Coming April 2 — AROUND THE COUNTY: Histories of Washington County, Arkansas
As the legend goes, by 1931 when Forrestina Magdalene (Bradley) Campbell settled in Washington County, Arkansas, she had run away from her “well-to-do” family as a teen, joined the circus, married “Big Broad Tosser” Keyes, and lost a pregnancy after falling from a trapeze. Local historian Phillip Steele described her as “a beautiful woman…with long gorgeous red hair.”
Beauty or not, her husband Keyes abandoned her when medical complications of her miscarriage cost her the ability to ever bear children. Maybe he would have left her anyway. No records of him have been found.
This was just the beginning of Forrestina’s fascinating life story which would continue into the 1970s from Head’s Ford and Springdale to the West Fork area along Highway 71 as she forged her unique path in local lore.
This article won the 2022 Washington County Historical Society’s Walter J. Lemke Award for the best article on Washington County History outside of Fayetteville and was published in the Spring issue of the WCHS quarterly journal Flashback. [This image of her appeared on the cover of Philip Steele’s booklet about her, circa 1970.]
A entire chapter in the forthcoming AROUND THE COUNTY.
It’s easy to take bread for granted, the first thing grabbed off supermarket shelves as people prepare for any apocalypse. And not only bread, but other products of wheat flour, everything from biscuits to pasta. But the county’s early pioneers did not have supermarkets from which to obtain bread or flour, they didn’t even have grist mills to produce it. And they had to grow the wheat!
Laboring over grinding stones with hand pestles, pioneers cleared land, plowed, planted, harvested, winnowed, and stored wheat (and other grains, especially corn) before turning their energies to building mills. Big grinding stones were turned first by harnessed mules or horses then by water power as streams were channeled to turn big mill wheels. Millwrights had to know their business, not only in the methods of capturing and directing a suitable flow of water but also in the construction of the wheels and the many mechanisms of the operation.
At first, Fayetteville settlers had to travel to Natural Dam to find a mill, then to Evansville. It wasn’t until 1836 that Fayetteville gained its first local mill, and twelve more would follow. Local mills would continue their important work for nearly a century before mechanization and corporate farms would undermine their profitability, thus ending a long mainstay of the local economy.
While five of the articles in this collection are entirely new, the other four have been previously published in Flashback, the quarterly journal of the Washington County Historical Society, Fayetteville, Arkansas, or in one of my books, as follows:
Chapter 1 – New! Daguerreotype was the first form of photography, and Washington County had several daguerreotype professionals in the years before the Civil War. The story follows Anderson Frieze and documents others in this image-making profession circa 1850-1880.
Chapter 2 – This article has been expanded with additional information about the Yoes family from the time of their immigration from Germany through three generations. Previously published in various parts in The West Fork Valley: The West Fork of White River, Arkansas, Its Environs & Settlement before 1900.
Chapter 3 – This award-winning article about Jesse Gilstrap tracks his travel to the gold fields of 1850 California, his inventions and millwright operations in south Washington County, and his efforts on behalf of the Union during the Civil War. Published in 2018, Flashback.
Chapter 4 – Mostly new! An earlier brief version of this story examining the murder of a man on a downtown sidewalk in Fayetteville appeared in Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West.
Chapter 5 – New! “The Final Abuse of Ann Jarvis” recounts the horrific murder of a wife and mother in a case of extreme domestic violence and mental illness.
Chapter 6 – New! “Fayetteville’s Immoral Houses” uncovers the previously hidden world of prostitution in Fayetteville.
Chapter 7 – This exposé of an auto theft ring operating in Fayetteville in the 1930s previously appeared in Flashback.
Chapter 8 – New! Circuses drew enormous crowds through the 19th and early 20th centuries, even to locations like Fayetteville whose population at the time of the first circus was less than 1,000 people.
