19th Century History of West Fork, Arkansas

 

Two hundred years ago, in 1819, the first white man known to explore this area, Frank Pierce, traveled up the White River from the Mississippi and across the northern part of the state before arriving at the west fork of the river and stumbling into this valley. Frank had long since run through his supplies and on this day had worked up a powerful hunger. Thinking of fresh meat over an open fire, he had a buffalo in his gun sights when he noticed a band of Natives also stalking the herd. Although the Osage and Quapaw had historically occupied these lands, right after the Louisiana Purchase, the U. S. government had begun moving Cherokee and other eastern tribes into the region. The Natives ole Frank saw that day were probably Cherokee. He gently released the hammer of his gun and slipped back into the dense undergrowth to spend the night hungry in the shelter of a large tree.

But he lived to tell the tale.

Nine years later in 1828, Frank was among the first settlers to arrive with the official opening of Arkansas Territory. Whether receiving bounty land for service in the Indians Wars or the War of 1812, settlers rushing to stake their claim on a forty acre parcel found springs and lush vegetation in these flat hilltops and river valleys. Wildlife including buffalo, cougar, elk, bear and wolf all roamed this valley. Alongside the forest with trees as big as four feet in diameter, there were wide stretches of tall prairie grass in a thriving ecosystem.

Throughout the first fifty years of county history, ‘West Fork’ wasn’t West Fork the town as we know it. The term ‘west fork’ referred to the west fork of White River and West Fork Township. Persons living along this long river valley from Winslow to Greenland were said to be from ‘West Fork,’ so this confuses some of the history. Any records before 1885 that refer to West Fork are not about the current town of West Fork.

As early as 1831, settlers organized a church in the valley, considered to be the oldest organization of a Christian church in Washington County. Church records from 1837 describe meeting under and elm tree with charter members Stephen Strickland and wife, Richard “Dick” Dye, Eli Bloyed and wife, C. G. Gilbreath and wife, Greene W. Sherry and wife, and fifteen more couples. By 1855, followers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were meeting at Dye School House on land owned by Richard Dye. Local residents are probably familiar with his name because of the creek named after him—it crosses Highway 71 beside Dye Creek Road.[1]

Mills served a critical function for early residents who needed their corn and wheat ground into meal and flour and their logs sawn for lumber. Census records suggest a mill serving the south county was first located just north of Brentwood on the properties of William “Billie” Knott and Eleazer Pelphrey, the two men occupied as of the 1850 census as millwright and miller, respectively. Their properties at the SE ¼ of the SW ¼ of Section 23, Township 14, Range 30 West (Knott) and the West ½ of the SE ¼ of the same section (Pelphrey) span a small creek where it feeds into the west fork of White River. This location is four miles south of present-day West Fork, fitting a historical description of the township’s first mill.

Flour mill at West Fork, circa 1885. Looking south.

Another operation known as Gilstrap’s Mill is named in historical records as located at the place later known as Woolsey. One account states this was established in 1838 run by a large water wheel.

In the dry season when the water was too low to turn the wheel, a tramp wheel was put into operation to furnish power. Oxen were unhitched from the wagon bringing the corn or timber and placed on a slat-bottomed structure which moved under them continuously, making it necessary for the oxen to walk in order to stay on their feet. Thus they furnished the power for grinding corn or sawing logs.[2]

 

The first ‘West Fork’ post office operated from the home of William “Billie” Knott in 1838, a logical location since their mill served as one of the only public places in the area. The post office changed location in 1848 to Gilstrap’s Mill at the place later known as Woolsey, named after William Woolsey who bought the property from Gilstrap in the late 1850s. After 1848, this was known as the West Fork post office. By 1860, Woolsey operated a general store alongside the mill.

The 1840 census for West Fork Township counted 68 households with 394 residents and two slaves. Ten years later, the 1850 census counted 96 households with 605 whites and no slaves. Trades listed in 1850 included blacksmith, teacher, clergy, miller, tanner, and wagon maker. By 1860, population had grown to 262 households with 707 whites and fifteen slaves. Tradesmen included a shoemaker, five blacksmiths, two wagon makers, a saddler, a trader, and a carpenter. William Woolsey named his occupation as merchant.

With tensions mounting prior to the Civil War, a convention assembled at West Fork on April 25, 1861. The men in attendance agreed that they were opposed to secession. They called for a statewide vote of the people to decide, stating their wish to cooperate with other border states. The choice was made within weeks by the Arkansas state convention who voted to secede once the attack on Fort Sumter occurred.

Northwest Arkansas saw military action early in the war with the conflict at Pea Ridge and then Prairie Grove. Musket and cannon fire from the battle at Prairie Grove could be heard down here—someone remarked that it sounded like corn popping. Military forces moved along the Old Wire Road which ran down Cato Springs Road to Strickler before the nightmare of crossing the Boston Mountains.

