ARKANSAS & OKLAHOMA
Cerrogordo is located in the far northwest corner of Little
River County, Arkansas on the Arkansas - Oklahoma state line, and 1 mile south
of where Little River crosses the state border. Little River County was formed
from that part of Sevier County south of Little River in 1867.
The first inhabitants of what is now Cerrogordo were Indians.
They were searching for salt, and found a salt lake, now called a slough. They
needed salt, which they called "magic white sand," and there is
evidence that this salt source was worked for centuries before white men came to
this continent. Literally tons of pottery shreds, which are fragments of pots,
which then Indians used to render salt, have been found. The pots range in size
to three feet in diameter. They were so fragile that fires were not built under
them. More likely the water was evaporated by dropping hot stones into it.
Archaeologists have found fire - cracked stones in the area. Indian tribes often
fought over ownership of salt works.
Legend says that the Spaniards worked a silver mine in the
Cerrogordo area, and it is known that they maintained an extensive salt works
(extraction) in the area. The name Cerrogordo came from two Spanish words,
"Cerro," which means hill, and "Gordo" which means fat, big
or broad. Only a few places in Arkansas bear Spanish names, one of which is El
Dorado. It is said that the name was given to the location by the Spaniards
because it was on the first hill south of what we now call "Little
River", and the hilltop was a large, natural meadow covered with lush
vegetation, ample enough to provide feed for the Spanish horses and pack mules.
There are no records of the actual date of the establishment of Cerrogordo.
Because of the extensive Spanish "workings" in the area, it is thought
to have come into existence not long after the treaty of 1763, which was agreed
upon after the end of the French and Indian war. Soon after the treaty, the
French pulled out, leaving the area to the Spanish.
Legend also tells us that the Spanish prospectors discovered
a vein of silver in a limestone cave near Little River, about a mile northeast
of the Cerrogordo community. This was probably what is now known as the
"Pauley Cave". To dig silver from its limestone bed, cut wood for the
furnace to smelt the silver, and operate their salt works, the Spaniards made
slaves of the Indians - probably the Caddoes. It is estimated that the Spanish
population at Cerrogordo was around 100, principally soldiers, pack-mule
handlers, and supervisors for the salt, and possible silver, operations. It was
thought that the Spaniards had taken from 50 to 75 male Indian slaves. The
several dozen Indian women were forced to cook and serve as mistresses to the
Spanish masters. The male slaves cut wood, hauled it , and maintained the fires
to evaporate the water from the salt. As well as cooking and other services, the
female Indian slaves also had gardens.. growing corn, beans, squash, and melons
to help feed themselves and the Spanish garrison.
In the meantime, the Osage Indians, who were now freed from
restraint by withdrawing of the French and the movement of the Comanche Indians
further west, were waging a war of annihilation against the Caddoes and other
tribes in the area. Late in the war among the Indians, probably sometime during
the very early 1790's, a band of about 3,000 Indians, thought to be Osage
warriors, swept down on Cerrogordo, killing most of the Spaniards and their
Indian slaves. Legend says that the few Caddo Indians, who escaped the massacre,
sealed the entrance to the silver mine and wiped away all traces in hopes that
the Spaniards would never return to Cerrogordo.
When the white man came - many immigrants, who were traveling
south, or southwest, followed the military road from Little Rock through
Washington, crossing several rivers such as the Little Missouri, the Saline and
the Cossatot. Before reaching Indian Territory, many turned south, crossed
Little River at a ford later knows as the "Parker Place". It was not
far from the bluff overlooking the Pauley Cave. Quite a few of the travelers
decided to make their homes there where the massacre of the Spaniards and their
Indian slaves took place in the late 1700's. There were three large salt works
in the area. Bob Hamilton operated two of them, one at Cerrogordo - the other
north of Little River. A majority of the settlers worked for Bob Hamilton. Each
received a peck of salt for a day's work. Just before, and after the Civil War,
salt sold for 4 dollars a bushel. The salt water was taken from springs or
wells, put into large kettles, and set on furnaces where the water was heated.
It later evaporated, leaving the salt to crystallize. The kettles ranged in size
from two to five feet in diameter and were very thick, three or four times as
thick as an ordinary wash pot. In later year, the kettles were used for watering
farm animals and for scalding slain hogs at "hog killing" time on the
farms. The kettle salvaged from the Pauley farm is now on the grounds of the
Hunter-Coulter House Museum in Ashdown, AR.
Most of the people who stayed in the Cerrogordo area
were farmers coming from Georgia, Alabama and other southern states. Others were
from Missouri and Northeastern Arkansas. There were several merchandise stores,
two hotels, a drug store, some churches, a blacksmith shop and later, cotton
gins. Most people lived in the Cerrogordo area & most lived on the Arkansas
side. A few Choctaws lived on the Oklahoma side. The first post office was
established at Cerrogordo in 1872, It was located one and one-half mile from the
Little River in the home of James C. Wright, the first postmaster.