Chapter 9 – The story of the Brumfields and their fated dream to build Fayetteville’s Downtown Motor Lodge appeared previously in Flashback. This article tracks the rise and fall of that dream to the vacant lot that scars Fayetteville’s downtown today.
These are the stories of the innkeepers, stagecoach lines, and stablemen who served Fayetteville, Arkansas—and the region—for the first one hundred years. Travelers and new arrivals, salesmen and politicians, and shipments of food and goods all depended on horses, mules, oxen, stagecoaches, wagons, and buggies to carry out their plans. The animals required shelter, experienced care, feed, and hay. An array of craftsmen—wagon makers, blacksmiths, farmers, saddle makers, and farriers—supported the transportation industry, ensuring that the various needs of this expansive industry were met.
Who were the men who established inns, built stables, and bought sturdy stagecoaches? Where did they come from and how did they end up here? What experiences taught them the skills needed to fulfill their ambitions?
These fascinating biographical sketches along with vintage photographs re-create a time long gone, but not forgotten.
In 2019, Fayetteville, Arkansas found itself named among the top three American cities for live music, placing third after Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana. In this history of Fayetteville’s nightspots and musicians, we celebrate the ancient human tradition of music and dance. These were – and still are – the places where live music finds its most enthusiastic audience, where musicians practice a craft as old as time, where the drumbeat and lyrical voice travel straight to the heart.
Among the hundreds of start-up bands pursuing their moment in the spotlight, some of Fayetteville’s bands and musicians have gone on to national, even international fame. Standing behind these musicians are the promoters, nightclubs, and rehearsal spaces that supported and encouraged them.
Perhaps more importantly, a steady stream of new talent, new sounds, new ideas attract passionate new audiences to join in the good times. How can this be? What strange cocktail of talent and public appreciation come together here to produce such a rich legacy of irresistible music and the places and professionals who enable its existence? Only a historical view of this Ozark city, its musical artists, and its creative commons can begin to illustrate the full picture.
Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley. Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, lifts his Spencer rifle to his shoulder to find Bud in his sights, and pulls the trigger, sending Bud to a well-earned grave.
Determined to wreak vengeance on his little brother’s killer, William Jefferson “Jeff” Gilliland takes control of a posse meant to bring Newton Jones to justice. But Jeff’s plan for the posse to kill “every last son of a bitch” goes horribly wrong and brings indictments for murder against Jeff and the rest of his posse.
Before the curtains closed in 1890 on these descendants of West Fork pioneers J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland, two other sons and a grandson would die violent deaths while yet another grandson serves hard time for murder.
What was it about the Gillilands?
This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and plain old bad luck.
In the late 1990s, I pursued a project that called to me, which was to interview people of the 60s generation who lived in Northwest Arkansas. Many of these were immigrants to the area, the hippies, the drop-outs, the radicals. They came from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and bought cheap Arkansas land where they could build lives with meaning. Some of the interviewees were locals, also of the Baby Boom generation who saw, rightly, that “the times, they were a changin’.”
What I found in common among those interviewed was a profound understanding that they and the rest of this cohort were responsible for what the future would become. Each acting passionately in his or her own way in arenas of personal interest, these people brought important changes to the region and the world. Whether protecting the environment, furthering the rights of women or racial minorities, or opening their hearts to so many other problems, these were the engines of social changes that are still being fought in our politics.
Often the topic of heated rhetoric and armchair analysis, those who went ‘back to the land’ are rarely heard in their own voice. Now documented in these breathtakingly honest, personal interviews, their stories reveal the guts, glory, and grief of the 1960s social revolution.
Records of John Randolph’s birth name a birth year of 1853, although various other records show conflicting dates. A church record states that he was born December 24, 1853, in Independence County, Arkansas. In 1873 at age 19, he married Sarah “Sally” Elizabeth Prince at Sulphur Rock, Independence County, Arkansas. She was his second cousin once removed.
