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Searcy County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansasmarker. As of 2000, the population was 8,261. The county seat is Marshallmarker. The county was formed December 13, 1838, from a portion of Madison Countymarker and named for Richard Searcy, a judge in the Arkansas Territory. The city of Searcymarker, Arkansasmarker, some seventy miles away, shares the name despite having never been part of Searcy County. The county is an alcohol prohibition or dry county.


European Exploration and Settlement

Northwest Arkansas was Osage territory from at least the sixteenth century until 1808, when the tribe negotiated a sale to the United States and moved to Indian Territory. But unnamed Native Americans of the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, Hopewell, and Mississippian cultures had left their remains in north-central Arkansas for more than 10,000 years. By the eighteenth century, European diseases had wiped out almost all Native Americans in the area.

European and American administrators knew of this area only from Native American reports because European population was sparse. On June 11, 1793, Don Joseph Valliere, captain of the Sixth Regiment of Louisiana under the Spanish government, received a land grant from Baron de Carondelet, Governor General of the Spanish Province of Louisiana and Florida, extending about twenty miles on each side of the White River to its source beginning at the mouth of the Buffalo and the Big North Fork. But Spanish officials never visited the land, and Valliere did not settle it. This grant is the first mention of the area in European-American archives.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood

The United States obtained title to the land by the Louisiana Purchase. In 1806, John B. Treat of the Arkansas Trading House at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) reported that, according to Indian information, the source of the Buffalo was in the neighborhood of other springs flowing into the Arkansas. There was little, if any, American presence when several thousand acres, including all of future Searcy County, were granted to the Western Cherokee between 1808 and 1817. In addition to the Cherokee came Shawnee and Delaware families, all of whom were in Searcy County.

Although the United States bought the north Arkansas grant of the Western Cherokee in 1828, some Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware remained for about seven more years. They introduced selected white families to the area and were noted by settlers as late as 1836. Robert Adams was taken to Bear Creek by Shawnee Peter Cornstalk, according to family tradition, and became the first permanent white settler in Searcy County. Adams was the first cousin of Mary Adams, reported by early settler John Tabor and quoted by Mountain Echo (Yellville) editor William R. Jones to have married Cornstalk. Cornstalk is identified by William B. Flippin, early Marion County settler, as a Shawnee, a cousin of Tecumseh, living below the mouth of the Buffalo River on White River. In 1829, when early government surveyors ran a line along the southern boundary of township 14 North, they identified a Shawnee village near where Adams settled.

By 1835, enough people had settled in north-central Arkansas to petition for a separate county. On November 5, 1835, the legislature established Searcy County from western Izard County. This original Searcy County now comprises Marion, Searcy, and parts of Boone, Baxter, and Stone counties. The county was named for Richard Searcy (1792–1832), prominent civil servant, major landowner, and circuit court judge. In September 1836, the first Searcy County’s name was changed to Marion in honor of Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, and in 1838, Yellville was established as the regional post office of Marion County.

The southern half of Marion County had been settled fairly heavily. State Senator Charles R. Saunders lived on Bear Creek from before 1834. More families arrived from 1835 to 1838, prompting the legislature on December 13, 1838, to create a new Searcy County from the southern part of Marion County. The act made the residence of James Eagan the temporary county seat and provided for election of commissioners to locate a seat of justice. The commissioners chose a place on Bear Creek as the county seat and named it Lebanon; a post office was established there on March 7, 1840. Between 1840 and 1850, post offices were opened in Wiley’s Cove, Locust Grove, and Point Peter.

In the decade before the Civil War, the county seat was moved from Lebanon to its present location on a bench of Devil’s Backbone Mountain and named Burrowsville for Napoleon Bonaparte Burrow, a slave-owning secessionist politician. In the year leading to Arkansas’s secession from the United States, Searcy County men joined those of surrounding counties to oppose secession. At the Second Arkansas Secession Convention on May 6, 1861, Searcy County’s representative, John Campbell, was one of five who voted against secession, and he was the last of four to allow his vote to be changed to favor it.

