Wednesday, December 2, 2020

November Accessions

 By Stephanie Carter, archivist

Our recent accessions include records from the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Collection and books detailing the histories of local churches. The Arkansas State Archives preserves two centuries of Arkansas history and more, ready for you to explore. Visit our digital collections or consult our research services at

Archival Collections

The Lily Peter collection, 1960s-1970s, was transferred from the collections of the Delta Cultural Center, Helena, Arkansas. The collection includes 11 photographs of Lily Peter at various locations and events in Arkansas, one audio reel of an interview of Lily Peter, and nine boxes of microfilm of the Southland College Papers. Lily Peter (1891-1991) of Phillips County was an author, farmer, teacher, musician, conservationist and philanthropist, as well as Arkansas’s poet laureate.

Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism-Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission Collection: 13 cubic feet of Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission records, 1995-2015, were transferred by the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission. The records include audio and video recordings, awards and materials related to cleanup campaigns and other projects. The commission, a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, works to educate and encourage individuals to prevent litter, recycle and keep Arkansas beautiful.


Printed Materials

Sesquicentennial of Cooking by Arkansas Farm Bureau, 1986 was donated by Melissa Bingmann of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Massive Resistance and Southern Womanhood: White Women, Class, and Segregation by Rebecca Bruckmann, 2021, wassent to us from University of Georgia Press in Athens, Georgia.

The Heritage, Volume 47, 2020, was donated by Hot Spring County Historical Society in Malvern, Arkansas.

Several books were donated by Story Library, Central Baptist College in Conway, Arkansas:

Harmony Baptist Church: 125 years - Little Rock, Arkansas, undated

Historical Directory and Yearbook of First Baptist Church, Salem Baptist Church, Trenton Baptist Church, and Park Grove Baptist Church in Marvell, Arkansas, 1930 [2 copies]

History of Beryl Baptist Church, 1889 to 1989

History of Cadron Ridge Baptist Church, 1892-1992 - Conway, Arkansas

A History of Cavalry Baptist Church, 1939-1989 - Batesville, Arkansas

History of Landmark Missionary Baptist Churches of County Line Association, undated

Pangburn First Baptist Church: 100 Year Celebration, 1904-2004

Partial Records of the Baptist Church of Christ (Harmony) - The Old Texas Church - 1869-1897, Faulkner County, 1984

Records of Salem Baptist Church and Cypert Cemetery, Eventide Cemetery, Smally Cemetery, Gamble Cemetery Area of Marvell, Phillips County, Arkansas, 1977

Sharon Missionary Baptist Church, 1889-1989

Unity Missionary Baptist Church - South Hervey, Hope, Arkansas, undated

A History of Otter Creek Germania Vimy Ridge Missionary Baptist Church, 1909-1938

Black sheep sheds light on family history

 By Jane Wilkerson, archival assistant

Many of us who do genealogical research like to believe our ancestors were God-fearing and law-abiding citizens. However, what if they … weren’t?

Most families are likely to have at least one “black sheep” in the flock, but refrain from discussing the person in polite company, usually out of embarrassment.[1] Often, the status of these “sheep” has something to do with misdeeds of one sort or another which have led to involvement with law enforcement, the courts and the penal system — in short, criminal activity. This may be a source of embarrassment for the contemporary family but a boon for family historians: Police, court and penal records preserve much information about both the accused and the convicted, not limited to name, age and prisoner number. Therefore, while the term “criminal record” can be a stigma, the documents themselves are extremely valuable to genealogists. They not only can tell us about the criminal, but also his or her family dynamics. The hardest part may consist of figuring out where to start, when your family is not forthcoming with the details surrounding such sooty lambs.

Indictment for Frank Browning
I know this to be the case because my family tree boasts of at least one such sheep. Within my family circle I had long heard rumblings that my great grandfather’s brother, Frank Browning by name, had killed someone; the when and the where of his rumored dastardly deed were never mentioned. What I did know was Robert Franklin Browning died at the age of 67 on Jan. 23, 1944, at McFadden in Jackson County, Arkansas. He was survived by his wife Lilly and two daughters and had pretty much divorced himself from his family in Sulphur Rock in Independence County. The towns were only 45 miles apart, yet they might as well have been continents away from each other. Yes, Frank might have killed someone, but were the facts in his case so bad as to separate him from his entire family?

I set out to narrow my search a little in hopes of finding traces of Frank. I knew, from family documents, that Frank Browning was born Dec. 31, 1876, in Sulphur Rock. His father, George Washington Browning, died in 1885 and his mother in 1893. He, along with his five siblings, were left without their parents and had to raise themselves. By Aug. 19, 1922, at the mature age of 45, Frank married one Lilly Owens in Jackson County. What was he up to in the intervening years, though? I decided to narrow my search to the period between his mother’s death and his marriage. A search of Jackson County Circuit court records proved fruitless, and I was afraid that Independence County would turn out the same.

My next thought was, if Frank Browning had killed someone and was convicted, he would be in the Arkansas Department of Corrections records. The Arkansas State Archives, fortunately, has the penitentiary’s inmate ledger books covering the years 1900 to 1955 on microfilm. I located a Frank Browning, prisoner number 8293, from Sulphur Rock. I had struck pay dirt: It was indeed my great grandfather’s brother, doing time?

According to the records, Frank was received at the State Penitentiary on Nov. 5, 1907, sentenced for five and a half years for manslaughter. The register went on to report that his trial took place on Dec. 10, 1906. The record included a physical description which made me realize that my great uncle Frank had led a rough life. He was described as having several scars on his head and face. The description also mentioned vaccine scars and one long scar on this left arm. So, Uncle Frank looked like a rough character; what other things would I uncover?

