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A river [or a land] doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it.”
—Bob Krist

In my previous three posts, titled “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Parts I-III,” I examined several subjects relating to the Delta and its surrounding areas which have had such a powerful and enduring influence on my entire life.

Thinking I had exhausted my material on those subjects, I had planned to publish a different post at this time. However, since then I have received several additional “tidbits” which I feel compelled to share with you all, my readers.

As indicated by the title of this post, these “tidbits” relate to: An update on the Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation, Joe Dempsey’s fifteen Delta photos, and the upcoming publication of a book about a voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River.

The next post will be about the auction and sale of the McGehee Estate mansion and its furnishings and vehicles, the appearance of a young alligator in McGehee’s city park pond, the blooming of my wife’s brown cotton plant, and a marvelous video of five of Julia Sugarbaker’s most delightful and amusing rants from the popular television show of the past “Designing Women.”

These two new posts may be some of the longest I have published, but I wanted to do justice to these interesting, informative, intriguing, and inspiring updates and reminiscences. I hope you share my interest in them and my enthusiasm for them.

 Taylor Prewitt’s Update on the Taylor House
at Hollywood Plantation

“Why would anyone with a big plantation and house in Kentucky
want to do all this amid the mosquitoes etc.?”
—Taylor Prewitt, describing the Southeast
Arkansas Hollywood Plantation
in an email to Jimmy Peacock on 9/27/14

Taylor Prewitt, a physician who now lives in Fort Smith but whose family has been engaged in large-scale farming in Southeast Arkansas for generations, sent me the following email account of his recent visit to the Taylor House on the Hollywood Plantation near Winchester, Arkansas, a site which I have featured several times on my blog.

Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

I have presented Taylor’s message below just as he sent it with the photos of the house, bayou, cemetery, and fields that accompanied the email report.

“While on a run to look at the farm yesterday I ran by the old Taylor House on the Hollywood  Plantation east of Winchester—built before 1846, up to 11,000 acres, had a basement/cellar (!). Literally under wraps. Bayou bed below house was dry! Don’t understand that. Must have been a tributary of Bayou Bartholomew, which had plenty of water in it as we crossed the bridge. [See my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews.”] They were burning the harvested fields nearby.

Dry tributary of Bayou Bartholomew behind Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

Dry tributary behind the Taylor House

View of barren fields at Hollywood Plantation

View of burning fields at Hollywood Plantation

“Max Hill was operating the Hollywood Plantation at Winchester when I was a boy. Don’t know what’s happened to it in terms of ownership and management.

“The Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site says about the Taylor home on the plantation:

 . . . the last known example in Arkansas’s lower Delta region of an intact two-story log dog-trot residence, its alterations notwithstanding. Its square-notched, cypress log construction is intact throughout and the open breezeway on the first floor remains open.

Close-up view of Taylor House

Close-up view of construction of Taylor House

Interior of Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation

View of the dog trot breezeway at the Taylor House

John Martin Taylor was born in Winchester, Kentucky on July 23, 1819. Apparently his family was fairly well-to-do, as by the time of his marriage in 1843 to Mary Elizabeth Robertson (the daughter of Martha Goodloe Robertson Arnold, a family relative by marriage) he was a practicing medical physician with large land holdings and a great number of slaves. He and his new bride began enlarging their agricultural land holdings in both his native Kentucky and Arkansas, and soon established homes in both places. He built a palatial mansion near the banks of the Kentucky River in Westport, Oldham County, Kentucky, that he named Mauvilla.

Family tombstone at Taylor House cemetery

Family tombstone at Taylor House

Henceforth the Taylor Log House served as the headquarters for a large plantation complex that raised cotton with the help of a large slave labor force until the onset of the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities Dr. Taylor attempted to continue his farming operation with free labor until his death, though with mixed results and at great personal cost. After his death in 1884 his children continued to run the farm, even regaining a good deal of the land lost immediately after the war and expanding the Taylor farm to as much as 11,000 acres. The Taylor farm operated in various forms through the first half of the twentieth century.

Burned fields at Hollywood Plantation

View of burned fields at Hollywood Plantation

Joe Dempsey’s Fifteen Photos of the Delta

“Driving through the Delta is like bank fishing on the river: you never know what you are going to catch (and or see).”
—Joe Dempsey

In his “Daily Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on October 5, my longtime friend and Ouachita Baptist College classmate Joe Dempsey published a post titled “A Delta Sampler.” In that post he featured fifteen recent photos of the Arkansas Delta.

An Arkansas Delta cotton field ready to be picked.

This cotton near the junction of Highways 1 and 318 northeast of St. Charles appears ready to pick.

These photos pictured huge trucks waiting at grain elevators, fields being burned off in preparation for a new planting season, flocks of white egrets in a recently harvested cornfield, two abandoned and rusted vintage vehicles from the 1930s and 50s, a cotton field (above) “white unto harvest,” a sample of Delta “buckshot” soil, a leaky water faucet, another abandoned Delta farmhouse, a cotton gin (below), as well as a derelict small-town cityscape from days gone by.

