Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Gillett city records, MG.00083

The city of Gillett is located in Arkansas County, Arkansas and was incorporated on December 21, 1906. The collection contains a city ordinance book, a court docket ledger, and a book of city council minutes, for Gillett, Arkansas.
·         1. City ordinance book, 1907-1946
·         2. Civil and criminal docket, 1927-1930
·         3. City Council minutes, 1907-1929

Friday, August 9, 2019

Doctor’s Ploy Unearths Plot

Photo Courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

Grave robbing was considered a serious, yet common, crime in the 19th century. Doctors in search of fresh cadavers to dissect for medical research often would resort to grave robbery. One of Arkansas’s most well-known grave robbing cases occurred in 1904 and erupted into one of the biggest scandals to engulf Searcy, Arkansas.

On the evening of May 22, 1904, police arrived on Dr. Robert Graham Lightle’s property outside of Searcy to find the smoldering remains of the doctor’s barn. Moments before, women at nearby Galloway College reported to police the barn was on fire, and they could hear screams coming from it. Police sifted through the rubble and found a body and Lightle’s gold pocket watch. Lightle’s dentist identified the corpse as Lightle, and the corpse had a broken collarbone consistent with an injury the doctor had suffered recently. Police theorized Lightle had gone out to his barn to fill a coal lamp, dropped the lamp and set the barn and himself afire. Nothing could have been done to save his life, police concluded.

Before he died, though, Lightle had taken out a series of life insurance policies totaling $21,000, with his wife, Ethel, as the beneficiary. When the insurance companies started reviewing Lightle’s file, they became suspicious. First, Lightle had only recently taken out the policies. Second, there was a strange situation with Lightle’s older brother disappearing under mysterious circumstances years before, never to be found. Had Lightle faked his death? And, if so, who was the body in the barn?
Insurance investigators came to Searcy to investigate. During their investigation, they visited the family of a carpenter named Ed Pitts, who had passed away a month before the fire. The ground at Pitts’ grave seemed to be disturbed, which was suspicious, said Pitts’ wife. Investigators ordered Pitts to be exhumed. When the coffin was brought out of the ground, investigators noticed the coffin’s latches were not fastened. When they opened the casket, it was completely empty.

Immediately, the insurance companies filed suit against Mrs. Lightle on the basis of fraud and demanded repayment of the insurance payout. Mrs. Lightle headed off the insurance companies by voluntarily returning the money. White County Sheriff J.P. Wood and Pulaski County Sheriff A.J. Chichester then got a tip that Lightle was hiding out in Georgia and headed that way. Meanwhile, the supposedly, dearly departed Dr. Robert Graham Lightle slipped back into town under the cover of darkness.

A reporter for the Arkansas Gazette soon heard Lightle was alive and back in Searcy. Taking a chance, the reporter called on the Lightle home. Surprisingly, Lightle answered the phone. The reporter asked him why he left the scene of his burning barn and why he dug up a corpse, leaving it to burn. Lightle claimed he dug up the corpse and planned to dissect it but accidentally knocked over a candle that set the barn ablaze. Knowing it was illegal to dig up bodies, the doctor fled to Georgia to avoid prosecution.

The next day, Lightle surrendered to the White County Sheriff who charged him with arson and grave robbery. Rumors began to spread that Lightle was in conspiracy with a group of people, including his attorney, John V. Roberts, and a business associate, Walter Gregory.

The situation was the worst for Roberts because the former mayor of Searcy had just started to campaign to become a state representative. Ultimately, the scandal ended his campaign. A few days after leaving the legislative race, police arrested Roberts for conspiracy to dig up a corpse and for “receiving money under false pretenses.”

Lightle’s trial began on Sept. 2 in Searcy. The chief witness in the trial was Walter Gregory, who chose to testify against Lightle in return for not being prosecuted. He testified Lightle organized the plot to fake his own death, substituted Ed Pitts’ body for his own, and then profited from the insurance payout. In ghastly detail, Gregory told the jury the story of going to the cemetery with Dr. Lightle, digging up the corpse, redressing it and setting the fire.

