Buck Hollow

In my teenage years during the late 1960s, a favorite swimming hole was to be found on the Jacks Fork River at the State Highway 17 Bridge. That’s what we called it, “The Seventeen Bridge,” or “Cardinal Acres.” I also heard it called “Rat Cliff,” or at least that’s what I thought my buddy Fred Clift was saying, bringing mental visions of little rodents scurrying around the bluff - totally incongruous to the stunning gem in the crown of the Ozarks I was seeing. I was kind of offended when the National Scenic Riverways put up signage and printed float maps calling the place Buck Hollow, but that’s the oldest name for it. 
 
Buck Hollow Ford, used before the Civil War and identified on maps in the 1880s, was the best location for crossing the Upper Jacks Fork between the developing towns of Mountain View and Summersville. It was part of the north-south transportation route for settlers and traders. The railroad from Willow Springs brought supplies and provided a market for farm products, boosting Mountain View and Summersville's growth and prosperity as the population boomed from jobs in the timber industry. Freighters pulled heavy wagons with oxen or mules to and from the railroad in Mountain View.
 
The Buck Hollow Ford was a popular meeting place in good weather and seems to have been used in all weathers into modern times as a baptizing hole. I can only imagine what a test of faith it was to step into that spring-fed Jacks Fork water, walk out waist-deep, and wait your turn to be dunked! 
 
When the river came up, communication, supplies, and the mail stopped. In dry times, cattle were driven to the river. It was part of the lifeblood of the community. The road remained busy even without a bridge and Buck Hollow Ford’s rocky bottom could be crossed reliably most of the year. The Mountain View Standard wrote on March 21, 1913, under the heading “Baptists Baptise Sunday” (their spelling of baptize), “Sunday Reverends Crane and Gulley administered the rites of baptism of several candidates, at the Buck Hollow Ford, on Jack’s Fork. Owing to the threatening weather that morning, few thought there would be any baptizing, and there was a smaller crowd present than usual.” No kidding, but three took the plunge.
 
The next column from the Arroll correspondent for the Mountain View Standard reported, “another light snow Saturday (the day before the baptisms) and, “several men attended the bridge meeting at the Buck Hollow Ford Thursday of last week.” 
 
The project didn’t take long. By June 1913, the Texas County Court in Houston opened five bids and picked the lowest, the Kansas City Bridge Company, to build a 280-foot bridge contracted for $4,787. The next day the winning contractor and the county highway engineer drove to Buck Hollow and found the span was seventeen feet longer than agreed in the contract. A group interested in a bridge at the Harlow Crossing upriver tried to get an injunction against the county court (today’s county commission) but was blocked by the Prosecuting Attorney. 
 
In June, it was reported, “Several miles of this proposed new road is in Shannon County, and we understand citizens of that county are contributing liberally toward making a good road from the creek (Jack’s Fork) to Summersville. Summersville has also contributed liberally toward this road.” On the other side of the bridge, it was reported, “A paper was circulated in Howell County and several hundred dollars were subscribed to build a good road from Mountain View to the bridge. Considerable of this amount was subscribed by our own townspeople, many of whom pledged the amount for a good road to either ford, according to where the bridge is erected.”
 
The Mountain View Standard now frequently reported on the new bridge five miles north of town. Aided by the improved roads being built, sportsmen in the local area and eventually all over the country took advantage of the railroad and staged multiple-day float trips starting on the Jack’s Fork, down the Current River to Van Buren. They wrote in June 1915, “Tuesday afternoon Frank McGrath, T.E. Padgett, Roy Henry, Lester Landrum, Joe Starkey and William Arthur returned from their float down Jack’s Fork and Current River, finishing their trip to Van Buren and returning on the train.”
 
On their return, the men reported catching “all the fish they could eat and brought thirty pounds home. Pet Padgett landed the largest bass, a five-pounder, and Will Arthur got so excited he caught two good bass at one time. The boys say they would have had a jolly time if Joe Starkey had not had the blues so bad; however, he looked pretty red when he got off the train.” (A nice one hundred-and-ten-year-old inside joke for you there.) “McGrath, as usual, succeeded in getting overboard, but this time was generous enough to take boat and all over with him. They finally succeeded in getting everything out except a fine diamond ring, a $5 pair of shoes, a tent fly, and a bundle of bedding, all belonging to Mr. Starkey.”
 
“Somebody thought to take a gallon of lubricating oil for Arthur’s reel, and consequently were able to hear themselves think.” The travelogue ends with the statement, “The float started at Buck Hollow Monday of last week and ended at Van Buren, on Current River, Monday of this week.” Not a Ward Dorrance kind of description, but it sounds like a fun trip.
 
After a week on the river, the men either loaded their boats in a railroad car or took them apart before loading and returning to Mountain View. Some guys took sawn lumber and built their johnboats on the spot. Fishing in 1913 was still spectacular on the Jack’s Fork, and Buck Hollow gained a reputation as the first year-round reliable boat launch that far upstream. I’ve read dozens of fishing reports on this stretch of water, and the amount of fish being extracted was incredible, but could not last forever. Buck Hollow was a nice place to look at the water when it was high or just take the family for a picnic.
 