With the success of Union forces in overtaking Northwest Arkansas, the rough terrain of south county became a perfect setting for guerilla warfare. Troops skirmished throughout this area during those years and commandeered livestock, grain, and anything else they could find. People had to hide their food and valuables in caves or holes in the ground. Salt became impossible to find and folks had to boil the soil from their smokehouses to gather what salt could be retrieved.

The flavor of those days is captured in this excerpt of the Karnes history:

A number of Union soldiers stationed at Fayetteville came out to West Fork one night to attend a dance at the Dick Dye home. All were having a gay time swinging their partners right and left and calling “Balance All” when a Southern captain, Jim Ferguson, thrust his head in at the door and yelled “Surrender All!”

The Union officer gave the command “Fight ‘em, boys!” but soon changed to “Everybody on his own!” when he saw the number of Southern soldiers. Mr. Rutherford said he was sitting on a plank across from the fireplace when suddenly he began to choke with soot, but not until all was over did he know that Lieutenant Huttenour had gone up the chimney.

Some sought shelter in the kitchen, others in the cellar and under the floor. The Southern regiment had been informed of the dance as they were passing through Woolsey and had sent thirty men ahead to investigate. The Union men had been warned to put out a picket but they felt secure without it.[3]

Whether men died or were taken prisoner during this dance-gone-wrong is never stated in Ms. Karnes’ account. But both military and civilian killings occurred frequently during those years. With the normal systems of government shut down and county courthouse records hidden in a cave, few of such cases appear fully documented in official records.

Crossing the river meant riding horseback or wading through the water, but for the hardier sort, there was the swinging bridge. No handrail, folks. This is the site of the modern day two-lane bridge between Highway 71 and ‘downtown’ West Fork.

The first murder involving a West Fork area resident occurred nine years after the end of the war in 1874. This is a complicated story that involved two families, the Jones who lived near Carter’s Store (approximately at Hicks, south of Sulphur City on State Highway 74) and the Gilliland family who lived near Owl Hollow Road at the north end of modern day West Fork.

A feud developed between two members of these families, William Newton Jones and Bud Gilliland. Things came to a violent point on Christmas Day 1874. At a popular horse racing track near Carter’s Store, 23-year-old Jones rode up, pulled a Spencer rifle from his saddle scabbard and before any of the surrounding crowd could stop him, he shot 28-year-old Bud Gilliland through the chest, killing him instantly.

It was later said that most everyone present knew Jones would try to kill Gilliland but no one could move fast enough to stop him. Jones didn’t wait around to be arrested. With his target dead on the ground, he took wheeled his horse around and took off at a gallop. He then became the subject of a manhunt that lasted until the next murder in this feud nearly two years later.

Speculation suggest the conflict may have had something to do with Bud’s dad’s marriage in 1863 to the much younger Mary Amanda Jones, first cousin to Newton. Or it may have had something to do with the rough nature of the Gilliland boys.

For example, Bud’s older brother, Jeff Gilliland, served as a county deputy and court clerk. He owned several lots on the Fayetteville square and operated a dram shop there—otherwise known as a bar. Evidently Jeff wasn’t exactly careful about his official county duties. An 1871 newspaper report stated that he was required to turn over the county tax books “to which the late difficulties in that county are attributable.”

Along the same lines, an 1872 newspaper account about Bud stated that:

On memorial day, ‘Bud’ Gilliland who has at times acted as deputy marshal, procured the keys of the jail from the jailor and deliberately locked himself in the jail, where he remained until 9 o’clock when he came out, ordered the guard who had been placed there to arrest him when he came out to stand aside, which he did, and Bud walked off. While he was locked in the jail with the doors securely locked, two prisoners who were out on bail for a few hours returned at the expiration of their time and failing to be admitted, made their escape. Gilliland was at the time under charge of the constable in default of bail for shooting at a man. He left town but will probably return soon as he is one of those men who are permitted to do pretty much as they please, whether it be shooting within the town limits for the sake of noise, or shooting at a man with intent to kill.

Did this “shooting at a man with intent to kill” involve Newton Jones? We don’t know, but that would certainly explain the hell-bent manner of Jones as he arrived at the horse races.

Later records state that the reason Newton Jones fled after shooting Bud wasn’t that he meant to escape justice but rather that he knew Bud’s older brother Jeff Gilliland would try to kill him.

As it turned out, he was exactly right.

Newton had a lovely young wife and an extended family that needed him. He dodged in and out of the area for nearly two years before his whereabouts could be anticipated and a posse went out to find him. Bud’s big brother Jeff Gilliland wrangled his way into the posse in his role as deputy despite concerns he would carry out his personal vendetta.

The posse waited in ambush for the Jones boys for several hours. Finally, the party approached. Newton’s nephew David Jones had been the wagon driver and gave his testimony in court about what happened:

We started from Lewis & Johnson’s Mill … and we got about a half mile from Johnson’s mill on the road toward Carter’s Store. I was driving the wagon and Matilda was riding in the wagon. The others were riding behind. Newton and [David’s brother] William were riding side by side. [Newton’s brother] Enoch was riding behind them.

