Friday, September 4, 2020

Historical records leave clues for solving the mystery of Millie

By Jane Wilkerson, archival assistant

One of the hardest things to explain to a researcher is that genealogy is something that takes time, and family lore may just be a myth. One tall tale in my own family is that of the mysterious Millie Miller, my third great-grandmother. For 30 years I have tried to separate fact from fiction and discover what had happened to her. So, for this month and in the next installment (or three) instead of talking about research tips in the abstract, I plan to take readers through a series of examples, using Millie as a case study, to show how varied documents can come together to tell a good story that is more than the sum of its parts.

Millie Miller was a survivor,
a businesswoman.
Millie came to my attention in the 1970s, when I was of school age. My oldest cousin had a project of interviewing and recording our family’s oldest members, to make sure their memories did not die with them. What he was told about Millie was “all tragedy:” Her husband died during the Civil War, and her children were split up and placed in relatives’ homes. That mass of unhappiness was about all I knew about Millie until later, when I learned that one of her granddaughters had tried to find out more about Millie and had … suddenly stopped. Confronted with this sudden change of course,  I became fascinated: I wondered what the reason behind my aunt’s hasty retreat could be. 

A partial answer had to wait until I was older, maybe considered “old enough” by my family. Apparently, Millie had gone to Oklahoma and had been a hospitality entrepreneur, of a sort. She ran a brothel and saloon. My aunt, horrified, had stopped her research cold, but my reaction was the opposite: Millie was a survivor, a businesswoman. This was a little like being descended from “Miss Kitty” of TV’s Gunsmoke!

It was 1999 before I had time to even begin to flesh out Millie’s story. The United States Census was where I started. In the 1860 census for Madison County, Arkansas, I found Millie with her husband George Washington Miller and their three children: Nancy, Susan and James. This could be verified from the information my cousin had gathered. 

From this known point, I began looking for a marriage license, in order to discover Millie’s maiden name. Since Millie and George’s oldest child, Nancy, was 5 years old in 1860, I estimated that they probably were married around 1854 or 1855. This date was problematic, though: Madison County records for that era were long destroyed. (This may have had something to do with the county having lost three courthouses to fire between 1863 and 1890.)

My next thought was to check Carroll County, where George had come from, but those records had suffered the same fate. (No fires are known to have destroyed the Carrol County courthouses, so the reason for these records’ disappearance is harder to pin down). Since both counties border Missouri, I spent some time on a north-of-the-border statewide search for a marriage license for the pair. It quickly became apparent, though, that a record of their marriage license no longer existed. 

Since I could not find Millie’s maiden name, my research shifted to her husband. Family lore states that George Washington Miller left one day to sign up to fight in the Civil War and was killed. His son, George Washington Miller Jr., was born in 1863, so it was likely that he left home around this time. But, which way did he go? Arkansas was a Confederate state, but Unionist sentiment was strong in the northern tier of counties, so he might well have chosen either side (or, as some did, both sides, albeit not at the same time). 

Without knowing whether he was Union or Confederate, I had to research both; with a name like George Washington Miller, the search proved to be a large task. The other factor that made it even more difficult is that the area of Arkansas they were living held not only both Union and Confederate sympathizers, but also several irregular militia groups—often styled “bushwackers” or “guerrillas.” George could have been involved in any of the above. 

My best confirmation of his affiliation would be from a pension record, but after checking both sides, there was no evidence that Millie had filed for or received one. Searching for their children proved just as difficult. George had several siblings, mostly brothers, in Carroll County. But, as with many other families then and even now, family names tended to be used concurrently and for generations: If the children were living with them, there was no way to distinguish their parentage. My research hit a brick wall and remained that way for some time to come.

In 2001, I began working at the Arkansas History Commission, today’s Arkansas State Archives. Part of my training was to learn what resources the agency offered for the patrons. The best way to become familiar with resources is to use them; so, my unanswered questions about Grandmother Millie came to mind. I returned to my own family quest, making use of the deep genealogical resources held by the Commission as part of my on the job training. 

The initial yield was still slim, but there were a few welcome discoveries. Tax records for Madison County, revealed George paid real estate tax until 1863. After that, there was no sign of Millie or any other family member paying on the property. I next asked myself the question, “If she didn’t have the money to pay taxes on their land, where else can I look?” 

