This week’s tour leads readers through Rives Cabin behind the County museum

This week we’ve taken our tour to the outbuildings of the museum.

We’ll begin with the larger of the two log cabins located directly behind the museum. This cabin is called the Rives cabin. The one-room structure was originally built by a Virginian named Peter Rives on the banks of Bayou Bartholomew near Winchester in the winter of 1818-1819.    

The cabin is made of skillfully notched and fitted cypress logs. These were “hand hewn” and you can see the ax marks. The cracks have been patched many times. When you come to see it, look at the notching of the logs. Notice the way they first patched the cracks with various pieces of wood. We had it shingled with wooden slats a few years ago. Until then we had a frequent guest, or guests. Raccoons!

As you stand at the door of the cabin, you first notice the huge Polar Matchless lock on the door. Although it is not functioning now, it would have been a tremendous barrier to unwanted guests in its day. I imagine the door would have given before that padlock would. It says on the lock that it has 8 levers. I’m sure it was top of the line in its day, but it would be a bit burdensome now. The chain connected to it appears to be a heavy log chain.

Peter Rives came to Arkansas as a surveyor for the United States government after the Louisiana Purchase. History reveals that the winter was a cold one, but Rives had dual reasons for building the cabin. His intentions were to also buy the rich fertile Delta land in the area from the government when it became available to return and farm there. He did purchase the land, but unfortunately his health failed and he never came back to live there.  

Mr. Rives was the stepfather of Mary Taylor. He gave or sold his land in Arkansas to Mary and her young husband, John. The Taylors moved here from Kentucky in 1843 and built a home on the property that became known as Hollywood Plantation because of the prolific stand of holly trees along the bayou there. They may have lived in the cabin while they were building their home. (That house still stands at the end of Plantation Road near Winchester.) These are the same Taylors who owned the magnificent China and many other pieces that the museum displays. Maybe Mr. Rives’ stories of the fertile soil and game in the area helped inspire the Taylors to come here.

When you enter the cabin today, it is immediately evident that mostly farm implements and tools are displayed there. Turning to your left, you first notice an old scythe that was used in harvesting hay. We also have several scales for weighing displayed. I remember seeing my grandparents weighing cotton on similar ones. We have several branding irons used to mark livestock and several sets of ox yokes too.  

You’ll also see three hay rakes with cradles and some sets of hames used when hooking a team of horses or mules to a plow.   

On the floor sit two old pea shellers; the older one dates back to 1889. You can also see most of a “still” like the ones used to make “moonshine”.  Beside it are two 5-gallon rum bottles in woven “baskets” like some wine bottles today.  

Looking along the back wall you will notice two large iron rings. These were used to tie up boats on the Saline in its freighting days. There are more sickles and a scythe for cutting wheat or, more probably, hay. Then there is a pick head, a railroad spike maker and a mattock. We have several examples of the two- man crosscut saws like the ones used in the forestry meets at UAM.  There is also a tubular metal well bucket and possum and mole traps. 

The table, or workbench, across the back holds many shoe cobblers’ tools, a large file and a Missouri-Pacific railroad “torch”. This is interesting and is not your swinging lantern from the movies. We have a large platform weight scale with a “cradle” like a baby scale and a smaller, plainer scale.

You can see woodworking tools, such as a wooden plane that is over 100 years old, wooden mallets and two plane levels. One appears quite primitive, while the other is more sophisticated.

You can see a bottle capper and a tobacco transplanter too. (Someone enjoyed his/her habits.)

The old shelf itself is interesting because the wood fibers seem to be breaking down and flaking away. Could this deterioration be due to termites or time? It is believed the shelf is original to the cabin.

Under the shelf sits an anvil, a plow and some plow points. There is also a section of a waterline built by the Crossett Timber Company in 1936. It is at least 16 inches in diameter and was made from Douglas fir long before we had PVC pipe.

There is also a huge pressure canner manufactured by the Dixie Canner Company. I am told these were provided and used as “community canners” during the Great Depression and subsequent Dust Bowl by the Arkansas Emergency Relief Commission. People could come together and process homegrown food on the grounds of the courthouse to feed their families using a weed fire and the canner. The canner would hold about 36 quarts. I believe it would take several strong ladies to lift this canner.

If you look up, you can see some tobacco leaves hanging as if left to dry.  They’ve been there several years so they are, no doubt, dry.

Along the north wall hangs a wide variety of tools. First we see a bow saw and a large pair of log tongs, along with other logging equipment, such as a broad axe, a flat axe, several axe heads, another old level and some planes. 

On the left side there is a mounted array of an old tool collection. We see a hammerhead and an old mallet that resembles a meat tenderizer today. There are auger bits, froes, wire clippers, horse rasps, a spoke shaver, a sickle and a dinner triangle rung to assemble the family or workers to a meal.

We also espy a molten metal ladle used for melting lead for bullet molds or used for making plumbing repairs. We have several blacksmith tools and tongs, a horse rasp, awls and a hatchet.    

On the right side is a display of more tools, most of which deal with carpentry. There is a wooden square, a tri-square, a level, an ironworker’s tool, an adz, an auger, and various styles of planes. There is also a tool allegedly used to keep a cow from kicking over the bucket as she was milked, a gate lock chain and a big wrench. We also display a homemade fishing gig, a corn planter and a wooden store rake.

Facing the door, look to your left and you’ll see a collection of different kinds of barbed wire. (Yes, there is more than one pattern to the barbs.) We have a nail display with nails taken from an 1819 log cabin, the old 1870 courthouse and the 1880 railroad depot. There is also an 1819 handmade hinge. I wonder if the nails and hinge from 1819 came from this same Rives cabin. We also have hinges from the former bank at Arkansas Post near Gillett. This bank was demolished by Union troops during an 1863 skirmish there.   

On the table you can also see a small round keg and some “plugs” that were used as nails in the old McCloy house (cabin) on North Main Street (now long gone). 

In the center of the room sits an old table and a cane bottom chair. On the table is a wad (plug) of tobacco that is reportedly over 100 years old. They say it still has a faint tobacco odor. I didn’t want to try it. There is also a 4-gallon jug and other smaller ones.

You will see two examples of different kinds of baskets sitting on the cabin floor. One basket is a flat roundish one like a laundry basket; the other is more upright.

Now we have gone around the interior of the cabin and have returned to the only door in the cabin. This concludes our visit inside the old Rives cabin. I hope you have enjoyed it and had your interest piqued in the process. 

Come and visit the old Rives cabin at the museum!      

The Advance-Monticellonian

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Monticello, AR 71657

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Monticello, AR 71655

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