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The Battle for the Buffalo River

The Story of America’s First National River

Neil Compton

Publication Year: 2010

Under the auspices of the 1938 Flood Control Act, the U.S. Corps of Engineers began to pursue an aggressive dam-building campaign. A grateful public generally lauded their efforts, but when they turned their attention to Arkansas’s Buffalo River, the vocal opposition their proposed projects generated dumbfounded them. Never before had anyone challenged the Corps’s assumption that damming a river was an improvement. Led by Neil Compton, a physician in Bentonville, Arkansas, a group of area conservationists formed the Ozark Society to join the battle for the Buffalo. This book is the account of this decade-long struggle that drew in such political figures as supreme court justice William O. Douglas, Senator J. William Fulbright, and Governor Orval Faubus. The battle finally ended in 1972 with President Richard Nixon’s designation of the Buffalo as the first national river. Drawing on hundreds of personal letters, photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and reminiscences, Compton’s lively book details the trials, gains, setbacks, and ultimate triumph in one of the first major skirmishes between environmentalists and developers.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix

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Author's Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

The struggle to save the Buffalo River in the Arkansas Ozarks brought to the fore manifestations of a worldwide plague generated by the hand and mind of man. If we in our great wisdom cannot develop insight enough to control that affliction, we might well become the principal agents in the...

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Foreword for the Ozark Society Printing

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pp. xiii-xvi

The Battle for the Buffalo River tells a story that ended in March 1972 when Congress authorized the creation of the Buffalo National River, essentially ending the ten-year-long controversy of park versus dam. When thinking about the history described in this book...

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1. The Coming of Concrete

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pp. 3-24

The discovery of how to manufacture construction adhesives was a great step in our advancing technology. Probably, observant pottery workers in ancient times came up with plaster and cement to hold tile, brick, and stone walls and floors in place. After that came concrete, the ideal material...

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2. The Conservation Idea Takes Wing

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pp. 25-44

There have always been those who grieve at the loss of the earth's original endowment, whether from natural calamity or from our own doing. Most primitive tribes had taboos against the killing of certain species and the despoliation of sacred places. More recently, emperors, kings, and...

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3. The Legacy of Lost Valley

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pp. 45-76

At about that same time the charm and beauty of Boxley Valley had drawn the attention of others, and one of them would implant the seeds of a great and impossible idea which would nevertheless one day bear fruit. His name was Glenn Green, also known as Avantus or Bud Green...

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4. The Battle Joined

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pp. 77-104

But that was not all in that fast-breaking year of 1961; the Time magazine for July 14 was devoted to outdoor recreation in America and in it was a beautiful, full-page color photograph of a canoeing party camped under Big Bluff on the upper Buffalo. It was an absolute eye-opener...

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5. Enter the Ozark Society

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pp. 105-124

Along with the W. O. Douglas tirade in the Marshall Mountain Wave of May 3, 1962, there was another quarter heard from.
In the editor's column entitled "Here and There about Town:;' this information was submitted:...

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6. The Dry Buffalo

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pp. 125-144

The first important event of 1963 was the organization of a chapter of the Ozark Society in Little Rock. As has been mentioned, we had met on a get-acquainted . basis in Bill Apple's office, and H. Charles Johnston, Jr., had taken the lead of the Little Rock people. ...

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7. The State Fair Fracas

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pp. 145-152

Something needed to be done without delay to present the better side of the Buffalo River to the public. In that case pictures are better than words. We had looked for a good photographer for our team without success, and it fell my lot to exercise my hit-and-miss talent in that field as best I could. ...

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8. The Marshall Armory—Second Time Around

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pp. 153-186

The contesting factions entered the new year on low key after the state fair standoff. But on January 23 from the BRIA there came a rumble. The Mountain Wave declared that 1964 was to be the year for the Buffalo River dams and that something must be done THIS YEAR! ...

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9. The Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors

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pp. 187-204

Early in January 1965 there came into our hands from the halls of Congress a real hot potato: H.R. 2245.
Close on the heels of that came the announcement that the division engineer in Dallas had approved "Plan D" as presented at the November hearing and had forwarded his decision to the...