The question led me to the venerable Kie Oldham Collection at the Archives. This collection consists of materials gathered for use in the book series War of the Rebellion. These documents were not selected for publication, but, luckily, the Arkansas State Archives received them as a donation. In the collection, I found a list of indigent families in Madison County. Millie and her children did not appear on the list. I considered this absence of information as revealing. For the time being, I had exhausted my search; Millie would have to be set aside for now. 

Next month, we will continue with Millie’s story and explore what finally led me to a breakthrough. Had she migrated into present-day Oklahoma? Was she, perhaps the “Miss Kitty” of the Permanent Indian Territory?

You will have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

How a White Rapist Came To Be Regarded as Black: The Lynching of Andrew Springer

By Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager for Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives

Before I took the job as an archivist in the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA) in Powhatan, I was not intimately familiar with Lawrence County’s history. That is why I listened to every story from local patrons attentively and with great interest. It was from them that I heard about a location known as “Nigger Hill” in the small nearby town of Black Rock. A Kum & Go gas station now stands in that spot on Highway 63, where one takes the turn toward Powhatan. “This is where Black people used to live,” Jeanette Darris of Black Rock told me.1 

In fact, as Blake Perkins discovered in an article of the Arkansas Gazette,2 the number of African Americans living in Black Rock in 1894 was about 300,3 which was a significant number for a town with a population of 1,000 in 1889, according to Glinda Hill Stuart.4

At that time, Black Rock was a newly minted railroad boom town. Many people of color came to the area for work in sawmills, factories and timber industries. The Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad Company built a line through the area. Timber abounded and could be floated down the Black River to distant mills and markets. The town of Black Rock – including its African American population – grew and flourished in the late 1800s. Today, the town has a population of about 600 with no Black residents.

So, where did the African Americans of Black Rock go, if they once had a community of their own? As Jeanette Darris heard it, the “whitecaps” a term the Arkansas Gazette in 1894 used to describe Ku Klux Klan–like vigilantes went door to door and posted notes to the effect of: “Leave or we will burn your house.” Because Jeanette did not elaborate on the exact time period, I presumed this happened in the 1920s when the KKK spread nationwide and left it at that.

One day, another patron and his daughter walked in, asking to use some archival materials. While I was photocopying the materials for them, conversation veered toward the Black community that once lived in Black Rock. What happened to them? Why did they leave? Did the KKK drive them away?

“No, that is not what happened,” the patron said. “What happened was that one of them raped Mrs. Montgomery and that was the reason why [white] people wanted them out.”

Indeed, a Mrs. W.R. Montgomery of Opposition, Arkansas, (a now defunct community in Sharp County), was raped in 1887, but a “white tramp,” as one local newspaper at the time described him, committed the outrage,6 not a Black man.

However, in 1889, only two years after the incident, Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas (relying on the largely unverified accounts of white Northeast Arkansas residents), defined Springer as “a negro,” without mentioning his name. Yet, there is no doubt that Goodspeed refers to Springer. The reference comprises a single sentence; the paragraph, which contains it, reads as follows:

We have a few legal and some illegal executions of criminals within the territory [Lawrence County]. During the early days of its existence, as originally constituted [originally, it encompassed much of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri], when courts and officers were few, the old settlers often took the administration of justice into their own hands, and for murder, rape, arson, and horse stealing, usually selected certain ones to run down the perpetrators, who, when caught, were brought back, were hung without the use of court or jury. For lesser crimes, offenders were tied, stripped and flogged. Hanging and flogging thus constituted the only modes of punishment inflicted by Judge Lynch and his associates. This manner of acknowledging crimes ceased generally when the Territory was divided into several counties, and courts and officers became more numerous. However, only a few years ago [two years earlier], a mob composed of individuals outside of the county, forcibly took from the jail in Powhatan, a negro, incarcerated therein for the charge of committing rape, and hanged him [emphasis added].7

Springer’s was the only case of lynching that was ever remembered or recorded in Lawrence County,8 and the second of only two individuals to be hanged in the county.9 In addition, it happened only two years prior to the Goodspeed’s publication. Thus, there is no doubt that both the archival patron’s and Goodspeed’s accounts reference Springer. I can, therefore, conclude with a fair amount of certainty that it is only in local lore (Goodspeed’s account included) and in much later accounts of his lynching (e.g., Richard Buckelew’s 1999 list of “Lynchings in Arkansas,” see Footnote 8)11 that the racial identity of Andrew Springer became muddled: remarkably, from white he became Black.

Richard Buckelew’s List of Lynchings
 in Arkansas, 1860-1936
That Andrew Springer was white is beyond any doubt. That Andrew Springer came to be regarded as Black in the local account of history is also beyond dispute, as contemporaneous newspaper accounts and court records reveal. The radical transformation of his racial identity from white to Black is indicated by Goodspeed’s publication of a locally- generated narrative published in 1889, just two years after the event and the persistent nature of this transformation is indicated by its appearance in Buckalew’s “Lynchings in Arkansas.” Buckalew relied on two newspaper articles – the Little Rock-based Daily Gazette of May 22, 1887, and the Memphis Appeal of May 23, 1887 to document Springer’s death—but did these identify him as Black?

A search for “Andrew Springer May 1886,” in returned more than 430 hits. One of them was a Memphis Daily Appeal article from 23 May 1887.12 This article, however, makes no mention of Springer’s racial identity. Furthermore, there is no match to any Little Rock Daily Gazette article from May 22, 1887. I found two articles regarding Springer published in the Daily Arkansas Gazette, but neither references his race, nor dates back to May 22 (instead, they are included in the May 21s and May 29 issues, respectively).

Of all the news publications in that report on the rape and Springer’s subsequent lynching between May 14 and May 29 of 1887,13 I studied in detail more than 100 of the top sources listed. Yet, not a single one of them describes him as a Black man. In fact, one of the articles published in the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from 26 May 1887 directly points to his being white in the very title: “Lynching a White Man: Murderers in Arkansas Forestall the Law and Kill a Prisoner.”14 The article – which is one of the more detailed ones – identifies him by name in its first sentence.

A“Lynching a White Man,”
Argus-Leader of May 26, 1887
 Moreover, a further search of reveals hundreds (if not thousands) of cases of crime news from the same time period (many from the same year), where the perpetrator’s racial identity is clearly stated if he/she was Black, especially in the case of rape. On the other hand, only in rare instances is the race of criminals mentioned if they were white – the Argus-Leader article being one such example. Examples of the sensational crime-related headlines suggest that newspapers were not reluctant to identify Black in the headlines or within the first sentences of the text:

§ “A Villainous Negro Hanged to a Telegraph Pole [in Nebraska]”
§ “Short Walk Made of a Negro Fiend by a Georgia Mob”
§ “A Negro Ravisher Lynched [in Alabama]”
§ “A Negro Thief Taken from Jail and Brutally Beaten by a Mob [in Little Rock, Arkansas]”
§ “A Negro Rape Fiend Taken from Jail and Lynched [in Kentucky]”
§ “The Five Negro Fiends Who Murdered Young Good Lynched at Yorktown [South Carolina]”
§ “A Colored Cook Cooked [for shooting at a waitress in Colorado who lived]”
§ A North Carolina Lynching [of a ‘Burly Negro’]”

Whereas labels, such as “fiend”, “brute” and/or “rapist,” among others, were sometimes used in reference to white criminals (including to describe Springer on a handful of occasions15), they were applied to Blacks for any crime with almost no exclusion. The use of such labels was especially abundant in the case of rape – a crime regarded as particularly abhorrent and committed by individuals that were “less than human.”

Rape was a crime so widely ascribed to Black males in that time period and subsequently for which the ultimate punishment was extrajudicial lynching (also known as mob law or Judge Lynch) that a number of newspapers, including the Missouri-based Douglass County Herald from the turn of the 20th century, termed it a “Negro Problem.” “Every colored man should realize that the worst enemy of his race is the negro criminal, and above all the negro criminal who commits the dreadful crime of rape,” stated the Herald from Dec. 6, 1906. The article continued: “The greatest existing cause for mob law is the perpetration by the Blacks of the crime of rape, a crime which … [is] even worse that of murder [emphasis added].”

On one hand, the article in question argues in favor of access to good public education for “negroes” in order to make them good citizens, alongside white Americans. On the other hand, the language of the article is one of agreement with the premise of the “negro criminal” – particularly the “negro rapist” – and its proposed solution is to reform the “negro criminal” through education. In fact, the “negro rapist” assumption was so commonplace that descriptions, such as “she was approached by a burly negro … and she saw at once the furious passion that blazed in the brute’s eyes,”16 were the norm rather than the exception.

