Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Q&A: A Conversation with Julienne Crawford

Julienne Crawford, curator and collections services coordinator

Julienne Crawford, our curator and collections services coordinator, took a moment from her busy day to talk with us about her love of history and her role in preserving and spotlighting Arkansas history at the State Archives.

Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the Arkansas State Archives?

A: I am the curator and also serve as the collections services coordinator. I was hired as the curator 17 years ago in 2002. I first began working for the agency in 2001 as part a large digitization project that added over 12,500 photographs to our online catalog.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?

A: I coordinate the preservation and processing of various types of collections at the State Archives. I work with staff members, including archivists, the librarian, the microfilm section, the conservator and archival assistants, to develop plans for processing and preserving collections and making them accessible to the public. I meet with potential donors and state agencies about transferring historic material. I also research, write, design and create our onsite and traveling exhibits, and I catalog our three-dimensional objects. I work with other agencies to produce offsite exhibits and other special projects.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?

A: In high school and college in Virginia, I loved learning about the history and culture of the Upland South that is shared with many people in the Ozarks. After college, I worked as archeologist throughout the southeast U.S., including Arkansas. I then worked as the program coordinator for the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation in Vicksburg, where I expanded my interest in the history and culture of the Delta and other parts of the South. After my husband got a job in Little Rock, I started the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Public History program and began working at ASA on a digitization project.  I was amazed by the immense collections of the ASA. In graduate school, I worked for the Clinton Library, the Central High School National Historic Site and UA Little Rock. Nothing could compare to the collections at the ASA.  I was thrilled when I was hired as the curator in 2002, so I could bring the collections of the ASA to the public through the research room, as well as through onsite, offsite and traveling exhibits, publications, programs, educational resources and digitized collections.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?

A: One of my favorite items at the ASA is a letter from Edward Payson Washburn to his sister as a teenager in 1846. My favorite painting in our collection is a self-portrait of Edward Payson Washburn, the artist who painted the original Arkansas Traveler. The letter shows the wit of the young artist as he joked with his sister about sending the letter by telegram, going off to war, and writing the letter in the latest fashion from Paris.  He doodled a drawing of clock and a soldier in the Mexican War on the page and told his sister about visitors and life in their house.  Letters like these give us a more personal glimpse of the past, not just the facts of a textbook.

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?

A: The Arkansas State Archives has the largest collection of Arkansas archival material in the world.  Arkansans can explore the history of their communities and families through newspapers, photographs, correspondence, government records, organizational papers, business papers, music, artifacts and other resources.  They can learn about what was life was like for their ancestors and examine important parts of Arkansas history through various primary sources. The Arkansas State Archives has the important responsibility of preserving the history of Arkansas and its people for future generations.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: The most rewarding part of my job is bringing the amazing collections of the ASA to the public. Through traveling exhibits, publications and online collections, I have been able to bring the collections of ASA to communities throughout the state. I also enjoy helping people find the hidden treasures in our collections that answer questions about their families and research interests.

Q: How do you see archives evolving in the future?

A: I see the continued expansion of online resources as important for archives. We are currently working on plans to make more of our collections searchable and viewable online. Finding the best way to preserve and access electronic records in quickly changing computer formats is an increasingly important part of modern archives. We are continuing to expand our electronic records program and develop protocols to preserve those records and be able to access them in the future. Archives are also evolving to bring their collections to the public in a variety of ways. The ASA continues to expand our outreach through the development of new programs, symposiums, educational resources and exhibits.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?

A:  I wish more people knew how amazing the collections at the Arkansas State Archives are. The ASA has something for almost everyone's interest – one can search old newspapers from communities throughout Arkansas, listen to the immense collection of music transferred from the Ozark Folk Center to the ASA, view images of people and places from the collection of over half a million photographs, and research various archival collections and government records.  

SARA Seeks Intern

What: SARA Summer Internship 2019
Where: Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, 201 Highway 195 S., Washington, AR
Deadline: Extended to April 7
Compensation: $2,500 plus housing and utilities

Wes Oliver, 2018 Intern at SARA
We are looking for an intern who pays attention to details and has basic knowledge of research methods. The deadline to this internship was extended to find the perfect intern!

