My guess is that not often do we who live in Pea Ridge think about the importance Otter Creek has for us. Otter Creek is that little stream that begins at the spring north of town near Doug McKinney's house, and flows north for three or four miles until it empties into Big Sugar Creek. Along the way, a number of small springs and creeks add their waters to its flow, notable among them being a good spring on the Charles Day place about three miles north of Pea Ridge.
Also, when it rains in Pea Ridge, all the runoff from the city and the lands east and west of town end up in Otter Creek. Pea Ridge couldn't do without Otter Creek. It handles a sizable watershed for us.
That spring north of town and another spring near Greene Street are probably the main reasons Pea Ridge came to be located where it is. The first settlers in the village that became Pea Ridge had to have water, and these two springs supplied that need. The flows from both springs merge at the north edge of town to form Otter Creek. I grew up on a farm on Otter Creek, and Otter Creek is special to me. For our farm, the creek was our main source of water for the livestock. To me it also supplied places to explore. Otter Creek was where I learned to fish and to swim and to know about poisonous snakes like water moccasins.
The creek was also a place to pull off stunts, some of which didn't turn out well. I recall when I was in the fourth grade, my school friend Stevie Rimmer came to stay the night with us. Stevie and I were exploring on the creek when he suggested we go swimming. It was late October. After about a minute in the water we were turning blue, and although I hated to admit that I wasn't tough in cold water, I was about done swimming for that day. I also remember one time that Charles Crabtree came to swim on the creek. We had several swimming holes on our place, but none was very deep. As I recall, Charles had learned to dive from the bank. So in he plunged, but just a little too deep for the pool, and he scraped his face on the rock bottom. That wasn't very comfortable, and Charles decided that he was about done swimming for that day.
Normally Otter Creek is a small, clear, peaceful, trickling stream meandering its way down a picturesque valley on the way to Jacket, Mo., where its waters merge into Big Sugar Creek. However, when storms rage and rains are heavy around Pea Ridge, the water coming from the large watershed turn Otter Creek into a torrent. Whereas in ordinary times the stream may be only a few feet wide and a few inches deep, during heavy rain seasons I have seen the high water 50 and 60 feet wide, rolling violently with ugly brown water from the eroding soils upstream, and at times carrying full-sized trees in the current.
One problem with Otter Creek when it goes on a rampage is that it wears away at its banks on the bends in the stream. Our house was situated near the stream, on a high bank on the west side of the creek. As the stream passed the house it made a gradual bend to the right. When our house was built in 1953, it stood about 40 feet from the creek bank. A few years ago, the creek had worn into the bank until the house was only about 25 feet from the bank, so drastic measures were necessary to stabilize the creek and keep the rampaging waters from threatening the house. Today, a long row of huge boulders are in place to prevent the creek from washing away the remaining lawn.
When I was young, we had an old shop building that stood right on the creek bank. It had at one time been a chicken house, but Dad always used it as a shop to keep our saws and hammers and other farm tools. We always kept the grinding wheel there for sharpening the sickle sections for our hay mower. I remember that as the years passed, the back part of the old shop began extending out over the creek bank, and I became hesitant to get into the back part of the shop, afraid the whole building might tip off into the creek. Dad finally decided to take the old shop down, since it was obviously one day going to collapse into the creek.
Flooding anywhere, along with my memories of Otter Creek on a rampage, are reminders of the paradox we encounter regarding our creeks and rivers. On the one hand they are necessary and valuable. We need the water they supply, and our towns and countrysides need the drainage function they perform. On the other hand they can be dangerous and treacherous and may even undermine the foundations of our house.
Editor's note: This column was originally published Feb. 20, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge, is an award-winning columnist, a retired Methodist minister with a passion for history. He is vice president of the Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] centurytel.net , or call 621-1621.