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History of Toad Suck revived

Posted: April 26, 2014 - 5:53pm

It’s been said with a modicum of truth that a horrified schoolteacher dismissed one of her students when he came to class wearing a shirt that read “Toad Suck.”

The words obviously conjured up all sorts of images in the teachers’ mind. And that’s the way it is with Toad Suck — amusing, curious and bewildering. For the Johnnys come lately, the news of the coming of the remarkable and acclaimed festival bespeaks of good times ahead.

Toad Suck Daze has carved a niche in the psyche of the Conway community, if not its environs, and bids fair again to dish up its happy and delicious fare — and fun — to hordes of visitors.

The magic dates are May 3-5, a weekend that stands out as the pinnacle of the town’s proclivity for amusement and entertainment. And it gets better with each passing year.

And it’s handle continues to titillate at every turn,. At this juncture in time, Toad Suck Daze is appraised as one of the top-drawer entertainment spectacles in the mid-south.

The legend of the Toad Suck ferry is mired in folktales and anecdotes revealing that the history of the river crossing spans more than 250 years. It all started in days of yore when travelers making their way across the Arkansas River at the Perry County line in skiffs and other conveyances were somewhat aghast at the sight of a stout Indian boatman and his “toad suck” appearance.

The rotund fellow gave every indication that his propensity to drink alcoholic beverages to excess made him resemble a “fat toad” which sucked booze from a bottle.

“He looks like a fat toad suck” one traveler was quoted as saying, and the remark was lasting. And the Indian fellow probably met that description, languishing in front of a tavern smoking his long slender pipe and showing off his roly-poly torso. Otherwise he was occupied in plying watercraft that carried travelers across the river.

According to the late Guy Murphy, a former director of the Conway Chamber of Commerce, history speaks of the taverns what were located at most boat landings and Toad Suck was no exception, This one was located on the west side of the river in Perry County. The nondescript place was operated by two German brothers named Kirspol who accommodated river travelers by offering copious libations that helped visitors “slack” their thirst.

The heavy imbibing at the tavern led a visitor to intone: “Those fellows sucked at the bottle until they swelled up like toads.”

Another version of the Toad Suck story was offered by by J. W. Bowen, farmer and landowner who often witnessed the actions of the tavern habitués. He once proclaimed: “Boys that place must be a regular toadsuck.”

Bowen defined “toadsuck” as a habit of toads that obviously liked to suck on things.

The earliest date documented for the river crossing is 1820. This was only one year after the establishment of Arkansas as a territory, a sparsely settled land at that time. (1820 census, 4, 276)

There were various crossings up an down the river at different times, mostly dictated by the condition and stage of the river. At Cadron, the river was deep and swift whereas farther down stream below the bluff the river tended to spread out and was shallower and more suitable as a river crossing.

For many years, Toad Suck Ferry transported people, animals and various types of vehicles across the river. During the days when the ferry was powered by diesel, prior to the construction of the lock and dam, the time of the ferry crossing varied from five to seven minutes depending on how “full” the river was. One description of the Arkansas River before the construction of the navigation system was comically said to be “six inches deep and a half mile wide.

The fare charged for crossing the river fluctuated with economic times. One early record shows the toll charge for a man on foot was twenty-five cents, on horseback, fifty cents, a man with a horse and buggy, a dollar.

Time took its toll on the ferry at Toad Suck, especially when the Conway Chamber of Commerce and others wee anxious to replace the ferry with a bridge. And when the U.S. Corps of Engineers began to make plans for the Arkansas River Navigation Project, that spelled the end of the ferry, which later was shipped off to thevalhalla fir ferry boats in Lake Norfolk in north Arkansas.

Yet, the project did not contain provisions for a bridge in the planning for the lock and dam. But the persuasiveness and And power of Rep. Wilbur D. Mills and other Congressional members assured the inclusion of a bridge in the plans.

The demise of the ferry did not mean the end of probably one of the most colorful and picturesque place names in the country - Toad Suck. Congress and the Conway Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner Historical Society saved the day.

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Elmer Fudd
Elmer Fudd 04/27/14 - 11:02 am
The Shirt

Back in the 1980's I sent a shirt to a guy that worked for the same company I did at the time but was based out of state. I had filled him in on the Daze and legend. His wife would not let him wear it. Nasty she said.

Igor Rabinowitz
Igor Rabinowitz 04/27/14 - 04:03 pm
Alternate history, most likely division

It came up on this very message board awhile back, but

The story is "toad sucks" were the name given to pools which formed on the side of the river, usually at bends in the river, as the water rose and then receded. Before the McClellan-Kerr navigation system with its locks and dams were put in one could see how the ol' up-down would be more likely than it is now.

Anyway, there being a slight bend in the river right at that point it's kind of obvious how a toad suck could often form down that way.

The Arkansas rivermen are a colorful period of the Diamond State's history, but - invoking Occam's Razor - probably not what led to the name of that spot on the river the festival borrows its name from.

"The rotund fellow gave every indication that his propensity to drink alcoholic beverages to excess made him resemble a “fat toad” which sucked booze from a bottle."

C'mon dude.

reader 04/27/14 - 08:42 pm
Thank you Igor

especially for the last comment.

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