The Wolf House
A Historical Treasure of the Area
Architecturally significant as one of the few remaining (and best preserved) log structures in Arkansas. It is the archetypal two-story dog-trot or “saddle bag” form.
For many years the house was the property of Baxter County, but in October 2016, managment and operation of the site was officially transferred to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Association. Marlon Mowdy is the AAHP staff member working to develop and improve the site for use by the public.
The Wolf House is located along State Highway 5 in the center of the town of Norfork.
The Jacob Wolf House, Norfork, Arkansas-- a stop you don't want to miss. (Click HERE for the official website for information on visiting.)
(NOTE: The items below are copies of information transcribed from historical accounts about the building. Some of the "facts" stated have been recently been updated with the results of more current research. Those details will be available at the official website of the Wolf House.)
The first mention of Jacob Wolf in Arkansas is found in the Baxter County Patent Book 2 on page 432: Certificate 223
“Jacob Wolf of Independence County has deposited in the General Land Office of the United States, a certificate of the Register of the Land Office in Batesville in Arkansas.”
The date the land was patented was July 20, 1825 and was described as "the Southwest Fractional Quarter of Section 20, Township 18 North, Range 12 West, in the District of Lawrence and Territory of Arkansas. The fractional quarter patent consisted of 76 and 16/100 acres." The Wolf House is today located on the above-described land.
Although this does not conclusively prove the date of construction it is the earliest date that conclusively links Jacob Wolf with the land upon which the house is situated. While local legend attributes the construction date of the Wolf House as being 1809-1810, historical and architectural evidence obtained by the National Park Service leads to the conclusion that the Wolf House was constructed about 1829.
The Major and the Man
Major Jacob Wolf’s original place and date of birth is obscure. An article appearing in the Arkansas Gazette in 1905 indicates that he was of German descent and born in Pennsylvania in 1786. A subsequent article indicated that his place of birth was in South Carolina.
Major Wolf has traditionally been given credit for being an Indian Agent and arriving on the White River at the mouth of the North Fork River in 1809-1810. However, the first mention of Jacob Wolf as being in the Arkansas Territory is found in Vol. XX, p. 218 of the Arkansas Territorial Paper, when Wolf was appointed postmaster for Izard County to succeed Spenser Crouch. While the Missouri and Arkansas Territorial Papers devoted hundreds of pages to Indian affairs, they fail to mention Jacob Wolf as an Indian Agent. The records of the office of Indian Trade and Indian Bureau in the National Archives produce no evidence indicating that Jacob Wolf ever held any official position as Indian Agent.
Historically the most important event associated with the Wolf House is that it was the seat of the first government of Izard County which was created on October 27, 1825.
Karr Shannon (Karr Shannon, A History of Izard County. Melbourne, n.d., pp. 19-20.) indicates:
“The first county seat was located on White River, at the mouth of the North Fork. There stood the home of Jacob Wolf which was designated as the temporary seat of justice. The old log building still stands at its original location in the town of Norfork. At the time Jacob Wolf was about 60 years of age and had been the chief influence in getting the county seat established at that place which was known as the Town of Liberty. He (Wolf) represented the county in the Territorial Legislature of 1827, the first after the county was organized.”
Major Jacob Wolf was postmaster in Izard County and he represented its citizens in the Territorial Assembly and State Legislature. The claim that Major Wolf was an Indian Agent cannot be substantiated by published or unpublished documentation. If he were not an Indian Agent the story of his house being built by Indian labor is seriously in doubt. The most important event of historical significance associated with the Wolf House is its having been the seat of the first government of Izard County.
American Guide Series, Arkansas, A Guide to the State, New York: Hastings House, 1941.
Arkansas Gazette, July 30, 1905.
Shiras, Frances H. History of Baxter County, 1928, Mountain Home: J. W. Daniel and Shiras Bros. Print Shop.
Arkansas Democrat, August 5, 1956.
Arkansas Gazette, April 11, 1915.
Arkansas Territorial Papers, Vol. XX, p. 218.
Source: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, http://www.arkansaspreservation.com. [Reprinted with permission.]
Note to Readers:
The article above from Arkansas Historic Preservation Program calls into question some of the information in the article which follows, which was written several decades earlier. In spite of that, this writing by the late Baxter County Historian Mary Ann Messick is now historic in its own right, and we include it here as she wrote and published it for the county centennial in 1973.
From: History of Baxter County, Centennial Edition, 1873-1973 by Mary Ann Messick
Chapter Three The House That Wolf Built
As children we read about the house that Jack built, and all but memorized the story of the three little pigs and the wolf that huffed and puffed until he blew the house in. Now let me tell you about the house that Wolf built-- the wolf in this story being Major Jacob Wolf, the son of Mike Wolf of German descent. He was born in South Carolina, May 12, 1786, and moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, in his youth. He earned the title of Major while serving as drill master of the Kentucky militia. The original spelling of the family name was Woolf, but Mike Wolf preferred the phonetic spelling. I'm happy to report to you that the house that Wolf built has withstood the huffing and puffing of time, Civil War, neglect and that most destructive of all enemies to mementos of the past-progress.
