It was said by those intrepid ferryboat travelers of yore that a stout Indian who plied his way across the Arkansas River had a "Toad Suck" appearance. The reference was to the rotund fellow’s propensity to drink alcoholic beverages to such excess that he resembled a fat toad who "sucked up" booze.
"He looks like a fat toad suck!" cried travelers, who were astonished to see the man languishing in front of the tavern smoking his long, slender pipe and showing off his roly-poly torso,
Now, of course, the Toad Suck label is attached to myriad items, including the fabled Toad Suck Daze festival. This year’s even will be held Thursday-Sunday, May 3-5, at Toad Suck Square in downtown Conway.
Toad Suck in no frivolous name. It is an official designation, perpetuated thanks to demands from the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner County Historical Society that Congress attach the name Toad Suck Bridge and Reservoir to the Arkansas River lock and
dam systemlinking Faulkner and Perry counties.
The history of Toad Suck is mired in myths revealing that the history of the river crossing at Toad Suck spans more than 150 years. In all probability, the crossing was part of the scenery in prehistoric times. Indians would have later used the site for a river crossing, just as pioneers did.
Oddly enough, there were taverns located at most ferryboat 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 Kirspo. The brothers accommodated ferryboat passengers and others by offering copious libations, helping visitors "slack" their thirst.
The heavy imbibing at the tavern once led a traveler to intone: "Those fellows sucked at the bottle until they swelled up like toads"
Another version of the appellation was said to be offered by J.W. Bowen, a farmer and landowner who witnessed the actions of the tavern habitués. He once proclaimed: "Boys, that place must be a regular toadsuck." The man defined toadsuck as a habit of toads that obviously liked to suck on things.
For purists who insist on further amplification, another version was attributed to people of the Ware family who lived on the west bank of the river before the Civil War. In later years, a Mrs. Ware recalled that an operator of the ferry was a chubby Indian named Toad. Toad pushed the ferryboat across the river with long poles, and when the river was up, Toad ferried people across on a skiff (a small, light, open boat propelled by oars mainly).
And, during times of indolence, old Toad could be seen sitting in front of the tavern in a "crouched position, pulling on a long, cane pipe." He made for an unusual sight and gave folks who saw him the impression of an actual toad smoking a pipe.
Toad Suck, then, became the obvious name for the ferry.
For many years, Toad Suck Ferry transported people, animals and various types of vehicles across the Arkansas River. Fares changed with fluctuating economic conditions. Some early records show toll charges of 25 cents for a man on foot, 50 cents for a man on horseback and $1 for a man with a horse and buggy.
The list of people who had occasion to use the ferry reads like an historic Who’s Who: Bernard de la Harpe, Zebalon Pike, Jean Lafitte, Thomas Nuttal, Sam Houston. Zachary Taylor, Albert Pike, Jefferson Davis, Washington Irving, George Catlin and others.
While the history of the ferry is vivid, and even striking, the account of how the Toad Suck Bridge originated is equally captivating. In 1920, the first bridge campaign was launched by the Conway Chamber of Commerce. Finally, in 1961, the chamber organized a Toad Suck Bridge Committee headed by Mayor M.M. Satterfield.
U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills and other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation supported the bridge proposal. When Mills advised the chamber that the proposal would be approved, he ran the risk of succumbing to the post-election political expression often imposed on losers in Faulkner County: "He’s gone to Perry County by way of Toad Suck."