We want an intern with a college degree or a degree in progress in history or a related field. The candidate also must be at least 18 years old.

Duties will include arranging, describing and preserving archival collections from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays from May 28 to Aug. 3. The intern will work under the supervision of the archival manager.

The internship lets students and recent graduates earn experience and get paid $2,500. Housing and utilities are provided by the Historic Washington State Park. The SARA Foundation, Inc., provided the compensation for the internship program.

Applicants must provide a cover letter, résumé and three letters of recommendation by April 7. Mail applications to:  Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, PO Box 134, Washington, AR, 71862, or email documents to For more information, call the Archives at 870-983-2636.

New Acquisition Announced at Arkansas Bicentennial Territory Celebration

Court document of Star Belle, infamous outlaw
Arkansas State Archives collection
The Arkansas State Archives and Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced March 1 the acquisition of a historically significant collection of court documents related to "Hanging Judge Isaac Charles Parker in Fort Smith. 

“These important documents now will be preserved and made available for generations to come,” Dr. Richter said. “These papers are a unique find, and we hope they will be of great interest to researchers.”

The acquisition of the U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas collection means the State Archives now has about 6,000 records connected with famous figures like Parker.

Parker served as the federal judge with jurisdiction over Western Arkansas and the Indian Territory between 1875 and 1896. During his tenure as judge, he sentenced 160 people to death, including four women.

Gov. Hutchinson said during the Arkansas Territory Bicentennial Celebration that the new collection will let Arkansans see what life was like in rough-and-tumble Fort Smith. The collection is special and will add to the historically significant holdings at Archives.

Several documents include the mark “signature” of Bass Reeves, who was the first black lawmen west of the Mississippi River.  Reeves, an Arkansas native, was famous for his ability to catch outlaws under trying circumstances. 

Other documents in the collection include jury lists, warrants, bonds, receipts from deputy marshals, payroll information, and lists for day-to-day items, like office supplies. Outside of court records, the collection also contains a Jan. 2, 1839, letter from Lucy Ames Butler, of Red Clay, Tennessee, to Drusilla Burnap, of Lowell, Massachusetts, that describes events surrounding the Cherokee removal.

Acquiring the collection was a joint effort among Dr. Richter; Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage; and other staff. The documents previously were held in a private, family collection.

“The Arkansas State Archives has the largest repository of historical documents and artifacts in Arkansas,” said Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. “This fascinating acquisition is an outstanding addition to our collections and will help preserve our state’s heritage and its important place in U.S. history.”

New Archival Manager Brings Fresh Ideas

From Left: Stacy Hurst, director of the Department 
of Arkansas Heritage; Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, 
archival manager at NEARA; and Dr. Wendy Richter, 
state historian and director of the Arkansas State Archives

Northeast Arkansas residents welcomed Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May as the new archival manager of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives during a special open house and reception Friday, March 29.

“I welcome the expertise, knowledge and drive Dr. Mayuhtar-May brings to NEARA and the Arkansas State Archives,” said Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. “She will bring fresh ideas and new programs and help NEARA better fulfill its mission as a knowledge repository that preserves Arkansas history while connecting with the community.”

Myuhtar-May was hired to oversee the Arkansas State Archives’ branch this past February. The reception was a chance to let the public meet Dr. Mayuhtar-May, who already is initiating an oral history program for the Archives branch.

Hurst and Dr. Wendy Richter, state historian and director of the State Archives, attended the event. Myuhtar-May had the experience and passion NEARA needs, Dr. Richter said.

“Dr. Myuhtar-May holds several degrees related to heritage and history, but more importantly, she understands the value of Arkansas history and of making that history more accessible to the public,” Dr. Richter said.

