Pre-pioneer historyWhile the official governmental history of Pea Ridge dates to the establishment of a post office in 1850, the area actually has a history of human habitation stretching back centuries prior.
Archeologists from the University of Arkansas have determined the first people to occupy the area were Bluff Dwellers or Rock Shelter Indians. By the artifacts, arrowheads, rock hammers, and crude knives which have been found, they can actually tell which Indians were here first. They also note that for each period of time there was a vast improvement in their relics. During this time several families lived together because the caves or shelters under bluffs were larger. These shelters were always near to a clear spring of bubbling water.
Next came another group of Indians known as Mound Builders. The Mound Builders were more prevalent in the area, although many of the mounds were destroyed by early white settlement, by either not knowing their significance, or by cultivating the ground in such a manner that would level them out. It was indicated that these Indians were a fun-loving people. They loved to hunt, fish and even to put out gardens in the summer. This may have been because the sparse population allowed them to not need to be over-protective of their hunting grounds. Archeologists report that pieces of pottery unearthed from the mounds were not only skillfully produced, but beautifully decorated; revealing an artistic flair and skill much improved compared to the Bluff Dwellers.
It is not known exactly how long the Native Americans who occupied the area that became northwest Arkansas were here before the Westward expansion of European settlers arrived. But, it is known that the Osage Indians were roaming on lands north of the Arkansas River. They were roving bands, very venturesome, and known to delight in making war on their neighbors. The Quapaw tribe also roamed northwest Arkansas. They were a fearless, happy people who were more settled than the Osage. They loved fishing, hunting and a more peaceful way of life, unlike the fighting Indians. From the makeup of the Pea Ridge area, it is thought that it fits the mold of the Quapaw Indian. It is known that the tribes of this area were more settled and were actually farmers in their way. The town's namesake wild peas are believed to be a product of this early farming, since it would have taken many years of preparation and cultivation to produce them.
White settlementWhite settlers first began staking claims in Pea Ridge area during the decade prior to Arkansas statehood in 1836 and continued through the 1850's. The official history of the town dates to August 6, 1850, when its first post office was established. The town was laid out by Robert Carroll Foster, with Robert H. Wallace serving as the first postmaster. At first, the town’s name was one word, Pearidge, but it soon was changed to two.
Prior to the American Civil War, area roads were few and undeveloped. Access from other regions was by horseback, wagon, or stagecoach on what became known as Old Wire Road, after the US Army ran a telegraph line from St. Louis, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1859. In the late 1830s, the Trail of Tears, over which many Cherokee and other tribes moved on their way to Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory reservations, formed part of the roadway that would later be the Wire Road.
The settlement which became Pea Ridge began at the western edge of the original town site, near a spring that provided a water supply. Foster is thought to have built the first house at Pea Ridge and also established the first store, across the trail from his house. As streets were formed, the original main street began at the Foster Store and extended three blocks east.
Early settlers to the area included the Fosters, Pratts, Misers, Buttrams, Mahurins, Pattersons, Lees, Marshes and Morgans. The Foster family was settled east of town and just west of Little Round Mountain. The first skirmish of the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought mostly on the Foster farm. The Pratts also settled near the Elkhorn Mountain at what is now known as Winton Springs.
George W. Miser was in Arkansas when the treaty with the Indians was signed in 1826. He staked out a large spring southwest of Pea Ridge. He eventually acquired 1,460 acres (5.9 km2) in the Pea Ridge area. George Miser started a Methodist Church, school, and campground near the big Miser Spring. It was burned down in by Union soldiers, and never rebuilt. George W. Miser and his wife bought the ground for his nephew, Rev. Elijah H. Buttram, to build the Buttram's Chapel and School. Buttram was a circuit-riding Methodist minister was instrumental in organizing Buttram's Chapel and School in 1860 east of Pea Ridge. While the church and school no longer exist, the spot is marked by the still-in-use Buttram’s Chapel Cemetery, where many of the town’s pioneers and their descendents are buried.
William Ruddick was also in this area when the treaty was signed in 1826. He staked out a spring near what is now the Elkhorn Tavern, and then returned to his home in Illinois. In 1832 he moved his family to Arkansas, built a log cabin near the big spring, and later built the first Elkhorn Tavern. Twelve Corners Baptist Church, recognized as one of the oldest continuously operating Baptist churches in Benton County, was started in the log cabin home of William Ruddick.
Brothers Amzi, Horace H. and John R. Patterson settled in Pea Ridge with their families and elderly parents, William and Elizabeth Patterson, around 1850 from Tennessee. Descendants of this family would play in influential role in the early growth of the town, with family members running the bank, building a large portion of the downtown business district, playing an active role in local churches, serving in local offices and representing the area in the state legislature. The Patterson Cemetery, where several generations of the family are buried, in the eastern section of the town marks the location of the family's original settlement site.