The first thing I heard was the report of a gun or pistol. Immediately after several guns were fired, my mules ran off, ran about seventy-five yards. After my mules stopped, I raised up in the wagon and heard someone say “Halt! Halt! Shoot them boys, the last damned son of a bitch of them.” I could see a glimpse of men running up the hill in the woods. I heard horses running on the other side of the road.

I unhitched my mules and went back and found my brother [William] dead, lying close by the side of the road, rather under his horse which was down. Two shots in the head, and in the temple, several in [his] side and leg. Deceased was armed, had his revolver under him, not drawn…

Enoch was wounded in the side of the head and a shot glanced his neck. The voice I heard I thought was Jeff Gilliland’s. Heard but one voice; ‘Halt,’ was given but one time that I heard. If it had been given before, I would have heard it.

Then the shoe was on the other foot. The entire posse was indicted for murder of the innocent young William Jones, and things got even more complicated after that.

James Gilliland headstone, one of thirteen graves in the Gilliland family cemetery. James was the father of Cal and Jeff.

Three years later, in 1880, Jeff Gilliland remained at large at his home near West Fork. In 1882, a U. S. marshal out of Fort Smith brought a posse to arrest him. He fired on them, wounding two. Over the next two years, Gilliland evidently carried out a war of revenge against the posse members, who reported being shot at on random occasions. He never served time for the William Jones killing, nor did Newton Jones stand trial for killing Bud Gilliland.[4]

This has been one of the more fascinating stories I’ve uncovered in my research for a book I’ve been working on, Murder in the County. It contains 50 murder stories from the 1800s in Washington County. I won’t tell you what happens next to Newton Jones or Jeff Gilliland except to say the story takes a couple more intriguing twists and turns.

During these early years, as I mentioned earlier, West Fork the town did not exist where it’s now located. But the area was known as a peaceful and fruitful location. Local farms produced everything from apples to wheat. A main road south passed through the valley and stagecoaches traveled through Campbell Community north of West Fork and stopped at the home of John Karnes and later his son Daniel Karnes where travelers could have a meal, stay in overnight lodging, and fresh horses or mules teams could be hitched.

However, for particular travelers, another stop a few miles down at the Woolsey store offered a jot of whiskey. As noted by local historian Robert Winn,

It was not unusual for the stage to stop long enough [at Woolsey] that travelers imbibed enough to become tipsy and occasional excitement resulted in the form of fisticuffs or gun play.[5]

Fifty years after the first white people arrived in the west fork valley, the modern day location of West Fork began to formalize. In 1875 or ’76, the old water-mill plant at the head of the creek at Woolsey was moved north to what would become the town of West Fork. The new steam mill at West Fork provided reliable power for grinding grain, sawing lumber, and even operating a carding-machine which straightened and cleaned fibers for weaving into cloth. A spoke factory opened and the place attracted other industries including blacksmith shops.

Looking southeast. The Hardin Hotel was built upon the arrival of the railroad at West Fork. The three-story structure included a large dining room where lodgers were fed family style on a huge round table. William Dunbar, who lived at the hotel as a child in the 1920s and 30s remembers an enormous cookstove in the adjacent kitchen. There was a carriage house and the carriage was dispatched to the train depot with each arrival, bringing visitors to the hotel. Robert Winn, in his book “Railroads of Northwest Arkansas,” said that “When drummers arrived at the West Fork station, they registered for lodging–50¢ to $1 per night, meals 25¢ …” There was no indoor plumbing, but according to Dunbar, the outhouse was somewhat luxurious with nice gabled roof, finished interior, and three ‘holes’ for mixed gender usage. But no heat. “You could freeze your bottom off in winter.” Dunbar stated the hotel was taken down in the 30s and the lumber used to build the house currently located on that corner (southeast corner of Main and Maple). The aged oak beams were so hard that when they were repurposed for the house, the carpenters had to use blocks of paraffin to ease the nails through the wood. The existing sidewalk along the property’s north side may date to hotel days.

In 1882, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad punched through this area headed south. A flood of newcomers followed, eager to make money off the harvest of virgin forest. This hard work involved teams of mules, men on either end of big crosscut saws, and plenty of hacking by ax to clear limbs off the main trunk. Then there was the matter of getting the logs down to the train depot. Many of those logging roads became the roads we drive today.

Things in the south county changed a lot then. Entrepreneurs of all stripes rushed into the area to make money. One example was a man named Erastus Pitkin. He bought out much of Woolsey’s land and with the formalizing of West Fork at its current location in 1885, the place at Woolsey became known as Pitkin. Pitkin partnered with another man to open a hardwood lumber operation at West Fork. They ordered ‘log wagons’ from the Springfield Wagon Company. These wagons were essential for moving cut logs down to the railroad and featured a specialized heavy-duty construction with independent axles.

