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.

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

 

Us and Them

usandthem-470x330

We thought we were the top of the world. The most advanced. The richest. The strongest. The U. S. of A., best of the best. All those things are true in so many ways. Aside from our wealth of natural resources, the nation’s strength and riches are what we, each and collectively, have to offer.

But strengths and riches aren’t all we have to offer. We also perform acts of insane violence that kill young children or innocent churchgoers, of smug self-righteousness that allows a brother to repeatedly molest his sisters, that allows an adopted six year old girl to be ‘rehomed’ and raped by her new ‘father.’

Why do deep veins of ignorance, hate, and fear continue to burn through our national body like a stream of caustic lye?

More urgently, what are we going to do about it?

Cultural Tradition: The Scots, for example

Following centuries of armed conflict between the native Scots and the British, in 1745 the British brutally terminated the last rebellion. Traditional Scottish kilts were outlawed and inherited lands were taken from the ruling class. A century earlier, Britain had moved large numbers of Scots into northern Ireland in an effort to weaken the equally rebellious Irish. (The volatile results of that maneuver continue to simmer today.) This Scots population of northern Ireland became known as the Scotch-Irish.

Aside from the desire for self-rule, the Protestant Scots and Catholic Irish fought the Anglican British over religion.

Between 1717 and 1775, nearly a quarter million Scots and Scotch-Irish migrated to the American colonies. Earlier settlers had already built their towns, farms, and plantations along the eastern seaboard so these newcomers moved west to unsettled land. They fought Native Americans and the wilderness to carve out a life where nobody told them how to worship or what to wear.

quotescots copy (Wikipedia)

These are the people who formed the predominant original working class white populations of the southern states and parts of the Midwest. Already inured by generations of religious conflict in their native lands, the Scots clung fiercely to their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and desire for independence from government rule. Generally not slave-holders, they nevertheless rallied to the Confederate cause, seeing it as their own because it was against government control, against someone telling them what to do.

The defeat of the South with its quarter-million deaths, injuries that came home with the veterans, and the loss of land, homes and families added to a long memory of defeat and humiliation. It is in this memory that the South will rise again, just as Scotland will once again enjoy independence from its British overlords. This is the vein of anger that holds tight to the Confederate flag, not because it is celebrated as a symbol of white over black, but because it serves as the rallying point for independent men against a conquering army. Rational analysis or details don’t matter. It’s the feeling of injustice that holds sway.

Many American Scots and Scotch-Irish have moved on, accepted the evolution of modern society and its rewards of broader understanding and tolerance. But many have not. For these folks, if you’re not with them, you’re against them.

They are but one example of ancient traditions which continue to guide attitudes and influence behavior in modern America.

Instinctive Fear: Racism

Humans innately tend to associate with others of our own kind. Researchers have given the labels of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ in discussing this behavior. Within an ‘in-group,’ individuals are assured of mutual support in everything from caring for an injury to defending against attack. We can count on our in-group guys.

At the most primal level, an instant response rises when confronted with someone who doesn’t fit the model of our ‘in-group’. This was an important survival instinct among early humans who relied on visual cues while the stranger remained at a distance. A fight-or-flight reflex rises from the old brain upon encountering a person clearly not of our in-group and we respond accordingly.

What we hope for and strive for in an advanced multicultural, multi-racial society is an immediate secondary and reasoned response that supersedes the instantaneous first reaction to a stranger. We look again and think about whether there’s a real risk. Just because that person doesn’t fit our in-group criteria doesn’t mean he’s a threat.

A fear-based response underlies behavior like freshman Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy for a new war against Islam. Extremist Christianity such as embraced by Cotton focuses on differences as a way to define and protect group identity. Kill the out-group! A more loving and confident mindset seeks grounds of commonality. A more realistic stance for responsible elected leaders involves negotiation and understanding to lower barriers between groups.

But the more stressed the person or occasion, the more likely the primal reflex remains in force. Cotton may suffer residual PTSD from his two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tests have shown that people are more likely to identify an ambiguous object in a stranger’s hand as a weapon if the stranger is from an out-group. Most importantly, people who regularly operate from a position of feeling threatened are more likely to react instinctively. Everyone but me and my known friends are ‘other.’ (Click here for more.)

Within our most stressed populations, acts of violence are committed by persons of a self-identified group against those seen as outsiders. The outsider is a target for the anger, frustration, and hatred of the in-group member who wants desperately to prove himself to the rest of his group. This behavior can be found in gang warfare, where fabric color designates group identity. It can be found in acts of violence in the Middle East, where a disagreement in 632 about the rightful heir to Mohammad’s leadership resulted in Sunni and Shia still killing each other 1383 years later.

