Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - James M. Hanks diaries, MG.00100

James Millander Hanks (1833-1909) served in the United States Congress as a representative from Arkansas, 1871-1873. A life-long resident of Phillips County, he was admitted to the bar and practiced law at Helena for many years. He served as a judge for the First Judicial District of Arkansas, 1864-1868. Hanks spent much of his later life engaged in agricultural pursuits and hunting. He is buried in the Maple Hill Cemetery, Helena.
This collection contains diaries addressing personal, political, business, and religious matters.
·         1. 1865 January 1-1873 September 22 (Reel MG00100)
·         2. 1873 September 23-1883 May 5 (Reel MG00101)
·         3. 1883 May 6-1891 July 30 (Reel MG00102)
·         4. 1891 July 31-1892 January 31 (Reel MG00104)
·         5. 1892 February 1-1899 December 31 (Reel MG00104)
·         6. 1900 January 1-1907 December 3 (Reel MG00105)

·         7. 1907 December 4-1909 May 24 (Reel MG00106)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Birth of Little Rock as the Capital of the Arkansas Territory

Arkansas Territory map courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

The story of how Little Rock went from a population of one family to becoming the capital of the Arkansas Territory in the space of a few short years is one of political deals and questionable ethics. It also reveals how politics was practiced in the early days of Arkansas’s Territorial period. 

Early in the territory’s existence, it became clear Arkansas Post was not going to be suitable for a capital. The Arkansas Territory was created March 2, 1819, and the territorial legislature convened for the first time on July 28, 1819, at the Arkansas Post, which was the territorial capital. At the time, Gov. James Miller wrote to his wife in New Hampshire “the people live miserably poor, their houses but little better than a square of rail fence.” 

Flooding, poor crop harvests and ongoing fights with Native Americans in the area plagued Arkansas Post. Everyone agreed the site was temporary, and in fact, the legislature did not even bother passing any bills funding the construction of permanent government buildings. 

Then on Feb. 20, 1820, Thomas Tyndall, a representative from central Arkansas, submitted a bill to move the territorial capital. From the outset, it seemed as if every member of the legislature had his own personal choice for where the capital should be located. Miller offered Crystal Hill, where he had settled just over the river from Little Rock, but others supported Cadron, a small settlement north of modern-day Conway.

William Russell, who had made a career of land speculation, claimed ownership to a tract of land in what was known as the Little Rock. Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist who traveled through the area in 1818, noted only one family living in the area. Still, Little Rock’s central location on the Arkansas River and the major road linking St. Louis and Mexico made it a prime choice for the new capital. 
However, Cadron seemed the most likely choice because of the large amount of settlers along the creek. Cadron had some drawbacks, though. There was little level ground, which could hinder settlements and farming. Despite that, supporters continued to back Cadron, leading the legislature to establish Cadron as the county seat of newly formed Pulaski County. Legislators also voted to appropriate money for a jail and courthouse in the Cadron settlement. 

Politicians in the Arkansas Territory rarely were concerned with appearances of conflicts of interest. For example, Speaker of the House Joeb Hardin owned property at Cadron, possibly fueling his support for it becoming the capital. Russell, who stood to gain financially if his tract of land in Little Rock was chosen, realized he would need to convince Cadron supporters to switch their votes to Little Rock. Russell offered Hardin a block of land from his claim in Little Rock, and Hardin agreed to the deal and changed his vote.

Russell then turned to Thomas Tindall and Radford Ellis, who also supported Cadron as the site of the future capital. Russell offered Tindall and Ellis a deal to make Cadron the permanent county seat of Pulaski County if they changed their votes to support Little Rock as Arkansas Territory’s new capital. They agreed to the deal.

But the fight wasn’t over. A group of land speculators led by St. Louis attorney Chester Ashley claimed property in the Little Rock area. In the wake of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811, settlers who could claim that property had been destroyed in the earthquake were entitled to government land elsewhere. Ashley’s group quickly bought many of the New Madrid claim certificates, laying claim to much of the property in Little Rock. Then, they renamed the area as “Arkopolis” and began selling land. 

