ES Independent Column – Keels Creek

Many of the stories I grew up on featured Keels Creek as a recurring landmark. Obviously, this was because various branches of my family either lived on Keels Creek or not too far from it. I’ve always thought it interesting that Keels Creek was named for an early pioneer’s first name: Keel Williams.

I suppose many people only see Keels Creek from the bridge on Rockhouse Road, and much of the time there is no water to be seen because it runs under the surface gravel. Don’t let the lack of visible water fool you, though, because the Keels Creek watershed covers 19,211 acres of land south of Eureka Springs. That is 30 square miles of springs and creeks and rainfall to drain.

One of my favorite Keels Creek stories involves my wife’s great-great grandfather, Murrell Nelson. He had a big place on Keels Creek on the Madison County line (southeast of the present day Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge). He had bought the land in pieces from Claude Fuller and others in 1916 when he returned home from California where he had worked for the railroads.

Late in life, Murrell had to move fifty head of cattle from his farm to Berryville. The cattle drive followed Keels Creek eight miles, before fording both the Kings River and the Osage. The destination farm was located behind the present day¬† Maverick Supply. One just doesn’t hear of long cattle drives in Carroll County anymore. It would be a logistical nightmare.

A whole book could be written about M.D. Nelson and overcoming adversity. When he was 7 years old his father (who had returned from the Civil War in one piece) was murdered by a horse thief on his Carroll County farm. After that, Murrell bounced around living and working for various people. He married Nancy Johnson in 1890 and farmed south of Eureka Springs after homesteading 160 acres in the Buck Mountain area. He then sold out and went to California to make his fortune.

Murrell Dixon Nelson died in the Eureka Springs Hospital in 1953 and is buried in the Eureka Springs Cemetery.