It is not surprising, then, that the St. Louis Globe-Democrat from June 4, 1892, echoing the reality of widespread lynching of Blacks, especially in the South and especially for the alleged crime of rape, stated, “Negro lynching for rape is not determined by latitude. New York has just done this, and so would Massachusetts or Vermont under the same circumstances.”17

Notions of Black criminality and the “negro rapist” only intensified by the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan’s influence spilled out of the South and spread throughout the United States. The use of violence and murder – especially lynching – against African Americans, continued to grow. Whereas the first Klan emerged in the South during the late 1860s in response to the emancipation of slaves following the Civil War and the political enfranchisement of Black males, it was quickly suppressed by the federal authorities.18 Yet, feelings of resentment continued to linger under the surface in the South.

It was therefore not surprising that the second Klan emerged in Georgia in 1915, to a large extent fueled by D.W. Griffith's 1915 feature film The Birth of a Nation, which was seen across the United States. In the 1920s, therefore, the “Black rapist” and the “Black criminality” stereotypes were reaffirmed and spread nationwide. Even though the Klan’s wanton engagement in violence and murder of Blacks, Jews, immigrants and even women (including a high-profile rape and murder trial against D.C. Stephenson, the powerful grand dragon of the Indiana Klan19) generated a large media and societal backlash, leading to its demise by the late 1920s, KKK-inspired ideology did not die out.20

Proof of that can be seen in the “third Klan’s” emergence after 1950s, in opposition to the Civil Rights movement, although its activities were localized and largely isolated. To this day, however, white supremacist ideology remains firmly entrenched in segments of American society, and notions of Black criminality remain viable. Within this context then, the muddling of Andrew Springer’s identity in Lawrence County’s lore, as well as the persistent belief that he was Black, becomes more understandable, if still unjustified.

Next month, NEARA will start piecing together the story of Andrew Springer's crime and lynching in Lawrence County using NEARA's vast collection of documents and database availability.

[1] Unrecorded conversation with Jeanette Darris of Black Rock, Powhatan, Lawrence County, 2019.

[2] Arkansas Gazette, “Whitecaps: A Labor Race War Seems Imminent in Lawrence County,” Arkansas Gazette, January 17, 1894, 2.

[3] According to Blake Perkins, “this is the only known statistic that offers any insight into the size of the black population in the first sixteen years of the city’s existence [after 1894, when Black Rock was incorporated].” See Blake Perkins, “Race Relations in Western Lawrence County, Arkansas,” Southeast Missouri State University Press, not dated,, accessed September 9, 2019.

[4] Glynda Hill Stuart, “History of Black Rock,” in Mother of Counties: Lawrence County, Arkansas – History and Families, 1815-2001 (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001), 24.

[5] I omit the names on purpose.
[6] Sharp County Record, May 18, 1887. It was Vesta Smith of Back Rock who discovered the article and provided me with a printed microfilm copy of it. However, I have been unable to independently locate it in or on microfilm yet.

[7] Goodspeed, Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas (Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889), 766.

[8] See Richard Buckelew, Appendix I: Lynchings in Arkansas: A Comprehensive Listing, in “Racial Violence in Arkansas: Lynchings and Mob Rule, 1860-1930/” (Ph.D. diss, University of Arkansas, 1999), 223-254. Available at, accessed September 18, 2019

[9] Steven Saunders, interview by Fatme Myuhtar-May taken in Powhatan, AR, May 5, 2019. Audio 58:40.

[10] Ibid.
[11] On p. 231 of his list, Buckelew also identifies Springer as black (see Footnote 8).

[12] Last searched September 17, 2019.
[13] A search of returned 435 hits, the overwhelming majority of which do reflect the case of Andrew Springer.

[14] Argus-Leader. “Lynching a White Man: Murderers in Arkansas Forestall the Law and Kill a Prisoner.” Argus-Leader, 26 May 1887, 1,, accessed September 17, 2019.
[15] Memphis Avalanche, for example, called him “an inhuman fiend” in an article about the crime. See “An Inhuman Fiend: Mrs. Montgomery Outraged during Her Husband’s Absence,” Memphis Avalanche, 18 May 1887,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[16] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 26 Aug 1887, 1,, accessed August 24, 2019.
[17] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 4 June 1892, 4,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[18] See Rory McVeigh, The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), passim; Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, “The Great Mongrel Military Despotism: The First Ku Klux Klan and the Anti-Chinese Crusade,” in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 54-69.

[19] See Famous Trials, “D.C. Stephenson Trial (1925),” UMKC School of Law,, accessed September 19, 2019.