Under cross examination, Gregory admitted the insurance companies had paid for his room and board during the trial. The jury chose not to convict Lightle of insurance fraud because there was little evidence, but the 12-member panel convicted Lightle of disturbing a grave, a misdemeanor offense. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Three weeks later, the trial for John Roberts began. Gregory, again, was the star witness for the prosecution, testifying that Roberts had conspired with Lightle in the scheme. The jury found Roberts guilty and sentenced him to 6 months in prison and a $50 fine. Although his sentence was light, he was forever ruined professionally in Arkansas. By 1910, Roberts had left the state and settled in Oklahoma.

On Feb. 7, 1905, Lightle died of pneumonia at his mother’s home in Searcy. Until the scandal, he had been a well-respected physician, but the scandal had ruined him both professionally and socially. On his death bed, he asked to be buried away from Searcy because the town had become too hostile for him. His wife buried him in Perryville. As news spread about Dr. Lightle’s death, rumors began to spread that Dr. Lightle was not really dead. Because of the rumors, officials exhumed Dr. Lightle’s coffin on May 9, 1905. They opened the coffin and found the remains of Lightle. For 10 minutes, Perryville residents lined up to observe whether Dr. Lightle had faked his death again. Although decomposed, observers agreed it was him, and the scandal was finally put to rest.

For more information about Searcy or to find more Arkansas history, visit the Arkansas State Archives at, email or call 501-682-6900.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Hardin family letters, SMC.0005.0002

Thomas W. Hardin served the Confederacy as a private in Companies G and H, 37th Georgia Infantry. He joined the army with his son, A.L. Hardin. Thomas was killed at the Battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, in June 1864.
This collection contains correspondence to and from Thomas W. Hardin, A.L. Hardin, and family. The letters include information from the battlefield about camp conditions and financial affairs at home. Letters relate principally to Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, during the Civil War.
·         1861 May 28: Thomas Prather, Rutherford, North Carolina, to "Son and Daughter"
·         1862 May 21: Thomas W. Hardin, Knoxville, Tennessee, to "Wife"
·         1862 May 29: Thomas W. Hardin, Knoxville, Tennessee, to "Wife"
·         1862 July 7: Thomas W. Hardin, Rutledge, Tennessee, to "Wife and Children"
·         1862 December 12: Thomas W. Hardin, Readerville, Tennessee, to "Uncle" and A.L. Hardin, Readerville, Tennessee
·         1862 December 19: Thomas W. Hardin, Readerville, Tennessee, to "Brother and Sister" and "Wife and Children"
·         1863 January 24: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Wife and Children"
·         1863 February 7: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Wife and Children"
·         1863 March 7: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Beloved and adored wife"
·         1863 March 8: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Sister"
·         1863 March 12: [Thomas W. Hardin], "On Picket," Tennessee, to "Beloved Wife"
·         1863 April 5: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "My Dear Wife and Children"
·         1863 April 17: A.L. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Mother"
·         1863 May 5: Thomas W. Hardin, Shelbyville, Tennessee, to "Wife"
·         1863 June 23: Thomas W. Hardin, Wastrace, Tennessee, to "Wife and Children"
·         1863 November 11: Thomas W. Hardin, Chattanooga, Tennessee, to "Wife"
·         1863 December 29: Thomas W. Hardin, Dalton, Georgia, to "Kate"
·         1864 March 7: Thomas W. Hardin, Dalton, Georgia, to "Wife"
·         1864 March 19: Thomas W. Hardin, Dalton, Georgia, to "Wife"
·         1864 April 10: Thomas W. Hardin, Near Dalton, Georgia, to "Wife"
·         1864 April 15: [Sallie], Elberton, Georgia, to "My Dear Sister"
·         1864 April 29: Thomas W. Hardin, Dalton, Georgia, to Kate Hardin
·         1864 May 6: Thomas W. Hardin, Dalton, Georgia, to "My Dear Wife"
·         1864 May 13: Sallie, Elberton, Georgia, to "My Dear Sister"
·         1864 June 5: Thomas W. Hardin, Big Shanty, Georgia, to "Beloved Wife"
·         1864 June 11: Thomas W. Hardin, "Line of Battle," Cobb County, Georgia, to "Beloved Wife and Children"
·         1878 March 4: A.L. Hardin, Appling, Georgia, to "Mother"
·         Undated: Thomas W. Hardin to [wife]