Daily Arkansas Gazette,
Dec. 29, 1905

From the prison record I turned to the newspapers of the day and court records to find out what I could about the incident which led to his incarceration. In newspapers from Hoxie to Fort Smith, I uncovered lurid headlines: “Frank Browning kills Telegraph Operator at Hoxie” and “Killing at Hoxie, Frisco Agent and Operator Shot to Death Yesterday by Frank Browning.”[2] So, I had a notorious desperado in my family tree! The infamous incident happened on Dec. 28, 1905. Browning had gone into the Frisco and Iron Mountain railroad office at the Hoxie crossing to send a telegraph to Dexter, Missouri, at 11:30 a.m. The operator, T.W. Midkiff, told Browning the answer would probably arrive by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Browning then returned at 1:30 p.m. smelling of whiskey, asking if he had received an answer. Midkiff informed him that none had come, and the conversation became heated. Bystanders outside the office reported they could hear the two men yelling. Midkiff ordered Browning out, and as they walked towards the door, Browning pulled out a revolver and shot Midkiff. Browning was quickly taken into custody. A lynching party consisting of townsmen from both Walnut Ridge and Hoxie soon formed, bent on teaching the prisoner the “hemp fandango.” Officers hastily took Browning to Jonesboro to await trial.

At some point during January 1906, Browning was transferred to the jail at Powhatan, the county seat. Visitors to our Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives or the Powhatan Court House State Park may have noticed the solid stone structure that still stands adjacent to the courthouse. A reporter in 1906 described it as the “darkest dungeon in the county … The place is over-run with rats, the only companion(s) to the man in the jail."

Continuing my search through newspapers and county records, I learned Browning remained under these conditions until March when he was indicted on a charge of first degree murder by a Lawrence County grand jury. On Aug. 17, 1906, Browning was arraigned in front of Judge Humphreys of Walnut Ridge, and the trial date was set for Oct. 19. There were concerns about whether or Browning could receive a fair trial in Lawrence County. Tensions were still high; it had not been a year since the townsmen of Hoxie and Walnut Ridge wanted to lynch him. Defense attorneys from the firm Wright and Reeder successfully argued for and won a change of venue to Independence County. The trial was heard in Judge F. D. Fulkerson’s court room in November 1906. Browning was found guilty of manslaughter, after the jury deliberated for 20 hours. A motion was then made for a new trial and Browning was released on $1,500 bond, put up by his uncle, Dr. Clinton P. Meriwether, and Dr. R.C. Dorr and Capt. John A. Hinkle.

So, here was the story that had sundered this side of my family. On its face, it was bad enough so that I could understand the family being a little embarrassed by Uncle Frank. As I would learn through some more searching and sifting, there was more a lot more — to his story.  Next month we will discuss more of his past, the outcome of his trial and why Frank was indeed the black sheep of our family.

[1] Some may, however, refrain out of a sense of modesty, particularly if the ancestral malefactor is believed to have done a Really Big Oops, one that would be worth boasting about in the right company.

[2] I located these articles from across the state using This is a subscription-based service, but visitors can access it at no cost in the ASA research room.

SARA records leave clues to identity of photo subject

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

Digitally restored photo identified
as Miami Love

An image in SARA’s collections of an African American woman raises questions. Who was Miami Love, and what was her connection to Richard Samuels, one of Arkansas’s historic Black legislators during Reconstruction?

Among SARA’s collections is a small portrait of a young-looking African American woman identified as “Miami Love, wife of Richard Samuels, founder of First CME Church in Washington, Arkansas, old state capital during the Civil War.” But, should the identification be taken at face value or investigated further? Because both primary and secondary sources can be fallible, the ability to evaluate and compare sources is a necessary skill for historians and genealogists, much like the investigative skill of a detective.

Such is the case with the portrait caption. Who was Miami Love? Several items in SARA’s collections mention her. A scrapbook entry in the Carrigan papers, an extensive collection of papers related to the well-known Carrigan family in Washington, Arkansas, mentions the following:

Another noted slave of Washington was Miama [sic] Love, who married Russ Davis who ran a[n] eating house at the old Dutch Wright home. Her mother, Aunt Fannie, was owned by a man named Love in Salisbury, NC. He lost a good deal of money and sold his slaves to Albert Pike who brought Aunt Fannie and the baby to Little Rock to be a special maid to his wife, who was an invalid. Miama was sold later to Mr. Cates in Little Rock. No doubt when Albert Pike brought his family to refugee in Washington during the war, his wife brought Aunt Fannie with her. Then after they were freed, she [Fannie] continued to live in Washington and in 1866 sent for her daughter, Miama, and sent her to New Orleans to take a course as a seamstress.[1]

Since the source of this narrative is unknown, by itself the document doesn’t provide enough good evidence for Miami Love’s identity. Starting with the statement that “Miami … married Russ Davis,” a search of marriage records in Hempstead County indicates Mr. James R. Davis, age 33, of Bois d’Arc and Miss Miami C. Love, age 30, of Washington married on March 20, 1878.[2] The 1910 U.S. Census for Hempstead County includes the couple; it records that in 1910 they had been married for 32 years, confirming the 1878 date. The census also records that this had been the first marriage for both parties, and that Davis’s first name was “Russell. Other sources, such as Davis’ obituary in the Washington Telegraph, show that he was called “Uncle Russ”.[3] The 1900 and 1880 U.S. Censuses for Hempstead County both reported the couple living in Ozan Township.[4]

The 1880 Census reveals that Fannie Samuels lived in her stepson Robert Samuels’ household, located next door to the Davises. Fannie’s reported marital status indicates she was widowed.[5] Though no marriage record has been found for Fannie and her late husband, and they have not been found on the 1870 Census, consulting other records supports his identity. Who, then, was her stepson Robert’s father?