[20] See Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, “100 Percent American: World War I-Era Repression and the Second Ku Klux Klan,” in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 85-103; Charles Quarles, “1915—A New Image,” in The Ku Klux Klan and Related American Racialist and Anti-Semitic Organizations: A History and Analysis, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1999), 53-76.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Rise and fall of mining creates a ghost town

Photo from the Arkansas State Archives collection.
By Brian Irby, archival assistant

Arkansas has a long history of mining. Some of the first European Americans to visit what would later become Arkansas were searching for mines. Often mining operations are a boom and bust economy. The economy booms when the mine begins producing ore; then the economy collapses when the mine is played out. When this happens, towns that rely on the mine for jobs dry up and disappear, leaving a ghost town full of empty buildings dotting the landscape. One of the most notable ghost towns in Arkansas is Rush, a town that appeared in the 1880s and thrived until the local zinc mining operations ended.

The origins of the mine are obscure, as there are numerous versions of the story. One version said it was found by prospectors who were following the “sign of the turtle,” images of turtles drawn by Native Americans on trees to indicate silver mines in the area. Whether or not there were turtle signs in the area is unclear from the early reports. What is clear, however, is that John Wolfer, J.W. McCabe and Bob Stulzer, three prospectors following legends of silver mines hidden in the Ozark Mountains, found the mine in 1880. Enthusiastic, they believed that they had at last found the lost silver mine. Little did they know that what they found was not silver, but zinc.

The trio built a smelter near the mine. As they hauled the first batch of ore out of the mine, they loaded it in the smelter and then waited for the molten silver to begin to flow. Unfortunately, instead of silver, the smelter’s smokestack started belching blue-colored clouds from the zinc oxide fumes that were building up inside the smelter. Crestfallen, the men chose not to give up. They commissioned a geology report that indicated there was silver in the mines in addition to the zinc they had found earlier. Additionally, the report estimated that the ore would sell for $8 a ton. Ultimately, though, hopes were dashed: The mine never produced silver. In the end, the three prospectors decided to attempt to sell their claim for a can of oysters, valued at $2.50. The prospective buyer rejected the deal.

Meanwhile, other miners decided to develop the zinc mines. The Yellville Mountain Echo reported in 1890 from Rush, “Railroad and mining is all the talk here now. Some of the mine owners are returning, and others are expected soon.”

Mining companies from throughout the midwestern United States flocked to Rush to invest in the mining operations. Land speculators also joined in the operation, snapping up land patents and then leasing the land for mining companies. By 1898, the Morning Star Mine was producing four tons of zinc ore a day. This netted a profit of from $500 to $1,000 a day. In order to spotlight mining operations in Rush, miners hauled a large boulder of solid zinc weighing 12,750 pounds to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

As the mining operations began to take off, it became clear that the downside to mining in the Ozarks was the terrain. Climbing the hills in order to get to work was physically taxing. The miners had to haul the ore off the mountain, down into hollows, back up the hills, back down into the hollow, then haul it to the White River where it was placed on a boat and shipped to Batesville to be smelted.

Despite the Buffalo River being close in proximity, the river was never deep enough to allow them to load the ore onto barges. Instead, the ore had to be transported to the White River, several miles away.
As the mining camp grew larger, the elements of what would become the town of Rush became more apparent. To formalize the town, the Edith Mining Company, one of the mining companies operating in the area, laid out the formal boundaries of the town of Rush, naming it for the nearby Rush Creek. By 1900, the town sported two hotels, a hardware and blacksmith shop, and a general store. Things accelerated in 1914 with the beginning of World War I because the war demanded increasing amounts of zinc for the manufacture of bullets.

By 1915, businessmen recognized the need to expand the small town to make way for more accommodations for miners, including the addition of stores and other modern conveniences. The Buffalo Zinc and Copper Company bought large chunks of the local territory with the purpose of widening roads and establishing more town lots. In order to induce stores to open in the small hamlet, the Buffalo Zinc and Copper Company offered lots for free for enterprising businessmen. In an article advertising the new settlement, the Yellville Mountain Echo bragged that the Buffalo River was free of “malaria, and which is navigable a good portion of the year, [and] will always furnish an ample water supply for every practical purpose.”

