Award Winning Article!

I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Lemke prize by the Washington County Historical Society for my article on Jesse Gilstrap. The article will appear in the Fall edition of Flashback, the Society’s quarterly journal.

In 1852, Jesse Mumford Gilstrap settled in Washington County, Arkansas, with his wife and three children. He had ventured to the county earlier; his first child was born here in 1848. An adventurous and passionate young man, in 1850 Gilstrap had trekked westward to join the gold rush while his wife awaited him at her family home near Carthage, Missouri. Back from his adventure and a few dollars richer, he returned to Washington County where he immediately invested some of his earnings in a partnership in one of the county’s earliest mills. In 1856, took full ownership. Then as the winds of war heightened, Jesse spoke out on behalf the Union cause. In 1862, he gathered a company of fellow patriots to form the first company of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Jesse went on to serve in the state senate before his untimely death in 1869.

Jesse’s story tumbled out of my research for my new release, The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement Before 1900. As I studied early settlers, then the first mills, then the Civil War, Jesse’s name kept popping up. It was a pleasure to connect with a descendant who provided photographs and more details about this man and his family.

I consider Jesse the real winner of this award. I am only the messenger.

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West Fork Valley — New Release!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REAL ID

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.”

The requirements for the new card are outlined at https://www.dfa.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/driverServicesOffice/

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.”

I feel so much safer now.

The Old West

In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, I discovered that three of the fifty murders profiled there were committed by members of the same family! Intrigued, I researched more about these folks and the result is now published under the title The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys. Fascinating and shocking, this story features more twists and turns than an Ozarks dirt road.

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley.  Young Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at his neighbor Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1891, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson served 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.

Paperback now available for only $9.95 at. Don’t miss it!