Buck Hollow also made the news in the form of some rather spectacular accidents, like the one reported by the Mountain View Standard on February 12, 1915 “Last week Bill Smith, who was freighting for Charles & Company of Summersville, was crossing the Buck Hollow Bridge, his lead team of mules became frightened at the mail hack coming on to the other end of the bridge, and whirled toward the wagon.” I’ll spare you the details included in the article, but one of the freighter's horses had to be put down, a reminder that much of the traffic on the road was non-motorized, but that was changing. The old bridge was hard on automobiles too. 
 
In 1920, Charles Witbeck and his wife put Buck Hollow on the map, establishing a hunting and fishing resort named, “Camp Witbeck.” A native Pennsylvanian, Mr. Witbeck operated a large hunting and fishing camp in the Adirondacks for years. He advertised extensively in our local and regional newspapers, and in Kansas City and St. Louis.  The camp lasted twenty years, even through the Depression, only ceasing operation when Witbeck died of heart disease, in 1940, aged seventy. He is buried in the Mountain View City Cemetery.
 
In August 1922 the West Plains Semi-Weekly Quill reported, “Camp Witbeck, four and one-half miles north of Mountain View on Jack’s Fork River, which is fast becoming one of the most popular playgrounds of the southern Ozarks, is entertaining an unusually large number of visitors this summer. Besides the many people who go from West Plains and other neighboring towns to enjoy the rest and the delightful fishing, swimming, and boating attractions offered, there are many visitors from distant cities, and the cabins and tents have been full throughout the season.”
 
Camp Witbeck's stunning bluff and clear blue water beckoned passersby to come over and jump! For the little ones, it was a rite of passage to be allowed to swim or float out, climb the bluff, and do a belly flop. Watch for snakes; they like the place, too. I like to think it wasn’t much different from today; the early photographs reveal its timelessness.
 
On October 10, 1928, the Mountain View Standard announced the organization of an outing club to be located near Buck Hollow. Their story reads, “This week the Craig 160 acre farm through which Jack’s Fork runs for about three-fourths of a mile below Radcliff ford, also the northeast 40 acres of the old Radcliff (or Ross) farm, through which Jack’s Fork runs for about one-fourth mile and which includes part of the road and the ford, were purchased by a number of Mountain View business and professional men. The object of this purchase is to organize and incorporate, build a good road to the Radcliff Ford, clear up some of the land on this side of the river, and build a community or clubhouse and a number of individual bungalows, making a convenient and delightful place for fishing and recreating, giving control of about a mile of the best fishing water on Jack’s Fork. It is also the closest ford to Mountain View.”
 
The Mountain View Standard of April 5, 1929,  gave a progress report: “Quite a few of the members and friends of the club who recently purchased a large tract of land at the Radcliff Ford have been donating work on the road down to the creek and already accomplished some splendid results.” So, from 1929 onward, there were two camps at Buck Hollow: Camp Witbeck and Radcliff, pronounced locally “Rat-liff,” and by me “Rat Cliff.” 
 
In September 1929, the Rural Letter Carriers of Howell, Texas, and Wright counties held their annual picnic and business conference at Camp Witbeck.  For twenty summers area families escaped to soak in the cool waters of Jacks Fork in Buck Hollow at Camp Witbeck. Running a tourist camp had its challenges, like the time Mrs. Witbeck shot an auctioneer from Mountain View because he and her husband were arguing and she thought he was threatening him. The auctioneer later sued the Witbeck’s for ten thousand dollars.
 
Following Charles’ death in 1940, his wife sold the Witbeck Camp to the Beckman family in 1941, who renamed it Cardinal Acres. The camp changed hands several times. Dr. Charles R. Hawker owned it until 1948, when they sold it to Miss Jo Eickhoff, and Joe Schmitt, her cousin, of Chicago, Illinois. In 1950, Cardinal Acres was featured in an article in Life Magazine, creating an upsurge in business. In the October 1950 Mountain View Standard, Jo Eickhoff ran an ad announcing the sale of Cardinal Acres, saying that she would not be responsible for any debts. Ads ran in the Mountain View paper under the names of various owners or managers of the property, and in time the camp became more private, with cabins individually owned or rented months in advance. Vernon and Aldena Campbell were the last private owners, selling Buck Hollow and 600 acres to the Ozark Scenic Riverways for $83,000 in 1969.
 
Many in Howell County have fond memories of childhood and a family vacation in the Witbeck, Cardinal Acres, or Ratcliff cabins. 
 
From the 1970s onward, my wife’s family made an annual pilgrimage to Buck Hollow on the Fourth of July for decades. It was a nice pool of water with a shallow bank leading out to a nice bluff. We just sat in lawn chairs or soaked in the water for a day. I was there for almost fifty of them. Though nowadays the Ozark Scenic Riverways discourages it, I’ve seen hundreds jump off Buck Hollow Bluff and suspect it will continue after we are long gone.
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