In eastern Drew County lies several thousand acres of swampy bottom land with the ominous name Seven Devils Swamp, coined from tales of people getting lost in Seven Devils’ maze of sloughs, creeks and cypress and tupelo trees.
“It’s kind of a spooky place,” said Tom Heflin, an Illinois artist and former Drew County resident whose painting “Ghost of Seven Devils” was inspired by his childhood memories of the swamp, a wildlife haven for alligators, bear, blue heron, green heron, cranes, water turkey, fox, mink, raccoon, snakes, beaver, otter, turtles, water turkeys, eagles, squirrels, ducks, deer and other species.
There are a number of tales about how the swamp got its name, most of which involve someone getting lost.
One tale, recounted in Bill James’ book Seven Tales From The Seven Devils, tells of a fur trapper, who after getting lost in the swamp, called the seven lakes within the swamp, “devils.”
Asked if there were really seven lakes in the swamp, the fur trapper is reported to have said, “Seven lakes? Do you call them lakes? Those aren’t lakes! They grab ahold of your very soul and hold it captive! Seven lakes, you say? More like seven devils!”
The name, according to Rebecca DeArmond’s book Old Times Not Forgotten, stems from the seven lakes and use of the remote rough and swampy bottom by fugitives in Civil War days.
Others say the swamp was named after the seven lakes because “they’re a devil to get to” or named after seven bridges within the swamp because “they were a devil to cross.”
Former Drew County Sheriff David Taylor Hyatt dismisses all the folklore but concedes that it probably did get its name for the seven lakes in the swamp.
“I hate to hear people describe it as a dismal swamp occupied by monsters and all that kind of mess,” said Hyatt. “I’ve heard that the old timers said there were devils in the bottom and it was a dark, dismal, foreboding place, but it’s not; it never was to me. It’s a delightful place.”
While it is a beautiful place, many have become disoriented and got lost in the swamp.
Heflin said his brother and some of his football teammates at Arkansas A&M, now the University of Arkansas at Monticello, got lost in the swamp many years ago while duck hunting.
He said they wandered around in circles for hours.
“When it got dark and began to rain, they huddled around a tree, miserable and shivering,” Heflin said. “At daybreak, they were astonished to see their vehicle, less than 50 yards away.”
In Heflin’s Roots and Wings, a book containing Helfin’s art and antecdotes, Heflin describes the optical games the swamp plays with the eyes:
“The small, meandering creeks and sloughs cut the terrain into a maze of confusion. Within a mile or so, one might cross the same creek several times. The tree trunks often have water marks near eye-level, so when one is a little unnerved about being lost, the marks start playing optical games with the eyes. The near-white bands that encircle the trees appear to dance from tree to tree, near and far, in a hypnotic way.”
Seven Devils Swamp is located between Arkansas 35 and U.S. 278 East. It is forked, with Cut-off Creek forming the east arm and Sand Creek forming the west arm.
Within the bottom lies seven lakes, actually wide places in the channels.
On the west arm of the bottom at Sand Creek, is Roberts Lake and just down the run from Roberts Lake is Big Lake.
Down the run from Big Lake is Boggy Lake, a smaller, shallow lake. The channel out of Boggy Lake runs to the fork and into Cut-off Creek.
Coming out of the northeast corner of Boggy Lake and running in a northwesterly direction are Brushy and Royal lakes. Burton Lake and Simpson Lake are on the east side of the bottom.
All but Big Lake, Burton Lake and Roberts Lake are in the wildlife area managed by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. The property containing Big Lake, Burton Lake and Roberts Lake is privately owned.
To maintain the natural diversity of the swamp, the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission co-manages the area with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.
The area has about eight miles of boat trails, marked by reflective clips on trees. Meandering through the swamp by boat, visitors can see abundant wildlife and areas of the swamp that are still primeval in appearance.
Widely known for its good hunting opportunities, especially duck and deer, furbearer trapping is also good and fishing is considered good in the spring, but the water levels are too low for good fishing in the summer, according to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
The area also provides excellent opportunities for birdwatchers and photographers but visitors should use caution while navigating the swampy bottom. It is very easy to get lost and the swamp has an abundant supply of water snakes, like cottonmouths, as well as bears and alligators.
To access to the west side and parking area of the Seven Devils Wildlife Management Area, take Arkansas 35 east from Monticello for about 13 miles. A green Wildlife Management Area sign is located on the left at the Cominto fire tower. Take the gravel road on the left just east of the fire tower and drive about two miles to the parking area.
David Taylor Hyatt, in the photo below, points out the swamp’s lakes on a Drew County map: