Category Archives: Local History

The Red-Headed Bug

The car kicked up a cloud of dust as I hurtled down the long driveway. In my rush, I turned onto the county road and traveled another half mile before I noticed the creature that held on furiously just outside my side window, some kind of small waspish fly, its bulbous eyes perched like wire-rimmed glasses on its orangey-maroon head, its tidy black veined wings tucked sleekly along the sides of its narrow black thorax. Its thin legs flexed and strained to remain anchored in spite of the force of the air stream as I sped along.

This was not a singular event. My rural wooded property hosts bugs of infinite variety, some of which end up resting on my car.  On any given trip to town, I might inadvertently transport tan walking sticks, red, yellow, or black wasps, skinny dirt-daubers, black, blue, or green flies, beetles of every conceivable shape and shade, spiders, ticks, bees, mosquitos, gallinippers, moths, ants of assorted size, and any other of so many multiple-legged beings that I suspect some of them have, to date, escaped scientific classification.

Notable creatures such as the saddle-backed, black stinkbug or the lime green praying mantis usually merit my immediate pull-over, where I carefully remove them to roadside vegetation wondering if they find any advantage in new territory. I’ve considered whether higher insect intelligences, like flies, might purposefully plan for such transport. One large green fly made it all the way to town, having carefully positioned himself in a joint of the windshield wiper, perhaps with a particular lady city-fly in mind.

I rarely see them as I load in my gear, back up, and drive away, not until I have picked up speed, until they begin to slide, inexorably, across the waxed paint of the car’s body or the smooth glass of the windshield. They ride in ignorance, misunderstanding the threat. From their egocentric viewpoint, the problem is not that they are unwitting passengers on the rides of their lives, but simply that a strong wind has sprung up.

The challenge is to hold fast.

On this particular morning, the red-headed fly had arrived at my parked car door, at what seemed a perfectly fine spot to rest, groom, and digest his latest meal. As I began driving and the sudden gale blustered around him, he braced himself, securing every foot firmly to the spot. He had no concepts through which to anticipate that his greatest risk came with hanging on to what seemed familiar surroundings, that ultimately he would be farther away from what he knew and desired than he would have been if he had simply let go.

As I cruised along the road, the tiny red and black fly gripped ever more frantically to maintain his hold. In order to offer the least wind resistance, his body bent and contorted, stretched and elongated, the severity of his effort betrayed by erratic flare-ups of his wing tips.  Staring at me through the side window glass, he seemed to question me in panicky stares.

I advised him based on my previous experience.

Some bugs come to a forty mile per hour realization, I said. While I’m still on this back road, in a serendipitous flash of insight, they let go.

I waited for his response. He tensely adjusted his wings and aimed his head more into the wind.

After some scary free fall, I continued, they find themselves in the thickets near Miller’s pond. We drove farther and his stance remained resolute.

Or in the rocky ditch, I said, or in the middle of Mr. Breedlove’s herd of Angus. Wherever you might find yourself, I’m sure you could optimize the situation—you know, discover a trove of aphids or a lonely female.

I glanced to see if he was listening. The red-black fly showed no hint of a high-speed epiphany but instead re-exerted his desperate clench.

Ignoring the urging of my more generous side, I accepted little ongoing responsibility as to the fly’s future well-being. It was, after all, an insect. And I was in a hurry.

The road merged onto the highway, and I accelerated. Listening to the radio, absorbed in anticipating my day’s schedule, and maneuvering through heavy traffic, I failed to notice when his tiny sticky foot pads ripped loose from the slick paint of my car door.

Halfway into town, I realized he was gone.

Briefly, I suffered anxiety on his behalf. Had he made his leap at the right moment, I wondered? Was his grip torn free in the surge of a passing truck, bringing him to join countless distant kinsmen already pasted to its front grill?

Had he ever understood the threat?

Had he understood and somehow just hadn’t figured out the best timing?

I narrowed my thoughts to more pressing considerations. The city lay ahead. In a continuing ethical quandary about my role in the greater scheme of things, I decided to believe that he knew what he was doing all along and got off right where he intended.

Excerpted from my book, I Met a Goat on the Road:

Ebook and Paperback available at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com


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A little murder with your lemonade?

What could be more interesting summer reading than murder stories from the 1800s? This collection of fifty stories cover the earliest years of Arkansas statehood, Civil War atrocities, and a shoot-out on Fayetteville’s town square. All the murders occurred in Washington County Arkansas, a mild-mannered place by any other account.

Here’s just one chapter:

On an icy Wednesday January 24, 1872, in a field on the Rev. Riley Jones’ place near Black Oak in eastern Washington County, two young men set about the task of feeding livestock, Riley’s 21-year-old son James Cornelius ‘Nealy’ Jones and Henry Durham, age unknown. Durham had been taken in by the Jones family and lived there as part of the family.

As young men often do, the two exchanged jokes, lies, and dares as they pitched hay off the wagon. According to later accounts, Jones was ribbing Durham pretty hard about some trivial matter.[1] Before either of them realized how or when, the mood changed. The jokes became insults and the dares became threats.  Biting cold set their teeth on edge as they faced each other. Tempers ignited and before anyone paused to think, Durham charged Jones with the pitchfork. One of the tines pierced his coat and went straight to his heart.

Suddenly young ‘Nealy’ Jones lay dying on the field as Henry stood over him watching in disbelief.

Despite Durham’s efforts to resuscitate him, Jones did not revive. Roused by Durham’s shouts, Riley Jones came running to his dying son. But it was too late. They carried the body inside while someone went for the township constable.

The Reverend Riley Jones and his wife Nancy had arrived in Washington County between 1850 and 1860 to settle near his three younger brothers Clairborne, Enoch, and James Jones, all natives of Hawkins County, Tennessee who had arrived in Washington County some years earlier. The descendants of all four brothers would mingle in county records forever after. [2]

Riley took up residence in the Middle Fork Valley near Carter’s Store. Age fifty-five in 1860, Riley and his wife Nancy Bailey had gained eleven children over the years of their marriage including nine daughters and two sons. The couple had suffered their share of tragedy. One daughter died in infancy. Another daughter Eliza Tabitha died unexpectedly June 21, 1861, six days after giving birth to her fifth child Benjamin Calhoun. Eliza’s husband, Pleasant Riley Jones (probably her first cousin),[3] remained to grieve with their children: Jesse 13, John 11, David 9, and William 7—as well as the newborn Benjamin.

With war breaking out all around, in the summer of 1862, Pleasant joined up with the 1st Cavalry Regiment Arkansas (C.S.A.), leaving his children in the care of Eliza’s parents Riley and Nancy.[4] According to family records, his unit met Union forces November 1 at Cross Hollow. Pleasant was killed in a skirmish on November 29.[5] Also lost that fateful year was Absolom Abraham Jones, the older of the two Jones sons, who died at age 27 while engaged in Civil War combat in Northwest Arkansas.

With the deaths of Eliza and now Pleasant, Eliza’s parents Riley and Nancy Jones became the caretakers of their four orphaned grandchildren. For the next five years, the family suffered the deprivations of continued guerrilla warfare that plagued north Arkansas even after the war ended. But in August 1871, they celebrated the promise of a new marriage when the baby of the family, James Cornelius “Nealy” Jones, joined with Matilda Lewis, the lovely young daughter of George Washington Lewis who operated the Lewis Mill on the Middle Fork of White River.

Now a freak encounter had ended Cornelius’ life. In disbelief, the Reverend Riley Jones controlled his rage and grief as he waited for the constable to remove Henry Durham from the premises.  At least with the murderer in custody, he would gain justice for his son’s premature and tragic death. Finally the constable arrived and took the shaken Henry Durham to the local lock-up.

Call it fate. Call it karma. What happened next would be the only semblance of justice in this case. The next morning, the constable left a young man named Lewis, probably a relative of Matilda, in charge of the prisoner while he went for his breakfast. Sensing an opportunity and facing possible execution by hanging, Henry Durham made a run for it. Ignoring Lewis’ demand to halt, Durham pursued his escape. Prepared with a loaded weapon, Lewis fired, striking Durham with a fatal gunshot.

Research has not discovered whether Henry Durham was in any way connected to the naming of the nearby community of Durham. In fact, the only record of this name other than the few facts noted so far is a listing of his name in the 1869 personal property tax records for Washington County. Of further note, a few versions of the story claim that Henry Durham killed Nealy Jones with a knife rather than a pitchfork. But dead is dead and both men found their end on back-to-back frigid January days.

‘Nealy’ Jones was buried beside his brother Absolom and his sister Eliza at Mt. Zion Cemetery. Henry Durham was buried at Reese Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Finally, a post script about Matilda Lewis Jones. After only five happy months of married life, the young woman had become a widow. In August 1873, eighteen months after the death of Cornelius, Matilda married again, this time to Cornelius’ cousin William Newton Jones, the son of the Rev. Clairborne Jones, Riley  Jones’ brother. Newton Jones will figure prominently in another murder story in Chapter 21.

An interesting story about Matilda involved a recently freed slave named Mary Ann. At the end of the Civil War, slaveholders were required to release all slaves. The owner of Mary Ann wanted to sell her despite the new law. Seeing the value in a young mixed race girl of about fifteen years at the time, the owner expected to receive a thousand dollars for her.

Hearing of Mary Ann’s fervent wish not to be sold, Matilda’s father George Lewis offered Mary Ann work at his household if she wished to leave her former ‘owner.’ (Some rumors alleged the ‘owner’ was in fact her father. Begetting mixed race children upon slaves was a common practice among some slave owners. The act was seen as ‘bettering’ the negro race.) This intervention of Lewis in facilitating her ‘escape’ caused a permanent rift between him and the former slave’s ‘owner’.

Mary Ann eagerly accepted Mr. Lewis’ offer and the young woman flourished in her new home. About five years later, in January 1874, Mary Ann became sick and died. With travel impossible in the icy weather, Matilda contributed her twice-used wedding dress as a burial shroud for Mary Ann, who was then laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the east end of Reese Cemetery.[6]

Get your copy of Murder in the County at Amazon.com

~~~

[1] Fayetteville Democrat January 27, 1872

[2] More on the Jones family in Appendix of Selected Family Histories, Jones, p 394

[3] Pleasant’s father, John Jones, was born in 1789 at Hawkins County, Tennessee. Eliza’s father Riley Jones was born in 1805 in the same county.

[4] The 1st Cavalry Regiment, Arkansas State Troops (1861), was an Arkansas cavalry regiment during the American Civil War. The regiment was organized at Camp Walker near Harmony Springs, Benton County, Arkansas. The regiment was officially designated as the Third Regiment (Cavalry), Arkansas State Troops by the State Military Board but was designated as the 1st Arkansas Cavalry by Brigadier General Nicholas Bartlett Pearce, Commander, 1st Division, Provisional Army of Arkansas. The regiment is referred to as “Carroll’s Regiment” in contemporary accounts.

[5] Family records may be in error here. A large Confederate encampment at Cross Hollow was left in smoldering ruins before a Union advance in February 1862. With the Battle of Pea Ridge in early March 1862, Confederates retreated south from Benton County. With a death date of November 29, 1862, Pleasant Jones may have died in the run-up to the Battle of Prairie Grove, perhaps in the November 28 Battle of Cane Hill.

[6] Coley, Cheri. “The Rest of the Story…Sort of:” Washington County Arkansas Genealogical Society newsletter June 2005.  http://wcags.org/?page_id=784

Jesse Mumford Gilstrap – Millwright, Inventor, and Union Officer

This article won awards from both the Washington County Historical Society and the Arkansas Historical Association competitions in 2018 and 2019.

 

In 1852, Jesse Mumford Gilstrap settled in Washington County, Arkansas, with his wife and three children. He had ventured to the county earlier; his first child was born here in 1848. An adventurous and passionate young man, in 1850 Gilstrap had trekked westward to join the gold rush while his wife awaited him at her family home near Carthage, Missouri. Back from his adventure and a few dollars richer, he returned to Washington County where he immediately invested some of his earnings in a partnership in one of the county’s earliest mills. In 1856, took full ownership. Then as the winds of war heightened, Jesse spoke out on behalf the Union cause. In 1862, he gathered a company of fellow patriots to form the first company of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Jesse went on to serve in the state senate before his untimely death in 1869.

Jesse’s family was among the second wave of settlers to arrive in Washington County. His father Isaac Gilstrap, a native of North Carolina, was the fifth generation of Gilstraps in America, descended from Thomas Gilstrap of Nottinghamshire, England who immigrated to the colonies around 1695. The Gilstraps moved west as the frontier opened, first to North Carolina, then Tennessee where Isaac married Lockey Davis in 1822. After their family grew to include Jesse and several additional children, the Gilstraps homesteaded at Neosho, Missouri, between 1836 and 1844.

At age 21 in 1845, Jesse married Mary Ann Davidson at Carthage, Missouri. He and Mary Ann gained their first child Elizabeth in 1848 during a brief period when the couple first lived in Washington County. But news of gold in California caused Jesse to return his wife and daughter back to her Missouri family for safekeeping while he struck out to seek his fortune. At the time of the January 1850 census for Neosho, Missouri, Mary Ann age 19 and the couple’s one-year-old daughter Elizabeth lived at the Davidson family home while Jesse, age 26, labored in the gold fields of Greenwood Valley, El Dorado County, California.

The eight census pages which tally the Greenwood Valley includes a total of 336 people, among which are three black men, two women, and 331 white men. They came from every state in the nation as well as Canada, Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, and Holland. Occupations included baker, attorney, four merchants, a saloon keeper, a hotelier, physician, and butcher. Like most of the men enumerated, Jesse named his occupation as miner.

At the start of the gold rush, Greenwood didn’t exist. The area was known as Long Valley, a remote area of northeast California in the Sierra Foothills. The location sits over the northwest portion of the so-called Mother Lode where early arrivals found nuggets literally lying in plain view. The place quickly gained a torrent of hopeful newcomers.[1]  By the spring of 1850, John Greenwood had established a trading post soon followed by a butcher shop and a general store. By 1851, Greenwood hosted two theatres, a number of restaurants, fourteen stores, a brewery, several hotels, and blacksmiths. After dark and in bad weather, miners lived in canvas tents or rough cabins. But in every hour of daylight, they pursued their hopes of finding free gold or rich quartz veins on their claims. The men were tight-lipped with the census taker about the value of their claim. Gilstrap admitted to an average daily value of his mining efforts of four dollars, an amount typical of miner income which ranged from two dollars up to a rare nine or eleven dollars per day.[2]

On December 1, 1851, Jesse M. Gilstrap returned home. He disembarked from the brig Morning Star at New Orleans, having traveled from San Juan Del Norte, Nicaragua along with 175 other passengers, presumably most of them men returning from California. This cut-across route avoided the long journey around the tip of South American or its alternative, the grinding cross-country trek over mountains and desert. The cut-through followed a new path across Central America, a journey starting at San Carlos, Nicaragua said to take about three weeks by use of mules, a steamboat ride across a lake to the mouth of the San Juan River, and then by ship north across the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. In the ship manifest, Jesse named his occupation as cabinet maker.[3]

Gilstrap gained sufficient funds during his stay in California not only to book passage for the swiftest route home, which cost between $200 and $400, but also to invest—within six weeks of his return—in an ongoing milling operation in south Washington County established by William H.H. Nott by 1838 and sold to Eleazar Pelphrey in 1845.[4] Jesse brought his immediate family to live here along with the rest of the extended Isaac Gilstrap family. Washington County, Arkansas, tax records show the first payment of real estate taxes by both Isaac and his son Jesse occurred in 1852.

On January 12, 1852, Gilstrap paid Pelphrey for a half interest in the operating grist and sawmill, “one half interest…in a certain tract…formerly owned by Wm. H. H. Nott in the SE SW 23-14-30…including mill.”[5] This location on the West Fork of White River was about five miles south of modern-day West Fork.

He didn’t choose an easy livelihood. Milling operations in those times involved the construction of a large wooden mill wheel and the assembly of multiple moving parts and gears to rotate the grindstones as well as sawblades and other devices needed in the milling of grain and lumber. The West Fork of White River suffers the random violence of a river swollen by heavy rain. In a narrow valley with steep hills on either side, the river reaches flood stage relatively quickly. In some years far worse than others, downpours rush down the tributary streams and across the valley to overrun the river banks. In times of heavy rain, torrents of brown water sweep along adjacent pastures and woodland, tearing trees from the banks and sending them downstream like battering rams. Perched along the streambed where the river flow could turn its wooden wheel, mill wheels could be wrecked in the onslaught.

But Jesse Gilstrap weathered such storms. His mill provided meal and flour for farmers bringing their harvests and sawed rough timber into usable boards. He saw to the welfare of his family as well as participating in community affairs. Evidently an ambitious and outgoing young man, Gilstrap was elected justice of the peace to represent West Fork Township in 1855. On June 28, 1856, he gained full ownership of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 23, Township 14, Range 30 North, deeded from Pelphrey to Gilstrap for the amount of $250 and described specifically as the “sawmill on the West Fork of White River…formerly owned by Wm. H. H. Nott.”[6] The location under Nott had served as the first post office for the West Fork Township. Subsequently, the post office became known as Gilstrap’s Mill.

Approaching his mill enterprise with a background in carpentry, and with his brother Thomas nearby who continued to earn his livelihood as a cabinet man, Jesse Gilstrap sought ways to improve saw mill operations. Boards from his mill supplied carpenters Oren and Henry Rieff for building projects in Fayetteville and the surrounding region including the pre-Civil War educational facilities Ozark Institute and Arkansas College.

But Gilstrap wasn’t resting on his laurels in operating the mill. In August 1857, Gilstrap patented a machine for whetting plane bits with the U. S. Patent Office.[7] Smoothly finished boards would have been a high priority for the growing region and planing rough-cut hardwood would have presented a regular challenge in maintaining sharp bits. Gilstrap’s patent application included a detailed description of the machine and its parts.

No. 17,965. – Jesse M. Gilstrap, of Washington county, Ark.—Improved Machine for Whetting Plane Bits.—Patent dated August 11, 1857.—The bit to be whetted is inserted within the bit holder H, and a reciprocating motion being given to pitman I, the bit holder is operated within the ways H, and the edge of bit T is whetted on the stone M, while the spring rod I exerts an even pressure upon the friction roller K and bit holder H.

The next year, in 1858, Gilstrap purchased an additional seventy acres adjacent to his mill property. Increasingly, however, matters of national politics drew his attention. Despite the fact that his father Isaac was a Confederate sympathizer, Jesse spoke publicly on behalf of the Union. As animosity intensified between opposing sides, he and other Union supporters increasingly came under attack. Whether for political reasons or due to competition from Nott’s new mill at Woolsey, by the time of the 1860 census, Jesse had moved his family to the “Narrows” in Crawford County, a location just east of modern Mountainburg and about twenty miles south of his mill site in Washington County. He built a mill at the Narrows as well—the census names his occupation as millwright with property valued at $1,500.  His brother Thomas Gilstrap and family lived next door where Thomas worked as a cabinet maker. On the other side of Jesse’s residence, his sister Nancy and her husband Reuben Burrows resided with their children.

After Arkansas declared its allegiance with the Confederacy in May 1861, Jesse Gilstrap and other Union supporters suffered increasing belligerence. Confederate commanders were ordered to hunt down Union sympathizers. Many men of similar circumstance ended up spending the winter of 1861-62 in the caves of south Washington County. By June 1862 and after arrest and confinement under Confederate watch at Fort Smith, Gilstrap “took with him seventeen recruits to the federal army at Cassville, Missouri. When Colonel Larue Harrison obtained leave to organize an Arkansas regiment, Jesse Gilstrap raised the first field company. He was made a captain in Company D and his brother Thomas John was made first lieutenant in Company A. Their brothers Benjamin and Wesley also joined along with their brother-in-law Reuben Burrows.”[8]

Gilstrap gained prominent mention in the 1863 publication of Lieutenant Colonel Albert Webb Bishop, provost marshal of Fayetteville, entitled Loyalty on the Frontier: Sketches of Union men in the South-west.[9] Bishop provides personal and official accounts of early war action in south Missouri and northwest Arkansas. Gilstrap’s activities are often described in the company of his fellow officer Thomas Wilhite, also of south Washington County. Bishop’s narrative illustrates the hazards of the times.

Recruiting in Arkansas for the Union Army was at that time a perilous undertaking. Loyal men avowed their principles at the hazard of life, and the greatest difficulty to be overcome was in getting recruits to the rendezvous of the regiment for which enlistments were being made.

By arrangement, [Thomas] Wilhite and Gilstrap, having for recruiting purposes gone into different neighborhoods, were to meet at the house of one Spencer Bullard, on Fall Creek, in Washington county, and there concert measures for the removal, or getting northward rather, of their recruits. For some reason or other, Gilstrap had departed on Wilhite’s arrival, and the latter having with him twenty-eight men, determined to retire into the White River hills and Boston Mountains, and collection from the adjoining settlements still other men who were anxious to get away, bide his time for departure.

Gilstrap and Wilhite enlisted on the same day, suggesting they had made the risky journey together to Union lines in southern Missouri. Their regiment would later become known as the “Mountain Feds” for their regular patrols in seeking out Confederate guerillas preying on families known to be Union sympathizers. The regiment would earn a reputation for their ability to negotiate the rough Ozark country.

However, the trauma of frontline warfare plunges its horror deep into a man’s soul. If not in battle, Gilstrap’s first war terror may have occurred as he learned of the death of his brother Lieutenant Thomas John Gilstrap. Family records state that Thomas died while recruiting on November 3, 1862. One family account states that he approached what he thought was a Loyalist home, asked for a drink, and was given poisoned buttermilk. He fell dead in the front yard.[10] Another account states that he died of pneumonia at Cross Hollow.[11]

A month later, the First Arkansas Cavalry and in particular Company D experienced its first full-scale battle at Prairie Grove. But the first test of the troops came in an incident the day before the battle when the company came under unexpected attack. In the early hours of the morning on December 7, 1862, the day of the Battle of Prairie Grove, the 7th Missouri as well as the 6th Missouri, under command of Major Eliphalet Bredett, camped south of Prairie Grove at the junction of the Cane Hill, Cove Creek, and Fayetteville roads after an exhausting forced march south from Missouri. They had been ordered south to reinforce Union General James G. Blunt in his campaign to seize control of Northwest Arkansas.

While feeding and resting their horses, the Missourians were unaware that Col. Emmett MacDonald’s Confederate cavalry brigade had spotted them. […] Before the Confederates could strike, a company of the 8th Missouri, also en route to reinforce Blunt, passed through the resting Missouri and Arkansas cavalrymen and swept on down the road. They were almost through the heavily wooded lane when MacDonald’s Confederates fired upon them.

The volley from an unseen foe created panic. The remnant of the company stampeded back through Bredett’s startled horsemen. Ordering his men to mount and form a line of battle, the major had hardly completed his task when the Confederates thundered down on them. Desperately fighting, Bredett rallied his men and formed line again before he went down under the charging horsemen. The retreat was sounded, and it was every man for himself.[12]

… A considerable number of the Arkansas 1st Cavalry came rushing by at the top of the speed of their horses some without hats or coats in fact they were perfectly panic stricken and rushed in pell mell haste past us. … [The foe] had made a sudden dash upon the Arkansas Cavalry who were ignorant of the close proximity of the enemy [and] were taken completely by surprise and their entire [baggage] train captured …

… Troops of the First Arkansas Cavalry (U.S.) and Seventh Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) fled in disorder after an initial confrontation with Confederate horsemen between Fayetteville and Prairie Grove. Herron stopped the rout by shooting a Union cavalryman out of his saddle. [William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009) 137-43.][13]

Brigadier General Francis J. Herron shared joint command of Union forces with Brigadier General Blunt in the Battle of Prairie Grove, leading approximately 9,200 men against about 11,000 Confederate forces under Major General Thomas C. Hindman. Technically a stalemate, the battle resulted in Confederate withdrawal due to lack of supplies, leaving Union forces to seize control in the region.[14] It is not known if Captain Jesse Gilstrap or Company D were among those caught off guard by McDonald’s attack.

The winter of 1862-63 was one of the coldest on record. The Arkansas River at Fort Smith froze with ice thick enough for troops and supply wagons to pass over. Men suffered illness from exposure to the cold, many of them dying in camp.[15] Furthering Jesse’s ordeal, in January 1863, he suffered the loss of his brother Benjamin, serving as a corporal in Company D. Benjamin went home to West Fork to die of pneumonia.

Throughout the coming months after federal forces gained control of Northwest Arkansas following the Battle of Prairie Grove, various companies of the Arkansas 1st Cavalry rode east into Carroll and Madison counties and south into Crawford, Franklin, and Johnson counties in pursuit of guerrilla Confederates. Under constant psychological stress, men involved in these encounters engaged in hand-to-hand fighting, sometimes forced to patrol on foot.

During this time, the regiment escorted wagon trains, conducted patrols, and skirmished with guerrillas on an almost daily basis. These activities took a tremendous toll on the regiment. Horses were especially vulnerable and were disabled at an alarming rate in the rough terrain of the Ozarks. In its first eighteen months of service, the First Arkansas received 2,600 horses. In July 1864, there were only 104 horses available for the 538 men present for duty. This chronic shortage of horses frequently forced the First Arkansas to conduct scouting and patrol duty on foot, a situation that placed the regiment at a considerable disadvantage when combating well-mounted guerrillas.[16]

Jesse Gilstrap’s military files provide the following service record:

  • July 1862, Present
  • December 1862, Present Fayetteville Ark. In command of Co D as Provost Guard[17] at Fayetteville
  • Jan 1863 to Mar 1863. Present for duty Fayetteville, Ark.
  • April 1863. Present. Flat Creek, Barry Co., Mo.
  • May 1863. Present Cassville Mo on special duty. Prov Marshal
  • June 1863 to July 1863. Present Cassville, Mo.
  • Aug 1863. Present Cassville, Mo. Detached service comd’g post, Cassville
  • Sept 1863 to Oct 1863, Present, Fayetteville Ark
  • Nov 1863 Present Fayetteville, Ark. In arrest[18]

In what must have come as a shock to Jesse, in October 1863, he received notice of his dismissal from active duty on charges outlined in a letter to the Head Quarters Department of the Missouri, St. Louis Mo. December 21st, 1863:

Special Order No 348:

Capt. Jesse M. Gilstrap of the 1st Ark Cavalry is upon the representation of his immediate commanding officer … is ordered mustered out of the service of the United States for the following reasons

1st Failing to make proper company returns since his appointment

2nd Lax discipline permitting his men to be disrespectful to him

3rd Sleeping out of his quarters without leave

4th Uncleanliness of person to a degree totally unbecoming his position

He will receive no final payments until he has satisfied the pay department that he is not indebted to the government.

By command of Maj. Gen Schofield

P D. Green, Assistant Adjutant General

This observation of aberrant behavior and a photograph of Jesse during this time period suggest that he suffered an acute case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In March 1863, a three-page letter written by Gilstrap and addressed to Major General Rosencranz at Fayetteville argues his case. Sometimes speaking of himself in the third person, Gilstrap states that:

He is known to be one of the few here who stood firm and true to the Federal Union in 1861. Made the last public Union speech known in the state and notwithstanding the withering storm of secession constantly strove to keep up the Union sentiment in the circle of his acquaintance. Among the first victims, he with 8 others were for several weeks imprisoned in Fort Smith Ark.

Early in May 1862 he left his family home and all that was dear only the cause of our country and took with him 17 recruits to the federal army at Cassville, Mo., they being about the first from N. W. Ark. And when Col. M. LaRue Harrison obtained leave to organize an Arkansas Redgt your petitioner raised the first full company for that the 1st Ark Redgt and he feels that no one did more than himself to fill up said Redgt. And before the Redgt was fully organized he was placed in command of a detachment 26 miles southwest of Springfield Mo. While the rebels were holding Cassville, Mo. there remained over two months until reinforced by Capt. Galiway of said Redgt when he with said reinforcement took Cassville with the loss of only one man killed and capturing over thirty rebels and driving the rest completely out of town thus gaining the first victory gained by part of the 1st Ark Cav.

During the 19 months the undersigned remained in the army service he has with the exception of a short time been on the extreme outposts and there served with all the vidulance [vigilance] and firmness in his power and in 3 or 6 engagements with the enemy in battle he feels that his conduct was creditable among those who know the facts.

Gilstrap goes on to deny the veracity of the charges leveled against him. He claimed only two nights out of quarters, and that due to his family being in town. He struck through the following line:

…while some other officers especially Lt. Maringer who now (illegible) your petitioner in the regiment has rarely been known to sleep in his quarters.

The 4th charge is frivolous and made only to render me contemptable at Head Quarters Not for any superior claims to ability but as and evidence of the confidence the union men of this county have in the undersigned. He was recently elected State Senator for four years by a vote nearly double that of both his competitors, one of whom was an old citizen (man years ago a rep) the other a captain now in the Federal Army serving here. He does not allude to this to boast of a triumph over those honorable gentlemen but a fact tending to show that Ark soldiers and other voters feel that he has done his duty and been true to our country…

As to permitting my men to disrespect me, there is not a man in the company that was or is disposed to treat me with disrespect.

Sixteen attesting signatures including rank and company appear below Gilstrap’s signature.

In a letter dated April 9, 1864, Gilstrap received a response to his plea. The letter briefly states the matter:

Jesse M. Gilstrap, 1st Ark. Cavalry, is hereby so modified as to leave him honorable out of service as by resignation from the date of his dismissal.[19]

~~~

Removed from military service and perhaps somewhat recovered from the worst of his PTSD, Gilstrap was invited to run for office by the Union Republicans now in control of state government. He won the election and traveled to Little Rock for a special session of the legislature that convened in January 1864. He served as senator representing Washington County. This marked the renewal of Union allegiance for Arkansas state government.

Senate records contain 93 mentions of Gilstrap citing resolutions he put forth or acts he brought forward for a vote on issues such as authorizing collection of school and internal improvement funds, the organization of a home and court guard, and establishing payment to the keeper of the Washington County poor house. He promoted a measure to provide relief to soldiers’ families. The 1864 Journal of the Senate of Arkansas shows that Gilstrap was nominated to fill an Arkansas seat in the U. S. Senate but after multiple ballots, the position went to another man. He was also nominated for the second U. S. Senate position, again losing the federal position to another man.[20]

Gilstrap was selected to chair a select committee on the state militia, producing Senate Bills 12 and 14 which set out recommendations for the establishment of a militia. He put forth a resolution to prohibit the appearance of certain rebel leaders to the Senate chambers, lobby, or gallery. He also introduced an amendment to emphasize that nothing about the rights of freed blacks allowed for marriage between a white person and a Negro or mulatto.

That same month, February 1864, Jesse’s comrade-in-arms and neighbor Thomas Wilhite was honorably discharged from his military service. Three months later, on April 10, 1864, according to Thomas’ mother’s first-hand account, Confederate “raiders” swept onto the Wilhite farmstead at Strickler and seized Thomas and his father. The two men were shot then hung, a slightly less barbaric form of the old ‘drawn and quartered’ executions of medieval times.

Surely knowledgeable of his friend’s revenge killing, Gilstrap skipped out on senate business for the rest of that year. In late June 1864, a substitute for Gilstrap was appointed, but no reason for his absence was given. At the time the Senate reconvened on November 24, 1864, a request was made of the doorkeeper to send word to Gilstrap, among others, that his presence was required. Gilstrap failed to appear for any further meetings of that session which remained convened through the end of the year.

In April 1865, Jesse Gilstrap resumed his elected duties and, among other things, served as chair of the Senate committee charged with making suitable arrangements for the presentation of the battle flag of the First Arkansas Cavalry. Upon Governor Isaac Murphy’s reading of a proclamation honoring the event, Colonel Bishop came forward to read a patriotic letter from Col. M. LaRue Harrison who was deemed a “credit to himself and the noble regiment whose displays of valor on sundry battle-fields he beautifully portrayed.” After an eloquent address by the Hon. James Butler who received the flag for the state, three cheers were given to the old flag. The Spring 1865 session of the Arkansas legislature adjourned immediately afterwards, April 22, 1865.[21]

Less than a month later, on May 10, 1865, Jesse’s wife Mary Ann died at the age of 35. At this point, Jesse and Mary had six children ranging in age from three to seventeen years. Records designate Mary Ann’s place of death as Arkansas, but no information has been found naming the cause of death or her place of burial. Some family accounts claim she died and was buried in Missouri where the family and children relocated for safety during the war. Perhaps she died of natural causes, but partisan depredations continued to wreak havoc in the countryside.

On March 17, 1866, less than a year after the death of his wife, Jesse Gilstrap died. Family history says that he lost his life accidentally while working on a new mill. Such deaths weren’t uncommon. As noted in a 1956 article about early mills in America,

“Killed in his mill” was a frequent epitaph of two hundred years ago. The careless miller’s life was a short one, and whether he was lifted aloft and thrown from a windmill, whacked in the head by a spar or caught by his hand or clothing in the gigantic gears and ground up, his everyday work had to be as exacting and careful as that of an airplane pilot.[22]

But it’s also quite possible Jesse suffered the same vigilantism that killed his friend Thomas Wilhite. It wouldn’t have been difficult for revengeful Confederate sympathizers to sabotage Jesse’s operation or assist in an ‘accident.’ The extent of his injuries is not known. He’s buried in the Woolsey Cemetery alongside his brother Benjamin. No other Gilstrap graves have been identified at this location. Jesse’s brother Thomas and brother-in-law Reuben Burrows are buried at the National Cemetery in Fayetteville.

On July 2, 1866, the only surviving son of Isaac and Lockey Gilstrap, Wesley H. Gilstrap, was appointed administrator of Jesse’s estate with Jacob Yoes and Redding R. Putman as his securities. On November 5, 1867, an estate balance of $810.20 was confirmed, apparently the result of the sale of Jesse’s lands. No record of that sale has been found. The estate was fully settled and vacated July 11, 1873.

Throughout the Civil War years and its aftermath, tragedies decimated the greater Gilstrap family. In addition to the war-time deaths of Jesse’s brothers Thomas and Benjamin, Jesse’s brother-in-law Reuben Burrows was killed in the Battle of Prairie Grove. Of the Gilstrap sons, only Wesley, the youngest Gilstrap brother, survived.[23] Jesse’s widowed sister Nancy died in 1867 and his sister Martha, joined in marriage in 1871 to James Yoes, died in 1872 a few weeks after giving birth to a daughter, Minnie.

Jesse’s mother Lockey sided with her four sons in their allegiance to the Union and, at the start of hostilities, left her husband Isaac, a former slaveholder determined to embrace the Confederate cause. She resided briefly with her widowed daughter Nancy then with daughters-in-law and her surviving son Wesley until her death in 1873. The 1870 census finds Jesse’s father Isaac Gilstrap residing in a household headed by thirty-five year old Eliza Fellows and her four children at Vine Prairie Township, Crawford County, Arkansas. He died in 1877.

The children of Jesse and Mary Ann Gilstrap were Elizabeth Jane born 1848 in Arkansas, possibly died as a child; Martha A. born October 1850 in Missouri while Jesse was in the gold fields; Isaac 1853-1929; Elizabeth Elera (Elisa) 1855; Joshua David 1857-1897; and Thomas C. 1860, the last four born in Arkansas. With the death of both parents as well as their maternal grandparents in previous years, the children petitioned Washington County probate court for legal rights. Isaac, age eighteen, and Elizabeth age fifteen, argued as follows:

[They seek] an order of this court removing their disabilities as minors and [to] allow them to transact business in the same manner and to the same extent as if they were of full age.

The court granted their petition in the January term 1871. It is not known who provided care for the children during the five years between their father’s death in 1866 and the grant of this petition. The 1870 census finds them scattered in various households at West Fork, Elizabeth Elera age 14 with the family of Searing Stelle and Martha age 19 at the home of William Graham. It’s possible the younger children Isaac age 17, Joshua age 13, and Thomas age 10 were taken under the guardianship of Jesse’s mother Lockey, who died in 1873, or Jesse’s brother Wesley. Exactly how many children remained alive this point is debatable. The lack of any information other than a birth date for the youngest, Thomas, suggests he may have died young.

At age nineteen in 1872, Jesse’s son Isaac Gilstrap was married in Washington County to sixteen-year-old Lourinda Caghman [Caughman] by Conrad Yoes. At the time of the 1880 census, Isaac and wife and two young children resided in Mountain Township, Washington County next door to his uncle Wesley H. Gilstrap and his family, both men farming for a living. Descendants of the Gilstrap families continue to live in Washington and Crawford counties to the present day.