As a result, more people settled in Rush in order to work in the mines. By the end of 1916, Rush had grown large enough to be incorporated into a town. As the war continued, the town’s population swelled to between 4,500 and 5,000 people, making it the largest town in northern Arkansas. There were few women in the town. Most of the men living there were short-term residents. One of the hotels in town, the Kirkland Hotel, could accommodate 50 guests per night, which ended up not being enough capacity. Additionally, guests were offered “comfortable rocking chairs” in the hotel’s office if there was no vacancy.

Despite the efforts to make Rush into a town, the mining business is fickle, and miners did not expect to set down roots. When the mine eventually played out, they packed up and moved to the next mining boom town. As a result, very few residential buildings were built – most miners lived in tents with their families. There was not a church building or a permanent cemetery in which to bury loved ones. It was expected that if families were inclined to go to church, they would travel to a nearby town.

Besides the rivers, transportation to other towns in the area remained poor. In order to remedy this, the local communities banded together to improve the roads. Since the mines relied on good roads, and workers relied on the mines, it was not difficult to convince them to contribute to establishing good roads. One instance of this community effort occurred on Oct. 24, 1916, when all businesses in Rush closed in order to encourage workers to spend the day working on the road. In addition, the town’s women were encouraged to bake goods for the workers for a “dinner on the ground.” On that day, 75 men worked together to improve the road.

Despite the difficulty of the terrain, there were surprisingly few mining accidents. The exception, however, occurred on June 10, 1916. Miners were working in the Ben Carney mine when suddenly a 30-ton slab of the mine’s ceiling collapsed, trapping several miners and killing two. Among those survivors who were trapped was Jim Moore whose right arm and both legs were trapped under the rubble. For more than three hours, fellow miners labored to free the survivors. They used jacks to lift the rubble off Moore while the trapped miner stayed still and calm, directing the work. Astoundingly, this was the only major mining accident at the site for over 40 years.

With the end of the war came the decline in demand for zinc. This meant that Rush’s days were numbered as a town. When the price of zinc plummeted, many mining companies pulled out of Rush. Slowly, the men who worked the mines left town, never to return. The Morning Star, the flagship mine in the area, closed in 1930. Over the years, as the town’s population dwindled, mine workers attempted to form their own companies, but these efforts failed. In the 1950s, the town’s post office closed. The last mine closed in 1962, leaving only a handful of people still living in the town.

Today the Rush ghost town is administered by the National Parks Service as part of the Buffalo River Natural Park. All that remains of the once thriving town are vacant buildings, fenced off to protect them from vandals, and the empty mines, also now boarded up to keep the curious out. All of these can be seen while hiking the trail that runs along the old path that the miners used in their daily tasks. They are the only remnants of a bygone era.

Scrapbook from Historic Washington State Park sheds light on Hempstead County history

By Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager for the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Recently, while working through an inventory of collection items at Historic Washington State Park, Curator Josh Williams discovered what might be thought of as an “orphan:” a venerable scrapbook, apparently undocumented. It lacked such identifying information as a deed of gift, an accession number, a donor’s name or donation date. This is the type of artifact that curators and archivists often term “found in collections”  because, well that’s strictly accurate. Such collections orphans can cause headaches because careful documentation of the origin and “provenance”—that is, chain of custody or ownership—of artifacts and archival materials is a foundation of this profession. Williams evaluated the scrapbook’s possible usefulness as an artifact for display versus its potential documentary value. Since it had never been accessioned into the park’s collections, he decided to transfer the scrapbook to SARA in order to make its contents more easily accessible for study.

The backbone of the scrapbook was a ledger, originally used to record the names of eligible voters of Hempstead County — in short, those who had paid their poll taxes.  However, news clippings and miscellaneous loose 19th century Hempstead County court records were pasted over several pages of the voters’ names. A note on the front cover indicated it had made its way into the hands of Lucile Monroe Carrigan, a native of Washington, Arkansas. Had Carrigan been the one who re-purposed the ledger as a scrapbook of Hempstead County history? It is probable, and her intention was indicated by the note attached to the front cover which stated, “These documents are the property of Lucile M. Carrigan. Given to the Historical Records Survey to use as they see fit.” The Historical Records Survey was “organized in 1935 as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, to document resources for research in U.S. history,” and Carrigan worked for the HRS in Hempstead County.[1]

Hempstead County “loose” court records trickling back to SARA isn’t a new phenomenon. They’ve been resurfacing a little at a time for more than 40 years, and here is the backstory.