Such acts on behalf of the in-group are carried out as a moral imperative.

The Charleston shooter clearly stated his moral imperative in murdering nine innocent people. They were African-American. “They” were raping “his people, taking over his country.” He did it for his group, whites. His reality, his moral imperative.

Jesus: Not What I Meant. Not What I Meant At All

Murder on behalf of racial purity is little different from those who murder on behalf of their religion. Each Islamic sect claims to be the true follower of Allah. By definition, all others are not ‘of God.’ All others deserve to die. Similarly, many Christian denominations in the U. S. believe all but their kind will burn in the fires of hell.

Faith traditions are, by their very nature, a useful measuring stick by which people may define their most important in-group. More than any other group, religion and its rules ensure a mutual understanding of appropriate behavior, ethics, traditions, and hierarchy. Ideally, religion could serve as the bridge between disparate groups and unite us in spiritual brotherhood.

Sadly, religion has more often than not become yet another means of categorizing a person as out of ‘our’ group. Thus Ronnie Floyd, current head of the Southern Baptist Convention, second largest religious denomination in the U.S. after Catholics, has proclaimed his intention to defy the highest court in the land if it rules in favor of same-sex marriage. He stated that “God, not the Supreme Court” holds final authority over marriage, as if the licensing of marriage were not a legal function of the government.

The issue of gay marriage is but one conflict between primal instinct and the tolerance and acceptance evolving as a world culture. “Raising consciousness is a persuasive enterprise,” Michael Walzer writes in his new book The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, “but it quickly turns into a cultural war between the liberators and what we can call the traditionalists.” This conflict gives rise to fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy in unexpected places around the world, including the United States.

The more threatened an individual may feel, the more likely he will invest in behavior that he believes will strengthen his in-group. Floyd speaks for all Southern Baptists in voicing fear of a social change perceived as a threat to their religion. This unreasoned primal reaction ignores the reality of the situation: gay marriage has no effect on traditional marriage—unless, as the quip goes, one of the partners in a traditional marriage is gay.

Ideally, religion serves as a pathway not only to seeing the entire human family as the in-group but also to higher self-esteem, respect for others, and a general sense of well-being, all of which help move an individual toward a less fearful stance in life. But this is where religion often plays its most destructive role. Extremist teachings emphasize differences and negatives. Only a few will be chosen. Homosexuals are not like us. Demons can control our lives. We have no personal power. Everything derives from an angry and punishing God.

Differences in economic status are also seen as a reflection of God’s will. The Protestant work ethic involves the relationship between religion, work, and capital. In order to demonstrate our Godliness, we are expected to work hard. With sufficient effort, our labors produce wealth, a sign that we have pleased God. This is why the wealthy are seen as uniquely imbued by God’s grace. For the religious extremist, the wealthy are almost worthy of worship in their own right.

If you’re poor, it’s because you’re unworthy of God’s blessings.

This is why worshipers gravitate to big fancy churches. God likes it there.

Our natural inclination is to accept authority from those we deem more worthy than ourselves. This is why corporate interests have been able to shape American lives around materialism and consumption, a development staunchly supported by religious extremists in spite of Biblical teachings that specifically condemn wealth. (More here)

Adoration of the rich and powerful is why marginalized populations resent any effort by government to assist the poor. It defies God’s will to give  assistance, especially since the funding for such assistance derives from those who have worked hard and gained God’s favor. This holds particularly true in prejudices against African-Americans or Hispanics, who are often caught in a vicious cycle of economic disadvantage and notable markers of an out-group (different skin color, speech patterns, social traditions).

Likewise, yielding authority to self-anointed leaders of religion occurs as a form of obeisance to the leader of the in-group. Recently the Arkansas Times quoted employees of a preschool operated by Arkansas legislator Justin Harris, whose failed strict parenting of two adopted girls resulted in rehoming and the subsequent rape of a six year old: “This was way out of control,” said the worker quoted throughout this piece. “You know how you have an ‘aha moment’? I said the other day to [a co-worker], ‘Why didn’t any of us make a hotline call?’ She said, ‘I don’t know’ … I think because Justin is so religious, we sort of accepted it.”

Did the Charleston murderer understand instinctively that his act would call into question the entire concept of group trust? Should the church members now carry guns, mistrust all newcomers? There can be little doubt that his act, in his tiny mind, served a goal of his self-identified in-group which was/is to destroy the ‘other.’ In that, he now sees himself as a victorious hero.