In 1809, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Major Wolf as Indian Agent to the Arkansas Cherokee Nation and to help administer the affairs of other tribes living in the northern section of the District of Arkansas, Louisiana Territory. To illustrate the remoteness of the country to which he was appointed – the 1810 census shows that the entire white population of the District of Arkansas was 1,062. By 1820, that number had grown to a startling 14,000.
Wolf and several Negro slaves poled a flatboat up to the mouth of the Big North Fork of the White River where they began to clear the land and construct the log house that would one day become the most famous in Arkansas. I wonder if they even remotely dreamed that with each stroke of the broad axe they were making history. Major Wolf supervised the Indian workmen in constructing the two-storied, double-log mansion. Yellow pine was used exclusively and each log was hewn and dovetailed to fit perfectly. To dovetail is to notch the log so that the water runs out, not in, and this is one reason why the Wolf house is still so remarkably preserved. The slaves built a blacksmith shop nearby and fashioned the wrought iron hinges and rivets to hang the doors and window shutters. They also made the very few square cut nails used in the building.
Shortly after the building was complete, Wolf went home to Kentucky and later returned with his young bride and a number of household and field slaves. The wilderness home he brought his new wife to was crude, perhaps by the standards of the great homes of her native Kentucky, but by frontier standards it was grandeur and she would always refer to it as the Wolf Mansion. The four rooms of the main house measured 18 feet square with the halls 12 feet wide. Great fireplaces of sun-dried brick warmed every room and each of the rooms opened out onto a broad veranda. The view from the front of the house afforded a sweeping view of both rivers and the surrounding hillsides. The floors and beds were not of the typical pioneer puncheon type, but were sawn planks, from the water powered saw and gristmill the Major and another settler, Robert Livingston, operated nearby.
In your mind, picture this scene. For days you have poled your flatboat upriver – only occasionally catching view of another human being. Your hands ache from the constant strain and pull of moving your boat against the swift current of the river. You begin to wonder if there will ever be an end to your toils – then suddenly you round another bend in the river and golden fields tended by a swarm of Negro slaves lie out before you. Near the fields are a cluster of cabins, then upon the river bank, like a jewel sparkling in the lush green surroundings – the Wolf House. Blue smoke filters from the big chimneys and the delicious smell of cornbread and sizzling venison waft out on the air from the log kitchen near one corner of the house. Children play on the veranda and in the yard and Indians mill back and forth around the blacksmith shop. You drink in the beautiful scene and know that you have reached that great outpost of civilization, the village of Liberty.
For half a century Liberty was a "jumping off place" into the unknown. Except during the driest season, keel and flatboats could be poled up White River as far as the Wolf House. After the steamboats started coming up, they could easily reach the Wolf House during flood stage, even before the dredge boats cleared out the river channels. Arriving on the boats were traders as well as families, seeking homes in the high, barren, grass covered hills. They embarked at the Wolf House, were outfitted with covered wagons drawn by oxen, and creaked off to carve a new life in the wilds.
The traders brought up from New Orleans salt, sugar, calico, gunpowder and the other few articles the pioneers couldn't produce by their own ingenuity. In exchange, the settlers offered pelts, hides, bearskins, bear oil, beef, pork, hams, feathers, and some crudely smelted silver and lead. Settlers from all over northern Arkansas and southern Missouri – from as far as Springfield – traveled over the narrow mountain trails or floated down the rivers to meet the traders at Liberty. The road they traveled was known as "The Salt Trail" since salt was the main item they could not do without. There are several natural salt licks to be found in the Ozarks, but the processing of salt from these shallow saline springs was a hard, very unproductive task. When the railroads reached Rolla, Missouri, in the 1850s, the trail was reversed, with Liberty being the end-instead of the beginning.
Many writers have speculated through the years on the wonderful tales the old walls of the Wolf House could spin were they suddenly endowed with speech. They could tell of the courtroom antics of frontier lawyers since the upper north room of the Wolf House served as the first county seat of Izard County after its formation on Oct. 27, 1825. And even farther back than that, it could speak of the infamous criminals who had sought justice within its walls, for court was held there as early as 1811. Undoubtedly, the walls would tell of the famous personalities who were entertained there – Governors James Miller, George Izard, John Seldon Roane, Tom Fletcher, Senators, Congressmen and clergymen galore, and the most famous guest of all, Sam Houston, and his beautiful Cherokee wife, Tiana. James Houston was the first clerk of the Izard County Court. Showing that streak of family stubbornness that would one day carry his brother to the Presidency of the Republic of Texas, James Houston refused to move his clerk's office when the Izard County seat was moved to the raw little village of New Athens. Houston lived out the rest of his days at the Wolf House and was thereafter known as "Liberty Jim." It is believed that he is buried downriver from the Wolf House in a very old cemetery now overgrown with myrtle and ivy. Or the walls could tell of the tall, bronze Indian braves who came there to trade and talk over their affairs with Major Wolf. Or of the old Choctaw who thought it was his privilege to steal whatever he wanted from the Indian Agent. Seeing the old Indian approach one day, Wolf slipped an axe head into the forge and heated it white hot. He had held his peace as long as his German temperament would allow. Just before the old Indian stepped inside, he withdrew the axe head. Of course the Indian could not resist the temptation of a brand new axe head lying in plain view. He slipped it under his blanket, then almost immediately departed. The hills resounded with his war-whoops of pain and the Major retrieved the axe head, only a few feet down the path from the shop door.