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A Conversation with Lauren Jarvis

Lauren Jarvis, information services coordinator
Lauren Jarvis, our information services coordinator, is often busy helping patrons, keeping the research room at its best, researching projects, holding lectures and organizing trips and tours. She recently helped give a tour through the Archives for a group of volunteers. Jarvis has a bachelor’s degree in History and Folklore from Arkansas State University. Before joining the State Archives, she worked as a graduate assistant at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Jarvis recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about what she does, what she loves and what’s new at the State Archives.

Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I have been with the Arkansas State Archives for 11 years, and my current job title is Information Services Coordinator.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?
A: I’m usually bouncing around between projects, but a typical day usually involves assisting patrons in some way. Sometimes that means working out in our research room, helping a researcher locate material for a project or work their way through one of our manuscript collections. Other times that means responding to emails from researchers planning trips to our facility or trying to determine how to access something in our collection because they are unable to visit. Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time organizing equipment upgrades in our research room, so that has meant researching products, planning the necessary staff training and making sure we can offer the best experience to our researchers.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I think I’ve always been interested in history, and I loved the idea of finding a way to work with it every day – whether in archives or museums. When I completed my bachelor’s degree in history, it just seemed like the natural next step to enroll in the Public History program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I ended up working on a lot of newspaper research, which meant I spent quite a bit of time at the State Archives and got to know a lot of the staff members. By the time a position at the Archives came open, around the same time I was completing my course work, it just seemed like it was perfect timing.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A: One of the most interesting things I’ve found while working at the Archives is probably the Arkansaw Water Company Report of the 1927 Flood. The water company was based here in Little Rock and the report provides some nice insight into the growing flood conditions in the city and their attempts to manage it. There are also quite a few photographs from Little Rock and North Little Rock during the flood that I had never seen before.

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A: Ultimately, the State Archives is important for Arkansas because we hold the state’s history. To understand where we’ve been and where we’re going requires direct access to the past. We hold that primary documentation, be it the state constitutions, diaries and letters from local citizens, or newspapers, and it is open to anyone who would like to go through the material. Being able to provide that access for people and that tangible connection to the past is one of the most important parts of my job and a key function of the state archives in general.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: A patron’s excitement when they find a document they’ve been struggling to find. Many of our researchers are genealogists and some have been researching their families for years. When they find the one piece that’s been eluding them in our facility or because of our staff, that’s a pretty rewarding feeling.

Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A:  The archives field has already seen many changes in recent years, specifically in the push for digitization and the growing demand for online access to material. That’s certainly going to continue and repositories are going to have to identify how to meet that demand within the boundaries of staffing and funding. Since a lot of the modern record will be electronic or born-digital, I think that the priority for many facilities moving forward will be navigating preservation and access to these electronic files, when the sy
stems that created them are increasingly obsolete.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A: I wish people know archival research is never as easy as just typing a name into a search box and getting all of the material you need, as lovely as that would be. Archival research requires patience and a refusal to be discouraged if you don’t immediately find what you’re looking for. However, I think the payoff in the end is wonderful. That patience usually results in a researcher locating an item they didn’t expect or finding context for events that they didn’t have before, and in the end, that makes for a much more colorful and nuanced research experience and final product. It’s usually a lot more fun, too.

SARA Acquires New Collection

Courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives recently acquired a collection from the estate of Dr. Jo Ann “Jody” Carrigan.

“This collection is a welcomed and important addition,” said Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager. “The Carrigan family was prominent and active in Washington, so this collection helps us preserve and connect to our collective past, historically significant figures and our shared experiences.”

The collection includes family photos, letters and copies of Dr. Carrigan’s essays from professional journals.

