mail service started in 1820.
But English naturalist Thomas Nuttall, who visited Cadron in March of 1819, found prospects for the town limited by the small area of good ground lying between infertile hills and forest. The only town residents were McElmurry and his extended family (five or six children, wives, and slaves). On a return visit in 1820, Nuttall noted several more families, three or four outlying houses, and a thriving but slovenly tavern. By 1831, the town had been abandoned.
A primary reason for its demise was political. In 1820, Cadron was being considered by the state legislature for both the territorial capital and the seat of Pulaski County. The county seat petition was presented first, on February 10. It was ultimately approved and signed into law on by Governor James Miller on June 28. (Prior to this, the seat of Pulaski County had been the home of Samuel McHenry at the mouth of White Oak bayou in what is now North Little Rock.) Alexander H. Rennick served as county clerk beginning in May 1820, and his office was located in Cadron. In October of that year, the state legislature approved $1,400 to build the Pulaski County jail and courthouse at Cadron; the money was never spent as the legislature, which met in Little Rock in October 1821, voted to relocate the county government to Little Rock. The bill was approved the following month, and by March 1822, the Pulaski County government was located in Little Rock.
Meanwhile, on February 20, 1820, a bill was introduced to move the territorial seat of government from Arkansas Post to Cadron. The bill was approved with amendments, and one of those amendments changed Cadron to Little Rock. After further discussion, the legislators chose to postpone further discussion and a final vote until their next session in October. During the recess, several legislators invested in land in the Little Rock area. When the proposal to move the capital was next considered, Little Rock won by a vote of six to three. Governor Miller signed the bill on October 18, and it went into effect on June 1, 1821.
When the state legislature created Conway County in 1825, Cadron was named the temporary county seat; the post office had already moved upstream to Point Remove (Conway County) in 1824, so Cadron lost out on the political spoils. There were other factors in the town’s decline. The main promoter of Cadron, McElmurry, died in 1827 at the age of sixty-six in Little Rock, and Indian Removal from the state of Arkansas in 1828 cut deeply into the fur trade. During all of this, county business was conducted in a variety of places. For example, though the county circuit court continued to meet in Cadron through 1829, other business was conducted at the residence of Stephen Harris. In 1829, the territorial legislature named Harrisburg, at it was called, the county seat. This resulted in little practical change, and only in 1831 did Conway County gain a real county seat when Lewisburg began to be developed.
In 1834, a large group of Cherokee emigrating to Oklahoma (perhaps as many as 724) were stranded at Cadron by low water in the Arkansas River. The commanding officer, Lieutentant Joseph W. Harris, mentions camping by a “few tall chimneys—the wreck of a once comfortable tenement.” Apparently, only one storage building remained at Cadron. A cholera epidemic swept through the weakened Indians, and many died. In 1991, a cemetery census by the Faulkner County Historical Society identified forty-four Indian graves and thirty-six unidentifiable graves, but there may have been many more unmarked graves.
Periodic attempts were made to reclaim the town, mostly by aspiring ferry boat operators. In 1860, Elias Stone platted out a town to be called Cadron Burg, hoping to benefit from a stage stand on the road, but it amounted to nothing. During the Civil War, there was considerable traffic up and along the Arkansas River with ferry crossings at Cadron; however, the near vacant town was apparently of no strategic importance.
Many attempts have been made to explain the origin of the word Cadron, including the suggestion that it is a corruption of the name for a large Osage Indian trading center, “El Quadrante,” that may have existed near Cadron before white settlement. An extensive archaeological assessment by Samuel D. Smith in 1973 did not find sufficient Indian artifacts of the correct time period to support (or refute) this theory.
In 1976, as a bicentennial project, the Faulkner County Historical Society, the Conway Chamber of Commerce, and the Army Corps of Engineers joined together to create the current Cadron Settlement Park and to construct a blockhouse that was historically consistent with Nuttall’s 1820 sketch of Cadron. The reconstructed two-story building used cypress planks for walls, with massive fireplaces at each end. The official dedication was on October 14, 1979. Unfortunately, a fire caused by vandals destroyed the blockhouse in 1992, and the entire site was razed. Again, the Faulkner County Historical Society joined with the Chamber of Commerce for a second reconstruction that was completed in 1998. Currently, there is free access to the Cadron Settlement grounds, and the interior is available for public and private use for a small fee. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1974.
For additional information:
Clayton, Louise. “Cadron.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 1 (September 1959): 3–14.
Ross, Margaret Smith. “Cadron: An Early Town That Failed.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 16 (Spring 1957): 3–27.
Schnedler, Jack. “Faulkner County’s Cadron Settlement Dates to 1818.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 15, 2015, p. 8E.
Smith, Samuel D. “Cadron Settlement Arkansas—An Archeological Assessment.” 1973. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.
University of Central Arkansas