Regie Heard, a daughter of former slaves who grew up in Washington and who co-authored the book Regie’s Love, recalls:

Everything I learned about slavery was through my mother and old people. I liked to talk to old people and old people like Rob Samuels liked to talk to me. He’d been county clerk and was the son of Richard Samuels, one of our first black politicians during Reconstruction. He’d served in the state legislature and was Miami Davis’ stepfather. Miami and her husband ran the hotel, The Davis House.[6]

Though Ms. Heard recalled Rob Samuels as county clerk, Rob (aka Bob/Robert) recalled his father Richard (aka Dick) serving as the Hempstead County Clerk in an interview in the Arkansas Slave Narratives. [7] The Historical Report of the Secretary of State 2008, in which Richard is listed as R. Samuels, indicates his term lasted from 1872-1874.[8] The report also confirms his service in the state legislature during Reconstruction. His term of office in the Fourteenth District, Hempstead County, was from April 2 to July 23, 1868, and during the special session of Nov. 17, 1868 to April 10, 1869. In this entry, he is listed as R.R. Samuels.[9]

Richard Samuels not only made history in the political arena, but also in the spiritual. According to the history of St. Paul C.M.E. Church written by the late Dr. Llewellyn Williamson of Washington, 

The C.M.E. Church in Washington antedates the organization of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). It was organized as the ‘Methodist Church of Color’ several years before 1870 when the C.M.E. Church was organized... In the organization of the C.M.E. Church (which sprang from the M.E. Church South) Rev. Richard Samuels of Washington was the clerical representative and became the first preacher of the Washington District.[10] 

The Rev. Samuels’ death was due in part to his attendance of a church conference in Jackson, Tennessee, and his subsequent travel to Memphis. He contracted yellow fever during his travels and died on Sept. 4, 1878.[11] According to author Regie Heard, “Before papa bought our house, we rented the old Samuels’ house at the edge of town where Richard Samuels was buried. … The official story was that Richard Samuels’ body wasn’t brought into town because he died of smallpox. …”[12] Though his true cause of death was yellow fever, Heard’s information seems accurate given that there is no burial plot for Richard Samuels at the Washington Cemetery. To date, no grave site for Samuels has been located on his former property, though the remains of his former home still stand. 

Fannie Samuels' headstone
Going back to the untitled and undated document regarding Miami Love and her mother Fannie, other sources corroborate its information. One is the headstone of Fannie Samuels. She is buried in the African American section of the Washington Cemetery, and the headstone inscription indicates she was born in “Saulsberry [sic] NC”.[13] Indicative of the relationship between Fannie and Miami is their burial in proximity to one another.[14] Another source confirming Miami’s status as a former slave of Albert Pike is the obituary of James Russell Davis which states, “His wife, who was a house girl in the family of General Albert Pike, died several years ago and he leaves no children.”[15] Miami Love Davis’s obituary validates the approximate time she moved to Washington. It states: “She came to Washington from Little Rock in 1866, or a few years after the Civil War.”[16] 

Coming back full circle to the portrait after evaluating the various records, it can be reasonably concluded that Fannie Love, rather than Miami Love, was the wife of Richard Samuels. That still doesn’t positively identify the woman in the portrait, however. For further identification, knowledge of period clothing styles is helpful. The dress appears to be one dating from the  period of the mid-to-late 1860s, rather than from later decades. Though one cannot say with 100 percent certainty, it seems more likely the portrait is of Fannie rather than Miami. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding who donated the portrait or who wrote the identification on it. Regardless, the portrait is a priceless piece of Arkansas’s African American and Samuels family history.

[1] Carrigan papers, Scrapbook 4, MSF 011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington Arkansas

[2] "Arkansas, County Marriages, 1837-1957," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 18 March 2019), 004368484 > image 339 of 774; county offices, Arkansas.

[3] “Obituary of J.R. Davis,” Washington Telegraph, Washington, Arkansas, 13 Jun 1919, page 1, hereafter cited as J.R. Davis obituary.

[4] Year: 1880; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Roll: 46; Page: 497C; Enumeration District: 112; Year: 1900; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Page: 11; Enumeration District: 0049; FHL microfilm: 1240060

[5] Year: 1880; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Roll: 46; Page: 496B; Enumeration District: 112

[6] Regie Heard and Bonnie Langenhahn, Regie’s Love: A Daughter of Former Slaves Recalls and Reflects, (Menomonee Falls, WI, McCormick & Schilling, 1987), p. 12, hereafter cited as Regie’s Love

[7] Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 6, Quinn-Tuttle. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

[8] Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office. Historical Report of the Secretary of State 2008, (The University of Arkansas Press, 2008), p. 413

[9] Ibid, pp. 131-132

[10] Churches: St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Washington, VFSA 0268, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas

[11] “Yellow Fever in Hempstead County,” Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), 5 Sep 1878, page 1; Yellow Fever Correspondence, Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), 6 Sep 1878, page 1

[12] Regie’s Love, p. 12

[13] Washington Cemetery (Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas), Fannie Samuels headstone, photographed by author, 13 November 2020.

