Thursday, October 17, 2019

Gold Fever Hits Arkansas

Washington Telegraph advertisement, 1849,
courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

James W. Marshall was working Jan. 24, 1848, at his sawmill in Coloma, California, when he saw a glint in a nearby stream. Curious, Marshall walked over to investigate and discovered gold. 

As news about the gold spread, people across the country, including in Arkansas, packed up their belongings and started the arduous trip across the U.S. to California.

Many Arkansans packed up their earthly goods to seek their fortunes. Others began seeking gold in their own state.

For those heading to the West Coast, a popular starting point for going to California was Van Buren in Crawford County. The westward route was about 1,300 miles of rugged terrain, and travelers would face many challenges along the way. The Comanche and Apache nations were hostile toward travelers encroaching on their lands. Even if travelers avoided attacks, it was impossible to avoid the arid desert and high altitude landscape of the Colorado Plateau and the Rocky Mountains. Only the most prepared travelers would be able to make it to California.

Van Buren merchants made sure their stores were stocked with items for the trip. Fort Smith and Van Buren benefited financially from the gold rush because they were located on the main road that headed west. As the first town on the route, Van Buren seemed to profit the most from the travelers. Outfitting businesses sprang up overnight. The towns’ hotels also saw a modest gain in business. 

After all, this would be the last hotel on the trail until Santa Fe, New Mexico. The editor of the Fort Smith Weekly Herald remarked, “If gold is to be found on them as plentiful as represented, we shall expect to see our town continually filling with persons going there in quest of gold as we are situated on the right road to those mountains.”

Because of difficulties in traveling, some gold hunters hoped there would be a gold deposit closer to home. It was not long before rumors of gold deposits surfaced.

One story had it that a Native American man visiting Louisiana presented a large lump of gold. When inspected, it was revealed to be authentic. The Van Buren Intelligencer reported the man saw the look of surprise from people inspecting his gold and boasted that “If they called that gold, he could show them a household of it.” He said the gold came from the shores of the Arkansas River near an unincorporated area called Walnut Creek in the Wichita Mountains in Indian Territory.

Another story held two men living near Walnut Creek discovered gold dust on the creek bank. After further exploration, the two men announced to the public that their find was massive.

 The fervor for gold caused a mad dash for mountains in Oklahoma. Within weeks of the rumor, a company had established itself on the site and several others were forming. Fortune hunters in Arkansas quickly began to form an expedition. In June 1849, the Arkansas Intelligencer in Van Buren began publishing a series of advertisements announcing a public meeting to discuss plans for the trip.
Those who gathered at Van Buren chose Col. William Black, a long-time resident of Northwest Arkansas, to lead the expedition. Black had traveled to Walnut Creek in 1826 and claimed he recalled the shores of the creek were shining with gold sands. At the time, he and his traveling companions decided that sifting through the sand would be too time consuming and vowed to return to see if they could mine the area. Now he was getting his chance. “I certainly believe,” he promised, “if we go prepared with a proper outfit and not be in too great a hurry as we were before, we will get gold enough to pay us well for our trouble.”

Eighty prospectors set out Aug. 15, 1849, from Van Buren with dreams of gold and riches. They arrived in the Wichita Mountains two weeks later and set to work. They toiled for weeks with little to no success at finding gold, and soon, people in the company became disillusioned with the enterprise.
C.W. LeGrand, who traveled from Franklin Parish, Louisiana, to join the group, left the expedition in November. When asked about his time in the mountains, he told the Van Buren Intelligencer, “Though the trip has not been altogether an unpleasant one, I feel that I would have enjoyed myself more at home.” 

Black could not account for the gold sand he claimed to have seen in 1826. Some in the camps grumbled it was not gold he saw, but mica, a mineral that can glitter like gold. As 1850 dawned, those still in the camp began to slowly drift either back to Arkansas or onward to California. Despite this, over the next 70 years, prospectors took the trip to the Wichita Mountains in search of Col. Black’s lost gold. Today, the region is dotted with ghost towns and the remains of failed mining operations.
Even though expeditions to the Wichita Mountains failed, the promise of gold in California continued to bring travelers through Arkansas. The town of Van Buren went from sleepy to bustling, full of energy, and vibrant.

