The Ozarks are among the oldest mountain ranges on the planet and primitive man arrived here more than 7,500 years ago to inhabit the bluff shelters and caves so numerous to this area and built wattle and daub houses along the banks of the many streams in what is now known as Newton County.
Wild game such as deer, elk, buffalo, bear and wild turkey abounded in the near subtropical summer and mild winter climate, providing these people ample food and clothing and a variety of fruits and nuts for their taking. Bones of extinct animals such as the Columbian Mammoth and Peccary have been found in the county but no evidence, to date, has indicated direct contact with the early people living here.
Agriculture appeared later and the cultivation of corn became common throughout the area and the people relied less heavily on hunting and gathering until they subsisted almost entirely on this sweet product of the fields. Corn was ground into meal using sandstone metates, or grinding bowls, and the sand got into the meal and wore away the Indian's teeth, causing severe tooth loss at an early age. Midden deposits in the shelters and caves yield corn cobs, projectile points, bones of food animals and the burials themselves. Some caves have deposits as deep as seventeen feet, indicating thousands of years of occupation.
The Indian population was always sparse in this area with never more than one or two families living in any one place. No large villages are found and little or no evidence is noted of warfare. These were simple people living a subsistence life.
Hernando DeSoto was the first European to enter Arkansas, doing so in June of 1541. Although he never saw the Ozarks, he inquired of the Tunica Indians (whom he met at a village near the city of Parkin) and was told by them that the area to the north and west was sparsely populated by a nomadic people and that it was a cold climate.
The Ozark's Indians had, for the most part, abandoned this area long before the Europeans arrived due to a long period of drought that existed around the year 1200. This dry period may have lasted for over one hundred years. Remnants of clothing found in the top layers of the dry bluff shelters in Newton and surrounding counties are made from Yucca fibers, a desert dwelling plant. A dry climate would indicate difficulty in growing corn and the migration of wild animals to other areas. The people simply moved away, seeking a better life, leaving their abandoned homes for modern man to explore and ponder centuries later.
It is truly amazing how the Ozark Mountains were formed and the geological studies done in Newton County have shown that this area was dominated by ancient seas, prehistoric upheavals, and past climates. The rocks were formed from sediment deposited on the bottom and along the shoreline of ancient oceans. The structure is the result of geologic forces that uplifted the region out of the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago. More recent weathering and erosion of these rocks sculpted the shape and form of the present surface.
The oldest rocks are Ordovician age (505 to 438 million years ago). They are found in the bluffs, streambeds and flood plains of the major streams in the northern part of the county. These rocks represent lagoons, barrier islands, beaches and shallow ocean environments. The Mississippian Period (360 to 320 million years ago) saw a landscape that was filled with a rich dry-land ecosystem of plants and animals. These rocks represent continental shelf and near shore marine environments. Rocks of the Pennsylvanian Period (320 to 286 million years ago) cap the mountains of the county. They are the result of sediments deposited by ancient deltas and river systems along the margin of a sea. After that, for several million years, a continental fragment collided with the ancestral North America. This collision pushed up the Ouachita Mountains to the south and warped the Ozarks out of the ocean for the last time.
Today the Ozarks Mountains in Newton County are a wonderland of beautiful sites to see, exciting things to do, and an authentic experience of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage that one will cherish forever.
|Excerpts from Newton County Action Team Pathways|