Meanwhile, Russell also began selling land. For a time, there were two rival towns in the disputed area: Little Rock, which was owned by the Russell faction, and Arkopolis, which was owned by the Ashley faction.

Russell was not to be outdone by what he called the “enterprising gentlemen from St. Louis.” He rounded up support from some of the territory’s leading political powers and sued the St. Louis group. Russell contended the New Madrid claims were illegitimate. The court agreed with Russell and ruled in 1821 that the St. Louis group did not legally own the land they had been selling. Shortly after the verdict, Little Rock became the new capital in the same year.

Soon after the court ruling, the Ashley faction loaded their houses with gunpowder and destroyed any vestige of Arkopolis. As for Cadron, despite the promise the village would remain Pulaski County’s permanent county seat, the territorial legislature voted to move the county seat to Little Rock in 1822. 

For more information about the Arkansas Territory and its capital, contact the Arkansas State Archives at 501-682-6900 or at Archives, along with other Department of Arkansas Heritage divisions, also recently participated in the Arkansas Territory Bicentennial Celebration at the Arkansas State Capital in Little Rock. Find out more about the event and see videos and slideshows, check out our Facebook event page or contact Archives. 

Prophecy Dooming Pine Bluff Caused Stir in 1903

Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Circa 1900, two unidentified me
Courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

Many people have made end-of-the-world predictions over the years, but in 1903, one young woman prophesied the city of Pine Bluff would meet its end.

In the spring of 1903, Ellen Burnett Jefferson, a 22-year-old cook in Pine Bluff, began having strange feelings that something dangerous was going to happen. “(B)ut I could not tell what it was or where the fear came from,” she said.

Then, at the beginning of May, her feelings intensified, and she fell into a trance. Jefferson claimed she had a vision of heaven while in the trance. She said God told her Pine Bluff was going to be destroyed after 6 p.m. May 29 by a flood and a cyclone because of the city’s wickedness. She also said God told her to warn the people of Pine Bluff to leave the city or else perish. 

Jefferson opened her home to anyone willing to listen to her prophecy. Over the course of the next few weeks, Jefferson’s neighbors were treated to her sermons about the destruction of the town. Many who came to hear her were convinced, while others remained skeptical. She warned her listeners that around 6 p.m. on Friday, May 29, a dark cloud would appear on the horizon and begin to make its way toward the town. At the same time, another dark cloud would come toward Pine Bluff from the opposite direction. The two clouds would crash into one another directly over the city causing the death of most of the city’s inhabitants. Word spread slowly, but people began to listen to her prediction.

Tensions built over the next week. At 7:38 p.m. May 20, a few people saw a pigeon land on the big hand of the Jefferson County Courthouse clock. Immediately, word spread through the crowd on the street that it was part of Jefferson’s prophesy, which reportedly predicted a white dove would descend from heaven and land on the clock at exactly that time. The weight of the pigeon prevented the clock’s hands from continuing to move. R.H. Stearns, a jewelry store owner, climbed the tower and shooed away the pigeon before resetting the clock. Jefferson later denied having made such a prophecy, but the damage was done. Several of those who had been skeptical of Jefferson’s visions now had proof the woman was a true prophetess. 

What had begun as a trickle of people rushing out of town now became an avalanche. Many homeowners sold their residences for a fraction of what they were worth in order to afford a quick train ride out of town. The Pine Bluff Graphic estimated as many as 8,000 Pine Bluff residents left over the course of a couple of weeks. Mills and factories ground to a halt, and schools closed because there were not enough teachers. Hotels closed for lack of visitors and no bellhops to assist the few visitors who dared to come to town.

As Pine Bluff’s citizens continued to leave the city, Sheriff James Gould served an arrest warrant on Jefferson hoping that silencing her might help end the hysteria. The sheriff charged her with the crime of “lunacy” and whisked her away for a mental health evaluation at the state hospital in Little Rock.