Jesse Gilstrap followed ancient traditions of tradesmen who practiced and advanced their craft to the betterment of their communities. He may have struggled in his military duty, but in his role as captain, he did his best to honor his responsibilities and see to the welfare of his men. Likewise in his elected office of state senator, he served the State of Arkansas by doing what he could to encourage civil government. He invested in a stronger future by starting over—again—in rebuilding his mill. The loss of his wife, brothers and parents surely caused him considerable grief, but he wasn’t a man to stop trying. His role in early Washington County history deserves recognition.

~~~

[1] “California Gold Rush Camps,” Claudine Chalmers. http://www.paulrich.net/students/readings/california_gold_rush/california_gold_11.html Accessed Feb 26, 2018

[2] “Mining El Dorado—The Greenwood Mining District,” Anthony M. Belli. County of El Dorado website. https://www.edcgov.us/landing/Living/Stories/pages/greenwood_mining_district.aspx Accessed Feb 26, 2018

[3] From “The California Gold Fields in the 1850s: Letters from Ephraim Thompson, Daviess County, Indiana.” Edited by Philip L. Cantelon. Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 157-172. Online at https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/9442/12597. Accessed February 15, 2018

[4] Deed Record E-130, Washington County Archives, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

[5] Deed Record H-19

[6] Deed Record K-279, Washington County Archives

[7] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents, Part 2. United States. Patent  Office. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1858. 270

[8] Gilstrap family records. Also Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009, and National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

[9] Loyalty on the Frontier: Or, Sketches of Union Men of the South-west. Albert Webb Bishop. R. P. Studley and Company, printers, 1863 – Arkansas. Pages 53, 82, 93, 98, 187, 202. Available online at https://books.google.com/books?printsec=frontcover&dq=%22loyalty+on+the+frontier%22+bishop&sig=W2VS76pLcniZwVqiwbzRWYP4Yg&ei=QOHGTLT2NcWAlAe8vrzrAQ&ct=result&pg=PA83&id=QiGnmcFdtyAC&ots=CJyTD_wk8P#v=onepage&q=gilstrap&f=false Butler served as provost marshal of Fayetteville during the war.

[10] Personal correspondence with Gilstrap descendant Jim Dye, December 30, 2017. In author’s possession. The reported speed of death after ingestion is outside the norms for poisons available at that time.

[11] “The Gilstrap Family,” Marguerite Gilstrap. Self published family record. February 1978. Washington, D.C. 21-22

[12] I Do Wish This Cruel War Was Over: First Person Accounts of Civil War Arkansas from the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, edited by Mark K. Christ and Patrick G. Williams. (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2014):  57. This passage from Footnote 87.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid 27-28

[15] Flashback April 1953. 25

[16] “First Arkansas Union Cavalry,” Michael L. Price. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Online at http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1168. Accessed Dec 12, 2017

[17] “The provost marshals were the Union’s military police. They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property.” From Tennessee Secretary of State website: http://www.tnsos.net/TSLA/provost/index.php  Accessed March 5, 2018

[18] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916; Microfilm Serial: M617; Microfilm Roll: 362

[19] Gilstrap family records

[20] Journal of the Senate of Arkansas, Sessions of 1864, 1864-65, and 1865. Price & Barton, State Printers. 1870. Multiple pages. Available online at goo.gl/FWZCD1

[21] Ibid 43

[22] “The Mills of Early America,” Eric Sloane. American Heritage, Vol. 6 Issue 6, 1955. Online at http://www.americanheritage.com/content/mills-early-america Accessed March 31, 2018.

[23] Information regarding Isaac Gilstrap and his descendants available at http://www.genealogy.com/ftm/s/c/o/F-morton-Scott-OK/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0021.html

 

Photographs of Gilstrap provided by Jim Dye, a Gilstrap descendant and historian

My Dad

Family of Floyd Pitts at the family home, Cane Hill, Arkansas: Standing back row, left to right: Older brother Harvey, his wife Ina, youngest sister Verna, younger sister Opal, Floyd, oldest brother Noah with wife Nellie holding Betty with Laverne standing. Front row, children of Harvey and Ina, Bobby Ray and Joy Lee. Seated: William “Bill” Pitts and his wife Nora West Pitts.

My dad, Floyd D. Pitts, didn’t fit a traditional male identification, not that he wasn’t fully male. His talent for music set him up for ridicule and bullying by his two older brothers. He hated the fields of cotton where, as a child, he was once flogged with a cotton stalk by his mom for sleeping at the end of a long row with his bag only partly filled. He was eight years old. It was a lesson in working to survive, and he never forgot it.

His high school diploma from Morrow, Arkansas, hardly counted when he entered college on a music scholarship. He’d already been part of a popular men’s quartet with classmates from high school performing regularly on Fayetteville’s KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks radio station. He played piano and fiddle, and also taught singing school. A makeshift piano tuning hammer had been fashioned from a tie-rod end by his blacksmith father because invariably when Floyd showed up at some rural church house to teach shape-note singing, the piano needed tuning.

Band Director, Rogers Arkansas circa 1940

Time in the U. S. Navy during World War II gave him the opportunity to later obtain a master’s degree as well as hours toward a doctorate. After the war, he returned to Rogers (Arkansas) to again teach choir and band. Another forty years would pass in this career, at Fort Smith in the 1950s, then Miami, Oklahoma until 1967, then part time at Westville, Oklahoma and Lincoln, Arkansas, until he retired from teaching.

From the early 1960s on, however, he advanced his moonlighting career of piano tuning and repair, which he took up full time once he left Lincoln schools. And while I had been his student in the Miami schools band, my first opportunity to work at his side came with the piano business. And it was here that we stepped outside the normal father-daughter roles.

He didn’t treat me like a girl. I remember that even as a youngster, when he was trying to remodel an old house we lived in at Fort Smith, he’d show me how to drive a nail or spread mud on a sheetrock seam. When I began ‘helping’ him in the piano business, he didn’t pay attention to whether my nails would get broken or if my feet were cold. He’d say “Come hold this clamp, sis,” or “Get that Phillips and come over here.”

I learned so much this way, not only how to repair and rebuild these complex instruments called pianos, but how to refinish wood whether solid or veneered, how to mix stains to get rid of red tones, how to smooth off delicate veneer edges with 220 grit sandpaper. If I had a shop today, there’s no end to the kinds and numbers of projects I could pursue and conclude with pleasing results.

Most women don’t get that kind of education.

Carmyn Gem Morrow and Floyd Denver Pitts, Benton County Fair circa 1945

Maybe he realized he wasn’t a “traditional” male in the sense of muscles and macho. Maybe he realized I wasn’t a traditional female in the sense of lace and flirting and whatever else defines that sort. Maybe he didn’t realize any of that but rather just moved forward through time with the work his hands could do well and the concept of work as an honorable and necessary pursuit.

I learned more from my dad’s view of the world than from my mom’s. Oh, I washed dishes and hung clothes on the line and changed my little brothers’ diapers. I sewed most of my own clothes through high school. Gardening, milking goats, keeping chickens—those were also part of my education through mom. But none of that really meant much in the greater world of the late 20th century when a woman might need her own income.

Whereas my mom’s social circles didn’t reach much past her extended family, my dad had to learn how to interact with the greater community despite his rural background. He’d have a social drink, laugh at jokes, and recruit band parents and faculty to help sell snow cones to raise money for new band uniforms. It was his charmingly open approach to people that showed me how to build a social network that became an essential part of a thriving thirty-year career as a piano tuner/technician.

If he thought I could lift one end of a 1910 upright piano, who was to say I couldn’t? If he could dig mouse nests out from under piano keys or drill through the cast iron plate to insert lag bolts in restoring a pin block to its correct position, then so could I. I was stronger than I knew, more mechanically minded, my hands—like his—able to tug strings made of cold drawn steel into the right position on a tuning pin.

Me and my dad, mid-1990s at the piano shop, Pitts Piano Service, Fayetteville

I admit to occasional worries that I had lost all chance of being a ‘real’ woman. What woman crawled under a grand piano to refasten the pedal lyre? In 1982 when I passed my Piano Technician Guild exams for registered tuner/technician status, there were less than two dozen women in the field. Plenty of customers would open their door at the appointed time and express shock at seeing a female tech. My hands weren’t delicate with slim fingers and manicured nails, but rather slightly rough tools used to create a well-tuned musical instrument.

But then, even as a child, I never felt feminine. The mysterious talent by which a female might lure a male into courtship totally escaped me. My body didn’t cooperate with the idea of feminine wiles, but rather expressed itself in somewhat androgynous terms—tallish, fairly flat-chested, angular. Interestingly, my dad too seemed somewhat of an anomaly in his family, handsome, lithe rather than muscled. Did he recognize, at least subconsciously, that we both didn’t quite fit the mold?

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my share of love and marriage, cherish my three children, and never turn down a romance novel–unless it’s poorly written.

As his oldest, I gained my dad’s attention first and perhaps it was only the bond of fatherhood that propelled his urge to teach me what he knew. In his heart, he was a teacher more than anything else. He was also an artist—a bass vocalist who could track any part in a four-part harmony, a clarinetist,  and a pianist who loved to pound out the keyboard version of jump music like “Bugle Call Rag” or marches like “Under the Double Eagle.” He cherished his role as both a composer and a conductor who pushed his students to produce excellent music whether Sousa marches or Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It was natural for him to insist I learn piano, clarinet and oboe and how to sing alto, and to teach me how to shim a cracked soundboard and identify the difference between real ivory and early celluloid keytops.

All five of us kids learned music. Both my brothers earned master’s degrees in that field. Sadly, I was the only one privileged to work with him in the piano trade and see the broader side of him than as just a parent.

Whether by conscious intent or as the consequence of his personality, my father allowed me to be me. He encouraged me in skills that were beyond anything considered traditional for a female. His open-mindedness about the life choices of his oldest daughter freed me from any sense of duty to the stereotypes that so often limit women.

Today, fifteen years after his death, I appreciate him more than I was ever able to express while he lived. Thanks, Dad.

Ma Drake

Excerpt from Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past, “History of Fayette Junction.”

By 1936, the canning business was the dominant regional industry. At Fayette Junction in south Fayetteville, a new facility sprang up right across the tracks from Sligo Wagon Wood Company and began its own railcar shipments of canned goods. The 1936 Sanborn maps document this enterprise as “Thomas and Drake Canning Company Warehouse,” remarking that stated building dimensions had been taken “from plans.” It was a state of the art facility: plans specified iron posts, concrete block pilaster, and gypsum board roof on steel joists. The Rev. Jake Drake and his son Ezra Drake joined with Rylan C. Thomas in this enterprise.

According to the 1939 city directory, “Drake and Hargis Cannery” was located at 605 W. Dickson. Crates of canned tomatoes, greens, and other produce from this cannery would have been warehoused at Fayette Junction. In 1947, the business was called “Thomas and Drake Canning” and had offices at 19 East Center. Several Drakes may have been involved as a venture of the extended Drake family of Drake’s Creek area, Madison County. It is not clear whether the Fayette Junction property built by Drake ever served as more than a storage facility.

Drake’s brother Bill and sister-in-law Vida (Ma Drake) operated a favored local café known first as “Bill Drake’s Place,” no doubt taking advantage of his brother’s access to inexpensive local canned goods.  At some point before 1951, Drake and Thomas was taken over by Hargis. Among the litter later found on the old Sligo mill’s vast dark floor were cancelled checks of Drake Canning Company and Thomas and Drake Canning Company with dates in the 1950s.

Hargis and Drake canneries rode a wave of profitable commerce as Arkansas fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, captured a significant market share nationally. But by 1950, production and sales of tomato and strawberry crops comprised a mere one-fourth the volume it had in 1930. Disease, economic forces, and stringent new sanitation regulations began to crush the local canning market.

Vida Drake continued the business after Bill’s death. Frequent winner of awards for Best Plate Lunch, “Ma Drake’s” continued her café even after suffering a heart attack in the early 1990s. Her lunches included a meat, mashed potatoes with gravy, three vegetables, salad, and a roll for $3.75. Homemade pies rounded off the menu, usually available in apple, cherry, lemon, chocolate, coconut, and pecan. The café was first located at the northeast corner of Sixth and S. College, but later moved to 504 E. 15th Street. Drake’s closed after her death in 1997.

Where Trump voters come from

Arkansas continues its dereliction of duty in educating its young people with the May 22 announcement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that he will promote current Education Commissioner Johnny Key to the governor’s new cabinet position of Education Secretary. With this promotion, Key will add another $3,450 per year to his already ridiculous salary of $239,540 and gain ever greater leverage over the hapless citizenry of our state.

Readers may remember the insidious maneuvering required to cram Key into the commissioner position in the first place. Back in 2015, Key’s work history and educational achievements did not qualify him for the job. The law required a master’s degree and ten years teaching experience. When Gov. Hutchinson seized on the idea of putting Key in the post, a bill rushed through the legislature allowed the commissioner to evade these requirements if the deputy commission held those credentials.  Not that the commissioner would be required to obtain the advice or consent of the deputy in any given matter.

Key graduated from Gurdon (Arkansas) High School then received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1991 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He never taught a day in his life. That is, unless you count his and his wife’s operation of two pre-schools in Mountain Home, Noah’s Ark Preschool and Open Arms Living Center, operations that for years applied for and received tax-funded grants while flagrantly teaching religion. Another state legislator, Justin Harris (West Fork) also operated illegally with such dollars for his Growing God’s Kingdom preschool. All three schools received funding from the state under the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program administered by the Department of Human Service (DHS). After complaints were filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the state had no choice but to amend its grant guidelines.

AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith told Church & State. “The administrators of the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program violated the Constitution by funding [these] religious activities.”

According to a 2011 Arkansas Times report, “Sen. Johnny Key gets almost $200,000 in public money a year in support of his Noah’s Ark Preschool in Mountain Home, which also provides Bible lessons and daily prayers. Nearly 300 agencies — many of them with religious roots — receive $100 million a year in public Arkansas Better Chance funding to provide preschool for poor children.”[1]

The stated mission of the Harris preschool was to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operated with a Christian curriculum that included a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The school’s handbook also assured parents that staff members will “strive to ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, would be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.” They also prayed over students with disciplinary problems and laid on hands to “cast out demons.”