Civil War through the Gilded Age

Searcy County provided two companies for the Confederacy by October 1861. The Unionists formed a secret organization, the Peace Society, to oppose Confederate military service and for mutual support. The Peace Society existed in several counties in north-central Arkansas. More Peace Society members are identified in Searcy County than in any other county. The organization was betrayed on November 17, 1861, in Van Buren County by John Holmes, and the discovery of the society spread rapidly. Investigations of the Peace Society first in Fulton County, then in Izard County, led to its discovery on the (1861) Izard-Searcy county line. When it was discovered in Searcy County on November 20, Colonel Samuel Leslie called out the Searcy County militia. The militia investigated and arrested more than 100 men, and, in early December, marched eighty-seven of them in chains to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Forced into the Confederate army, they were sent to Bowling Green, Kentucky. Another contingent from north of the Buffalo was marched to Little Rock and forced into the same Confederate regiment, the Eighteenth Arkansas Infantry, under Colonel John Sappington Marmaduke. Many more men hid in the woods until they were caught or killed or could make their way to Union lines.

Attrition was high for Peace Society men forced into Confederate service due to disease, desertion, and injuries. When they could, they returned to Searcy County and hid until they could escape to Union lines. Other Confederate companies were raised in Searcy County, most under the threat of conscription. As they could, these men who were forced into Confederate service deserted or were discharged and went to Missouri to join Union regiments or later to Lewisburg (Conway County) to join the Federal Third Arkansas Cavalry. Searcy County Confederates deserted en masse to return home, some to join guerrilla captains but more to join the Union army. Eventually, six Union companies were composed mostly of Searcy County men, and many other Searcy County men served in clusters in other Union companies.

Neither North nor South felt it was worthwhile to occupy and defend the area, even though the Confederates operated a niter mining operation there until early 1864. This left the area open to guerrillas, outlaws, and raids. Emigration of families to the north or to Lewisburg was heavy, and emigration for men was virtually mandatory, because men were either conscripted or killed on sight if suspected of belonging to the other side. Jayhawking and military foraging devastated the county.

After the war, Union veterans took control of the county, and they and their descendants have held Searcy County for the Republican Party ever since. By 1870, the county was attracting families from the defeated Southern states. In addition to new homesteads, a lead and zinc mining boom beginning in the mid-1890s brought money and people to St. Joe and north Searcy County.

Early Twentieth Century through Modern Era

The completion of the St. Louis and North Arkansas to Leslie in 1903 opened the area to agriculture, mining, and timber exporting. Wiley’s Cove Township was the home of several timber factories using white oak to make whiskey barrels, wagon hubs, and other products. After World War I, the price of lead and zinc dropped, the railroad suffered labor problems that closed it for several months, and the Eighteenth Amendment erased the market for whiskey barrels. The decline of the county’s population began.

The Depression stopped new investments in Searcy County, but the national economic situation did not lure families to leave. The 1930s was a time of stagnation and poverty. Federal assistance programs were adopted with suspicion by some, but Home Demonstration Club projects such as mattress-making and tomato-canning were welcomed, as was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for young men. The spring 1941 Searcy County Folk Festival on the banks of the Buffalo River, sponsored by the Agricultural Extension Service, was a roaring success. It gained favorable publicity from the Kansas City Star to Little Rock newspapers, most articles written by retired newspaperman Will Rice, who lived near St. Joe (Searcy County). John Paul Rodman, a retired grocer and Presbyterian layman, came to Searcy County about 1937 to spend his last days there but was moved by the plight of the local population to establish Presbyterian churches, with the help of his home church in Corpus Christi, Texas, and to provide economic relief, eventually establishing Rodman’s Chapel and subsidiary missions in Searcy County.

World War II took men away to war. Searcy County’s war casualties began with Webster Paul West, a sailor on board the USS Arizona killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Employment in the defense industry at Camden (Ouachita County) and Carlisle (Lonoke County) and in California drew families away from Searcy County, and of course most eligible men were in military service. No major defense industry appeared in Searcy County, but there were small wood-related contractors.