Washington became the county seat of Hempstead County in 1824. Two of the former court houses remain standing and are today owned and managed by Historic Washington State Park. The first was completed in 1836 and the second in 1874. After the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the railroads expanded into southwest Arkansas creating towns like Prescott, Hope and Texarkana. As the center of transportation shifted, so too the center of commerce relocated, which meant that Hope began to grow, and Washington began to decline. Thus, began a battle for the county seat that was finally decided in the late 1930s.

A new courthouse had been completed in Hope in 1939 as a project of the Public Works Administration (PWA), not to be confused with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). During the move into the new courthouse someone--possibly the county judge or county clerk or an employee--decided to discard the abundant 19th century miscellaneous loose court records. Several concerned and historically minded citizens collected these from the trash pile in no particular order and took them home for safekeeping. Decades later, after SARA’s establishment in the late 1970s, these same people began to donate the records to the archives.

This brings us back to the scrapbook’s usefulness to researchers. Court records often give answers to genealogical and historical mysteries that might not otherwise be solved when these records are lost. Hempstead County is fortunate in that its records are mostly intact. Some counties in Arkansas aren’t as fortunate due to damage from man-made and natural disasters, the ravages of war or neglect through poor storage facilities and practices.

The scrapbook is currently at the Arkansas State Archives and is being evaluated by Hunter Foster, archival assistant for conservation. Archives staff are proceeding slowly and cautiously to see how best to preserve the scrapbook and the records it contains as well as the best plan for making the records available for research.

SARA is also fortunate to have the relationship with Historic Washington State Park. Besides providing a location for the archives and maintenance support for the building and grounds, the archives and park staff collaborate on projects like this one in order to better preserve Arkansas’s history and make it available to all.

For more information about this collection or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at or by calling 501-682-6900.

[1] “69.5.6 Records of the Historical Records Survey,” National Archives and Records Administration,, accessed August 28, 2020.

Politician decries political corruption in Arkansas in the late 19th century

This etching of Rube CarlLee came from History of the
Wheel and Alliance, and the Impending Revolution
published by W.S. Morgan, a member of the Wheel, in
1889. Photo from the Arkansas State Archives collection.
By Brian Irby, archival assistant

The years following the Civil War in Arkansas were a turbulent time. Political assassinations, electoral fraud and economic hardship led to constant instability. After Reconstruction, such difficulties continued. One of the most vocal critics of the political corruption that marred Arkansas politics in the 1880s was Rube CarlLee.

Reuben Bates CarlLee was born in Virginia in 1841, moved to Kentucky when he was a child, then to St. Louis and Arkansas in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. He never attended any school and appears to be solely self-educated. He joined the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, CarlLee dabbled in real estate, insurance, and farming to support his family.

In 1868, he ran for office for the first time, choosing to run for the state Senate. Although he won a majority of the vote in the election, he was denied his seat when it was proven that he had served in the Confederate Army. Under the 1868 constitution, few ex-Confederates were allowed to vote or hold office. Dejected, CarlLee returned to private life.

Meanwhile, Arkansas farmers were having difficulty in the post Reconstruction years. Many of them felt that corrupt politicians, allied with business interests, were squeezing small farmers through the use of high interest credit, farm tenancy and low crop prices. In 1882, a group of farmers joined together to form what became known as the Agricultural Wheel in order to protect the interests of farmers. The Wheel was avowedly non-partisan, early on refusing to endorse any candidates for office.

With the end of Reconstruction, ex-Confederates were no longer barred from holding office. CarlLee re-entered politics and won a seat in the Arkansas legislature in 1882 representing Prairie County. He joined the Wheel in 1883 since many of the Wheel’s policy positions reflected his own. In 1886, after rising through the ranks in the Wheel, Carlee decided to run again for office, this time looking to become a representative in the United States House of Representatives from the 2nd District. His opponent was Clifton Breckenridge, who had held the seat since 1883.

CarlLee was the first candidate of the newly organized Union Labor Party, a party formed by Wheel members and other farm workers. CarlLee’s campaign message was that he would fight against business interests, the “money kings of the east,” who were exploiting Arkansas’s laborers. He argued against private ownership of railroads and telegraph equipment. He also called for an end to state debt through the issuance of bonds and the creation of a graduated income tax.

Despite the fact that the Union Labor Party had difficulty electing candidates on its own without crossing over to join in coalition with the Democrats or Republicans, the Wheel was divided. Should they issue a straight ticket of Wheel candidates or support a fusion ticket with agrarian-friendly candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties? CarlLee supported a straight Wheel ticket, with him as candidate for Congress. Of course, this did not sit well with “Wheelers” who remained loyal to the Democratic or Republican parties. As the campaign was beginning to heat up, Carl Lee told the press that those Wheel members who did not support a straight Wheel ticket were “Judases.”