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10. A Rumble on the River

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pp. 205-224

In the spring of 1965 our principal activity was not in the nation's capital but in Newton and Searcy and sometimes Marion counties through which the Buffalo flowed. The Ozark Society, the Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club, and occasionally Sierra Club visitors were out every...

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11. Orval Faubus Comes to Bat

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pp. 225-252

Harry Pearson continued to provide the latest news, most of it encouraging, if not sometimes overoptimistic. But some of it would turn out to be factual enough to make the big difference in the long run (Pine Bluff Commercial, June 13, 1965):...

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12. The Election of 1966

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pp. 253-284

With all of that going on, we still had time to explore some of the little-known, but truly fantastic, scenic crannies in those deep ravines along the Buffalo. Walter Lackey, the historian of Newton County, had told me about Indian Creek and its natural bridge back in 1961, and that February...

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13. Action in D.C.—Reaction at Home

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pp. 285-320

By now our prolonged efforts to sell the beauty of the Buffalo River country as a potential national park had begun to bear strange fruit.
Entrepreneurs of every stripe began to see in the area opportunity for a fast dollar. ...

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14. The Book and the Bulletin

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pp. 321-326

Perhaps the most important factor in any effort to correct environmental problems is the matter of information, its processing and distribution. People must know what we are talking about, and our coworkers must be kept in contact. Personal contact and the telephone are important, but...

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15. Adventures on the River and the Hills

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pp. 327-360

For some time we had been aware of a worthy activity being carried on by the Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club. Once a year they would conduct a "clean-up float;' usually on the often-littered Current River. That their can-pickup program was a good thing was without question. ...

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16. The Transmogrification of the BRIA

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pp. 361-378

Following all of these setbacks we had reason to expect that the BRIA would go off somewhere and die, leaving us the job of attending to the birth of the Buffalo National River without further harassment—but not so. ...

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17. The River War Widens

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pp. 379-392

The final weeks of 1968 found the Buffalo River improvers permanently stranded on the rocks and the national park detractors floundering for identity and for a workable program.
Meanwhile, we in the Ozark Society wrestled with day-to-day problems:
Should we raise our dues to four dollars per year? ...

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18. Senate Bill 855—The Beginning of the End

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pp. 393-402

By 1969 we had good reason to expect continued support of national river legislation from Senator McClellan, but it was most reassuring to receive notice of that directly from him:...

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19. Dreamers and Schemers on the Buffalo

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pp. 403-424

Almost anyone would have expected that with the approval of S.B. 855, culminating almost eight years of a widely publicized program to establish national park jurisdiction along the Buffalo, private developers and real-estate dealers would limit their activity along the river, that they would...

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20. Conservation—A Political Chess Game

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pp. 425-450

By 1969 those of us in the Ozark Society had learned something about the game that we were playing. It was environmental chess. If we were going to win, we would have to move our kings, bishops, and pawns with care and forethought. The board for this match of wits was the body politic...

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21. The Jubilee Bus

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pp. 451-468

Through the summer and early fall of 1971 we had waited expectantly the announcement of the crucial hearing on H.R. 8382. Finally, the Pine Bluff Commercial, September 23, 1971, was able to provide us with the welcome news:...

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Epilogue [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 469-470

After ten years of wrenching controversy the Ozark Society in 1972 stood victorious, its goal achieved: the Buffalo River was now a significant part of the nation's park system. But what now could the United States Park Service, Congress, the federal courts, and the citizens of Arkansas...


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pp. 471-481

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NEIL ERNEST COMPTON was born August 1, 1912, at Falling Springs Flats in northwest Arkansas. He graduated from Bentonville (Arkansas) High School in 1931 and from the University of Arkansas in 1935 with degrees in zoology and geology. He received his doctor of medicine...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610750585
E-ISBN-10: 1610750586
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289353
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289352

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 90 photographs
Publication Year: 2010