From 1906 Plat Book for Washington County. A few businesses have been identified and labeled.

In May 1885, another early settler named Thomas McKnight finalized plans to  incorporate the modern day town of West Fork. Since before the railroad’s completion, McKnight had been buying up land in the area that would become the town of West Fork. He platted town lots and sold to men eager to open for business. Within four years, the town included not only the thriving mill, but two general stores, a drug store, a grocery, a meat market, a hardware store, furniture store, the Hardin Hotel, and a food production company that employed 37 workers in canning tomatoes and drying local apples produced on farms up and down the valley.

Karnes Store

An amusing note – Robert Winn reported that the West Fork canning factory had an interesting side effect on the local population.

“Juice from the apples ran in shallow trenches from the building out into the warm sunshine. Peelings were also dumped near the factory; these also fermented. All livestock ran on open range and wandered about the factory. Cows, pigs, poultry, and any other livestock drank the juice and ate the peelings. Soon after the factory opened each fall, every cow, pig, and chicken that was permitted on the open range staggered home at night in a drunken condition.”[6]

During this boom period another local feud came to a boil. A man named Jim Graham brought up on charges of arson. Among those testifying against him at trial was Calvin Rutherford. Once Graham had served his two year sentence, he came back to West Fork with a serious grudge against Rutherford. In February 1892, the lid blew off.

Here’s the account published in the Fayetteville paper:

On Friday evening last, [Rutherford and Graham] got into a fight in Yoes’ store and when the smoke cleared away, Graham was found to be mortally wounded by a pistol ball that entered his body near the hip and ranged upward coming out on the opposite side near the collar bone.

Cal Rutherford and his brother Bob were both cut in several places, the latter not seriously. It is hard to get the exact facts in the case but we learn that the Rutherford boys were drinking and that Cal was taking in the town. Before the fight occurred, he rode into a store and smashed the store window and was pretty badly cut by the glass. He then rode his mule into Yoes’ store and as he was coming out, Jim Graham and a stranger whose name we did not learn went into the store.

When Rutherford saw Graham, he is said to have made some remark about whipping him and went back into the store when the fight commenced. Graham cut Cal four times and while he was doing so, Bob Rutherford came in. Graham then started to run upstairs and was shot by Bob. The latter was also cut but whether by Graham or someone else we have not learned.

Graham died Saturday afternoon and a warrant was sworn out before Squire Lusk of this city for the arrest of the Rutherfords charging them with murder. Constable Burkitt took charge of and was guarding them but on Sunday while he was at dinner, Bob Rutherford escaped and has not yet been apprehended.

Jacob Yoes Hardware store, scene of the Graham murder. Presently, this century-old building houses the West Fork Oprey.

A bit more info is found in the Little Rock paper’s article on the matter:

News has reached here of a bloody affray between the Rutherfords and Grahams, of West Fork, two families who have made themselves notorious as desperadoes … Cal Rutherford, Deputy United States Marshal of this District, was drunk and was running the town, and after riding his horse through two or three stores, and shooting at everything in sight, rode in the store owned by Jacob Yoes, United States Marshal Western District of Arkansas, and there found Jim Graham. He began cursing and abusing him and threatened to kill him. He then jumped from his horse and rushed at Graham, who drew his knife and stabbed Rutherford five times in the breast and bowels when Bob Rutherford intervened and Graham stabbed him twice. Bob Rutherford rushed for a pistol, securing one in the store, with which he did lively work, shooting Graham several times, only one shot taking effect which will prove fatal. A bystander, Mack Matthews, made an effort to quell the row and Bob Rutherford crushed his skull with a pistol. Cal Rutherford will probably die from the wounds and Bob may recover. The Sheriff and Constable took charge of the parties and have them under heavy guard.

Yee haw, boys!

So what happened to West Fork? Obviously, times changed. The big tree harvest and easy money from the crowds of timbermen came to an end. Once the tree is cut, it’s gone. Fruit crops and local canneries suffered from growing competition and new food purity laws. Farmers discovered that the soil was easily depleted and crops didn’t flourish. Also, south county water supplies couldn’t meet the growing demand.

West Fork prospered fairly well until 1919 when an entire block of downtown burned to the ground. The bank lasted until 1929 and closed with the stock market crash. As roads improved and more people made use of motor vehicles, travel became much easier and people began commuting to Fayetteville for jobs, taking even more money away from local businesses. It’s the story of thousands of small rural communities in our country.

(Adapted from a talk I gave May 6, 2017, sponsored by the Friends of West Fork Library and the Washington County Historical Society. Additional photographs will uploaded soon.)