Miss Prince was born September 1849 in Tennessee, daughter of William Prince and Martha Lamberson. This Lamberson is related to John’s mother’s family: Melinda was her first cousin once removed. William J. Prince was born 1813 in Georgia, and died during the Civil War in Independence County, Arkansas, as did his wife Martha Lamberson Prince, born 1825 in North Carolina. Sarah Sally’s siblings were William H., b 1842 TN (CSA AR 8th Inf. Co. E, enrolled August 6, 1862 at Sulphur Rock, AR, between Newark and Batesville); Mary A., born 1847 TN (married James Scott); Virginia b 1850 MS; James Ferdinand b 1852 AR; Martha Jane b 1857 AR (married George Hill 1872; David Bruton 1879); John T. b 1858 AR; Tennessee “Babe” b 1860 (raised by Mary, married Riley Whaley).
Birth records for the couple’s sixth child, Benjamin, dated 1888, states that John age 38 was a farmer and preacher, born at Newark Arkansas, and that Sarah age 40 was born in Mississippi.
John Randolph Campbell and his new wife Sally produced the following children:
i. Emma Campbell b. 1874, Newton Co., AR, d. 1888 of rheumatic fever at age fourteen
ii. Mary Molly Campbell b 1876, m. Frank Pratt(s). Children were Mabel m. Fred Albert; Lizzie m. John Hilburn; Beulah; Pierce; Lennox; Urcil “Huck”; Margie; Nettie (died).
iii. John William Campbell, b 1878, m. Mary Jane Ellis. John William is the great-great grandfather of my three Campbell children.
iv. Jack O’Neil, b. Dec 25, 1882 at Newark, Indep. Co, AR, d. Apr 14, 1960, Newport, married July 19, 1903 to Emma Bell Hicks and produced Lennie Mae, Bertha, Commie O’Neal, Rutha Lee, and Opal Christine. Jack then married Donnie Inness and produced another eight children: Edna Irene, Burl Nathaniel, Aubrey Evereett, Almeta Beatrice, Leeaun Utah, J. C., Alvin Newton, and Thelma Joyce.
v. James Campbell b 1880, m. Mary Willis. Children were Dallas, Nanny, and another daughter.
vi. Clu Campbell, died at age 9 – not found in family birth records
vii. Benjamin Harvey Campbell, b June 14, 1888, Pleasant Plains, Indep. Co AR, d. Nov 19, 1966, Newport, Jackson Co, AR. married Willie Hicks, married Ocra Ellen Tibbs, and their children were Eva Jewell and Clemins Alvin. He then married Helen Carmen “Nell” Yancy, and produced Vesta Lola, Virginia Vivian, Mather Carnell, Veda Lee, Milous Harvey, and Benjamin Morris.
The 1880 Newton County Arkansas census for Jackson Township lists John Campbell age 26 with wife Sarah age 25, with children Emma age 6, Mary age 4, John age 2, and James six months. John’s occupation was farming.
The 1900 census for Fairview Township, Newton County (?) lists John R. Campbell age 46 as a mail carrier, land owner with a mortgage, married 27 years to Sarah, age 50, with seven children of which five were living. Jackson, age 17, was a hack driver, and Harvey age 13 was a farm laborer. They housed a lodger named William Hicks. The 1920 census for Jackson County Arkansas, Richwoods Township, finds John R. Campbell age 67 and Sarah A. age 72 living in a rented home, with his occupation described as clergyman and evangelist. The 1930 census for Amagon (Richwoods Twp) lists John R. age 80 and Sarah age 84 living in a rented home without occupation.
John Randolph was about five-nine at 185 pounds, although in older age he became “heavy set.” He worked as an itinerant preacher, following the Church of Christ denomination. “On September 29, 1895, John R. Campbell was authorized to work as an evangelist by the “Disciples of Christ, worshiping at Surrounded Hill Arkansas.” In 1889, he was ordained as a preacher by E. M Kilpatrick, and J. L. Kitridge, Clerk for Tex-Ark & Indian Territory: Credentials, page 32.