[14] Personal visit of author to burial place of Fannie Samuels and Miami Davis, Washington Cemetery, Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas

[15] J.R. Davis obituary

[16] Obituary of Miami Davis, Washington Telegraph, Washington, Arkansas, 17 Nov 1916, page 1

Early 19th century governor sets "no pardon" policy

By Brian Irby, archival assistant

Over the years there have been many attempts to combat the problem of crime in Arkansas. One Arkansas governor, Tom Terral, was convinced that the way to make sure that those convicted were appropriately punished for their crimes was to outlaw parole and executive clemency. This policy was controversial and likely cost him his political career.

Thomas Terral (ASA Photo G2717)

Thomas Jefferson Terral was born in Louisiana in 1882. He graduated with his law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1910 and began practicing law in Little Rock. V. It didn’t take long before he set his eyes on starting a political career. He became Secretary of State in 1916 and was re-elected in 1918. His political ambitions led him to run for governor in 1920. Terral campaigned on a platform of anti-parole and executive clemency sentiments.

The issue of pardons had been on the political radar since Gov. George Donaghey went on a pardoning spree in the final months of his second term as governor, pardoning 37% of the state’s prison population in 1913. The motive behind this excessive amount of pardoning was in connection with  the convict-lease program, a controversial program where inmates were leased out to private companies as free labor.  Donaghey opposed the system and hoped that this would deprive the program of the labor it needed to function. He was correct, and the convict lease system ended a year later.

Terral adopted a stance against executive clemency in his first campaign for governor in 1920. Noting that the pardon power could be abused in exchange for bribes or from pressure from powerful people, he vowed to oppose any pardons or parole of any kind. “The granting of pardons has depended too much upon the political influence of the person representing the convict,” he declared. Despite making an impression on Arkansas voters, he lost the Democratic primary. Terral returned to private life, but his campaign influenced newly elected Gov. Thomas McRae, who took up the anti-pardon mantle and made it a part of his administration’s goals. This was most apparent when, in November 1921, McRae broke with long standing tradition and released no Thanksgiving Day pardon list. For many years governors had released some convicts from prison on Thanksgiving Day, but this changed under McRae’s leadership. Over the next four years of McRae’s time in office, he issued very few pardons.

In 1924, McRae decided not to seek a third term as governor, leaving Terral an opening. Terral once again adopted a pledge not to pardon any prisoners. The issue seemed to be a winning one and, combined with Terral’s pledges to provide free textbooks for Arkansas schools and improve Arkansas’s roads, swept Terral into office. Terral remained true to his pledge. During his first year, despite petitions for pardons from judges and the public, Terral refused to issue a single pardon.

In October 1925, Terral’s perfect "no-parole" record was tarnished when he left the state to attend a governors’ meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. While Terral was out of the state, Senate President Pete McCall, serving as acting governor, quickly issued nine pardons. Angered at McCall’s pardons, Terral never left the state again during his time in office.

Meanwhile, there were nine (now pardoned) prisoners that Terral believed should still be in prison, and he ordered the state police to search out and rearrest them. One of the prisoners, W.W. Gillespie, who had been serving a three-year sentence for illegally padding the payrolls of friends at the Missouri Pacific Railroad, was quickly rearrested and brought back to prison. Gillespie filed for a writ of habeas corpus asking the state to explain what crime he was being held for, since, after all, he had been declared a free man by the acting governor of Arkansas. Prison superintendent Dee Horton responded that the pardon issued by McCall was illegitimate and the case went to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In Horton v Gillespie, attorneys representing the state argued that McCall, while acting as governor, had violated an obscure state law, Act 154, which regulated applications for pardons. The act required the person or persons seeking to petition the governor for clemency on behalf of a prisoner advertise such an intent in some public manner. They argued that McCall did not publish such an intent, making the pardons void. The court agreed with the state and ordered all the prisoners rearrested. In the wake of the court’s decision, Terral remained adamant. “No good time will be allowed those who refuse to return to the penitentiary or who put the state to any further trouble and expense in apprehending them,” he announced. “We mean to retake every one of those pardoned and return them to the penitentiary as soon as possible. We will get them, even if they go to foreign countries.”

However, the pardoned prisoners had their advocates. Circuit Judge L.S. Britt ordered a temporary restraining order preventing law enforcement from arresting the men. At the time of the ruling, only one prisoner had returned to prison. The other eight were still on the loose. The injunction created a strange circumstance whereby if law enforcement in other states arrested a prisoner and tried to extradite him to Arkansas, he would be forced by the order to release him at the state border.  Eventually, the restraining order expired, and the remaining prisoners were again arrested and put back into prison.

The whole affair had given Terral a black eye. His advocacy of the “no-pardon” policy and some other financial controversies regarding possible monetary kickbacks to him by textbook publishers eroded the public trust in the governor’s office. The controversy had not died down by the time Terral campaigned for re-election in 1926. His opponent, John Martineau, made the pardon controversy an issue in the campaign. Likewise, many Arkansans had changed their opinions on the matter of pardons and now saw the governor’s stance against pardons as unfair. The Smackover Journal led the charge against Terral, arguing that the governor “has turned a deaf ear to the pleding [sic] of the just and unjust.”

Martineau defeated Terral in the Democratic primary of 1926. Terral personally believed that his stance on pardons had likely cost him his re-election. In the remaining months in office after his defeat, Terral reversed course and began issuing pardons arguing that the primary proved that the people wanted a more liberal policy. In his farewell address, Terral pointed to the failure of his no-pardon policy, “I frankly concede that the views which I first held were extreme and that the parole law is a wise and beneficent provision for extending just clemency to those who are honestly entitled to relief.”



Director's Letter for December

By David Ware, director and state historian

When I first arrived in Arkansas in 1999, I found a state full of surprises. Like the beauty of its open spaces. Or its unexpectedly complex history. Or the variety of good barbecue to be found within its borders. Or the warmth and welcome of the people I met here.

