The Spectacular ‘White River Red

Coming April 2 — AROUND THE COUNTY: Histories of Washington County, Arkansas

As the legend goes, by 1931 when Forrestina Magdalene (Bradley) Campbell settled in Washington County, Arkansas, she had run away from her “well-to-do” family as a teen, joined the circus, married “Big Broad Tosser” Keyes, and lost a pregnancy after falling from a trapeze. Local historian Phillip Steele described her as “a beautiful woman…with long gorgeous red hair.”

Beauty or not, her husband Keyes abandoned her when medical complications of her miscarriage cost her the ability to ever bear children. Maybe he would have left her anyway. No records of him have been found.

This was just the beginning of Forrestina’s fascinating life story which would continue into the 1970s from Head’s Ford and Springdale to the West Fork area along Highway 71 as she forged her unique path in local lore.

This article won the 2022 Washington County Historical Society’s Walter J. Lemke Award for the best article on Washington County History outside of Fayetteville and was published in the Spring issue of the WCHS quarterly journal Flashback. [This image of her appeared on the cover of Philip Steele’s booklet about her, circa 1970.]

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