Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas

In 2019, Fayetteville, Arkansas found itself named among the top three American cities for live music, placing third after Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana. In this history of Fayetteville’s nightspots and musicians, we celebrate the ancient human tradition of music and dance. These were – and still are – the places where live music finds its most enthusiastic audience, where musicians practice a craft as old as time, where the drumbeat and lyrical voice travel straight to the heart.

Among the hundreds of start-up bands pursuing their moment in the spotlight, some of Fayetteville’s bands and musicians have gone on to national, even international fame. Standing behind these musicians are the promoters, nightclubs, and rehearsal spaces that supported and encouraged them.

Perhaps more importantly, a steady stream of new talent, new sounds, new ideas attract passionate new audiences to join in the good times. How can this be? What strange cocktail of talent and public appreciation come together here to produce such a rich legacy of irresistible music and the places and professionals who enable its existence? Only a historical view of this Ozark city, its musical artists, and its creative commons can begin to illustrate the full picture.

Multiple 5-star reviews!

Paperback $26.95 Amazon Washington County Historical Society

The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement before 1900

Rushing down the northern slopes of the Boston Mountains, for millions of years the West Fork of White River has carved its sinuous path northward. Caves, hollers, steep bluffs, and rich bottomland followed in its wake. Native people made their homes here, hunting buffalo and deer. Within a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, white settlers arrived to set up homesteads.

This book briefly describes how this valley formed over millions of years, how Native tribes lived and hunted here, and what the first white men saw when they arrived. Short biographies of the earliest pioneers portray a fascinating assortment of men and women determined to carve out a livelihood from this rugged land.

Subsequent chapters describe the mills, churches, and early roads as well as the neighbor-to-neighbor conflict of the Civil War. Stagecoaches hurtled down the valley roads, later supplanted by the iron horse in 1882 with the completion of the railroad tunnel at Winslow. A chapter on crime reveals shootouts, knife fights, and barn burning. Histories of Winslow, Brentwood, Woolsey, West Fork, and Greenland outline their origins and heydays.

A must read for any resident of the valley, but a fascinating chronicle of human endeavor for any reader.

Paperback $23.95, Amazon or $20 at Headquarters House, Washington County Historical Society, 118 West Dickson, Fayetteville AR

The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, lifts his Spencer rifle to his shoulder to find Bud in his sights, and pulls the trigger, sending Bud to a well-earned grave.

Determined to wreak vengeance on his little brother’s killer, William Jefferson “Jeff” Gilliland takes control of a posse meant to bring Newton Jones to justice. But Jeff’s plan for the posse to kill “every last son of a bitch” goes horribly wrong and brings indictments for murder against Jeff and the rest of his posse.

Before the curtains closed in 1890 on these descendants of West Fork pioneers J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland, two other sons and a grandson would die violent deaths while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and plain old bad luck.

Paperback, $ 9.95, Amazon

Murder in the County

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair.

Excerpt from Chapter 39 — The Death of Joe Rich

“A hint of fall had come into the air as September heralded the change of season. Blood stirred by cooler air and lubricated by alcohol rarely bodes well in a gathering of young men intent on proving themselves. On the evening of September 21, 1890, just such a scenario unfolded amid the busy streets of Prairie Grove.

“No doubt some wags later remarked they could have predicted violence between Mack Rollans and Joseph Rich. Both families had seen their share of trouble. Just a month earlier, on August 10, 1890, Joseph’s younger brother David Lee Rich was indicted for selling “ardent spirits” to a minor without a license. The previous year in June 1889, Mack Rollans had been indicted for wearing a pistol but later found not guilty…

“…That evening, Mack Rollans got in over his head. Some minor skirmish erupted within the gathered group, perhaps a question of the price, quality, or quantity of the liquor or a slurred insult about a woman, a family member, or some other trifling matter. In the ensuing fight, weapons entered the fray. Rollans pulled his knife. As such events have a tendency to develop, Rich soon fell dead.

Paperback, $23.95, Amazon

Ray: One Man’s Life

“I’ve had my jaw broke three times, my nose broke five times to the point that the VA had to do the operation they do to boxers. My hand’s been broke and on fire once, enough that the skin was gone clear back to my wrist. I’ve fell off buildings, ladders, and mountains. Somehow I survived all that craziness.”

How Ray Mooney survived the incredible journey of his life is indeed a question for the ages. Polio, combat assault jumps from helicopters in Vietnam, and three children by three different wives didn’t kill him. Neither did the flagrant murder of his father by his father’s latest wife. But the traumas changed him, as they would change any man.

Told in his own words, Ray’s life story rushes from one shocking experience to the next and brings him to the last days as he faces end stage lung disease. Turkey killer, outlaw, entrepreneur, and disabled vet, this boy from the horse farms and tobacco fields of Kentucky relates his adventures with wry wit and breathtaking honesty.

One of several 5 star reviews:

“Ray” is one of the people you don’t usually find in books, especially as the central character.
As a true story, honestly served up without sweeping much out of sight, his story is about as raw and painful as most of us can bear or dare to step into. Wars change people for their entire lifetimes and in different ways. Vietnam certainly did that to Ray. If nothing else comes of his story inside readers’ minds and guts, at least maybe they’ll realize what we do to each other and what’s done to us in love and war defines who we are. Ray’s one of the survivors, one of the good ones.

Another 5 star review:

The take away from this book is that Ray Mooney has lived one tough life. And you won’t get any Pollyanna ending from it either. No falsely uplifting conclusion to make you feel good about yourself and the world. Nope, none of that. This book is about being honest and authentic. Put together by highly skilled author and historian Denele Campbell from the personal recollections of Ray Mooney, this basically chronological memoir takes us from the impoverished hills of Kentucky to the terrors of combat in Viet Nam. We learn about Ray’s many loves, wives and children and the horror of his father’s murder by Murderin’ Liz, one of Ray’s stepmothers. There’s no way to recount all the stories in here, there are too many of them and they often beggar the imagination to describe. Suffice it to say it is an extraordinary read, and a fast one. I give it five stars on sheer candidness alone.

Paperback, $9.95, Amazon

South County

1972. A Yankee learns the Ozarks way and lives to tell his tales. Now almost a native, Denny fondly reminisces about the people and places of his adopted home.

Denny Luke is an adventurer. During his years as a Navy man, he built hot rods with money he made with shipboard loansharking. He returned to his native Ohio where he soon tired of the mechanic’s life. Computers had just started to break the surface in 1966, the perfect attraction to a young man with a sharp mind and plenty of ambition.

Hot cars and Enduro motorcycle racing occupied Denny’s next few years as he helped usher in the computer age in Minneapolis. But another adventure awaited when in 1970 he fell in with a bunch of hippies. By 1972, he had found his way to the Ozarks.

An avid photographer and storyteller, Denny shares the adventures of his life as he recalls the outrageous backwoods tales and colorful characters who populate the southern fringe of Washington County in Northwest Arkansas.

Paperback, $9.95 Amazon

Rex Perkins: A Biography

Rex Warren Perkins left his mark in the courtrooms of Arkansas and on the lives of all who knew him. Bold, articulate, and full of himself, he arrived at the University of Arkansas in 1928 with his fiddle, five dollars, and a blue serge suit. Within five years, he graduated law school, was elected to public office, and ran headlong into a federal grand jury. The biography of Rex Perkins documents his rise to fame as the preeminent trial attorney of the state and recounts the scandals, losses, and most famous cases of his thirty-year career.

“Of all the stories still told about Rex Perkins, none has enjoyed such ongoing and avid public interest as the murder trial of Virginia “Queenie” Rand. Mrs. Rand, an attractive brunette and wife of J. O. Rand, a prominent Rogers businessman, was charged with the crime of second degree murder for the killing of Harry V. “Buddy” Clark on August 9, 1959. Clark, married and father of two, was shot late at night in Virginia Rand’s bedroom.

“…In Mrs. Rand’s first trial, held in Benton County before the case involved Rex Perkins, Prosecutor Coxsey had faced defense attorneys Jeff Duty and his uncle Claude Duty. The jury for the Benton County trial found Mrs. Rand guilty, and her attorneys appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Rand v. State was delivered December 12, 1960. Their summary of the offense follows: It appears from the record that on the evening of August 8, 1959, the deceased, Clark, and his wife entertained Mr. and Mrs. Sam Davis in their home. At about 1:15 a.m. on August 9, Mr. and Mrs. Davis left the Clark home and at the same time Clark left in his car to check the receipts at the Horseshoe Grill, a café which he owned located some 8 blocks from the Clark home in Rogers. Although the evidence is somewhat uncertain, it is clear that Clark finished his work at the café and at 1:30 a.m. the night police radio operator received a call from a woman identifying herself as appellant, who said: “Send someone out here, I have had some trouble.” After the radio operator sent a patrolman to the Rand home, the appellant called again and said: “I have shot a man. I shot Buddy Clark.” Upon arrival at the Rand home, the patrolman was told by appellant that she shot Clark in her bedroom. The patrolman immediately went to the hospital where he found Clark on the floor in the hall. Nurses at the hospital testified that Clark came in the front door and fell to the floor. The records show he was admitted at 1:45 a.m. He expired at 4:17 a.m. that same morning.

“The patrolman testified he found tracks in the heavy dew going in and out of the Rand house and found a gun about 4 to 6 feet from these tracks. There were two bullet holes in the bedroom walls and 5 empty cartridges were found in the bedroom. The deceased was shot 4 times—3 times in the chest and one time in the right arm. No trace of blood was found in or around the Rand house but there was blood on the steering wheel and door of Clark’s automobile.

“Preserved in the Special Collections section of the library of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the transcript of this trial runs 796 pages. After a review of the transcript index, librarian Kathryn Fitzhugh wryly observed that “everyone in town must have testified.” Such a massive body of information presented an enormous task to Justices Jim Johnson, J. McFaddin, and Ed. F. McFaddin in their work to review the case.”

The case was remanded back for retrial, at which point Rex Perkins managed to gain a change of venue. The rest of the story would take place at the Washington County courthouse where Perkins wielded all his legal maneuvering in support of Mrs. Rand. The outcome would shock the entire region.

Fascinating anecdotes, riveting legal challenges, and a personal story of this man, still a storied figure even in today’s legal community.

Paperback, $14.95, Amazon

Durward’s Cart

My uncle Durward seemed to be older than his years, a result of his bashful traits which I now, belatedly, attribute to the overbearing nature of his mother Sylvia Clark Morrow. Always ready with the harsh critique, she sought perfection and never found it, either in herself, her spouse, or her nine children of which Durward was the oldest. He learned at an early age there was no pleasing her. As far as I could tell, she was never pleased about anything.

So he fretted and obsessed and squirmed through life, marrying a spinster neighbor when he was forty and producing one child. They adopted a second one. He devoted his energy to his job, working in a newspaper printing operation, and to his flourishing garden. He also kept chickens. Gardening and chickens were necessity for the family, dirt poor hill folk in the Arkansas Ozarks.

He was sixty or so when I married a wild man and set up housekeeping on a wooded hilltop in a half finished house. We—husband, baby, and I—pursued the hillfolk life with a passion. Among other things like firewood and a garden, we needed chickens. That was about the same time that Durward decided he no longer wanted to mess with chickens, and so a project was born, to dismantle his chicken house and bring the walls, roof, and other bits up to our place. We had a pickup, but it alone wasn’t enough to perform the task, and so Durward also gave us his cart.

The cart—and the chicken house—were handcrafted by Durward himself, pulled together from scraps and, in the case of the cart, an old rear axle of some early vehicle. Our load of dismantled walls and roof of the approximately 10’ x 10’ coop were laboriously positioned into the lovingly-framed bed and the modest sideboards of his trailer, and the long journey from his farm near Johnson to our farm near West Fork began.

The distance of about twenty miles progressed slowly, red flags whipping in the breeze as the conveyances edged toward forty miles per hour. In due time, the roof became a wall to our fledgling barn while Durward’s chicken house walls were reborn as our chicken house walls with a new metal roof. The trailer was parked in the expectation there might be future use.

There wasn’t. It sits today, forty-six years later, where we parked it in 1976. The bed has rotted away as has the chicken house and the barn. One of the trailer’s sidewalls lingers. The rear axle and attached tires also remain, I suspect because they are solid rubber and probably the original tires that came with the vehicle. A phantasm of welds connect the original drive shaft to various pieces of metal to accommodate hauling.

Durward died in 2005 at the age of 89, but his cart lives on. I see it and think of him, remember his anxious ways, wringing his hands at family gatherings when the daylight started to fade. He’d mutter, “Gotta get home, it’s late.” He’d pace and entertain a few exhortations from his attending siblings to relax, hang around, but he’d shake his head and repeat “Gotta go” under his breath until he escaped the chaos to find his way home.

A Crime Unfit to be Named: The Prosecution of John William Campbell

In fact, this was a crime soon to be named and ruled not a crime. But obscure laws often become weapons used selectively against people who offend prevailing social sensibilities. This mindset was behind the case examined in A Crime Unfit To Be Named. In 1949, a local man in this small Bible belt town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, became the target of extraordinary police scrutiny. Despite his advanced age and the private, intimate nature of his activities, if found guilty John William Campbell would face hard time. Swept up in this vendetta, two younger women would also become entangled in Arkansas’ notorious criminal justice system.

John Campbell’s grown children and their families, well known and respected around town, struggled to cope with the humiliating fallout of his arrest. His sons hired the best attorneys money could buy in hopes of mounting a successful defense. But given the precedents established twenty years earlier in an Arkansas Supreme Court appeal, only one tenuous avenue of defense offered any hope: that John William Campbell was insane.

This true account tracks indictments, court records, family history, and newspaper articles to tell an outrageous story of zealous lawmen, personal tragedy and a small Southern town hell bent on moral order.

“The two-story rock house constructed by John William and his hired men included a western wall embraced by a high earthen embankment. This feature made it possible for a person standing there to look into the upper floor bedroom windows. And it is this unfortunate feature of the house that led to the discovery of his “unnatural sexual activity.”

25 South Locust, Fayetteville, Arkansas, south and east facades. The downstairs space housed a café at the time of John’s arrest. The bedrooms where John’s illegal activity occurred were at the back of the house, not visible in this photograph. Since the time of this photograph in 2015, this structure has been town down and new townhouses built in its place.

Paperback, $9.95, Amazon

Aquarian Revolution

In the late 1990s, I pursued a project that called to me, which was to interview people of the 60s generation who lived in Northwest Arkansas. Many of these were immigrants to the area, the hippies, the drop-outs, the radicals. They came from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and bought cheap Arkansas land where they could build lives with meaning. Some of the interviewees were locals, also of the Baby Boom generation who saw, rightly, that “the times, they were a changin’.”

What I found in common among those interviewed was a profound understanding that they and the rest of this cohort were responsible for what the future would become. Each acting passionately in his or her own way in arenas of personal interest, these people brought important changes to the region and the world. Whether protecting the environment, furthering the rights of women or racial minorities, or opening their hearts to so many other problems, these were the engines of social changes that are still being fought in our politics.

Often the topic of heated rhetoric and armchair analysis, those who went ‘back to the land’ are rarely heard in their own voice. Now documented in these breathtakingly honest, personal interviews, their stories reveal the guts, glory, and grief of the 1960s social revolution.

Paperback, $12.95, Amazon