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.
Some of you may remember several days back when I ranted about expiring refrigerators and driver’s license issues. Turns out the driver’s license pursuit was a much bigger problem than I had imagined.
In years past, the impending expiration of a driver’s license triggered a notice from the state advising a person to go get a new one. No longer. You’re on your own now. Apparently, you’re supposed to just “know” when the four years or eight years are up on the current license. I’ll put that on my calendar for 2026.
In years past, one received notice, went to the local DMV, turned in the old license, grimaced through yet another horrible photo, and waited a bit to be handed the new one.
Well, I’ve got news for you.
When I went to DMV and took number 68, I heard them call number 6. Without hope, I glanced around the packed room and decided to follow the advice posted prominently by the stand dispensing numbers. There, a sign stated that a person could simply go online to renew a driver’s license. How genius!
Once home, I looked up the DMV website. I searched diligently, but nowhere on that site was there information about how to renew a license online. So I called. The guy said, no, no way to renew online. He thought I’d probably misread.
So okay. I explored further on the website and discovered that in Washington County, a person might visit satellite DMV offices at various places around the county. Woohoo! Aside from West Fork, the one nearest me, DMV operates at Springdale, Lowell, and Lincoln. How lovely!
Additional exploration of the website revealed that a stack of documentation would be required to renew a license. It seems Arkansas has embraced new federal rules, effective August 8, 2018, for identification cards and drivers’ licenses. As per the website: “The State of Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration will begin issuing new Driver’s License and Identification Cards in the summer of 2018. The new cards provide more security features.” and “The card with a GOLD STAR on the top right corner is an Arkansas REAL ID Driver’s License or State Identification card in compliance with Federal Real ID Act of 2005.”
Also, “Arkansas is taking part in the federal nationwide initiative to improve the security of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, which will help fight terrorism and reduce identity fraud. On October 1, 2020, anyone who boards a domestic flight or enters a federal building will either need an Arkansas REAL ID driver’s license (DL) or Identification Card (ID), or will need to provide a regular identification and additional accepted forms of identification.”
Req_Doc_for_VES_color_version.pdf. A total of five documents are required, six if your name has ever changed (as in marriage): state-issued birth certificate including raised seal, secondary proof of identity, proof of name change (if any) such as a marriage license, proof of social security number, and two proofs of residency.
So I dug around in my files, collected the documents, and next morning breezed down to the address given, 222 Webber Street, West Fork. It’s the community center. Locked up tighter than a drum, no lights on. No signs on either door about DMV.
Steamed, I left early the next morning for the Fayetteville office. It was pouring rain, so surely only a few people would be there. Wrong. The place was packed. I took a number, waited a half hour, then asked someone why they advertised a West Fork office if it wasn’t open. She said, “Oh, they’re only open on Wednesday.”
Oh, is this secret insider knowledge? I didn’t even bother to ask why there wasn’t a sign on the door at West Fork stating that information. I didn’t ask why the Fayetteville office had a sign posted saying that driver’s licenses could be renewed online when they absolutely could not. I double checked the sign, just to make sure. Yes, there it was in plain English.
On Wednesday, I went to West Fork, waited for the three people ahead of me, and then went into the office where a very nice attendant explained that the new REAL ID cards were only issued at the Fayetteville office. He said he just needed my driver’s license. He asked if I wanted to renew for four or eight years. I renewed for eight.
All through the next eight years, I won’t have a REAL driver’s license. I have no idea if this means I’ll be turned away from the airport if I should decide to go somewhere, but at this point, I don’t care.
I did go back and look at the website about satellite offices. There, one line up from the bottom, appeared the information on hours. Office Hours: W 8:00a – 4:30p
I guess it was too much trouble to write WEDNESDAY only instead of just “W.”
Following 2015 charges against “19 Kids and Counting” star John Duggar for molesting his sisters and the rape of a young girl at the hands of a former employee of Rep. Justin Harris who had adopted the girl then ‘rehomed’ her to the man who would rape her, the latest moral scandal in Arkansas has to do with a scheme of kickbacks in exchange for funneling state tax dollars to a tiny religious college. Earlier this week, former Sen. Jon Woods, Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and a business consultant friend of the two, Randell G. Shelton, were named in federal indictments.
Previously indicted on several counts in the same scheme, former Rep. Micah Neal entered a plea of guilty to taking kickbacks. Other indictments may follow for additional persons, one of whom is referred to as “Businessman A” and for Ecclesia College, assumed to be “Entity A.”
The federal investigation has been ongoing for a couple of years and covers a period from 2013 to 2015. Until news of the investigation leaked out in the summer of 2016, Neal had been running for county judge. He dropped out of the race, citing residency concerns as his reason. News of his indictment came later.
Woods announced in November 2015 he wouldn’t run for re-election, possibly due to knowledge of the investigation.