An Arkansas Delta cotton gin

Here’s a close look at a Delta cotton gin. Farmers would bring picked cotton to the gin in a trailer like you see in the picture. A gin worker would climb in the trailer and maneuver a large metal vacuum tube descending from the overhang through the cotton to suck the crop into the gin.

These two photos feature Joe’s own captions. To view the rest of the fifteen photos and Joe’s commentary on them, go to http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/a-delta-sampler/.

Believe me, the view of the “dying Delta” is worth it!

 Announcement of Book on Mississippi River
Voyage by Gayle Harper

“ . . . an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.”
—Bob Krist

“Muddy Mississippi River water leaves a stain on the soul that is impossible to get out—assuming any fool would try!”
—Jimmy Peacock

In an earlier blog post published on October 15, 2013 and titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” I included a section about a voyage down the Mississippi River made and recorded by Gayle Harper. (To read that post, click on the title.)

To view a Web site of Gayle’s trip down the Mississippi River from its source to the Gulf of Mexico, especially the posts on Arkansas City and Lake Village, Arkansas, click here and then click here.

Seal of Desha County, Arkansas, with the county courthouse at Arkansas City and steamboats on the Mississippi River

Seal of Desha County, Arkansas, with the county courthouse in Arkansas City and steamboats on the Mississippi River (to magnify, click on the photo)

In an email announcement titled “Off to the Printers” dated 9/27/14, Gayle sent me the following announcement of the upcoming publication of her book about her voyage of discovery.

 “Hello, my friends! HOORAY!

Roadtrip with a Raindrop:
90 Days Along the Mississippi River 

has been sent to the printers!

“Thanks to an amazing team of talented folks, this baby has been kissed and bundled off! And…it will be beautiful! I revealed the cover in the last update, but in case you missed it, here it is.

Photo cover of Roadtrip with a Raindrop

Cover photo of Roadtrip with a Raindrop by Gayle Harper (to magnify, click on the photo)

“Every detail is the best possible quality and has been given the greatest possible care and attention. There is even a satin ribbon placeholder! Inside, are 55 short stories, each with its photographs that give you your own experience of this magical adventure. As we discover America’s greatest River and meet her colorful people, we keep pace with a raindrop called ‘Serendipity’ on its 90-day, 2,400 mile journey from the headwaters to the Gulf.

“I want to share something very special with you. Bob Krist is a world-renowned photographer who has been shooting for National Geographic Traveler for more than 25 years. He has been honored in many ways, including being named three times as ‘Travel Photographer of the Year.’ I have admired him and his work for many years.

“Some years ago, when I was fortunate to be in one of his workshops at the Maine Photographic Workshops, he encouraged me to find a personal project that touched my heart and to make time in my schedule for it. That is what opened me up to receive this Mississippi River project when it appeared. So, I have always known that I would ask him to write the Foreword for this book – and I was thrilled and honored when he agreed to do so. When I received it, I could only cry. Here it is.”

Foreword

As literature and myth illustrate time and time again, a river journey can be a life-altering experience.

Whether it’s the young Buddha in Siddhartha, Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, or Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.

Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper’s book, Roadtrip with a Raindrop, is both. While her encounters with the beauty of the Mississippi and the wide array of humanity who make their home along the river—barge captains, blues musicians, artists, hunters, historical reenactors and even a jolly nun—obviously move her in a profound way, she never fails to take us along to share her experience.

Like Vasudeva, the ferryman who helps Siddhartha find enlightenment in the rhythms of the mythic river, Harper acts as our ferryman, documenting the beauty of this mother of all North American rivers and its people in stunning photography and rich prose, while she herself undergoes the profound changes that occur when an artist meets her project of a lifetime.

The result is a beautiful, warm and intimate portrait, as stunning to look at as it is to read, that makes us appreciate all that the Mississippi River has meant and continues to mean to America. In these pages, we feel the river’s pulse, we come to know and appreciate its people, and in doing so, we learn more about ourselves.

A river doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it. Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper was prepared not only to learn and be moved herself, but she has the vision and the craft to make it as vivid an experience for us as it was for her.
—Bob Krist

“Thank you, my friends, for being an essential part of this adventure. I cannot wait to put Roadtrip With a Raindrop into your hands. I will be back in touch with details about exactly when and where they will be available, but I can tell you that we expect to have them by Thanksgiving!

“In the meantime, if we are not yet connected on Facebook, come on over to www.facebook.com/GayleHarper.MississippiRiver. There’s photos, fun, conversation and information. Or visit my blog at www.gayleharper.wordpress.com. I will be posting information about the publication of the book there as soon as it is available.

“See you soon!

“Love, Gayle”

Sources

The photos of the Hollywood Plantation were provided by Taylor Prewitt.

The link to my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews” were taken from: http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/bayou-bartholomew-two-book-reviews/

The quote about the Hollywood Plantation from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site was taken from:
http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx?id=1371

The link to my previous post titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” was taken from:
http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/a-few-of-my-favorite-things-i-mcgehee-mississippi-river-the-deltacotton/

The links to Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” titled “A Delta Sampler” from October 5, 2014, were taken from:

http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/a-delta-sampler/

http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/

Information from Gayle Harper’s voyage down the Mississippi River  was taken from:

http://gayleharper.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/5-good-reasons-to-see-the-movie-mud-this-week/

http://gayleharper.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/faces-of-the-delta/

 

“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.” (And my “one small area” seems to be the Arkansas Delta and surrounding sites in Southeast Arkansas.)
—Nadine Gordimer, Celebrity Cipher,
Tulsa World, 8/27/14

This final post in the series titled “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits” was originally supposed to be one post.