Arkansas State Capitol, 1916, courtesy of the 
Library of Congress
I remember one particular surprise from that year especially well: That year marked my first holiday lighting ceremony at the State Capitol. At that point, much of the decorating was underwritten by local philanthropist Jennings Osborne. I recall the hundreds of thousands of tiny lights, the Disney characters, the fireworks and the crowd of people who came up at the end of the city’s Christmas parade, to tour the decorated Capitol, talk to Santa, shop the bustling craft show set up in the Capitol’s corridors and generally enjoy being around thousands of others, intent on enjoying a grand evening out.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before, certainly not in or around a public building. Within two years, I would be part of the team that prepared and executed the event. For 19 holiday seasons I helped with the great lighting ceremony by creating displays, assisting with logistics and assembling an historical overview for the event — doing its “family history,” if you will. It was in connection with this project that I first spent significant amounts of time researching in the State Archives or, as it was styled then, the Arkansas History Commission.

I knew, in a general way, that Christmas decorations in public places, particularly on public buildings, did not have a long tradition; they were not much of a public factor before the 1920s. As for Christmas trees, a custom that took hold in the middle of the 19th century, these were private, family affairs. The first White House tree was set up either in 1854 or 1889, and many years there was none in the presidential mansion. The first “national” Christmas tree was erected 1923, during the first year of the Coolidge presidency.

As far as I could discover, looking through dim microfilmed copies of the Arkansas Democrat and the good, gray Gazette, the capital city’s dueling daily papers, the elegant neoclassical Capitol, erected between 1899 and 1915 atop the old Penitentiary Hill, was not embellished for the Christmas season.

In 1938, however, things changed.

C.G. "Crip" Hall
To understand the “how,” one must go back a couple of years further, to 1936, when Little Rock attorney C. G. “Crip” Hall ran for — and won — the post of Secretary of State. Hall was a native of Malvern who, at the age of 18 months, had contracted infantile paralysis or poliomyelitis, which relegated thousands to infirmity each year in those days before a vaccine. Hall was one of the lucky ones: He survived, albeit with a permanent limp which garnered him his nickname. He attended the University of Arkansas and while there served as football team manager. From Fayetteville, Hall proceeded to the Arkansas Law School in Little Rock and received his attorney’s license in June 1926.

Hall practiced law privately in Little Rock and in 1934 ran for Arkansas Secretary of State. He was defeated, but Crip Hall had game: He ran again in 1936, on a simple platform including a promise to make the state Capitol a showplace for the state. He won, handily — and set to work to make good. In 1938, he ran for re-election and won easily. In the wake of the election, Hall may have wanted to celebrate; he did so in a way that created a tradition.

Just south of the Capitol, across 9th street, stood the Arkansas Children’s Home and Hospital. From its windows, the young patients could see the limestone dome of the Capitol. Hall had a soft spot in his heart for the young patients, perhaps a consequence of his own early ill health; his celebration took the form of a Christmas greeting for the young people stuck in the hospital at Christmas time. He ordered his staff electrician to rig red and blue or green lights on thin sheet metal strips; these were hung from the Capitol’s cupola, their weight causing them to conform to the curve of the dome. In front of the Capitol, Hall erected a fir tree, sprayed silver, mounted on a rotating stand with colored lights playing on it at night.

In the days before Christmas, Hall’s staff collected money for Christmas gifts for infirmary-confined children. A party out by the shiny Christmas tree was scheduled for Dec. 22; children from the hospital were invited, as well as Capitol workers and their families. On the day, though, rain arrived — but Hall was undeterred. He had a second tree brought inside and decorated. That evening, 145 children, plus many state employees, enjoyed what would be the Capitol’s first holiday decorations, a friendly gesture and good deed that has endured.

Establishing the story of the Capitol’s holiday decorations would have been nearly impossible, had it not been for a series of scrapbooks kept by Crip Hall, preserving the story of his many years’ service as Secretary of State. Nearly two decades ago, Commission staffers brought me the microfilmed copies of Hall’s scrapbooks and carefully loaded each roll onto my reader; I was to insert tiny paper strips into the film as I rewound it, marking the location of frames to be copied. I took my notes, asked for a few copies to be made and resolved to come back to the scrapbooks, when time permitted, to learn about how something so simple changed into something so elaborate, so widely loved.

The scrapbooks contain clippings, photographs and letters; they document the evolution of the event and the good publicity it generated. After that first winter, Hall garnered warm praise for his friendly initiative: One newspaper accolade quipped “By George, it took “Crip” to come out and “hall” out the Christmas spirit, didn’t it?”

In the years to come, the Capitol’s decorations would become more elaborate, and ceremonies a little more involved. In 1940, blue lights outlined the building, with strips of amber lights on the dome, and the first of several Nativity scenes was installed on the Capitol steps. As a festive flourish, loudspeakers were set up in the rotunda to play Christmas music.


1941, though, was another affair. The Capitol was to be illuminated on Dec. 10, a Wednesday; a Gazette story of a few days before noted that “a religious exhibit will cover the front entrance to the building, and loudspeakers will carry seasonal music to residents of the nearby neighborhood.”


Christmas lights at the Capitol, approximately
1950, courtesy of the Arkansas Secretary of
State's office

What’s significant, I think, is this: The Capitol’s illumination was held as planned. Three days earlier, the United States had been forcibly jolted into joining the global conflict, but on Dec. 10, Crip Hall opted to go ahead and light the lights, in spite of the brand-new state of war. He told a local paper that in such unusual times, the people of Arkansas needed to have a little reassuring normalness.