Here’s the set up. An Arkansas law allows leftover money from the General Improvement Fund to be allocated for pet projects in legislators’ home districts. If approved, grant requests disperse the money through economic development districts toward worthy nonprofits. It’s a system ripe for abuse.
Currently in session, the legislature is expected to take away this honey hole at the urging of our rather embarrassed governor, Asa Hutchinson, a former Congressman, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and more recently, head of Homeland Security.
But the cash cow is already out of the barn, at least for this highly religious group. A total of thirteen indictments against former Senator Woods alleges he committed fraud and took a bribe of $40,000 plus “an undetermined amount of cash” in exchange for helping funnel more than $350,000 to Ecclesia College, purportedly for land on which to build student housing.
But there was no need for student housing. The grant request claimed that the college needed housing due to “rapid growth.” The college with an enrollment of less than 200 mostly off-campus students already owned 200 undeveloped acres. Records show that the GIF money paid for about fifty additional acres at an inflated price. To date, no building permits have been sought to build on any of this land, so evidently the ‘urgent’ need for housing wasn’t so urgent after all.
While indictments do not constitute a conviction, chances are good that plea deals will follow. The money was there and they wanted it and they had a handy nonprofit, namely Ecclesia College, by which to obtain it. According to the indictments, as early as January 2013 these three men “devised a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the honest services of a public official through bribery.”
A March 3 write-up in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reveals a tangle of people eager to get their sweaty hands on state tax dollars. Never mind that Woods and Neal, as elected officials, both swore to uphold the state’s constitution. Never mind that Paris served as president of a college presenting itself as a Christian institution. The elaborate diversions through which the money flowed portrays clear evidence these men knew they were doing something wrong.
But it’s worse than that. It’s not just greed at work here. A text message from college president Paris to Woods is cited in the news article:
Good selling point to conservative legislators is that (Entity A) produces graduates that are conservative voters. All state and secular colleges produce [a] vast majority [of] liberal voters.”
Woods replied: “Agreed.”
This blatant agenda to brainwash students toward conservative views fits right in with the apparent right-wing philosophy that the ends justify the means. These men were leaders of their communities and their church. As such, the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior would be expected. Yet they apparently had no qualms about perverting the intent of GIF grants in order to enrich themselves as well as serve their ultimate goal, that of furthering the Christian agenda in taking over the nation’s political institutions.
I recently wrote that the right-wing effort to make the United States a “Christian nation” constitutes treason. This latest incident is only a tiny glimpse of a pervasive delusion rampant in that group that whatever is done in the name of God is acceptable, even praiseworthy. The text of Oren Paris III clearly states the intent to increase the number of conservative voters in order to bring the country closer to their ideal Christian Nation.
This type of thinking is no different from that of ISIS leaders who justify acts of terror by claiming that it pleases God. They know what Allah wants and the ends justify the means.
Aside from minor inconveniences like federal indictments, Wood, Neal, Paris et al may suffer little consequence among their peers. Shortly after the indictments hit the news, Ecclesia College board chairman Phil Brassfield posted a letter on the college’s Facebook page stating, in part:
While the allegations made against Oren [Paris] are to be taken seriously, we are confident once all the facts and the truth are made known, all will come to understand as we on the Board of Governance believe, that Oren has acted at all times with absolute integrity and always in the best interest of Ecclesia College. We are at peace in the knowledge that Oren is a godly leader, a loving husband and father, a vigilant shepherd and a faithful servant. It is in this confidence that we as a board remain loyal and steadfast with our brother in Christ., 
Clearly, right-wing Christian Republican hypocrisy stretches from the lowest levels of government all the way to the top where–at this very moment–perjury, lies, and dissembling of every order permeate the executive and legislative branches. In the name of God. Because the ends justify the means.
 In the Arkansas Times article cited above, a testimonial written by Oren Paris’ wife regarding his meeting with then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz, states, in part: “At one of the meetings Oren was able to attend Senator Cruz and his wife Heidi shared how the Lord led them to run for the Presidential Office. I remember Oren sharing with me how the love of Jesus shone through Heidi as she told of her prayer to God whether she should do this for Ted (leave her job and dive into a campaign) or not. The Lord spoke to her and said, “No you should not do it for Ted. You should do it for Me, for my glory.” That meeting lasted more than 7 hours and was filled with Senator Cruz and Heidi (daughter and granddaughter of missionaries) sharing their hearts, answering questions, and joining in prayer for revival in our nation.”
 In unanimous agreement, the board confirmed Paris’ continuing role as college president. The letter was signed by board members including the newly elected Washington County judge, Joseph Wood. When former Rep. Micah Neal suddenly dropped out of the county judge race in the summer of 2016, for reasons later revealed to be his federal indictments, Joseph Wood stepped into the candidacy despite concerns about whether such a move was legal. His questionable activities since taking office, including breaking several regulations about appointees, remain under scrutiny. For more, check this article at the Arkansas Times.
My 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…