Blackburn was born in Hickman County, Tennessee in 1811. At age 16, he married
Catherine Brewer, also 16. Leaving Catherine with her parents, young Sylvanus
left in 1832 to seek out new lands opened up to the west for homesteading. Traveling
by wagon and ox team, he stopped in Missouri for a while before moving southward
into Arkansas. The beautiful valley he found along the War Eagle River offered
an abundance of water, timber, wild game, and fertile soil for farming. He homesteaded
160 acres. His first winter was spent cutting and hewing logs for his home.
Other than two Illinois trappers that came through the region he was alone in
Blackburn family soon became quite affluent and influential throughout the Ozarks.
Sylvanus acquired many slaves to help work the farm and his business enterprises.
Sylvanus also became the spiritual and educational leader of the region. He
formed Benton County's first school in the community. War Eagle had
primarily been developed as a result of agricultural enterprises until Peter Van Winkle
came to the region in 1850. Building his home near War Eagle he pioneered the
lumber industry in the region and like Blackburn, became quite influential.
The new settlers that the new lumber industry attracted contributed further
to the growth of the War Eagle community.
the Civil War was declared, all five of the Blackburn boys joined the Confederate
forces. Sylvanus took his wife and older members of the family to Texas to wait
out the war. The Blackburn home was taken over by the Confederates and used
for a time as a general's headquarters. The Blackburn mill was burned by Confederate
forces to prevent the structure from falling into the hands of Union troops.
the spring he returned to Tennessee for his wife. Telling of the beautiful valley
and its fertile soil, he also persuaded his parents and three sisters to also
return to Arkansas with them. Three brothers were to follow later. By 1833,
their two story log home was completed. This home, now a part of the Elliott
home, still stands at War Eagle. Sylvanus and Catherine raised eight children
on their farm, five boys and three girls. A hardy and industrious family, the
Blackburns soon had not only cleared the valley, but also built a thriving trade
center near their home. This new community adopted the name
of War Eagle after the river which ran through the farm. By 1838 a grist
mill, blacksmith shop, carpentry shop, and saw mill had been built.
Austin Cameron Blackburn, another of Sylvanus' sons, married the daughter of
Peter Van Winkle after the war. James rebuilt the grist mill in 1873. The mill
was to remain until it accidentally burned in 1924. James also built a successful
general merchandise store near the mill. Along with the new mill in 1873, the
community got its first U.S. post office. Postal authorities first designated
the town as War Eagle Mills, Arkansas. Later the name was to be changed to one
word spelling, Wareagle. Its final designation was to be War Eagle. The post
office remained until May 5, 1967.
are some 125 Blackburn grave markers in the old War Eagle cemetery One in particular
stands out as the stone reads, "Murdered by a Union Soldier." James, a son of
Sylvanus, had learned that Union troops were taking over the War Eagle region.
Fearing for his wife's safety, he returned to protect her. Entering their home,
Union soldiers found James hiding behind a door and shot him. When they left,
his wife learned that he was only wounded and stopped her loud sobbing. Realizing
the sobbing had stopped suddenly, the soldiers returned, killed James, and tied
his wife in a bed alongside the body of her dead husband.
and Catherine Blackburn
Blackburn died March 13, 1890. Sylvanus gave instructions to his family to dig
her grave wide and not to close it as he was soon to follow. She had been his
true and only love and he could not go on in life without her. Spending the
next five days in meditation and prayer, he then died in his sleep and was buried
alongside his beloved wife who had helped him build his farm and community.
Blackburn home remained within their family for some 80 years and was acquired
by a Dr. Kilgo during the early part of this century. Kilgo recognized the region's
resort and tourist potential. In the early I 920's, Kilgo turned the Blackburn
home into The War Eagle Hotel. The abundance of black bass, crappie, and red
horse found in the War Eagle River soon gained a wide reputation as being one
of America's finest fishing regions. Early spring, when the red horse began
to run, found the hotel full of guests and many campers along the river's bank.
The Sky High Hotel was built by Doss and Nina Frost on the hill west of the
War Eagle valley. While Kilgo's War Eagle Hotel became famous for the fine meals
served there, the Sky High became somewhat famous for its parties, dances and
poker games. With the two hotels, excellent fishing, cool summer nights, and
beauty of the valley, War Eagle soon became a leading Ozark resort area during
the 1920's & '30's era and rivaled other resorts such as Monte Ne, Eureka Springs,
Sulphur Springs, Bella Vista, and other resort boom towns of that age.
and Mrs. Chester Tanner of Oklahoma City were regular visitors to the War Eagle
Hotel and when Dr. Kilgo decided to sell the farm, the Tanners acquired it.
The Tanners expanded their resort by adding eight log cabins. They were located
in the pine grove at the bend in the river just north of the old Blackburn home.
Known as the Pine Grove Camp, the unique charm of the log cabins further contributed
to the region's popularity until the late 1930's.
War Eagle's popularity as a resort declined, the Tanners sold the farm to a
Harold Jepson who farmed the valley for a few years. Blanche Elliott had visited
War Eagle many times as a child and participated in camps held there for farm
women when she was employed as a home demonstration agent. Always loving the
region, she learned of the historic old farm being for sale and encouraged her
husband Lester to look into it. Selling their farm near Fayetteville they moved
to War Eagle Mills farm in 1953. Lester Elliott farmed and raised cattle in
the valley until his death on February 12, 1976.
many other Ozark pioneer settlements that have faded away with time, War Eagle
remains very much alive and a symbol of our Ozark heritage. The unique blend
of legend, history, and natural beauty has given War Eagle a very special charm
that will live on forever.