~~~

Key began his career in public service in 1997 when he was elected to serve as a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court. He was elected to three two-year terms in the House of Representatives, followed by a tenure in the Senate that began in 2008. Term limited out of the legislature, Key served as associate vice president for university relations at the University of Arkansas system, a position he began in August 2014, a half-year before his friend the governor found him a cozy role at the helm of the state’s education system.

Yet even while in the legislature, Key demonstrated his dedication to the extremist religious agenda in education:

He was active in education issues, including responsibility for exploding the number of seats that receive state dollars to essentially finance home-schooling, by qualifying millions in spending on “virtual charter schools” that provide assistance to students who don’t attend conventional brick-and-mortar schools. His special language, never debated on the floor, lifted the cap on such payments from 500 to 5,000 students.[2]

Simultaneously, the state excused itself from any oversight of home-schooled students. There are no tests, no monitoring, no method by which to ensure thousands of Arkansas home-schooled kids are actually learning anything,

Key has also been a champion of public charter schools in the model promoted by the Walton heirs. While first lauded as a path for parents dissatisfied with their children’s education, charter schools have come under increasing scrutiny for siphoning money away from public schools with less than excellent results. Even worse, soon after taking over as education commissioner, Key became the default school board for Little Rock’s troubled schools. The district struggles with low-income, high minority populations where schools routinely earn “D” and “F” ratings in student outcomes. Key’s answer? Charters.