Earliest known photograph of West Fork school, circa 1894. Far left is teacher and his assistant.

~~~

[1] After notice of my talk came out, I was contacted by a man who descended from Richard Dye. We chatted about the location of the school and church. He thought it was on the east side of the highway and a little south, roughly in the area where McKnight’s wrecker service is at this time, perhaps upslope south of the creek bottom. Another source confirms that “Dye’s Shed” was located just south of the business location. (We Call It Home by Harold G. Hutcheson and Bernice Karnes. Observer Press circa 1985.)

[2] “Early Days at West Fork,” Bernice Karnes. Flashback November 1956. 13-18. Fayetteville: Washington County Historical Society.

[3] Karnes p 17

[4] As far as court records show, there was no further followup on the warrant against Newton Jones.

[5] “Origins of the community of Woolsey,” by Robert G. Winn. Observer, no date. Fayetteville Library. Genealogy section.

[6] History of Washington County. Springdale: Shiloh Museum 1989.

His Fight, Our Fight

According to the brief description that accompanied this photo that crossed my Facebook timeline the other day, the funeral of Pretty Boy Floyd drew the largest attendance of any such event in Oklahoma history. The image gives me goosebumps, almost puts a lump in my throat. It’s not the coffin—I can’t even discern where it is. It’s the people, backs straight, their attention focused entirely on the dead man.

On what he represented.

My dad sometimes talked about Pretty Boy Floyd although at the time of Floyd’s death, my dad was only seventeen. For him, like so many, Floyd stood as a heroic symbol to survival in their times. Dust bowl, economic depression, most of all the shift of worlds. From the independent farmer working alongside his wife and children to wrest of living from the land to the new reality of the need for money and consequently, jobs in town.

Giving up the farm and its creeks and horses and the smell of fresh cut hay. Learning to work for someone else. Breathing exhaust. Street lights burning the dark. Rigid hours to serve someone else’s profit. Dependent on the dollar instead of the land.

There were men who couldn’t make the change. Men who rebelled, who clung to the old ways. Men who’d rather die than portion out his life in the 9 to 5. They didn’t willingly give up the tradition of their fathers, but rather borrowed money on the hope of better times, more rain, abundant crops. The loans came due before better times arrived.

According to his biography in Wikipedia, “[Charles Arthur] Floyd was viewed positively by the general public. When he robbed banks he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, but this has never been confirmed and may be myth. He was often protected by locals of Oklahoma, who referred to him as ‘Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills.’” He was thirty when he died.

Floyd’s robberies of banks made him a target for the fledgling FBI and the true manner of his death became one of the agency’s earliest cover-ups. After he was downed by rifle shot, another agent shot him with an automatic weapon at point blank range. Not widely known at the time, the unfairness of his killing nevertheless was understood at a visceral level by the common man.

Woody Guthrie, a native of Oklahoma, penned a song about it in 1939, five years after Floyd’s death. Called “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd,” the song has the form of a  Broadside “come-all-ye” ballad opening with the lines:

If you’ll gather ’round me, children, a story I will tell ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an Outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well.

The lyrics recount Floyd’s supposed generosity to the poor and contain the famous lines comparing foreclosing bankers to outlaws:

As through this world you travel, you’ll meet some funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam, You won’t never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.

Many other artists have recorded this song, among them Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and James Taylor as another generation’s anthem to the tragedy of corporate takeover.

It’s easy to see Floyd as a martyr. In his short life, he did what so many others wanted to do. Like the young Chinese man who dared to stand in the path of an oncoming tank, Floyd like similar ‘criminals’ of the early 20th century defied the banks and credit systems that threatened everything that mattered in rural American lives. They instinctively understood they were being swept into a capitalist system that had no sense of morality, no obligation to human circumstance. They fought back the only way they knew how.

The battle that cost Charles Floyd his life has not ended.

~~~

 

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Boy_Floyd

Writing About Music

Forestwander.com

Writing music.

In words.

Is simply not possible.

I tried. In my first published book, Notes of a Piano Tuner, I wanted desperately to convey the thrill of hearing a certain piece of music played on a freshly tuned piano. Everything about that time and place added to the intensity of those few bars—an old wooden church house twenty miles out a dirt road in the Arkansas Ozarks, an old upright piano that had somehow survived a century of use to remain remarkably musical, and a rainy late spring afternoon. As the storm front moved on to the east, a green cast permeated the outside air. A wasp buzzed against the nearby window, one of those tall narrow windows with watery glass common in old churches where they needed the light but didn’t want congregants distracted by whatever went on outside.

Moist air carries sound waves better than dry air. The combination of moist air, the resonance of the old church, the magical ancient piano, and the harmonies of that particular music transcended anything I could say with words. The waves rolled up from the soundboard, bounced off the high church ceiling, and resonated through my chest like a physical force.

Well, it was a physical force.

My hair stood up. I got goosebumps.

There’s something about fourths and fifths that does it for me. And old hymns, which make full use of fourths and fifths. Simple, basic harmonies.

