A tale of two mountain men

Curtis Varnell, PhD.
Western Arkansas Educational Service Cooperative
Frederich Morsbach
Rush Cameron

The year was 1877 when the war weary German immigrant Frederich Morsbach reached the summit of Magazine Mountain and established his land claim on the hard rocky soils of the mountain top. Morsbach was tired of war. His family had sent him to Wisconsin to escape the constant warfare in Europe only to see him drafted into the Union Army. At 5 feet 2 inches and weighing about 150 pounds, he probably did not appear to be an imposing or intimidating solder but he was rock-hard and tough. As a private in Company G, 11th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, he fought in a number of battles along the Mississippi River and into Louisiana. He was a part of Gen. Grants group and was involved in the battle of Vicksburg, one of the turning points of the war.

After the war, he and his family moved to Salem, Mo., only to have his son-in-law shot in the back and killed by former southern sympathizers. Seeking peace and solitude, he found the mountain.

Morsbach and his family appeared to enjoy and thrive in their new home. Prime building stone was scattered down the slope in front of the house. He and his children used it to construct a foundation, a chimney and the front wall of the home. They built it sturdy and strong, much of the rock structure is still standing along Apple Trail today.

An old road passed in front of the Morsbach home and wound around the cliff face to the home of an unlikely neighbor, Thomas R. Cameron. Thomas was a native of Georgia and, when the war began, joined the 39th Georgia infantry. In 1863, he was a part of Pemberton’s Army and was expected to hold Jackson, Miss. When Jackson fell, hundreds of Confederates, including Cameron, were captured as they retreated toward Vicksburg. Cameron spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at Camp Chase, Ohio. Camp Chase was packed with more than 4,000 prisoners and was one of the most miserable and unhealthy places known to man. More than 2,000 of the prisoners succumbed to illness while imprisoned there. Somehow Cameron survived. After the war, he moved first to Chickalah Mountain and then onto the flat projection of Mount Magazine, now known as his namesake, Cameron Bluff. His daughter, Lois, was the first known person to be married on Magazine Mountain.

Both men had faced hardship, deprivation and injury from the terrible war that resulted in the death of more Americans than any other war fought. It is possible that the men even faced off in a battle at Vicksburg as Grant surrounded the city and bombarded it for weeks until its surrender on July 4, 1863. Fate brought these two old soldiers to the same place to find peace, build a home and raise their families.

The community on the mountain was never large; just a handful of families that forged strong ties and friendships. Together they built a community gathering place and a school building. Neighbors would wander up and down the road from the west end of the mountain, passing by the Cameron and Morsbach homes. Old man Morsbach often sat on his front porch with his ear tube beside him so he could talk with passersby. With homes separated by a few hundred yards of winding dirt road, the two former enemies developed a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. In our day and time we can learn much about civility and getting along from those of our past.