For more information about Arkansas history, visit the Arkansas State Archives at 1 Capitol Mall, Suite 215, email or call 501-682-6900.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - James E. Womeldorff papers, MG.00097

James Eugene "Jim" Womeldorff was born April 1, 1907, in Iowa. After moving to Arkansas he was a partner in the W.R. Stephens Investment Company of Little Rock. He joined the United States Army Air Corps in January 1942. He attended Officers Training School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Miami, Florida. He graduated in October 1942, and was sent to Europe. Later Womeldorff was a captain assigned to the Marauder Group, 456 Bomb Squadron, 323 Bomb Group based in England, France, and Germany. He served in Normandy, northern France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland, and central Europe. He received the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and numerous other citations, ending the war as a lieutenant colonel.
He was married to Mary Esther Zook Womeldorff, and they had two children, Mary Esther Miller, born December 10, 1943, and Madolyn Barnes. Womeldorff died January 31, 1993, in Little Rock, and is buried in the Roselawn Cemetery.
This collection contains letters from James E. Womeldorff to his wife Esther and daughter Mary while he was serving in England, France, and Germany, in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.
·         1942: Jim, Myrtle Beach Bombing Range, to Esther, in care of Vance Kimbro, Portland, Arkansas (Reel MG00097)
·         1943: Jim, England, to Esther, Memphis, Tennessee
·         1944: Jim, to Esther and Mary Esther, Memphis, Tennessee
·         1945 June 12: Jim, France, to Esther and Mary Esther, Memphis, Tennessee (Reel MG00098)
·         1945 June 14: Jim, Germany, to Esther and Mary Esther, Memphis, Tennessee
·         1943: V-Mail
·         1943: Telegrams and miscellaneous
·         Newspapers
o    1944 June 18: Sunday "The Commercial Appeal," Memphis, Tennessee
o    1944 January 13: "Stars and Stripes"
o    1944 June 7: "Stars and Stripes"
o    1944 June 15: "The Daily Bond Buyer" New York, New York
o    1944 June 17: "Stars and Stripes"
o    1944 July 7: "Stars and Stripes"
o    1945 March 11: "The Commerical Appeal," Memphis, Tennessee
o    1945 April 21: "Collier's," pages 63-68

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - James E. Caldwell papers, MG.00093

James E. Caldwell (1833-1920) was born in Saline County, Arkansas. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1851 and was licensed to preach in 1852. His ministerial labors were mostly in south-central Arkansas centering on Tulip in Dallas County, where he settled soon after the Civil War. In 1869 he retired from the ministry due to increasing deafness. Caldwell married Martha S. Grubbs in 1854, and they had nine children. During his later years, he recorded a detailed discussion of the Methodist Church and many candid descriptions of his fellow clergymen.
This collection contains diaries, journals, sermon notes, clippings, scrapbooks, church records, resolutions, clippings, genealogical data, business records, and correspondence.
·         1. Journal and autobiography, 1833-1859 (Reel MG00093)
·         2. Journal and autobiography, 1847-1867
·         3. Scrapbook and newspaper clippings
·         4. Caldwell-Grubbs family Bible
·         5. "Record and Form Book" and school director's book
·         6. Tulip Methodist Church ministers, 1844-1974
·         7. Miscellaneous family materials
o    A. Martha Ann (Grubbs) Caldwell information
o    B. Resolution from J.R. Sanders and T.O. Rorie of the Little Rock Conference
o    C. Caldwell journals excerpts
o    D. Newspaper clipping related to Caldwell's diary
o    E. Caldwell family lineage
·         8. Diary, 1853-1855 (Reel MG00094)
·         9. Sermons and ministerial acts, 1853-1891
·         10. Sermons and cash book, 1865-1891

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Powhatan Historic State Park collection, MSNE.0035