According to one descendant, “John Randolph used to preach near Bradford [Arkansas] at least once a month; Aunt Nell [wife of Benjamin Harvey] remembers hearing him preach in 1914 near Swifton … said his name was Campbell and he was a Campbellite preacher. In 1917 he lived in the Pennington community and preached at different places. He received very little money as payment, mostly fresh vegetables, canned food, and some meats. Aunt Nell said she overheard some older women talking about the time he received a large handkerchief and two week’s board for holding a meeting. He preached some at Amagon and went to church barefoot … services were held in the schoolhouse.”
He also rented farms to grow cotton and he traded horses and any other item of value. When his third child John William and family settled in Fayetteville after 1918, John Randolph and Sarah joined them, living first at John William’s store at the corner of Rock and Mill, then on Frisco Street and finally on the south side of Spring Street in the four hundred block before moving back to east Arkansas. His grandson John Carl later recollected that he drove an old Overland Blue Bird.
One descendant stated that “John R. Campbell was a preacher. He was really a corker. Pulled some pretty good stunts. Think he drank a lot.” It was said by his grandson Zack that there were only two places that John Randolph would drink home brew, and that was “on this side of the Bible and on the other side.” His wife Sally dipped snuff, and sometimes smoked a cob pipe. Sally’s daughter-in-law (Mary Jane Ellis) stated that the Prince women were known to have “woods colts,” a euphemism for illegitimate children. In old age, Sally suffered a “dowager’s hump,” now known as osteoporosis. Sally and John Randolph both died in the Newport Arkansas area.
Mary Molly Campbell
Little is known about William and Melinda Campbell’s second child, Mary Molly. She is not listed in the 1860 census of Howell County Missouri. Later records show her spouse as John Willis Payne. Willis was born in 1854 in Kentucky, with both parents also born in Kentucky.
Willis and Mary Payne are found in the 1880 Newton County, Arkansas census, Jackson Township, at ages 25 and 26, respectively, evidence she was born in 1855 two years after John Randolph. Also in the household is her younger brother James, listed a ‘boarder.’
In a letter dated 1971 from Elizabeth Campbell Farmer, daughter of James “Jim” William Campbell, Elizabeth states: “Mary Payne is my papa’s (Jim Campbell) only sister. We called her Aunt Molly and she was married to Willis Payne.”
After 1880, Willis and Mary vanish from public records.
James William Campbell
At age 24, James married Nancy Jane Bell (age 19), daughter of William Levi and Nancy Busby Bell, September 18, 1882, in Newton County, Arkansas. This was two years after he was named as ‘boarder’ in the household of his sister Mary and brother-in-law Willis Payne. James and Nancy moved to Harrison (Boone County) Arkansas but in 1886 they moved back to Newton County where they settled in the Mt. Judea area (pronounced “Judy” by locals). There James dug wells and cisterns and built chimneys, as well as farming his land with cotton, corn, and small grains. He was a “great hand with a scythe and cradle and would get $1.00 per day for cutting wheat, a good wage for that time and more than most men were paid.” His son, Wesley A. Monroe, said they had “biscuits one to three times each day during the wheat harvest then cornbread three times a day for the rest of the year.”
He was elected Justice of the Peace in 1892 and remained in office for years. About the same time the family moved into a “box” house on land they homesteaded, a cause for celebration since most families lived in rough log cabins. In his capacity as JP, he married many couples and was said to shed tears during the ceremonies. He only went to school two days in his life, according to his descendants, but was a self-educated man. He taught school two summers – “Script” or conscript school. Each family paid one dollar for each child attending.
In the fall of the year, James would go away to pick cotton (probably in the river bottoms) and would take his wife’s handicapped half-sister Eliza Lawson as well as his older children. His wife Nancy Jane stayed home to care for the younger children and the homestead. It is said that James and Eliza lived as husband and wife during the cotton-picking trips. Nancy spun thread and wove most the cloth used for their clothes, including coats. The pants and coats were made of half wool and half cotton, called “linsey-woolsey.”
