(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
Former Manila resident, John Wayne Malloy, former Caraway resident Rick Huckabee, and Fred Head, all of Poughkeepsie, stepped back in time and made a 137 mile trip across half of Arkansas the old-fashioned way, with mules and covered wagons.
The group left Batesville stock yard at 8 a.m. Monday, April 20, equipped with two covered wagons, supplies and a plan. Their goal was to travel 25 miles a day and make it to the Mississippi River on Saturday.
Perry Gray, also a former Manila resident, and Butch Cater, joined the group at Lake City with their saddle horses to travel along as outriders.
Malloy and Huckabee have been planning the trip since January.
"This is something we have always wanted to do," Malloy said. "We first talked about going across Arkansas but decided to do half this year and the other half next year.
Head said every time he and his wife traveled, he wondered what it was like for the early settlers traveling by wagon train. This trip gave him the opportunity to realize a small part of what it was really like.
The 2004 travelers did have cell phones, roads to follow, and convenience stores along the way if needed. They did try to keep it as authentic as possible by camping and cooking out.
Malloy, Huckabee and Gray have enjoyed a taste of frontier life as they have taken their mules to Colorado to ride in the high country.
"This trip is everything I expected and more," Huckabee said. "We have met a lot of nice people and especially enjoyed watching the little kids as they look at the mules and wagons traveling along."
The group took country roads where they could but occasionally had to take connecting highways. They enjoyed a police escort across the St. Francis bridge at Lake City on Thursday morning.
The group had a few setbacks along with a little rain every day.
Malloy said one of his mules decided to quit on Tuesday and he had to call his wife, Paula, to bring a replacement.
The two year old mule that was brought had never been hooked to a wagon but Malloy said it did not take him long to get used to it.
The 2004 wagons were equipped with tires and even at three miles an hour, managed to have a blow out.
With all of that and the rain, the group arrived in Manila only 30 minutes behind schedule.
Mrs. Malloy said she can remember her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Boone, talking about the 1937 flood that came through this area. The family loaded their belongings on a wagon, gathered their live stock, and moved to the high country of Ravenden just in time.
"I don't know how they knew it was going to flood but they did. I remember saying it took them two weeks to get to Ravenden," Mrs. Malloy said.
They camped one night on the Jackson/Craighead County line and on to Valley View. They arrived on schedule near Lake City on the St. Francis River on Wednesday evening.
Dale Poag, Ernie Malloy and other Manila residents joined the group for a fish fry on Wednesday evening.
Fred Head had some "tall snake stories" to tell about the St. Francis area.
Huckabee said traveling by wagon gave them a chance to look around and actually notice things that you never see speeding by in vehicles. Huckabee works at the Arkansas Sheriff's Youth Camp and enjoys taking his mules to the Ranch for the kids to ride.
The group crossed the St. Francis on Thursday morning and rolled across Highway 77 near the Costner home at approximately 4 p.m. They made camp at the Gray homeplace near Manila.
In spite of the rain, several local friends joined them on Thursday evening, including the Malloy's daughter, Codie, Ernie Malloy and Jeff Costner.
Ernie Malloy (bringing his wagon and team) and Jeff Costner, along with a few more joined them on Friday morning making the trip from Manila to Burdette, and then on to Tomato on the Mississippi River.
They camped Friday night at the Burdette school before making the last miles on Saturday to the Mississippi River.
Malloy said he had no desire to cross the Mississippi River by wagon and he was sure that the mules did not want to either.
"When we get there we are going to unharness and thank the Lord we made the trip," John Malloy said as they left Manila.
A cook-out was held Saturday before the wagons, mules and horses were loaded for a three hour trip home that took six days to make.
They are ready to start planning their next trip to make it across the other half of Arkansas next year.