Powhatan Historic State Park opened in 1974 after a renovation of the historic courthouse. Powhatan served as the county seat for Lawrence County from 1869 to 1963 when the seat was consolidated and relocated to Walnut Ridge. The courthouse officially closed its doors in 1966.
The Lawrence County Historical Society began taking care of the records left behind in the courthouse vault. After the park opened in 1974, the historical society shared the space in the courthouse with park staff and served as an informal archives. During the ensuing 30 years, papers and items of varying regional significance were donated to the historical society and park. This collection contains a portion of the matter donated to the park/historical society. Most items were either owned by someone who lived in the immediate area or are directly relevant to the region.
Included are personal letters, Lawrence County court documents, local business records, newspapers, maps, photographs, school records, family papers and more spanning the time period of 1836-1999.
·         Lawrence County court records
o    Bounties (Box 1)
o    Circuit Court
o    County Treasurer deposit receipts
o    Grand Jury findings
o    Justice of the peace records
o    Legal publications
o    Mother's pensions
o    Paupers
o    Petition for Prohibition
o    Summons, bonds & affidavits
o    Tax records
o    1836: Seat of Justice petition
o    1846: Petition of C.C. Roger for license to practice law
o    1858: Thomas R. Norman will
o    1860: B.P. Hogan certified to practice law in Lawrence County
o    1868: P.C. Stuart certified to practice law in Lawrence County
o    1889: Warranty deed
o    1898: marriage of J.D. Flippo to Francis Bailey
o    1900: Tax sale of delinquent lands
o    1903: Willett & Willett Distiller’s Notice
o    1920: Eaton Township petition
o    1920: Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium bill
o    1920s: Lawrence County Highway Warrant No.830
o    1932: Powhatan Courthouse insurance
o    1938: Royal Typewriter bill to Lawrence County Circuit Clerk
o    Petit Jurors
§  1912: Petit Jurors
§  1913: Petit Jurors
§  1914: Petit Jurors
§  1916: Petit Jurors
§  1917: Petit Jurors
§  1918: Petit Jurors
§  1919: Petit Jurors
§  1920: Petit Jurors
o    Qualified Electors
§  1931
§  1935
§  1936
§  1937 (Box 2)
§  1960-1961
§  1963-1964
·         Lawrence County records
o    Arkansas Motor Vehicle Registration cards
o    Book of the Month Club
o    Childers correspondence
o    Courtney agricultural records
o    Louise Smith Parrish records
o    Personal letters
o    Poll tax receipts
o    Powhatan Bridge coupon book
o    S. P. & A. Grade Curve by Valton Hinds
o    Tradecards and Advertisements
o    United States Department of Agriculture publications
o    W.H. Weir records
o    Wedding Invitations
o    1894: shipping receipt
o    1918: Paul Starling notice of classification
o    1921: articles of incorporation for Old River Oil and Gas
o    1972: Senator Tom B. Logan memorial Resolution No. 52
o    White House Cook Book
§  Handwritten recipes
§  Newsclippings
§  White House cook book (Volume 1)
·         Newspapers
o    1884: Randolph Herald
o    1899: Eye Opener, Ravenden Springs
o    1935 May 7: State College
o    1951 Oct 14: Sunday Times, London, England
o    1960 Sept 6: Batesville Guard
o    1980: Pocahontas Herald
o    1986: Arkansas Gazette “150 Years of Statehood”
o    1999 Sept 9: Ozark Journal, Imboden
o    Times Dispatch
§  1969 Feb 20: Times Dispatch, Walnut Ridge
§  2012 July 11: Times Dispatch, Walnut
§  Times Dispatch clippings
·         P.P. Sullivan
o    1885: Ledger and scrapbook (Box 3)
o    Undated Bible
·         McKenney family papers
o    Perfect Attendance awards (Box 4)
o    Greetings cards
o    1890: Bible presented to Rev. George W. McKenney by the Society of Christian Endeavor of the Second Presbyterian Church
o    Bible presented to Jennie McKenney By Lee
·         Ledgers
o    1881-1903: Register of Surgeons and Physicians of Lawrence County (Box 5)
o    1869: Clover Bend store cash book
o    1892-1927: Expense ledger
o    1909-1910: Lawrence County fee book
o    Medical practice ledger
·         Greeting cards
o    Greeting cards (Box 6)
o    Greeting cards
o    Greeting cards
o    Greeting cards
o    Greeting cards
·         Lawrence County school records
o    Teacher retirement cards (Box 7)
o    Teacher retirement system letters
o    School Director oaths of office (indexed)
o    School Director oaths of office (loose) (Box 8)
o    Certificate of Election of School Director
o    School enumeration
o    School District Issue votes
o    District revisions
o    School district petitions
o    Petitions to transfer children
o    School district warrants (Box 9)
o    District school fund receipts
o    1945-1946: Teacher retirement report
o    Payroll sheets
o    Records and Proceedings
o    Student records
o    Teacher's contracts
o    Teacher's licenses
o    Resignation and appointment of school directors
o    Apportionment
o    School financials
o    School tax certificates
·         Oversized
o    Certificates
§  1839: Non-resident land tax (Box 10)
§  1853: William McCall land grant (Box 10)
§  1856: Thomas Lawson land grant
§  1860: Thomas Lawson land grant
§  1907: Joe Coffman Free Mason certificate
§  Lee McKenney certificates
§  W.E. McLeod records and certificates
o    Pictures
§  1907: Township blueprint (Box 11)
§  Black River swinging bridge
§  Early 20th Century framed postcards
§  Lawrence County maps
§  Right of way map for Highway 25
§  World War I postcards
o    Framed Pictures
§  Powhatan Courthouse drawing (Box 12)
§  Hudson Motor Car Company
o    Maps & Pictures
§  1945: Stars & Stripes (Box 13)
§  "In the Bag" duck drawing
§  "Flushed" duck drawing
§  Coffey land records
§  Township map ledger
§  1911: Map of Arkansas