Dr. Myuhtar-May earned a master’s degree in history and a doctorate in heritage studies from Arkansas State University. She worked at the university’s archives and special collections as a graduate assistant and attended the Modern Archives Institute at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May
Dr. Mayuhtar-May earned another master’s degree in library science from Texas Woman’s University. She also has worked as a production and managing editor of an academic journal, has published historical research and is the author of “Identity, Nationalism, and Cultural Heritage under Siege.”

Plans are underway to reach out and involve local residents in projects they are excited about, Dr. Mayuhtar-May said.  The branch plans a volunteer day June 14 and is working on a NEARA symposium set for Aug. 10. She said she wants to get people excited about their history, heritage and identity.

“An archives is where a community’s memory is preserved, and it is a place where community members should feel comfortable going,” Dr. Myuhtar-May said. “My goal as an archivist and a manager is to welcome people, to invite them to the Archives, to ask them about their interest and to see how I can contribute to serving that interest better.”

Thank you to everyone who came out to meet Dr. Myuhtar-May on Friday, March 29!

Nevada County Created During Railroad Boom

McRae Church Records, Courtesy of SARA
Railroad construction was booming during the 1870s Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War. It was during that time Nevada County was created.

Nevada County was carved from Hempstead, Columbia and Ouachita Counties in March 1871. Because the county was sparsely settled, the first county seat was Mount Moriah, a country church. The county seat moved to Rosston from 1872 to 1877, but citizens voted to move the seat to Prescott, a newly established railroad town. The county seat remains in Prescott, which became the county’s largest city.

Notable citizens from Nevada County include Thomas Chipman McRae, who was a banker, lawyer and politician. McRae entered politics in 1876 and was a supporter of paying railroad bonds. He eventually served as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years. He served as Arkansas’s 26th governor from 1921 to 1925. 

McRae leaned toward populism and supported efforts that eventually led to start of several national forests. Advancements under McRae also included reorganizing funding to improve state highways and the educational system, constructing a tuberculosis sanatorium for African Americans and appointing women to civil political positions.

Church Records, Courtesy of SARA
Although most of McRae’s governor papers are at the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections, a small collection was donated by Duncan Culpepper, a relative of the governor, to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives. The collection includes political clippings, personal correspondence, poetry, quotes, speeches and other items Thomas McRae collected. The items give insight into McRae’s interests and some of his life in Nevada County.

Original archival materials are welcomed for donation at SARA. For more information, please contact Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager, at  or 870-983-2633.

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Little Rock Air Force Base collection, MG.00117

The campaign to locate an Air Force base in central Arkansas was led by Pulaski County Judge Arch Campbell and Chamber of Commerce president Harry W. Pfeifer, Jr., who established a Defense Installations Committee. When the Little Rock Air Force Base opened, a Community Council was organized to coordinate military and civilian community life. The Community Council addressed the need for homes, hospitals, and schools.
This collection includes correspondence, minutes, and newspaper clippings describing the selection, building, and operation of the Little Rock Air Force Base, and the change from Strategic Air Command to Military Airlift Command base.
·         I. Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council records (Reel MG00117)
o    1. 1952 January 11: Arch Campbell and Harry W. Pfeifer, Jr., to the Honorable Thomas K. Finletter, Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, District of Columbia
o    2. 1952 January 9: Dinner program "Honoring Brigadier General Harold R. Maddux," Marion Hotel
o    3. By-Laws of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council
o    4. Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council, officers
o    5. 1975 September 25: Major General Joseph J. Preston, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to Everette Tucker, Jr., Little Rock, Arkansas
o    6. 1975 September 30: John McClellan, United States Senate, Washington, District of Columbia, to Everette Tucker, Jr., Little Rock, Arkansas
o    7. 1975 October 9: Sidney S. McMath, Little Rock, Arkansas, to Everette Tucker, Little Rock, Arkansas
·         II. Scrapbooks
o    8. 1952-1984
o    9. 1955-1967 (Reel MG00117-MG00118)
o    10. 1954-1976 (Reel MG00119)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

ASA Reveals New Accessions

Arkansas USGS Topographic Maps and Folios, part of new accessions
Collection of the Arkansas State Archives

