West Fork Valley — New Release!

Riverside Park, West Fork. Perfect display of how the river has shaped the land, creating high bluffs and rich bottom land.

I moved into the West Fork Valley in 1973. I had no previous experience here except, as a child, one train ride from Fort Smith to Fayetteville circa 1952 and then passing back and forth from Fort Smith to Fayetteville during the 1950s in our 1949 Chevy (and later our 1954 Chevy). Driving Highway 71 in those days provoked high tension whether we had to pull over to wait out a driving rainstorm or creep along due to impenetrable fog or shudder as big trucks zoomed past.

Mount Gayler provoked an outcry from me and my younger sister—could we stop and have pie at Burns Gables? Could we ride the train? Only one time that I remember did the journey involve stopping for a train ride, a thrilling dash along the tracks circling the pond, wind in my hair, grinning as the high-pitched whistle blew. Another time we sat around a table at Burns Gables to savor a slab of delicious pecan pie.

The landscape of high mountains and sheer cliffs made its mark in my memory. For years my amateur drawings portrayed hills of the same height marching off into the distance in ever faded color. I never understood why it seemed mountains should look that way until, as an adult, I took another look at the profile of the Boston Mountains framing the West Fork valley.

Passing through West Fork on our way north marked the last hurdle before finally reaching Fayetteville, but the only thing that lodged in my memory about the place was the rock “tourist court” along the highway. Then the green-and-white rotating light flashed through the sky at the Fayetteville airport, a magical sight in fog or rain. In those days on that two-lane narrow highway, the trip took nearly three hours.

Imagine my surprise when, in middle age, I discovered that I had ancestors buried at Brentwood and Woolsey! After the Civil War, my dad’s grandfather, Charles McDonald Pitts, moved from Johnson County, Arkansas, to the Brentwood area along with his mother Elizabeth and several brothers and their families. Charles’ mother and his first wife Easter (Parker) and newborn daughter Tennessee are buried at Brentwood as well as a young niece Eliza. Two brothers and some of their children are buried at Woolsey. Charles would remarry there, a local girl named Linnie Mae Rose who became my great-grandmother. The Pitts family moved away by 1900 to take up residence in the western part of the county.

Now, after nearly fifty years of living here, I can almost claim to be an old timer. But fifty years is nothing compared to the two hundred years of family heritage a few of the valley’s residents can claim. I wanted to know who came here first, who built these towns, what it was like to carve out a living in this rugged land. So I started digging.

The West Fork Valley, my new release, is what I found, a history of the watershed of the West Fork of White River, its natural wonders, its past, its people through 1900. It’s my great pleasure to announce this book to the world!

Visit the book page on this site for more information and purchase link.

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The Honorable Act of Protest

Students who walked out of their Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest against gun violence in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RC164B322F90

The student walkout last Wednesday presented an excellent parenting opportunity. Sadly, a significant number of parents failed to recognize the opportunity. Instead, many of them sided with authoritarian school boards who insisted that any student who walked out of class in honor of the seventeen students killed at Florida’s Parkland high school should receive disciplinary action for his/her outrageous rebellion.

Parents had the choice to support this, to teach their kids about the history of protest that forms the foundation of our nation. Our country began as a protest. Important change over the subsequent centuries occurred due to protest, not quiet little acceptable moments condoned by the powers that be, but full-bodied march-in-the-streets, dump-your-damn-tea-overboard protests. This was a chance for parents and community leaders to demonstrate a true understanding of what protest means to our nation.

And to our future.

It’s sad to see that so many don’t understand, tragic that so many accept the conditioning to stand quietly and wait for someone to tell you what to do, what to think. It bodes ill for our future that what we seem to be teaching in our schools and homes today focuses on doing what we’re told instead of what is right. Sit in your assigned desk. Don’t talk. Remember to bring a pencil. Stand quietly in line.

This is training for lock-step corporate workers, not the thinking adults needed to guide our nation forward in a time of great global change. Where is the critical thinking, the understanding of history, that education is supposed to instill?

Yes, the need to stand up for the right thing may have consequences. Many of the students who walked out of class despite draconian threats of suspension and other disciplinary action understood and stood up for their rights anyway. This alone should cheer us all with hope for our collective future.

The acceptance and embrace of authoritarianism raised its ugly head last week, a fitting reminder of the mindset that allowed Donald Trump to become president. Above all else, his election to the highest office in our political system reflects this pervasive eagerness for an authority figure who claims to know the right path. This world view reflects the fear of so many who can’t catch up with the times,  with a world going too fast for their 19th century brains to understand what is required of them. They don’t like change. So the solution is a strict set of simple rules enforced by a blustering promise-maker.

These kids aren’t having it. Thank you, kids.

New Release: Murder Stories!

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

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

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

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

Available now at Amazon.com

Excerpt from Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past

'y' at fay jctMy  new book, Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past,
features five articles I researched and wrote between 2003 and 2010. These were initially published by the Washington County Historical Society’s quarterly journal, Flashback.

In this paperback collection, these articles about this “lovely” county in Northwest Arkansas have been expanded and updated, and now include photos, maps, and other features that greatly enhance the reading experience.

Here’s an excerpt, from “The History of Fayette Junction”:

…One of the most ambitious men to exploit the timber trade was Hugh F. McDanield, a railroad builder and tie contractor who had come to Fayetteville along with the Frisco. He bought thousands of acres of land within hauling distance of the railroad and sent out teams of men to cut the timber. By the mid-1880s, after a frenzy of cutting in south Washington County, he turned his gaze to the untapped fortune of timber on the steep hillsides of southeast Washington County and southern Madison County, territory most readily accessed along a wide valley long since leveled by the east fork of White River. Mr. McDanield gathered a group of backers and the state granted a charter September 4, 1886, giving authority to issue capital stock valued at $1.5 million, which was the estimated cost to build a rail line through St. Paul and on to Lewisburg, which was a riverboat town on the Arkansas River near Morrilton. McDanield began surveys while local businessman J. F. Mayes worked with property owners to secure rights of way. “On December 4, 1886, a switch was installed in the Frisco main line about a mile south of Fayetteville, and the spot was named Fayette Junction.” Within six months, 25 miles of track had been laid east by southeast through Baldwin, Harris, Elkins, Durham, Thompson, Crosses, Delaney, Patrick, Combs, and finally St. Paul.

Soon after, in 1887, the Frisco bought the so-called “Fayetteville and Little Rock” line from McDanield. It was estimated that in the first year McDanield and partners shipped out more than $2,000,000 worth of hand-hacked white oak railroad ties at an approximate value of twenty-five cents each. Mills ran day and night as people arrived “by train, wagon, on horseback, even afoot” to get a piece of the action along the new track, commonly referred to as the “St. Paul line.” Saloons, hotels, banks, stores, and services from smithing to tailoring sprang up in rail stop communities…