James also served in some capacity with the Spear Mining Company for their lead and zinc mine near Pendle. He was a school trustee for the board of education and helped to hire teachers. He was a “jack of all trades,” doctoring animals and people by setting broken limbs on splits that he whittled. He farmed and grew everything his family ate, including the livestock.
The eleven children of James and Nancy, as well as his child by Eliza Lawson and children by Nancy Walls, his third wife, are not listed for sake of privacy.
Sarah E. Campbell
The 1860 census, taken July 19, gives Sarah’s age as one month. Thereafter, no record of her is found. Assumed she died in infancy.
The execution site perched on a low hill lying just east of the National Cemetery in south Fayetteville, about one mile from the county jail at the town square. Its position served well in accommodating large crowds of observers anxious to watch the hanging. The place later became known as Gallows Hill and remained in use for executions until the Civil War. After the war, in 1867, the site was taken over by the federal government and became part of the National Cemetery.
On a cold clear November day, the couple was brought by wagon to the wooden platform, a hood placed over their heads and then the noose, and last prayers uttered. It seemed the entire county’s population had turned out to witness the macabre event as the drop doors opened and Crawford and Lavinia fell into the arms of death.
Soon after the execution of his parents, John Burnett was arrested in southeast Missouri and brought back to Fayetteville. The testimony of Sharp quoted previously in this story was given by Sharp at John Burnett’s trial. On December 4, 1845, John Burnett was indicted and quickly sentenced to his fate. The same gallows awaited him. Despite his attorneys’ protestations of his innocence, of which they were fully convinced, thirty-four-year-old John Burnett was hung on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1845.
What unspeakable crime could have sent the Burnett family to their deaths?
Murder, it was alleged, planned by the aging parents and facilitated by their son John. Murder of an old man named Jonathan Selby, a recluse rumored to hoard wealth in his remote cabin, not an uncommon thread of gossip about someone who didn’t make himself known within social circles. His cash payment for his eighty acres contributed to this idea. He may have exhibited a degree of wealth by purchasing livestock or building materials for his home, outbuildings, or fences. Later court testimony revealed that he had made the mistake of allowing someone to see him place a quantity of money into his wallet.
Did the murderers find a money hoard? Did the Burnett’s daughter Minerva regret her role in her family’s execution? These are a few of the questions that linger after a crime like this, a crime that led to the first execution of a woman in the State of Arkansas.
Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.
From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.
The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. Now, for the first time, readers can discover the horrors and mysteries of those long lost days.
Following the success of his first book, South County: Bunyard Road and the Personal Adventures of Denny Luke, Denny Luke found himself remembering even more moments in his life that seemed worthy of recording. Brief moments, some of them. Others spurred by a photograph here and there.
Always accommodating to his friends and family, Denny divulges various secrets and outrages that occurred at various points in his eighty years – so far.
Take what you will from his stories, he gives it all in good humor and humility.
Here’s a taste:
Age 12 or 13, I knew everything! Parents disagreed of course, so I plotted to run away. Living in Beloit, Wisconsin, where should I go? Having the entire world to choose from, decided on California, endless beaches, hot rods and beautiful weather and I could get there on my thumb.
Headed west, must change my name, I thought, to disguise myself, picked ‘Conrad Davis.’ Sounded right in case I hit Hollywood.
Somewhere in Iowa a fella picked me up in Chevy station wagon. Stated he’d just installed an anti-sway bar and watch this! He flew around curves, in the days before seat belts, had me white knuckling for my life.
Next, picked up by a guy attending an all-night meeting. He liked me, said I could sleep in the back of his car. Lit out at first light, back on the road.
Next evening was pondering what to do for the night…
Read all of it and much more in this slim but rich treasure trove of ‘Dennyspeak’! Available at Amazon