New Accessions for February

Archival Collections:

  • Church Women United records
  • Ford family photographs of Hot Springs, Arkansas (2 photographs)
  • Sunshine Deltanaires scrapbook
  • Greater Archview Baptist Church collection
  • Arkansas Sesquicentennial paper fan
  • Wallace F. Waits Magnolia, Arkansas, collection [accretion,] (2 Magnolia High School newspapers)
  • "The Elaine Massacre and Arkansas," books and final grant report

New Accessions for March

Archival Collections:
  • Fred Boone Gifford family Bible and photographs
  • Arkansas USGS topographic maps and folios
  • Lee family collection
  • Grace Porterfield letters

Printed Materials:

  • Standridge Kith an’ Kin family history newsletters, Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring 2019

Arkansas Territory Bicentennial Celebration Resounding Success

Arkansas State Archives Digital Archivist Bridget Wood talks with a family
during the Arkansas Territory Bicentennial Celebration on March 1.

Hundreds of people came to the State Capitol for the Bicentennial Arkansas Territory Bicentennial on March 1.

Residents were treated to period actors, the debut of a traveling exhibit on the Arkansas Territory and special speeches by Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage; Dr. Wendy Richter, state historian and director of the Arkansas State Archives; and Swanee Bennett, director of the Historic Arkansas Museum.

A video of the speeches is available, thanks to Friends of the Arkansas State Archives. You can view the video at

Attendees also got a piece of birthday cake and a free Arkansas Territory map poster while they learn what life was like in the Arkansas Territory 200 years ago.

Pen to Podium with Phyllis Hodges Set for April 16

Phyllis Hodges
Arkansas author Phyllis Hodges will discuss her book, “8 Years of Unforgettable History: the Allure of America’s Firsts,” 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at the Department of Arkansas Heritage at 1100 North St.

“This topic is important because most people don't realize how many Arkansans are world renowned,” Hodges said.

Hodges' lecture will focus on Arkansans who broke down barriers and became history-makers. The book is about “present history,” Hodges said, and includes people of all backgrounds. The book includes
Arkansans like Jeff Henderson, who won a Gold Medal in Long Jump at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

“My history book is unique,” Hodges said. “It’s a living history book – all the individuals I write about are alive and well.”

Hodges has more than 30 years of experience as a clergy educational and fitness trainer. She is a world traveler with a vision to shape up the world spiritually, mentally, physically and financially. She travels Arkansas as an ambassador on health and fitness via workshops, seminars, health fairs and schools. Hodges also is the owner of Carousel Fit-4-Life Wellness Center in North Little Rock.

Hodges plans to go on a national book tour this summer. Her book, which is available online and in bookstores, will be available at Pen to Podium. The free event is organized and hosted by the Arkansas State Archives. Friends of the Arkansas State Archives plans a reception at 5:30 p.m.

Join the discussion and find out more about Hodges on our Facebook event page. Hodges was also recently interviewed about her book on KARK 4.

Monday, March 25, 2019

A Gangster Visits Hot Springs

Photo: Undated Postcard, Arkansas State Archives.
While Alvin Karpis was in Hot Springs, he bought two alligators
from Alligator Farm. They were returned to the farm after his arrest.

In early 1936, FBI agent M.F. Marshall walked into the sheriff’s office in Hot Springs. Rumors had been circulating that one of the most wanted men in the country — the man designated as “Public Enemy Number One” — was in town.

Marshall saw plenty of the fugitive’s wanted posters around the Sheriff’s Office, but he wanted to make sure the locals had the fugitive’s most-recent pictures.

The rumor was Alvin Karpis had attempted to change his appearance through surgery, even going so far as to have the tips of his fingers altered to prevent being identified through fingerprints. Even so, Karpis’ face was very distinctive —when he smiled, people said he looked sinister and called him “Old Creepy.”

Hot Springs Chief of Detectives “Dutch” Akers took the pictures from Marshall and said he would keep a lookout. But, actually Akers knew where Karpis was and was taking bribes to keep it secret.