Pea Ridge settlers were mostly farm families. Early farms usually focused more on supplying family needs and less on production of crops for market. Most families kept livestock, raised large gardens and harvested wild berries, such as the plentiful blackberries. As community life developed, farm families could market corn, oats, wheat, tobacco, butter and cream, eggs and meats. After 1881, with the building of the railroad through nearby Garfield and Avoca, and with the rise of the new city of Rogers (all in Benton County), the area’s apple industry grew quite strong, supplying an economic boon to Pea Ridge and the county during the late nineteenth century and into the 1920's.
Civil WarOld Wire Road, which took its name from the telegraph lines running beside it after 1860, passed through the area five miles (8 km) east of Pea Ridge, providing a connection north to Springfield, Missouri, and south to Fayetteville (Washington County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Before 1881, mail for Pea Ridge was dropped at Elkhorn Inn and Tavern, a stagecoach stop, and carried to the town by horseback, buggy, or wagon. The Butterfield Company bought the stage line in 1858, making the road part of the Butterfield Overland Mail trail reaching west to California.
On March 7–8, 1862, the fields around Pea Ridge Mountain and Elkhorn Tavern were the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge during the Civil War. The battle raged between 16,000 Confederate troops led by General Earl Van Dorn and 10,500 Union troops led by General Samuel R. Curtis. This was the largest Civil War engagement west of the Mississippi River and is credited with preserving Missouri for the Union. Pea Ridge National Military Park, on the battlefield site, was created by the United States Congress in 1956 and dedicated in 1963.
Although the town of Pea Ridge did not suffer significant physical damage in the war, the times were hard. As a seceded state, Arkansas officially supported the Confederacy, but the support was not unanimous in northwest Arkansas. Some families with roots in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio held Union sympathies. Movement of military units through the area brought instability and insecurity as control shifted many times. Raids by “bushwhackers” made the times dangerous and frustrating.
Professor Roberts directed the academy until 1894. Nannie Roberts, his sister, devoted her long career to teaching younger pupils at Pea Ridge Academy and later in the public school. By 1914, the academy was known as the Pea Ridge Masonic College. It operated until 1916, offering elementary, high school, and college-level instruction. Then, as community sentiment favored forming a public school system, the college was closed, and the property deeded to the Pea Ridge Public School. In 1930, the school district dismantled the college building and constructed a one-story building on the site. Principal Joe Roulhac, a noted local educator and carpenter, supervised the design and construction. Extra wings were added in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This community landmark, which housed the entire school before 1948, served as home of the Pea Ridge High School until 2001, when a new high school complex was completed on West Pickens Road. The 1930 building was finally razed in March 2005 after estimated costs to update the aging building to current school standards, or to convert it to other community uses, were determined to be prohibitive.
One of Pea Ridge’s most enduring businesses has been Webb’s Feed and Seed, established in the 1930s by Hugh and Nell Webb. As a farm supply store and poultry production firm, Webb’s was influential, especially in the 1940's, in greatly expanding the local broiler industry, thus improving local farm incomes. The store, now owned and operated by Fred and Mabel Webb McKinney, continues in its original location on East Pickens downtown. Pea Ridge City Hall occupies a restored historic 1920's building at 227 East Pickens, previously the site of cafes, markets, and medical offices.
World War II to presentThe years after World War II brought major changes. In 1945, rural electricity was extended to the farms around Pea Ridge. City water and fire departments were initiated in the early 1950's. Televisions began appearing in homes about 1951. By 1954, the Pea Ridge Telephone Company had extended service to most rural homes in the school district. In place of the disappearing apple orchards, large poultry farms appeared, as did modern dairy farms and beef cattle operations. The formation of Beaver Lake on the White River enhanced the area’s tourist and retirement attractions and provided abundant water supplies for Pea Ridge and other area cities.
As a result of these new economic opportunities, the population of Pea Ridge has grown steadily. The town is still largely residential, with a variety of service businesses and several busy cabinet shops and small construction firms. Many residents are employed at large industrial and commercial firms in Rogers and Bentonville, so the Pea Ridge economy is closely tied to the economic life of the larger area.
- Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture entry: Pea Ridge (Benton County)
- White River
- Beaver Lake
- Pea Ridge Day
- Stroud's Mercantile
- Arvest Bank
- Pea Ridge High School
- Pea Ridge Masonic College.
- Elkhorn Tavern
- Battle of Pea Ridge
- Butterfield Overland Mail
- Pea Ridge National Military Park
- Ozark Mountains