An acoustic physicist could probably explain it. The mathematics of tuning never quite penetrated my skull. My dad taught me to tune by ear. I didn’t want or need to understand that when a string produced a fundamental pitch, say the note ‘A,’ it also formed partials. Partials were, predictably, partial vibrations of the string which produce other pitches. So for the note ‘A’ vibrating along a single string, the partials also vibrated in tones of fourths, fifths, other octaves and so forth up into an entire overtone series.

For more than you ever wanted  to know about overtones, check out this article.

Complicated stuff and mostly irrelevant to a tuner who works by ear. My dad, I, and now my son understand these things internally.

To the point, the strings on the old upright in that church still created perfect overtones. As those chords rolled from my fingers, the overtones blended with the fundamental notes I played to create such a rich experience that I actually got tears in my eyes.

I wanted to share that. When I wrote that story, I tried to think of how to convey my experience. I considered writing the actual music on the page, but unless someone knew how to read music, that notation would mean nothing. I blathered on about feeling the effects of the music but that alone wouldn’t make someone’s hair stand up.

I ended up writing the words that accompany that particular sequence of music thinking that if someone heard the words, they would hear the music.

Well, maybe some did. But unfortunately, most readers evidently took the meaning of the words as the message I wanted to convey and never heard the music at all.

Wrong. Not even close. I didn’t want the message of the words to have anything to do with my story. The message of the words wasn’t my message. In fact, they were about as far from my intent as they could possibly be.

The words were “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,” etc. I wrote the entire first verse, because those were the notes, the harmonies, the chords and overtones of my experience.

As a result, a lot of readers of my book assumed that I had been ‘saved.’ That my awestruck experience resulting from that loaded afternoon had to do with finding God, getting religion, and all the rest of that stuff.

I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. Not what I meant at all.

And it strikes me now that religion is a lot like that, all about the words without hearing the music.

Rex Perkins, Excerpt as Gift of the Season Day 9

postcard

As Robert Winn wrote in his book Winslow: Top of the Ozarks, “[Budd] had a large office with a staff of a dozen young ladies mailing out advertising for fence posts. He shipped out uncounted numbers of fence posts to western states. He also carried a complete line of clothing, shoes, feed, hardware, furniture, and groceries. Mr. Budd had branch stores at Brentwood, Woolsey, West Fork, Porter (Schaberg) Chester, Walker’s Switch, Mountainburg, and Rudy.”

High-profile courtroom cases like the 1937 “Cabin Orgy” suit gained public attention for Rex Perkins. His fame as an outstanding trial lawyer spread. His name increasingly appeared in conjunction with front page headlines announcing the most recent sensational case. For example, in June 1943, he successfully defended Tuck Bishop, an admitted murderer of four people. In Bishop’s defense, Rex harped on Bishop’s status as a wounded veteran and filed a nolle prosequi declaration resulting in a precedent-setting life sentence for Mr. Bishop rather than the expected death penalty.

Rex’s success in gaining cases rose not only from his frequent mentions in local media, but also from his enthusiastic and tenacious pursuit of legal options for his clients. In addition to his sharp mind and voracious study of the law, Rex didn’t hesitate to skirt the edges of accepted practice. One anecdote recalls a time when Rex and his client faced a formidable team of well-heeled Little Rock attorneys who traveled to the Madison county courthouse to press their case. In those days, visual aids required to instruct jurors on logistics or scene layout usually depended on the use of a chalkboard. As the Little Rock legal team left the courtroom for a brief recess, Rex strolled past the chalkboard and palmed the chalk. Alas, no further use of the chalkboard could be made.[1]

budd rose

Rose and E. A. Budd, probably at San Francisco. The careful staging of a prop in front of Rose was meant to disguise her delicate condition. Image courtesy Velda Brotherton. Originally published in the Washington County Observer and in the book Washington County by Velda Brotherton, published by Arcadia Publishers.

In 1944, Perkins and his partner Tom Sullins took up the case of Elwin A. Budd, founder of Budd Post and Hardwood Company and a longtime prominent businessman in the region. An Illinois native of impoverished background, Budd had built a fortune buying and selling hardwood fence posts during the peak years of Washington County’s timber boom, becoming known as “the man who fenced the West.”[2] He married Nettie Huey in 1903, settled on a place near Brentwood (south Washington County), and in 1908, the couple gained a son. A young woman named Rose Shackelford came to help with the baby and E. A. fell in love with her.

By this time, Budd had built his fence post fortunes into thriving mercantile operations along the railroad at Winslow and Chester, Arkansas, as the route cut south into virgin forest between Fayetteville to Fort Smith. He divorced Nettie and married Rose in 1909 when he was thirty-two and she was fifteen. His relationship with Rose ended tragically just six years later after the couple took an automobile trip to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Pregnant during the arduous journey, Rose gave birth to a stillborn child in October and died four days later.