CarlLee’s candidacy was further hampered by the fact that the state newspaper of the Wheel, the Wheel Enterprise, declined to endorse his candidacy. Upholding its previous nonpartisan stance, the Wheel Enterprise editor wrote, “We see no need of exchanging a man in office for one who is incompetent to fill the seat acceptably to the people.” Consequently, Breckenridge easily defeated CarlLee.

After his defeat, he went to work full time for the Wheel, becoming state purchasing agent, a position that paid him a whopping $1,500 a year. In the 1888 election, CarlLee decided not to seek office. Instead he campaigned on behalf of John Clayton, the Republican candidate seeking to unseat Breckenridge. During the campaign, there were numerous allegations of fraud. The state-wide elections, held in September, were marred by stories of fraud, intimidation and ballot box stealing.
Among the reports of irregularities came a report from Republicans in Pulaski County, alleging that poll books listing the names of Republicans registered to vote had been stolen by “unknown persons.” The allegations in Pulaski County were especially worrisome for those denying the fraud accusations, because the allegations were being made even by the Arkansas Gazette which tended to be friendly towards Democrats. Critics of the Gazette begged the paper to take back the allegations, arguing, “It gives the enemy a club to cudgel democrats with in national politics.”

Worried that these practices would continue in November’s federal election, CarlLee wrote to the New York Press exposing the electoral fraud. Included among the charges he leveled in the letter to the New York paper was the claim that 1,000 votes had been stolen in Jackson County. He declared that the administration of Arkansas’s Democratic Governor Simon P. Hughes had armed members of Union County’s Democratic clubs with Winchester rifles as a means to intimidate Republican and Union Labor voters.  These men, CarlLee alleged, “shot and killed seven white union labor men and wounded over 20 more, and at El Dorado, the county seat, they took the poll books away from the judges and burned them before the eyes of the people, and then held a new election, at which no union labor man was permitted to vote.” He also charged that there was fraud and intimidation in Conway County. This was especially important, as it was the disturbing omen of fraud that might prevent Clayton from defeating Breckenridge.

Instead of investigating the claims, Democrats denounced CarlLee for “slandering the state” with his allegations. Governor Hughes issued a statement refuting CarlLee’s charge of the events in Union County, “I have been informed that there were no such occurrences in Union county, and that no man was prevented from voting at the election, and I have the assurance of good, upright, honorable citizens that these things did not occur; that one man only was killed in Union county on the day of the election, and that was an accidentally killed [sic].”

The editor of the Arkansas Democrat urged the Agricultural Wheel to cut ties with CarlLee, “You can’t afford to keep Rube CarlLee in your employment. A man who will malign the people of his own State as CarlLee has done ought not to occupy a responsible and lucrative position in any respectable organization. Bounce him!”

J.H. Trigg, commander of the state militia, described CarlLee’s letter as the “braying of an untethered ass.”

Many Wheel members took exception to CarlLee’s letter and called on him to resign. Reflecting on CarlLee’s political fate, the editor of the Helena World wrote, “It looks like Rube CarlLee’s head is to come off.”

Despite the controversy, CarlLee was not forced out of the Wheel. He remained a member until the organization collapsed around 1890.

That he was correct about election fraud, and its effect on the federal election in November 1888, was borne out when Breckenridge defeated Clayton. After the election, Clayton went to Conway County, the site of much of the fraud allegations. While there, he was shot in the back. The murder was never solved. Later, an investigation into the election by the United States House of Representatives declared that Clayton won the election and overturned the results. Since Clayton was dead, the seat was declared vacant. Breckenridge won the election of 1890 and returned to his seat in Congress.

By the 1890s, CarlLee latched onto the Populist Party as the replacement for the Union Labor Party, endorsing Democrat Dan Jones for governor. He tried to entice other prominent politicians to join the Populist Party, even going as far as printing rumors in the England Times, a paper he owned and edited, that certain politicians were going to join the party. One prominent citizen of Pine Bluff who had been the subject of such rumors, N.T. Roberts, wrote to the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, “I do not know from what source you get your information, but it is false.” It seemed that CarlLee’s political career was at an end. Finished with politics, CarlLee retired to his farm and died in 1915.