Or the walls could tell of Mammy Julie, the Wolf's Negro cook, whose honey-sweetened gingerbread made her the toast of the river from Liberty clear down to New Orleans. Julie bossed and babied the entire village – in return she was humored and respected. When W.M. Wolf, the Major's oldest son, brought the first steamboat up to the Wolf House, Julie's bulky form became a streak of "greased lightning" as she scurried back and forth, gathering up the children – red, white and black-and warning, "Run, chillen, run. She's a-goen to bust."
But most of all the Wolf House could tell of a happy home-for Major Wolf was blessed with three marriages and 16 children. The old home witnessed many happy events – births, weddings, parties where the gay cotillion and the Virginia Reel were danced by the beautiful ladies in their swirling skirts, escorted by the handsome gentlemen. In 1854, Miss Tabitha Wolf married Judge J.S. Russell in a gala affair with Rev. David Jackson officiating. In 1855, Miss Malinda Wolf became the wife of Col. T.Y. Casey and afterwards an elegant supper was prepared by Julie and served by her kitchen staff of slender, young colored girls, dressed in red gingham dresses, white aprons and white turbans. In 1861, Miss Lucy Shipp, a family relative, was to be married to a Mr. McIntosh. No minister being available, "Tobacco Jim" Adams, a local Justice of the Peace, was pressed into service. It was a bitter cold, windy night but the mansion was aglow with soft candle light and the warmth from the four fireplaces. Coming in from the cutting night air, Tobacco Jim planted himself in front of the fireplace, spit once, then began the ceremony. One of the Major's sons was holding the candle for the reading of the rites, and just as the old Justice of the Peace was ready to ask the young couple to join hands for the final "I do's", he suddenly whispered to the candle-bearer, "Move over, Joe, my seat's a-burning."
It is my understanding that there were originally two Wolf Houses – one on each side of the White River. Since the Indian Agent was required to live at least part time in Indian Territory, Major Wolf also built a house across the river from Liberty and his father, Mike Wolf, and brother, John, a Baptist minister lived in the house at Liberty part of this time. There was also a ferry somewhere in the vicinity operated by a man named Shield. It has been written that a post office was established at Liberty; if so, according to the National Archives, it was not called Liberty. However old postal maps show a post office located at the Izard County Courthouse. In 1822, the Arkansas Gazette advertised a bid for a mail contract between Little Rock and the Izard County Courthouse – a tri-monthly route.
Major Wolf served on the Territorial Council five times and was also Izard County Representative. He was a member of the State Legislature in 1837 when a bill providing for a bounty on wolf scalps was introduced. Major Wolf jocularly requested that the two-legged wolves from Izard County be exempt from the law, but other lawmakers did not consider the subject so lightly. John A. Anthony offered an amendment authorizing the president of the State Bank to certify the scalps as genuine. During a heated pro and con discussion of the amendment a fight broke out and, when peace was restored, Anthony lay dead on the floor of the old State House. To get to Little Rock, Major Wolf rode a narrow trail, horseback, for the 160 miles. Before his return home, Wolf would go to the blacksmith shop, pay the usual fare, then do the work himself, explaining, "Fellas, it's not that I don't trust your work. But I know how hard the trip is going to be and I don't want to take a chance on losing a shoe, miles from nowhere."
Major Wolf died in 1863 and the home was purchased by a son, Jesse Wolf. All our efforts to locate the grave of Major Wolf have failed-and how much we wanted to place a suitable marker there. Afterwards the house passed into other hands, including the South family who operated a store there until the coming of the railroad in 1906. During the 1920s the old Wolf House became a two-family apartment and many alterations were made on the original lines. Fearing that progress would eventually toll its death bell, the citizens of Norfork purchased the Wolf House and started a museum with Fred Pitchford as curator. One by one the valuable pioneer articles loaned or donated began to disappear and the stately old house fell on hard times.
But not for long. Good fortune smiled on the Wolf Mansion when the Elna M. Smith Foundation of Eureka Springs took over the complete restoration-restoring the original lines to the house, landscaping the yards and completely furnishing the rooms with authentic period pieces. It was dedicated May 8, 1966.
To bring the Wolf House up-to-date, this full page ad appeared in the May 11, 1972 issue of the Baxter Bulletin:
"An important reminder to the people of Baxter County, the State of Arkansas, and visitors from all over the world. The Old Wolf House, located at Norfork, Arkansas, 15 miles southeast of Mountain Home on Highway 5, has been restored and furnished completely by the Elna M. Smith Foundation. It is considered one of the most historic buildings in the entire South."