Much ink has been spilled over the Little Rock situation including Key’s desire to terminate the state’s Teacher Fair Dismissal Act and the Public School Employee Fair Hearing Act in the 22 traditional schools in Little Rock. As noted by one observer, “In the absence of democratic governance and oversight, Arkansas schools are hiring unqualified teachers without a public disclosure requirement, undermining labor standards for teachers, contributing to school re-segregation, and defrauding the public.”[3]

Tracking the details of the Little Rock fiasco, the Arkansas Times reported that the previous superintendent, Baker Kurrus, who was fired by Key before his takeover, thought charter schools “probably unconstitutional when operated as parallel, inefficient and not particularly innovative or successful ventures in Little Rock. He mentioned then that the loss of 120 students for this latest expansion potentially meant a loss of approaching another $1 million in annual state support to the Little Rock District for lost students.”[4]

~~~

No effort was made by the state to require Key or Harris to refund the millions in tax dollars they had appropriated over a period of years to operate their religious schools. And of course they didn’t honorably offer to do so. The ABC program only marginally amended its procedures for granting funding. The guidelines now require that no religious instruction occur during the “ABC day,” a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends is not the state’s concern. Since children are often picked up by school vans or dropped off by parents before the parents’ work hours and held until the end of the work day, anywhere from two to four hours of religious instruction is usually possible.

And who would know if these schools violate the ABC day with a little prayer at lunch or a few minutes of casting out demons?

The ABC program, as it stands, does not require any kind of viability test where a school would have to prove that its religious instruction could stand on its own two feet without the use of tax dollars. In fact, if tax dollars didn’t support the rent, utilities, insurance, and salaries for general operations, these schools would cease to exist. Repeated questioning of DHS / ABC money managers has yielded zero interest in developing or implementing such a test.

Neither Harris nor Key were censured for their illegal use of public funds for their religious schools. And while Harris quietly served out his remaining term in office before retreating to private life, Key has been awarded one of the highest paid positions in state government. If Key didn’t know he was breaking the law in accepting ABC grants, he’s incredibly stupid. Surely somewhere in his years of college he must have brushed up against the idea of separation of church and state and the hard line between tax dollars and religion. If he did know, he deliberately violated the U. S. Constitution, aided and abetted by the state’s willfully ignorant wink and nod.

Now Key reigns supreme over the state’s educational systems, welcomed with open arms by a governor whose own dedication to religion is no secret. After all, Asa Hutchinson is a proud graduate of none other than Bob Jones University, a private, non-denominational evangelical university in Greenville, South Carolina, known for its conservative cultural and religious stance. Refusing to admit African-American students until 1975, the school lost federal funding and ended up in court for not allowing interracial dating or marriage within its student body. BJU hit the news again in 2014 after a report revealed that administrators had discouraged students from reporting sexual abuse. [See the New York Times report.]

Apparently Johnny Key’s religious beliefs and willingness to breach the Constitution’s bright line between church and state are the primary criterion by which he has been judged the perfect man to be in charge of Arkansas education. It’s past time to assume ignorance as the underlying problem in Key’s malfeasance. The fact is that Hutchinson, Key, and every other complicit authority over our state’s educational systems knowingly evade the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to pursue their “higher calling” to religion.

~~~

See also this recent Forbes article on the failure of charter schools.

~~~

[1] https://arktimes.com/columns/max-brantley/2011/11/09/state-paid-bible-school

[2] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2015/02/10/whats-afoot-on-bill-to-change-qualifications-for-state-education-commissioner

[3] https://medium.com/orchestrating-change/272-broken-promises-the-lawless-aftermath-of-arkansas-act-1240-a8e26ce751e8

[4] https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2016/05/07/johnny-key-fast-tracks-lr-charter-school-expansion-in-walton-helped-enterprise

Fayetteville Legends

Ronnie Hawkins, 1959. From his official website, http://www.ronniehawkins.com Toronto, Ontario Ron Scribner Agency, courtesy of Toronto Hawk Records

“I remember running the red light there,” Hawkins said, referring to Leverett at the top of Garland hill. “I had the daughter of one of the biggest lawyers in Arkansas with me, underage of course. We ran that red light. She did.”

Robert Cochran, interviewing Ronnie Hawkins: “I think I’ve heard that story. That’s where you switch places with her, so you’d take the hit.”

“Yes, I’d take the hit,” Hawkins said. “Pearl Watts was the sheriff. He smoked those old rolled Bull Durham tobaccos. He always had one a fraction of an inch long in the corner of his mouth, [smoke] going right up into his eye while he was interrogating you. Judge Packet said I was a menace to the highway, and I’d better straighten up… They were sitting right behind Leverett school. When we were going over that hill, we were in a hurry to get out to the university farm. That’s where everybody parked.”[1]

Hawkins was indeed in the company of an underage girl, none other than Marcia Perkins, daughter of Rex Perkins. Even though technically too young to hold a driver’s license, she drove a brand new 1956 red-and -white Chevy Bel-Air, courtesy of Rex’s close professional relationships with Fayetteville car dealers.

From Rex Perkins – A Biography:

“By the time Marcia was fourteen in 1955, she had developed a secretive months-long relationship with twenty-one-year-old Ronnie Hawkins, a fledgling star in the music world. Older sister Carole had started college, but Marcia had her own ideas about her future. One night, Marcia attended a slumber party and ended up on the phone with Hawkins. Whether the slumber party had been a strategic maneuver to give her a means to meet him is unknown. But the upshot was that she slipped out of the slumber party to join Hawkins at the golf course where he and other members of his popular group “Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks” were hanging out and jamming in what turned out to be an all-nighter.

“One version of this story claims that Roy Orbison was in town for this jam session, which wasn’t completely unusual. The early form of rock and roll (later named ‘rockabilly’) blossomed around Huntsville-native Hawkins and his friend Levon Helm, along with other members of this group. Other music notables who came to Fayetteville to jam with Hawkins and/or to play at a favorite nightspot, the Rockwood Club, included Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Conway Twitty.

“An acquaintance of Hawkins remembered those early years. ‘Ronnie was a natural athlete and a ‘Greek god’ of a life guard at the Wilson Park swimming pool. He understandably received lots of attention from a wide range of women.’[1]

“It was assumed that Marcia and Hawkins were sleeping together, although whether they were intimate during the night in question is not known. One of her slumber party friends confessed the story of Marcia slipping out to her mother, Jane McDonald. Jane told Georgia, Georgia told Rex, and the proverbial mess hit the fan. Marcia was Rex’s baby, Daddy’s little girl, and like most fathers in similar circumstances, Rex wasn’t prepared for another man in Marcia’s young life.

Rex Perkins

“As the story goes, even though fourteen was the legal age of consent at that time in Arkansas, a fired-up Rex gave the young man a choice: leave town or suffer my wrath. The result was that Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks made a hasty departure from the region. The official version of Hawkins’ life story states he began touring Canada (date unspecified) and later made it his home (1958), and that he ventured there on advice from Conway Twitty.[2]

“Contacted regarding this biography, Hawkins confirmed that Rex made certain threats. ‘Rex was the biggest lawyer ever in Fayetteville at that time,’ Hawkins stated. ‘I would have married her but I was afraid somebody was gonna kill me.’”[3]

If Marcia’s girlfriend hadn’t spilled the beans, Rex would have found out anyway. Pearl Watts knew Marcia’s car and would have made sure Rex knew that his daughter had been found in the company of that rock-and-roller Hawkins, flying through that stoplight.

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[1] “Long on Nerve: An Interview with Ronnie Hawkins,” Robert Cochran and Ronnie Hawkins. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol 65, No. 2 (Summer 2006) pp. 99-115.

[1] Scott Lunsford interview, by email June 26, 2014. Author’s notes.

[2] From there, the story of Hawkins’ group is well known to music buffs. After 1964, fellow-Arkansan Helm and other band members regrouped to form ‘The Band,” toured with Bob Dylan in 1965-66, and went on to fame and fortune. Hawkins continued his musical career to become a mentor to other musicians as well as an award-winning performer.

[3] Scott Lunsford interview, his email relating phone conversation with Ronnie Hawkins August 15, 2014. Author’s notes.

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Rex Perkins: A Biography, by Denele Campbell. Available in ebook or paperback,