Similarly, the murder of Christians or other non-Sunni sects by ISIS serves the purpose of their in-group. As one cleric has stated, “We’re ridding the world of polytheism and spreading monotheism across the planet.” (Cite)

The Failure of Education

Our nation’s citizenry can’t operate on a level playing field if they are not educated equally as children. Breaking through destructive cultural, economic, and religious barriers seems an obvious avenue toward eliminating or at least defusing in-group fears and prejudices. And it is.

Which is why members of extremist in-groups violently resist efforts like school integration and uniform curriculum standards.

One might assume that any parent wants his/her child to love learning the lessons of history, the ways of numbers, the use of language in communication and reasoning, the amazing details of biology. We have, as a nation, understood that a thriving economy and successful democracy depend on the fruits of education, which is why we dedicate significant tax dollars to support our public schools. It is why we have set standards for teacher education and defined specific educational goals, why we have forced integration and provided school lunches. We need every child to develop to his/her fullest potential.

For some, the nation’s success or even the child’s well-being hardly register on the radar when held up against the perceived value of in-group traditions.

The more embattled parents feel in protecting their religious beliefs, for example, the more likely they will fight efforts to extend their children’s acceptance of broader cultural norms.

The increase in homeschooling is a product of this mindset. Homeschooling gained its first significant boost after forced integration. With the cultural changes of the 1960s and the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, it continued to pick up steam. From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents resorted to homeschooling in order to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent. (Other reasons given for homeschooling included concerns about the school environment such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.)

Germany, among others, has outlawed homeschooling for this very reason. But in the United States, Supreme Court decisions have found that parents have a right to homeschool their children or send them to private schools based on the definition of ‘liberty’ in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The only saving grace of these court decisions was the finding that the extent and content of private or home schooling must meet standards set by the government. (See more here.)

Because of the ‘liberty’ protected in the high court’s rulings, not all homeschooling is equal. Each state has its own set of rules about what is or isn’t required for homeschooling. While homeschooling can produce thoughtful, well-rounded children ready to pursue life as a functional American citizen, many such efforts fail utterly to meet that goal. The end result is a significant population of undereducated adults. Currently about 3.5% of young people, or around two million, are homeschooled. A majority of this segment of our nation’s people poses a real and present danger to the future of the American way of life.

Which is just what their parents intended.

Critical skills such as the scientific method of investigation and logical reasoning processes are often left out of extremist curriculum, partly because the parents have never understood such things and therefore have no appreciation for the benefits they offer. For these reactionary parents, already threatened by their perception that valued cultural traditions are being eroded, the goal is not to provide an excellent education by academic standards which mesh with the rest of the nation and world but rather to insulate their children from those very things and thus preserve the norms of their in-group.

There seems no easy resolution. The most recent effort has been the development of Common Core Standards, a widely vilified move to bring clarity and commonality to the nation’s education systems including homeschool curricula. The result of a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.

These standards focus only on language arts and mathematics, unfortunately leaving aside a more ambitious (and contentious) goal of setting standards for such important subjects as history, social studies, or the sciences. The government’s method of enforcing these bare-bones standards is to withhold federal education funds from states which do not adopt the standards. Eight states have so far refused to adopt them, but the situation remains in flux.

Inevitably, American children fall through the cracks all the time. The Charleston assassin had advanced only as far as ninth grade, a fact which underscores his likely inability to reason clearly or appreciate the broad scope of the world around him. (As noted in a previous blog post, persons with low intelligence are more likely to nurture racial prejudices and view the world from a perspective of threat.)

At their most progressive moments, federal and state governments attempt to break into the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and entrenched in-group thinking. Whether the methods actually help is another question. For example, in an effort to reach children in at-risk populations, the U. S. Department of Education hands out vouchers through its Child Care Development Fund which parents can use anywhere including religious schools.

Such programs target children with at least one of the following characteristics: Family with gross income not exceeding 200% of federal poverty level; Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening; Parents without a high school diploma or GED; Eligible for services under IDEA[1]; Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces); Income eligible for Title I programs; Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth; Limited English Proficiency; Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction; Parent has history of abuse or neglect; Or is a victim of abuse or neglect.[2]

Noble goals. But by inadvertently encouraging the expansion of religious instruction, such programs may do more harm than good. In Arkansas, this avenue of government aid for children in need has become heavily trafficked by people on a religious mission.

Rep. Justin Harris’s preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, receives nearly a million tax dollars a year through such programs. Despite theoretical restrictions that religion cannot be part of the academic day, these schools teach religion in the hours before and after the academic day, taking advantage of the extra time children are in their care while parents remain at work. Further, the state’s only method of monitoring these schools for violations is through random inspections.

