Authentic Arkansas is a series written by the staff of the Arkansas State Archives that explores the state’s cultural heritage through unique documents and artifacts.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The conflict had a great impact on our nation as the first modern, global war. Approximately 65 million were mobilized, including over 70,000 soldiers from Arkansas. The Arkansas State Archives in Little Rock currently offers an onsite exhibit about that “Great War.” “On the Fields and In the Trenches: Relics of the First World War,” showcases a number of World War I artifacts in commemoration of the war’s 100th anniversary.
The Archives received much of its World War I collection through the efforts of L.C. Gulley, an Arkansan who served in the American Expeditionary Forces’ Postal Service. Gulley collected over 1,000 pieces from battlefields and military camps in France, including weaponry, helmets, artillery shells, canteens, soldier-created trinkets, gas masks, mess kits and armor. Over the period of his service, Gulley sent 50 separate mail-sacks to the States. When he returned from France, Gulley donated the items to the state with the goal of creating a “Great War museum” in Arkansas.
The exhibit also includes medals awarded to Herman Davis for his heroic service during the war. Davis, born in Mississippi County in 1888, was initially rejected for military enlistment, being deemed too short and old for service, but was later drafted into the Army. He trained at Camp Pike in Little Rock before being sent to France, where he served as a scout in the 113th Infantry Regiment. On multiple occasions, while scouting in advance of his unit, Davis engaged enemy troops, and was credited with killing approximately 35 enemy soldiers. During his service, Davis was exposed to poisonous gas, and for the rest of his life, he suffered from the effects of that exposure and died in 1923 as a result of it.
The Archives has three of Davis’ military medals in its collection, including a Croix de Guerre and a Medaille Militaire, both awarded by France (his Distinguished Service Award is on loan and on display at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena). General John J. Pershing listed him as one of the greatest heroes of World War I. A statue of him stands in Herman Davis State Park in his hometown of Manila.