When Ozark Queen rounded the bend in the White River and whistled, the musical lilt carried beyond McBee’s Landing into the hills of Marion County in northwestern Arkansas. Excited boys and girls would race out of those hills to the riverbank and yell: “The Queen’s a comin’! The Queen’s a comin’! Steamboat’s here!”
The arrival of a steamboat was a much anticipated event in the 1890s in this part of the country, and not just among the children. Local folks of all ages would drop what they were doing to watch the passengers disembark and the deckhands unload and load freight. Mail brought upriver from faraway was delivered to the post office and outgoing mail picked up. At other places in the West, the arrival of a stagecoach might trigger a similar response, but here the steamboat was king…or rather queen.
Inevitably, the sheriff would saddle up his horse and ride down to the landing to make sure that peace was maintained during all the excitement and commotion. Sometimes it was necessary to smooth out an argument or two that might arise; in any case, it was a chance for him to visit with his friends and neighbors. In Marion County, the sheriff was a peace officer first and a law enforcement officer second.
In his oil painting A Peace Officer First, Michael Andrews depicts a late-19th-century sheriff holding his horse while a little girl sits in the saddle pointing to Ozark Queen. A border collie and a boy patting another dog are the other main figures in the historical painting, which Andrews did at the behest of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association. Each year Andrews does a historical painting, and prints are auctioned off to help fund the association. A drawing involving all the counties in the state is held first to determine the subject for a particular year. Marion County was the winner for 2006, with the subject to be McBee’s Landing at the mouth of Fallen Ash Creek on the White River.
The landing is no longer there, but Marion County Sheriff Carl McBee took Andrews, who lives in Harrison, Ark., on a tour of the site. The sheriff’s great uncle, W.C. McBee, had built the landing, a store and a gristmill and had established McBee’s Ferry in 1886 or ‘87. The landing had been positioned so a boat could be loaded and unloaded from both sides. Ozark Queen was launched on the White River in 1896.
After his tour, Andrews read descriptions of the landing, the boats and the river in the 1995 book Steamboats and Ferries, by Sammie Rose, Pat Wood and the late Duane Huddleston. That got his creative juices flowing. It’s been that way for some 20 years. Andrews, who attend the Kansas City Art Institute, says that he and his wife, Kay, turned their attention to fine art full time in 1986. Since then, Michael Andrews’ art has received recognition and awards country wide. “I feel privileged to get up every day and create something that makes people smile,” he said.