Since then, the Capitol’s holiday lights have been dependable December markers. They went dark in 1943 and 1944, by federal order, and once again during the energy crisis of the 1970s, but otherwise they have reached out against the early dark of winter skies. In 2001, in the shadow of the attacks of Sept. 11, Secretary of State Sharon Priest faced the same sort of question faced by Crip Hall, six decades before: In the face of a national emergency, should the Capitol’s lights be turned on? They were; like Hall before her, Sharon Priest understood that in the face of uncertainty, something normal and reassuring was what Arkansans needed and should see. On Dec. 1, the Capitol’s lights snapped on as they had in 1938 and 1941, one of Crip Hall’s enduring legacies.




Memories of C.G. “Crip” Hall’s administration are for the most part preserved in his scrapbooks, which were begun as keepsakes for his daughter Nancy. Four of these compilations are held by the University of Arkansas Special Collections; another 12 are preserved in the Arkansas State Archives. For context, researchers may consult the Archives’ unequalled collection of Arkansas journalism preserved on microfilm or, weather permitting, indulge in a leisurely walk around the Capitol, located just east of our Little Rock premises. Timing is, of course, everything: If one walks around in late afternoon, between Dec. 5 and Dec. 31, there’s a good chance of catching the moment when the Capitol lights are switched on. Enjoy them as reminders of a good deed done nearly eight decades ago.


Unsolved mystery ... or was everyone glad he was gone?

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

The records of the Walnut Ridge district court comprise the largest single collection preserved at NEARA. They are part of the Lawrence County court records and exceed 230 cubic feet of processed materials, all of which is open to researchers. In this collection, there are two thick folders which document the sensational 1910 trial of James C. Langston for the murder of Arthur W. Shirey. 

Arthur W. Shirey
Shirey was a wealthy landowner and merchant who resided in the small town of Minturn in Lawrence County, Arkansas. Langston was a 33-year-old telegraph operator for the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway and a veteran of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. He became the prime suspect for Shirey’s murder because he was young Mrs. Shirey’s avowed suitor. When it became clear that he was nowhere near Arkansas at the time of the murder, Langston was acquitted. Shirey’s murder has remained unsolved to this day.

On the rainy and misty evening of March 10, 1910, “events began to unfold … that would eventually become known as the most famous and bizarre murder case ever to occur,”1 at least in Lawrence County, Arkansas. The elderly Shirey was shot dead in his store in Minturn, a two-story building located near the railroad. The store occupied the ground floor of the building, while Shirey lived in the rooms above. The gunshot apparently came through the open door of the store while Shirey was conversing with Walter Merritt, a customer. His store clerk, Levy Hutton, was also present. As Hutton recalled on the witness stand during Langston’s trial, Shirey was sitting “on two sacks of potatoes,” near the door, when a shot rang out:

I was standing about six feet from him [Shirey], was looking at his head, right here (rubs right side of his head along temple and above the ear), he was sitting there, the shot was fired, and his brains ran out of his head, and looked as white to me as cotton, he just nodded his head, when he was shot[.] Walter Merritt was in front of him and both rubbed their heads and Walter did considerable rubbing and said he was powder burned[.] Mr. Shirey began to straighten up and fell over backwards[.]2

Evidently, the shooter fired from a range close enough to powder-burn Merritt’s face and to damage Hutton’s hearing. As Hutton declared in his deposition, he was otherwise unharmed by the shot, except: “... it kindly deadened that ear and I can’t hear out of it good yet.” 3 Both Hutton and Merritt testified during the murder trial, but only Levy gave an account of the murder scene. Based on his description and timing, Shirey’s killing was not an accident, nor was it ever interpreted as such by the state prosecutors or anyone in the community. The murderer, whoever he (or she) was, fired with the apparent intent to kill since the shots hit the target precisely, without seriously harming either Hutton or Merritt who were just a few feet away from Shirey. The shots were also from a close range, as Hutton indicated, because Merritt suffered a powder burn, while Hutton lost his hearing in one ear due to the noise from the gunshot. What is more, as the prosecution later argued, the murderer timed the shooting to a nicety, so that the noise from the firearm could be drowned by the freight train passing nearby at the very moment of the shooting. This timing, the prosecution stated, permitted the perpetrator to escape. When Shirey fell dead, Hutton and Merritt stood stunned for a moment and then rushed out to see if they could see the shooter, but it was too dark. Hutton said that he “went out and hallowed for the marshal [sic] right there, he was right there close.” He also “sent Walter Merritt out then to let them know, everybody I could get there, and telephoned up here for Will Surridge [the county sheriff] and for him to bring some blood-hounds there.”4 

The news of Shirey’s death spread quickly, and the residents of Minturn turned out, lanterns in hand, looking for the killer. It had been raining and the soil was soft, so “the murderer’s footprints could be seen” in the mud near the store.5 In the ensuing days, Lawrence County Sheriff William Surridge took charge of the investigation and even deputized detective Herbert L. Mosher of the St. Louis branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to help with solving the case. Early on, the investigators zeroed in on a male suspect who rented a white or gray mare from the nearby town of Hoxie, rode it to Minturn, then was presumed to have hidden the horse in some bushes near the store before committing the murder. After that, he rode back to Hoxie to return the horse and boarded the passing train to get away. Soon, a man matching the description of the suspected murderer was named: one James C. Langston.