Dr. Carrigan was born in Washington, Arkansas, in 1934 and graduated from Washington High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Henderson State in 1953, a master’s degree in 1956 and a doctorate degree in American History from Louisiana State University in 1961. She taught high school for one year in Sheridan, Arkansas, then taught at the college level for several years at LSU. Later, she became the first female, full professor at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971. While at UNO, she also became an advocate for women’s issues.

As a historian, she favored research in medical and social history and specialized in U.S. urban history and medical and public health history. She was a volunteer adjunct professor for medical history at the UNO Medical Center and active in organizations such as the Organization of American Historians.

Dr. Carrigan wrote “The Saffron Scourge: A History of Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905,” a book that was called the “definitive account of the story of yellow fever in Louisiana,” in an editorial review by The New England Journal of Medicine. SARA has copies of both her 1994 and 2015 book editions.

Dr. Carrigan retired from UNO in 1996. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 84.

At her passing, UNO lowered its flag to honor her. In a news release this year, Henderson State University accepted Dr. Carrigan’s estate gift that established the school’s Carrigan History Scholarship Endowment.

Dr. Carrigan was a descendant of the Carrigan, Monroe and Dugger families, all of whom settled in Washington in the mid-19th century. These families were all prominent in local and state history and were some of the wealthiest families in Washington. The new material will be added to Carrigan, Monroe and Dugger items that are already in SARA’s archival materials.

For more information about the collection or about SARA, contact Melissa Nesbitt at or 870-983-2633.

NEARA Makes Presentation at Genealogy Event

Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May lectures July 20 at the Craighead
County Public Library in Jonesboro.

Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, provided a summary of the branch’s holdings July 20 at the Craighead County Public Library in Jonesboro as part of Genealogy Night Lock-in.

About 120 people attended the annual event. Myuhtar-May spoke before an audience of 40 genealogy enthusiasts. She talked about the services, resources and collections, including the Lawrence County Court and Walnut Ridge Court records, available to researchers at NEARA.

The court records are among the core collections of the branch and have been well used as a source of genealogical and academic research.

Myuhtar-May explained how NEARA’s staff prepare detailed indexes – in addition to finding aids – for the collections that can then be searched to locate a person’s name, a location, a year or an event with a few computer-keyboard clicks. She also highlighted how important the work of volunteers and interns is for NEARA in processing collections and making them research-accessible.

“Making collections available to the public requires a lot of work,” Myuhtar-May said. “We could not do it without our volunteers and paid summer interns.”

The branch recently held its annual Volunteer Day. About 18 volunteers helped NEARA unfold court records June 14. NEARA summer intern Lindsay Penn also has diligently indexed records.
“I am very grateful to them all, as well as to our sponsors who make it possible to hire an intern,” Myuhtar-May said.

Myuhtar-May invited the audience to visit the archives and to become volunteers. Residents can volunteer in multiple ways and can take part in archival initiatives, such as the Gathering Oral Histories Project, which collects audio stories.

For more information, contact NEARA at 870-878-6521 or email the archival manager at

Historical Records from Lee County Being Preserved

Records stores at the Lee County Courthouse
Arkansas State Archives staff have been busy collecting historical records in Lee County.

“We brought back what ledgers could be salvaged and a lot of loose papers,” said Jane A. Wilkerson, archival assistant.

Like other counties throughout Arkansas, Lee County has struggled to find enough space to store its historical records and ledgers. Many ledgers were stored in a basement without temperature control. Preservation storage techniques recommend storing records in dry and temperature-controlled areas.

The records from Lee County are similar to records the State Archives acquired from Hempstead County and include civil, circuit and chancery court documents. State Archives staff worked with Lee County Circuit Clerk Diane Bowman.

ASA staff prepare for the long drive back from Lee County,
where they are helping preserve historical records.
Staff moved box after box of records with the help of inmates from the Department of Arkansas Correction. About three cargo van loads worth of records were brought back to the State Archives in two trips on June 25 and July 17.

Next, the loose papers must be unfolded and placed in acid free folders and boxes. Volunteers have already started doing some of the unfolding and indexing work, which is the first step to making the records accessible to the public.