Concern for the morale of Searcy County servicemen caused William R. Wenrick, publisher of the Marshall Mountain Wave, Searcy County’s only newspaper at the time, not to publish information about the servicemen’s families that would worry the servicemen. Ealidia Jones was also interested in servicemen’s welfare. The Filipina wife of Spanish-American War veteran John J. Jones made and sold candy, sandwiches, and other foods on the square in Marshall, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross in support of servicemen.

After World War II, veterans tried to restart the economy. Marshall got a shirt factory and a library. Strawberry-growing in eastern Searcy County helped the economy until the mid-1960s when scarcity of pickers made it no longer profitable. Veterans tried to resurrect the pre-World War II proposal for dams on the Buffalo River, hoping it would boost the economy. They quickly clashed with canoe clubs, which mobilized opposition throughout Arkansas and adjoining states to stop the dams and to take the Buffalo and adjoining property by eminent domain, or under threat of eminent domain, and turn it into a national park. Some rural water districts in Searcy County that rely on wells found that their water contained such high quantities of eroding natural deposits of radium 226 and 228 that it was carcinogenic. However, environmental controls on the Buffalo River watershed prevented the building of a dam on the headwaters of tributary Bear Creek that would have provided safe water to rural water districts, and lawsuit threats over possible environmental degradation have scared off poultry-processing plants. There is a current proposal however to bring water to Searcy County from Bull Shoals Lake, which if completed in the next 5–6 years will benefit a large part of North Central Arkansas, including Searcy County.

Cattle-farming, timber-cutting, wood products, and construction trades have provided most of the county’s income since the late 1970s. The county is also known for its beautiful native stone, and collection and sale of this natural material has also provided income for county residents. The Buffalo National River provides jobs and income through canoe rentals, cabins, and support services.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 669 square miles (1,731 km²), of which, 667 square miles (1,728 km²) of it is land and 1 square miles (4 km²) of it (0.20%) is water.

Major highways

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Age pyramid Searcy County
As of the census of 2000, there were 8,261 people, 3,523 households, and 2,466 families residing in the county. The population density was 12 people per square mile (5/km²). There were 4,292 housing units at an average density of 6 per square mile (2/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.26% White, 0.04% Black or African American, 0.75% Native American, 0.15% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.45% from other races, and 1.34% from two or more races. 1.04% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 3,523 households out of which 27.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.50% were married couples living together, 7.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.00% were non-families. 28.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.33 and the average family size was 2.83.

In the county the population was spread out with 22.70% under the age of 18, 6.90% from 18 to 24, 24.50% from 25 to 44, 26.70% from 45 to 64, and 19.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 98.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.80 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $21,397, and the median income for a family was $27,580. Males had a median income of $21,768 versus $16,276 for females. The per capita income for the county was $12,536. About 17.80% of families and 23.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.00% of those under age 18 and 26.60% of those age 65 or over.

Searcy County is the home of the Qumran Bet Community, one of only a few Karaite Jewish communities outside Israelmarker.

Government and Politics

Searcy is among the northwestern Arkansas counties that have been traditionally Republican in political leanings. In the last thirteen Presidential elections Jimmy Carter was the only Democrat to carry the county. It was one of the only counties in Arkansas to be won by Alf Landon. In the 1992 election George H. W. Bush won by the second highest margin in the state and the Republican nominee has received over 60% in each of the last three Presidential elections.

This is perhaps somewhat less true on a local level. The county is in Arkansas's 1st congressional district, which has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+8 and is represented by Democrat Robert Marion Berry. In the Arkansas House of Representatives they are represented by Republican Roy Ragland.The state senator, Randy Laverty, is of the Democratic Party. Although in gubernatorial races the county tends to favor Republicans. It is the only county in Arkansas where Republican Sheffield Nelson won in both 1990 and 1994.

Cities and towns


  1. Based on 2000 census data
  3. David Leip's Election Atlas (Electoral Maps for Arkansas by year)
  4. Geographie Electorale
  5. The New York Times electoral map (Zoom in on Arkansas)
  6. Arkansas House page
  7. Arkansas Senate site
  8. David Leip's Election Atlas (Gubernatorial electoral Maps for Arkansas by year)

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