It was said that the loss of Rose changed E. A. forever. He threw himself into his business. In the 1920s as the timber trade died down, he along with his brother Arthur invested in expansive commercial enterprises in Fayetteville. Their Royal Movie Theater, Royal Barber Shop, Royal Café, and Budd’s Department Store occupied virtually all of the south side of the Fayetteville Square. Budd’s fence post business continued in Fayetteville with warehouses stretching from South Hill Avenue east to South Government Avenue and filling a half block north of the railroad tracks toward Sixth Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). Another warehouse, ‘Budd’s Woodcraft and Spokes,’ fronted 808 South Government, a structure recently housing the ‘The Village Sculptor’ ironworks of the modern-day Fayetteville artist Hank Kaminsky and demolished in 2013.

Budd remarried several times, becoming increasingly more depressed and drinking heavily. Beloved by employees as a “likeable, hard-working, and shrewd man with a knack for making money” and credited with creating jobs during the Depression, his work habit was remembered that he “left home in a three-piece suit to sell posts up and down the river, then later in the day changed to a pair of overalls to do the manual labor.”[3]

budds fire

Fire damage January 15, 1940. Headline, Northwest Arkansas Times: “Budd’s Mercantile, Royal Theater, Barber Shop, and Cafe Contents Total Loss” Caption underneath photo: “The front walls of the Royal theatre and Budd building were about all that remained today after fire destroyed the buildings and contents. Firemen remained at the smouldering ruins throughout the day.” Springdale firemen joined the Fayetteville forces in an effort to save other south side buildings.

Misfortune continued to find him, however. Fire swept through his Fayetteville mercantile, theater, barber shop and café on January 15, 1940, resulting in total loss to the contents, as well as destruction of several rented upstairs offices and apartments.

Four years later, on March 27, 1944, Budd allegedly inflicted fatal wounds to Miss Norma Smith, a Zion schoolteacher of long acquaintance with Budd. The trial opened July 11, 1944. The defense team included Perkins, Tom Sullins, and John Mayes. Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Duty was joined by Assistant Prosecutor Glen Wing and Van Buren attorney Dave Partain in Judge J. W. Trimble’s court. Opening testimony for the prosecution came from Pvt. Dale Fields, 26, who recounted his previous Saturday evening at Mitche’s Place with a crowd from Springdale. Upon exiting the building, he said Miss Smith “hollered” at him to come over to the car where she was sitting.

He went over and talked to her for a while, then got in the car and went to Springdale. She drove him home. He made a date with her to see her the next morning. They drove to Noel, Mo., in her car and visited his uncle, Fields said, returning to Fayetteville about 4:30, and that evening she again took him home to Springdale. ‘She asked me to come back and see her any time I wanted to,’ he said.

He didn’t see her any more until March 27, about 8 or 9 o’clock, Fields testified. ‘We were laying on the bed when Mr. Budd came in there…He walked up on the porch, came in the house, turned on the lights, came in the bedroom and told me “‘Time to leave.’”

When questioned by the defense, Fields said Budd did not say that in an angry tone. Fields got up and began to dress, but Miss Smith said that he wasn’t leaving. She went into the living room and argued with Budd. As Fields got the living room, he saw Budd slap her. She fell into a chair and Budd left.

Fields asked her who Budd was but she wouldn’t tell him…she just said he was a business man up town. Budd returned, threw eggs at the house and Norma ran out and stared hollering at him. One egg came through the door was she went out, and splattered on the wall…Fields said he next heard fighting in the yard. He said he had been sitting near the door and could hear the blows, and ‘it sounded like he was hitting her hard.’ Then she yelled for help. Fields went out and when he first saw them they were fighting in the corner of the yard near a tree. He saw Budd hit her in the face one lick with his fist, and…she hit the ground. “Then the law came down there…Budd started to his car.”

After about an hour at the police station, Fields returned to Miss Smith’s house where he found her lying on the bed. “There was a place on her chin and blood was running down the back of her neck coming from under her hair,” he said. He washed her and convinced her to go to a doctor, but when they got to the car, it wouldn’t start. The wires had been cut. Fields tried to find a doctor who would go to the house, but no one came. He stayed with her all night during which time Budd drove up and down the street blowing his horn…

~~

From Chapter 4 of Rex Perkins: A Biography. Available in Fayetteville and West Fork local bookstores. Or at Amazon.

 

[1]  Bassett, Marynm. Interview with author May 23, 2014. Author’s notes.

[2] Brotherton, Velda. “Rose Budd the one true love of legendary businessman,” “Wandering the Ozarks with Velda Brotherton.” White River Valley News, June 23, 2005. Page 9

[3] Ibid

 

Winter — Gift of the Season Day 7

dawn ice storm

I wrote this piece years ago and included it in my book “I Met a Goat on the Road.” The main grocery store in town was the Lafayette Street IGA, back before Walmart decided to take over the grocery trade. That’s not the only thing that’s changed. Today is December 21 and it’s 61 degrees outside. The ten day forecast finds all overnight lows above freezing. So much for a white Christmas.