Alvin Karpis was born in Canada to an immigrant couple in 1907. He had scarcely learned to walk before he was flirting with the wrong side of the law. Most of the crimes he committed as a teenager were small-time infractions, but in 1927, he went to prison for stealing a car.

While in prison, Karpis met Fred Barker, a longtime criminal and member of a crime gang. The gang included Barker’s three brothers and his mother, “Ma” Barker. After Karpis was released in 1931, he and the Barker brothers rampaged throughout the Midwest, robbing stores, trains and banks. Very little was off limits to the gang.

The law caught up with the Barkers, which left Karpis and another gang member, Fred, on the run. Then, in 1934, Karpis pulled off his most notorious crime – the kidnapping of prominent St. Paul, Minnesota, banker Edward Bremer. Karpis held Bremer for ransom and forced Bremer’s family to pay $200,000 for his release. That crime put the gang in the crosshairs of the FBI.

After barely escaping capture in Atlantic City, Karpis knew he had to disappear. His usual haunts, including Kansas City, Atlantic City and St. Paul, Minnesota, were now off limits. He needed to go somewhere less high profile and knew just the place – Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Karpis had spent some time in Hot Springs in the early 1930s. He loved fishing and the town’s lakes were some of his favorite fishing spots. Plus, it was small enough that the FBI likely would not suspect he was there.

Karpis met a young brothel madam, Grace Goldstein, in Hot Springs and became smitten. Soon the couple began living together. Goldstein introduced Karpis to local law enforcement officials, who agreed to turn a blind eye to the existence of the most wanted man in America for the right amount of money.

Chief among these corrupt law enforcement officials was Hot Springs Police Chief Joseph Wakelin. Vada Nyberg, a saleswoman who recognized Karpis from a wanted poster, went to Wakelin to report the sighting. She was shocked by Wakelin’s response, “Wakelin turned peculiar looking and said I was crazy – that Karpis was nowhere near the Arkansas state line.” Other residents reported seeing Karpis, but the police had little response.

Police Lt. Cecil Brock was another of Karpis’ law enforcement cronies. In 1935, an employee at Goldstein’s brothel went to Brock after seeing a newspaper article about Karpis and reported Karpis as “Ms. Goldstein’s boyfriend.” Brock promised to follow up on the lead but warned Karpis to be more careful. Karpis decided to leave town for a while, at least until things cooled down. Soon after that, the FBI was tipped off that Karpis might be in Hot Springs. The tip led Agent Marshall to visit “Dutch” Akers.

Akers knew the bribery arrangements to protect Karpis could not last long and the reward for Karpis’ capture was now at $12,000. That amount certainly would offset the loss of bribes Karpis paid. Akers and Wakelin visited Grace Goldstein in hopes that she would reveal Karpis’ location. They promised her, if she did, she could share in the reward. She declined.

Meanwhile, the FBI had been following Goldstein and took note of the lawmen’s visit. The FBI believed Goldstein was the key to finding Karpis, so agents picked her up for questioning. After hours of interrogation, she finally told them Karpis’ location, and he was arrested the next day.

The FBI charged Hot Springs’ top law enforcement officials, Police Chief Joseph Wakelin, Chief of Detectives “Dutch” Akers, Lt. Cecil Brock and Grace Goldstein with harboring a fugitive. The resulting trial was sensational. Crowds packed the courtroom eager to hear about the gangster, his police friends and the madam. Judge T.C. Trimble warned the audience, “This is not a show. I will put a fine on any one who laughs in the court.”

The case against the defendants was strong. Witness after witness testified they saw the lawmen and Ms. Goldstein openly visiting Karpis. All four were convicted and each sentenced to two years at the state penitentiary.

Karpis was given a life sentence and taken to the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, where he lived for the next 27 years. Karpis’ story is just part of the legacy of Hot Springs’ gangster past. For more information on the history of Hot Springs, contact the Arkansas State Archives at 501-682-6900 or at

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 men
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