James C. Langston
On Aug. 17, 1910, the grand jury indicted Langston for murder in the first-degree. Langston was an outsider who had briefly resided in Minturn as a railroad telegraph operator but, by the time of the murder, had moved to South Dakota to claim a tract of land on a soldier’s claim under the Homestead Act. Langston was arrested in South Dakota and brought back to Arkansas to be tried for Shirey’s murder. Witnesses for the state affirmed that they had seen Langston in the Hoxie-Minturn area on the day of the murder. According to some of these witnesses, it was Langston who had rented the gray mare from Hoxie on the evening of the murder and rode down a dirt road to Minturn to commit the crime. His motive for the murder, according to the prosecution, was his love for Shirey’s young wife, Fairbelle. On Oct. 4, 1910. Langston was formally charged with the murder of A.W. Shirey; he entered a non-guilty plea.

Fairbelle Hill was 14 or 16 years of age when she married 69-year-old A.W. Shirey in February of 1904. Shirey was reckoned by his neighbors to possibly be the wealthiest man in Lawrence County; a newspaper noted that “at the time of his death, Shirey had accumulated thousands of acres in farm and timber land and several lots in nearby Walnut Ridge [the county seat], worth between $200,000 and $400,000.”6

By local standards, Shirey was indeed a rich man. It was small wonder, then, that in early 1904 he “wooed and won” pretty Fairbelle Hill, the only daughter of a large and very poor family of tenant farmers who rented land from “Old Man” Shirey.

Fairbelle Shirey (nee Hill)
From the start, the Shireys had a tumultuous marriage. During the six years they were technically married, the couple lived together in the rooms above Shirey’s store for only three months. Their relationship quickly fell apart when Shirey severely and publicly whipped Fairbelle with a switch on the streets of Minturn after some people told him that they had seen her with a man in the secluded local cemetery. Later, when seeking a divorce from Shirey, Fairbelle alleged in court that the beating rendered her unable to work and make a living. As a result, she sought alimony from him, plus one third of his estate.

In response to her lawsuit, Shirey stated that he had never intended to marry Fairbelle in the first place because she was “a prostitute.”7 He said he was forced into the marriage by her mother who threatened to bring a hefty lawsuit against him for seduction and a breach of promise. Shirey’s lawyers argued that Fairbelle had been unfaithful to him during the marriage;  therefore, their client would not pay the alimony, nor any share of his estate. To prove that she was a prostitute, Shirey went so far as to hire some questionable characters to follow her around and even to try to solicit her services in order to compromise her. The back-and-forth divorce saga ultimately reached the Arkansas Supreme Court, which denied them a divorce on the grounds that they were both at fault: Shirey, for marrying an “infant,” as the court called her,8 and then for promising to take her back, despite the evidence of her infidelities; Fairbelle, for continuing to have a sexual relationship with Shirey after he brutally beat her. That they continued to have a sexual relationship was evident from the fact that Fairbelle became pregnant during the separation and gave birth to a daughter that died shortly thereafter. When she named Shirey as the father, however, he denied it.

While both Fairbelle’s and Shirey’s characters were called into question during the divorce proceedings, public opinion seems to have been largely on the side of Fairbelle. Shirey had a history of mistreating his previous two wives, Eliza and Maggie, who had also been much younger than him. The community apparently did not look favorably on his proclivity to chase after much younger women, even though “May-December” marriages were not unusual in the day. Shirey’s reputation may be gauged by remarks by attorney (and future judge) Charles Coffin of Batesville, who stated that, if he could, he would have “issued a restraining order preventing Mr. Shirey from having anything further to do with the female sex in any form or fashion.”9

Shirey’s relations with neighbors and business partners were similarly troublesome. He frequently cheated others out of pay, including his lawyers, but always insisted on being paid promptly. He was not on speaking terms with his relatives either, a fact that was underscored by Shirey’s last will and testament, leaving each of his family members “one cent and no more,”10 effectively disinheriting them. The overall impression from newspaper accounts, preserved local memories and court records is that the Lawrence County community, while certainly shocked by Shirey’s death and in favor of his murderer’s punishment, did not particularly mourn Shirey himself.

As for Fairbelle’s fidelity, witness testimonies during Langston’s murder trial left no doubt about the suspect’s infatuation with Mrs. Shirey. At least one witness testified in no uncertain terms that an affair was going on between them: Jack Thomas stated that in a conversation with Langston in Minturn, the accused man had exclaimed, while motioning to Shirey’s store nearby: “When in Hell is that damned old son-of-a-bitch going to die, or Raggedy Bill Smith [a nickname for Fairbelle’s divorce lawyer]... going to compromise that suit so I can take that woman and go on and attend to my business?”11 Thomas further said that “he have saw [sic] them [Langston and Fairbelle] in positions that I would hate to see any of my folks. … I have saw them in a room absolutely locked in.”12 Even though Thomas did not specify where he had seen them “locked in,” there is a good chance that it was in the Beech Hotel in Minturn. The “hotel” was actually the house where the Hill family lived, which Fairbelle and her mother also ran as a boarding house.13 Pearl Medlock, a neighbor of Shirey’s in Minturn, testified that Langston boarded in the Beech at some point in his sojourn in northeast Arkansas.14

That Langston was deeply in love with Fairbelle was made further apparent from the love letters and postcards he sent to her. Several of Langston’s cards were seized via a search warrant from Fairbelle’s home – the Hill house – and entered as evidence in the case against him. The cards were postmarked from March of 1909 to January and February of 1910, shortly before Shirey was murdered. In fact, in early 1910, Langston wrote to Fairbelle almost on a daily basis, largely from South Dakota, but also from Arkansas. For example, Langston sent a card to Fairbelle from Little Rock on January 12, 1910. It read: “Dearest BL. Everything OK. Will try and get back by Friday or Saturday. I went to the Majestic tonight and it was very good. Wish you could of [sic] been with me. Love to you. J.C.L.” The back of the same card bore the following verse:

Let’s you and I get married,

Our secret that will be,

I want a little sweetheart just like you

Don’t you want one like me?15

Within less than a month, Langston was sending Belle postcards from South Dakota, mostly from the town of Gregory, near his land. One card, dated Feb. 17, 1910, was mailed to “Miss Belle Shirey, Minturn, Ark.,” as Langston usually addressed them. It said: “[I]t is most awfully cold up here. Oh h[ow] I wish you could be with me. We have everything planned for the farm – even the cook if you will come. … Love you to ever. J.C.L.”16 

Two days earlier (February 15), the lovelorn Langston sent her not one, but two cards. In one, he told her how “sure lonesome and blue” he was without her and how “bad” he wanted to hear from her. He worried that she might be “sick” after not hearing from her for a while.”17 In the second card written on the same day, Langston again lamented not having a letter from her: “I am on my way to GR [Gregory] and am very anxious to get there so I can hear from you, or I hope I will. If there is nothing there from you[,] I don’t know what I will do. Please, answer soon and what is the trouble.”18 

Langston wrote often throughout the month of February 1910, sometimes twice a day, but apparently received no answers to most of these cards, if at all. That she had previously replied to his letters is suggested by Langston’s remark in a card from February 10: “Dearest BL. You are sure doing me fine. You are so prompt in writing [usually].” It is worth noting that this message was written on the back of a card depicting a man and a woman in a boat, embraced, accompanied by the phase: “Will you be mine?”19 On another card, postmarked February 12, and written the day before, Langston wrote: “My Dear – Why haven’t you written me? How all my air castles have fallen. What are we to do? Oh! It’s all my fault. How crazy of me – How I wish I had of staid [sic] with you another week. I am sure blue and almost sick. … If I only knew you wasn’t sick. Forgotten Q” (emphasis added).20 

It is clear that by February of 1910, Fairbelle had stopped replying to Langston’s communications. While Langston worked in Minturn the two may well have grown close, but the fair Fairbelle had indeed “forgotten” Langston, as he himself put it, almost as soon as he moved to South Dakota. While Langston anguished over why she did not write him back, Fairbelle had already met a new paramour and her soon-to-be husband - an Indiana merchant named Ora Byrket – while visiting Hot Springs, AR. With such overwhelming evidence of Langston’s affection for Fairbelle, the State of Arkansas could (and did) feel confident about having established a motive for murder. Yet, in the process of the trial against Langston, it became clear that he was already in South Dakota at the time of the murder. He had filed his intent to assert his soldier's claim on 160 acres of government-controlled land with T.C. Burns, the registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Gregory, South Dakota, on Sept. 8, 1909.21 

Burns filed a witness deposition to that effect in favor of Langston. It also appears that Langston resigned his position as a railroad telegraph operator (or was fired from it) in Arkansas sometime in January of 1910 22 and had moved to South Dakota sometime in late January or early February. One witness, a physician – Dr. H.A. Murnan – testified that he saw Langston at the Luellyn Hotel in Gregory on February 23, then again on February 24 and 26, as he was paying calls to a man suffering from appendicitis at the hotel.23Langston’s sister Luella and her husband L.Q. Lloyd, operated the “Luellyn” and Langston worked for them while building a homestead on his land. 

A number of other witnesses placed him in South Dakota – far from Minturn, Arkansas – before and around the date of Shirey’s murder as well.25For example, A.C. Ruble of the Gregory Light and Power Company testified that he was a guest at the “Luellyn” on March 4, 1910, and Langston had attended to him on that occasion. According to another witness, G.J. McKee, Langston was in South Dakota on March 9 and 10, 1910, occupied with building his house.26 Yet a third witness, Charles Klemann, who worked a dray line, swore that he saw Langston at Gregory’s railroad depot on the very day of the murder, March 8. 27 

Ultimately, the witnesses’ evidence that Langston was in South Dakota at the time of the murder was so overwhelming that, on Oct. 14, 1910, the jury had no choice but to acquit him. The charges against the three other individuals charged as accessories to the murder – Jesse Hill (Fairbelle’s brother) and her divorce attorneys W.P. Smith and W.T. Blackford – were dropped, too.28 No one else was tried for Shirey’s murder again, and the case went cold. Fairbelle herself was never formally implicated in the case, although rumors swirled. Meanwhile, the body of “Old Man” Shirey was buried in the Minturn cemetery and the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows (IOOF) placed an imposing monument over the gravesite. The inscription read: “Erected and dedicated by a grateful fraternity to a great benefactor. The Grand Lodge IOOF of Arkansas in sacred memory of Brother A.W. Shirey, Minturn Lodge No.257. He toiled. He saved to benefit his fraternity, the widow, the orphan. He is now at rest. His memory will live forever. His brethren cannot forget.” 

According to Shirey’s will, his wealth was to go to the IOOF and be used to build a sanatorium for the treatment of illnesses and an orphanage. However, Fairbelle and Shirey’s relatives successfully challenged the will in court. The courts subsequently decided to give 40 percent of the estate to the widow, 40 percent to the Odd Fellows, and 20 percent to be split between Shirey’s relatives. The Odd Fellows spent their share (and perhaps more) of Shirey’s estate covering legal expenses, while Fairbelle was able to maintain a certain lifestyle only for a short while. She remarried less than a month after Shirey’s death, seemingly having forgotten about both Langston and Shirey.