That’s effective. “Stop praying, the state is here.” Numerous current and former employees of Harris report that children who misbehave during the academic day are taken to the office where they are prayed over in order to cast out the demons causing their misbehavior.

The message inculcated in these young minds is that God is in charge and prayer is the answer.

Rational thought? Personal responsibility? It’s all up to God. Join God’s group and everything will be fine. Such early indoctrination easily leads to a continuation of the conditions that led to their qualification for such programs in the first place. Pregnant at 16? God’s will. Pray. Victim of domestic abuse? Women are to submit to their husband. Pray. Addicted to meth? I’m a sinner. Pray.

At the height of Mr. Harris’ public shaming over the rehoming and subsequent rape of his adopted six year old girl, his school’s signboard proclaimed his membership in his self-identified in-group: “God Himself will fight for you.” To date, Mr. Harris has not acknowledged that he did anything wrong.

In states with the highest populations of at-risk children, legislators in charge of determining everything from curriculum to school funding are increasingly drawn from the ranks of religious extremists. Unable or unwilling to see beyond the walls of their in-group, such legislators circle the wagons against ‘outsiders’ who attempt to set new standards or otherwise interfere with group identity. In Arkansas, the only entity legally empowered to remove Justin Harris from his elected office were his like-minded legislative colleagues. Despite evidence that he illegally used his elected position to gain adoption rights to the two girls he subsequently gave away, there was no investigation. He remains in office and his school remains in operation.

Nowhere in such arguments do we hear that professional educators should be in charge of deciding the best methods of education. (This makes about as much sense as allowing politicians to decide best accounting methods for CPAs or best construction methods for engineers.) A consensus among professional educators is that homeschooling often involves inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness, lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the potential for development of religious or social extremism/individualism, and potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and community.

Specifically because parents fear of loss of in-group values, professional educators do not control the purse strings or the programs. Children continue to be victims of their parents’ fears and prejudices, prey to the ebb and flow of political opinion. We continue, as a nation, to suffer the consequences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t pretend to have presented all points relevant to this complicated state of affairs. Nor are my proposed solutions an exhaustive or foolproof list.

But given the failure rate to date, I think it’s safe to say that religion does not and cannot serve as the unifying force for humanity.

What we need is for each person to develop so fully that his/her self-esteem and intellectual skill set outweighs the primal need for narrow in-group identification.

We need to invest in strategies which reduce perceived threats and increase opportunities to break down barriers between groups.

We need broader educational standards so that children in private and home schools have to pass tests for subjects including state, national, and world history; basics of scientific method and the facts of biology, geology, and other sciences; social studies—how government works, the role of voters. Parents need to be held accountable if 17-year-old homeschooled kids can’t pass key tests.

We must stand firm against attempts to teach Creationism as an alternative to science. We must eliminate tax funding which in any way supports religious instruction at any grade level.

We must find ways, both institutionally and personally, to facilitate in-group/out-group encounter sessions and counseling alongside cultural education at all grade levels.

We must end the war on drugs. Legalize and tax all of it. Get over the idea that government can dictate what people ingest to alter their consciousness or that altered consciousness is in itself a crime. Demilitarize our police forces and deliver our communities from the tyranny of criminal gangs. Use tax dollars currently wasted on bigger prisons along with new revenues produced from legal drug sales to initiate pro-active programs in support of early childhood health and education, family intervention in cases of abuse and neglect, substance abuse treatment, and free/low cost mental/physical health care in every community.

We must require a significant period of public service from young people. Such service would broaden the scope away from a family or church or racial in-groups and instead build ownership in the in-group of our nation.

Don’t agree with the actions of our current elected leaders? Don’t support the policies of our nation? The instrument of change lies in our hands. An informed, self-confident electorate can be—should be—the strength of America.

We can feel a bit of relief in the amazing power of television and the Internet to instill greater understanding of different lifestyles, different races, and unfamiliar cultures. Social media such as Facebook allows us to engage in constructive dialogue with members of out-groups without the immediate threat of physical violence. These are opportunities we must use carefully in order not to trigger an even more visceral in-group identification among the ‘other.’

Many of these things are already being done.

Finally, there’s this:

“…The data…demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’ that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.”[3]

[1] http://idea.ed.gov/

[2] http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/rules/Current/ade_257_Arkansas_Better_Chance_October_2012.pdf

[3] “National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” Gregory S. Paul. Journal of Religion & Society Volume 7 (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.pdf Accessed June 19, 2015