On the morning of May 29, the day Jefferson predicted Pine Bluff would be destroyed, meteorologists forecasted clouds and a small chance of rain. Jefferson, who sat in a Little Rock jail cell, declared she had another vision. This time a storm would wipe out the Pulaski County jail unless she was freed. When the storm did not appear on time, Jefferson told her jailers, “It’ll wait until tomorrow now.” 

In Pine Bluff, the clouds grew dark as night fell on the city. Those who remained in Pine Bluff grew more alarmed as the light rain grew in intensity and developed into a hail storm. By 11 p.m., the storm ended and all was calm. The Arkansas Gazette mused, “The Pine Bluff cyclone gave a free concert in the streets and then canceled the date for the big show.”

The next morning, Jefferson’s jailers decided to free Jefferson and allow her to return to Pine Bluff.  When asked why the cyclone did not materialize, she replied that perhaps there was enough repentance in the city that it was spared. As she boarded the train, Sheriff Deputy Barney Stiel warned her “to keep her next vision quiet or the weather bureau would never give her a job.”

After being ridiculed, Jefferson and her husband left Pine Bluff and settled in Ruston, Louisiana. It is likely she had become a pariah in town, especially among those who had sold their property at a severe discount to escape the destruction she falsely predicted. After her move, Jefferson began to predict cyclones for Ruston. The people of Ruston, however, decided not to believe her. Ruston still stands to this day.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Marion Reed Biddle papers, MS.000397