Now the story:

She spoke for us all, confessing to the check-out clerk with an excited laugh that if it was going to ice, she’d better get ready. Milk, bread, chocolate bars, corn meal—her choices were different only in detail from the rest of us standing in line in a store so jam-packed that even the stock boys were up front wearing jackets over their aprons and sacking supplies that would keep us secure when the weather moved in. Cars and trucks crowded the parking lot, some left running with the plumes of their exhaust whipped sideways in the freezing wind.

Men waited holding meat, bananas, coffee, restless in insulated tan coveralls with the legs unzipped over their heavy clay-soiled boots, their hair packed down against their heads where knit hats had rested. Uneasy in a role usually filled by their wives, they joked, catching up with old acquaintances who also stood in line, promising to call soon, men not accustomed to being off work at one p.m., hurrying home to family before the sleet started.

The cold came first, thirty-five degrees when I started to town in the morning, twenty two when I returned home, fifteen by three. Wind rocked the great oaks side to side, piling stiff dead leaves in new arrangements at the corner of the woodpile, at the steps. Twelve degrees at dusk, the clouded sky pale pink and white, the countryside settling into frozen night.

Five-thirty a.m. by my bedside clock, the tick-tick of sleet against the windows woke me. I indulged in another hour of fitful sleep, comforted by heavy quilts and cats at my feet. Plans of all I could do raced through my dreams, the albums not finished, correspondence neglected, the watercolors so long set aside. Roads coated in ice meant a day without visitors, a day at home tending the fire, tending myself.

Dressed in sweaters not worn for five years, in long socks and with no regard to appearances, I sipped hot tea at the window. Only a small shift in the light signaled dawn, lifting the dark blue cast of the air to a lighter shade.  Barely visible deer moved slowly through the woods, pawing at the ice-coated duff.  Tiny crystalline flakes of snow filtered into the sleet, thickening the white of the downfall, obscuring trees at the fence line. It was four degrees.

I built a fire in the wood-burning cook stove. A kettle of water with cinnamon oil steamed while I crafted my list of things to do, tasks that seemed too petty or cumbersome for normal days when open roads and obligations burdened the hours. I would simmer apricots with honey and ginger and fry half-moon pies, edges evenly crimped with tender fork lines. I would sketch scenes, the road to my house or the contoured hills, and let watercolor swirl on the heavy paper, a skyscape of gray and blue, fields tan, oaks silhouetted black.

Freshly washed clothes hung by the blistering stove where greedy heat soon pulled out all moisture. With satisfying frugality, a pot of vegetable soup thick with garlic and a pan of beans decorated the stove top, cornbread in the small sooty oven. Every few hours I rushed out for more wood, lingering coatless in the sharp scent of cold and wood smoke, large flakes of snow tumbling down into my hair, resting on my eyelashes.

The winters have not been accommodating in recent years, failing first with abbreviated snows, then disappointing even in temperature. In the onslaught of global warming, the Ozark hills have increasingly remained accessible in deepest January. A few decades earlier, our steep, curving roadways had been reliably impassible for at least two arctic weeks of the year. We grew to expect that at times chosen by Nature, no one would venture out. The guy with the local wrecker service would make enough money to last until June.

In this mid-South clime of Northwest Arkansas, we don’t get winter enough to justify the county’s expense for snow plows. It suits us better to schedule school years with extra days for snow. It pleases us to find ourselves unexpectedly confined to the house. In that splendid isolation, we might discover long lost treasures at the back of the closet, read magazines, stand at the window staring out in silence as midday lightens the sky to a shade barely more luminous than the snow lying thick on the ground.

Lately there has been little winter at all. Days have run together, no time to reflect, restore, sleep in the afternoon. We long for the cold, the ice, roads we could not drive, jobs we could not attend. Our bodies crave hibernation.

Welcome then this celebration of ancient instincts to stay in the cave, content with the provisions we have hoarded, the firewood we have stacked near the door, wrapped in the warmth we have made. Embrace this triumph of survival over the elements, proof of our adequacy in a time when little else seems so clear.

Gift of the Season Day 5 — Book Price Markdown

goat cover skewedA visiting guinea? A ‘possum in the dining room? What strange and wondrous occurrences can one expect while living on an Ozark mountaintop for thirty-five years?

These lyrical adventure stories feature chickens, raccoons, bugs, dogs, cats, and natural critters of this woodland home. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed-who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?
Come meet the goat on the road.
Now available for only $6.95. A lovely gift for anyone. Amazon buy link 
“I enjoyed all these stories and especially admired the author’s ability to describe the creatures she encounters with a naturalist’s eye and a pet lover’s emotions. My favorite story was ‘Summer,’ a languorous description of a 102-degree day on the mountain where the smallest movement seems difficult and time slows down. The author’s prose is lyrical and yet unsentimental. You can feel the heat and the sense of relief when the day draws to a close. A beautifully-written series of stories…”      Reviewed by Annamaria Farbizio for Readers’ Favorite