John Kirkbride Potts (1803–1879)
John Kirkbride Potts laid the groundwork for the founding of the town of Pottsville (Pope County). He patented 160 acres of land between Crow Mountain and the Arkansas River and later enlarged his holdings to 650 acres. His house, which served as a post office and railroad rest stop, was entered in the National Register of Historic Places on June 22, 1970, and is now a museum.
John Potts was born in Pennsylvania on March 24, 1803, to Joshua Potts and Mary (Bunting) Potts. He had five siblings. The family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey in 1812.
At age seventeen, Potts went west, traveling by wagon with two slave families to Wayne County, Missouri, where he met William Logan and Robert A. Logan. They traveled to and settled in an area in the Arkansas River bottom, south of Mount Magazine. When the 1828 federal treaty removed the Cherokee and white settlers, both groups were granted preemptive privileges entailing safe passage and land patents. Potts and the Logans moved southeast across the Arkansas River to Galla Rock (Pope County), a river port. Potts had served as an agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the removal of Cherokee and Choctaw to the Cherokee Nation.
Potts married Robert Logan’s daughter Pamelia on February 10, 1829. The couple eventually had eleven children, nine living to adulthood.
In 1828, Potts had exercised his preemptive privilege from being removed by using his land patents to buy from the government, making it possible for him to buy his first 160 acres for twenty-five cents an acre. A land patent is nothing more than a document attesting to the right of ownership to a tract of land granted by a state or the federal government to an individual or company. Through various additional patents, he enlarged his land holdings to 650 acres. He chose a high spot at the foot of Crow Mountain near Galla Creek and built a two-level log house for his growing family and lived there for twenty-five years.
After hearing news of the gold rush, Potts and others in the community went to California in 1849. He failed to strike gold but found that the miners would pay well for cattle. He made at least two cattle drives in 1850, staying long enough to graze and fatten the cattle and eventually profiting enough to return to Arkansas and build a much grander home on a hill south of the family’s first log house.
The house’s completion in 1858 coincided with John Butterfield’s organization of the Overland Mail Company and his 1857 procurement of a contract to carry mail from St. Louis and Memphis to Fort Smith (Sebastian County), then west to San Francisco. The route from Memphis went by Potts’s new home, which became a comfortable rest stop. Because of its two and a half stories, many fireplaces, and large detached kitchens, many prominent people stopped at the house for social events or while traveling.
The house became known as Potts Station and was a center for shipping and mail. Potts was appointed postmaster by the president of the United States. Mail was handled in the living room using a desk that Potts had designed and built. The house became a hotel, called Potts Inn, after the stagecoach stopped; however, it was still widely known as Potts Station until the town that grew up around it became Pottsville. The Potts family sold it to the Pope County Historical Foundation in 1970, and it is now a museum for the Pope County Historical Association. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Having never fully recovered from the death of his wife in August 1878, Potts died on November 24, 1879, in Potts Station from a severe form of dyspepsia, and he was buried in the Potts Cemetery near the center of the town.
For additional information:
Dunn, Mace A. “A History of Pottsville, Arkansas.” MA thesis, University of Central Arkansas, 1962.
“Kirkbride Potts Founded Pottsville.” Pottsville Centennial, a supplement to The Atkins Chronicle. April 30, 1997, p. 4C.
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