The youngest daughter of Howard and Eva Massingill Reed, Marion Reed was born December 22, 1919, in Heber Springs Arkansas. She was inducted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on August 25, 1942. After basic training, she became a cook and baker (C'B). She was accepted for Officer Training in February 1943. She went as a second lieutenant to Lafayette then Shreveport, Louisiana, to recruit for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. In July 1943 the Army changed the name to the Women's Army Corps (WAC). As a second lieutenant in the WAC, she was transferred to Camp Hood, Texas, and became a mess and supply officer. Reed was then transferred to Europe and served in England through V-J Day. In October 1945 she was reassigned to Frankfurt, Germany, in personnel, finding civilian jobs for those who wanted to stay overseas at the end of World War II. Marion Reed left Europe in May 1946 for the United States and Little Rock. She was discharged from the United States Army as an officer in 1946. She married Robert Guy Biddle in 1947. Marion Reed Biddle died on April 20, 1997.
This collection contains a diary and correspondence of Marion Reed Biddle with her mother, sisters, brother, and husband.
·         Diary of Marion Reed
o    1. 1942 August-1943 November (Box 1)
·         Letters from Marion Reed, Des Moines, Iowa
o    2. 1942 June-September
o    3. 1942 October 1-10
o    4. 1942 October 15-31
o    5. 1942 November
o    6. 1942 December 1-14
o    7. 1942 December 15-31
·         Letters from Marion Reed, Lafayette and Shreveport, Louisiana
o    8. 1943 January 1-14
o    9. 1943 January 15-31
o    10. 1943 February 1-14
o    11. 1943 February 15-28
o    12. 1943 March
o    13. 1943 April
o    14. 1943 May
o    15. 1943 June
o    16. 1943 July 1-15
o    17. 1943 July 16-31
o    18. 1943 August
o    19. 1943 September 1-15
o    20. 1943 September 16-30
o    21. 1943 October
o    22. 1943 November
o    23. 1943 December 1-15
o    24. 1943 December 16-31
·         Letters from Marion Reed, Camp Hood, Texas
o    25. 1944 January-February (Box 2)
o    26. 1944 March 1-15
o    27. 1944 March 16-30
o    28. 1944 April 1-15
o    29. 1944 April 16-30
o    30. 1944 May 1-15
o    31. 1944 May 16-31
o    32. 1944 June
o    33. 1944 July
o    34. 1944 August
o    35. 1944 September
o    36. 1944 October
o    37. 1944 November 1-15
o    38. 1944 November 16-30
o    39. 1944 December
·         Letters from Marion Reed, England and Germany
o    40. 1945 January (Box 3)
o    41. 1945 February
o    42. 1945 March 3-11
o    43. 1945 March 12-19
o    44. 1945 March 20-31
o    45. 1945 May 1-8
o    46. 1945 May 1-8
o    47. 1945 May 9-21
o    48. 1945 May 22-30
o    49. 1945 June 1-7
o    50. 1945 June 8-19
o    51. 1945 June 20-30
o    52. 1945 July 1-7
o    53. 1945 July 8-19
o    54. 1945 July 20-31
o    55. 1945 August 1-15 (Box 4)
o    56. 1945 August 16-22
o    57. 1945 August 23-30
o    58. 1945 September 1-11
o    59. 1945 September 12-30
o    60. 1945 October 1-15
o    61. 1945 October 16-31
o    62. 1945 November 1-15
o    63. 1945 November 16-30
o    64. 1945 December 1-15
o    65. 1945 December 16-31
·         Letters from Marion Reed, Germany
o    66. 1946 January 1-21
o    67. 1946 January 22-30
o    68. 1946 February 1-11
o    69. 1946 February 12-28
o    70. 1946 March 1-12
o    71. 1946 March 13-31
o    72. 1946 April
o    73. 1946 May
o    74. Undated
·         Letters to Marion Reed
o    75. 1940 December (Box 5)
o    76. 1942 May
o    77. 1942 June
o    78. 1942 July-September
o    79. 1942 October 1-6
o    80. 1942 October 7-14
o    82. 1942 October 22-31
o    81. 1942 October 15-21
o    83. 1942 November 1-7
o    84. 1942 November 8-27
o    85. 1942 November 28-30
o    86. 1942 December 1-6
o    87. 1942 December 15-21
o    88. 1942 December 15-21
o    89. 1942 December 22-31
o    90. 1943 January 1-5 (Box 6)
o    91. 1943 January 6-15
o    92. 1943 January 16-30
o    93. 1943 February 1-8
o    94. 1943 February 9-15
o    95. 1943 February 16-22
o    96. 1943 February 23-28
o    97. 1943 March 1-12
o    98. 1943 March 13-31
o    99. 1943 April 1-11
o    100. 1943 April 12-30
o    101. 1943 May 1-11
o    102. 1943 May 12-31
o    103. 1943 June
o    104. 1943 July 1-12
o    105. 1943 July 13-31
o    106. 1943 August
o    107. 1943 September
o    108. 1943 October
o    109. 1943 November
o    110. 1943 December 1-14
o    111. 1943 December 15-31
o    112. 1944 January (Box 7)
o    113. 1944 February
o    114. 1944 March
o    115. 1944 April
o    116. 1944 May
o    117. 1944 June
o    118. 1944 July
o    119. 1944 August
o    120. 1944 September-October
o    121. 1944 November
o    122. 1944 December
o    123. 1945 January-February
o    124. 1945 March 1-9
o    125. 1945 March 10-31
o    126. 1945 April
o    127. 1945 May 1-12
o    128. 1945 May 13-31
o    129. 1945 June 1-15
o    130. 1945 June 16-30
o    131. 1945 July
o    132. 1945 August 1-15
o    133. 1945 August 16-30
o    134. 1945 September
o    135. 1945 October 1-15
o    136. 1945 October 16-31
o    137. 1945 November 1-19
o    138. 1945 November 20-30
o    139. 1945 December 1-15
o    140. 1945 December 16-31
o    141. 1946 January 1-10 (Box 8)
o    142. 1946 January 11-30
o    143. 1946 February
o    144. 1946 March
o    145. 1946 April
o    146. 1946 May
o    147. 1946 June-October
o    148. 1946 November-December
o    149. Undated
o    150. Undated
o    151. Undated
o    152. Undated
·         Letters of family members
o    153. 1942
o    154. 1944
o    155. 1945 and undated
·         Correspondence of Bob and Marion Biddle
o    156. 1947 January-July
o    157. 1947 August-December

o    158. 1948-1952 and undated