However, after working with it for some time I came to realize that it was too long and needed to be divided into two posts. Then later I saw that it was still too long so I divided it into three posts, with this one being the third and final.

This one concludes the subject of Arkansas Delta plantations and examines some of the places that have special meaning to me in surrounding areas in Drew County, in which I was born, and Desha County, in which I grew up.

Final Look at Arkansas Delta Plantations

“Poor people in the Delta kiss the devil to survive.”
—Jeanie Branch, 82, of Watson, Arkansas, quoted in
“Delta people ‘kiss the devil to survive,’”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 27, 1997

In my last post, “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Part II,” I examined some of the slave/sharecropper/tenant farmer houses usually associated with cotton plantations. I especially featured three photos and a comment from Joe Dempsey on this subject.

Since then on September 8 Joe published another interesting post on the subject in his “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” blog. In that subsequent post, titled “The Lumber That Lasts,” Joe presented another example of an Arkansas Delta sharecropper shack complete with cotton fields, cotton bolls, cotton storage, etc.  To view that post, click here.

Sharecropper shack in a cotton field

Sharecropper shack in an Arkansas Delta cotton field (to magnify, click on the photo)

Here is what Joe had to say about that particular surviving relic of the past:

“Just looking at the structure, one almost expects Erskine Caldwell characters to emerge. The reality is it was likely home to more than a few hardworking families who worked hard and saw fit that there was food on the table and the kids went to school and everyone went to church on Sunday. There were probably chickens in the yard and a dog under the front porch.” 

“This is the archetypical early and mid-twentieth century Delta farmhouse. In their latter years, they were used more by farm hand families than the farm owners, but many started as a residence for the owner of the property. 

Front view of the sharecropper's shack in the Arkansas Delta

Front view of the sharecropper’s shack in the Arkansas Delta (to magnify, click on the photo)

“With two front doors, it appears that it might have started life as a dog-trot house, but a glimpse inside one of the windows makes me believe this is the original configuration. I have not been able to find out much about the history of the old house other than the fact that it is constructed of cypress. That is probably a contributing factor that, despite the harsh winds and weather of the Delta, the old structure is still standing. Few woods resist the nasty temper of weather better than cypress.”

Corner of an Arkansas Delta sharecropper's shack with a cotton field and a church in the background

Corner of an Arkansas Delta sharecropper’s shack with a cotton field and a church in the background (to magnify, click on the photo)

Since this post, I have received two photos of this year’s cotton crops beginning to bloom on two Arkansas Delta plantations: Lakeport and Pickens:

Cotton in bloom at Lakeport Plantation

Cotton in bloom at Lakeport Plantation (to magnify, click on the photo)

Cotton in bloom at Pickens Plantation

Cotton in bloom at Pickens Plantation (to magnify, click on the photo)

Other Post-Mortem Tidbits

“The past is all around us. We live our lives against a rich backdrop formed by historic buildings, . . . [as well as] the landscapes and other physical survivals of our past. . . . Historic buildings and artifacts can define a region’s localities and communities.”
—Alice Rogers-Johnson,
president of the Lakeport Cemetery Committee,
quoted in “Lakeport Plantation to host reunion celebration,”
McGehee [Arkansas] Times, July 1, 2009

In regard to the “historic buildings [that] define a region’s . . . communities,” the following announcement was sent out recently by Lakeport Plantation:

Taylor Plantation House

Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation (to magnify, click on the photo)

“The University of Arkansas at Monticello is engaged in plans to create a Southeast Arkansas Heritage Trail anchored by its three historic properties: WWII Italian POW Camp near Monticello (Drew County), the law office of Arkansas Governor Xenophon Overton Pindall in Arkansas City (Desha County), and the ca. 1856 Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation near Winchester (Drew County). Dr. John Kyle Day, associate professor of history, will discuss the university’s plans to save, preserve, and interpret these important sites for students and the public.”

For more information on this conference, titled “Lakeport Legacies: UAM’s Historic Properties and Tourism in Southeast Arkansas,” email Lakeport Plantation at: lakeport.ar@gmail.com or visit Lakeport’s Web site at: http://lakeport.astate.edu/

Another one of these historic buildings that define our past is the recently restored Selma Methodist Church in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, about which I have written in several earlier posts. In fact, it was the sole subject of the first post on my blog titled “My Bucket-List” Trip: The Selma Methodist Church.”

Selma Methodist Church

Selma Methodist Church (to magnify, click on the photo)

Recently, a friend sent me a photograph and a link to an article and video on Monticello Live about a fire in what is called locally the Selma Fish House, a rustic catfish restaurant located on Highway 278, just west of the 293 intersection. (See photo and map below. To read the article and view a video about the fire, click here.)

Selma Fish House

Selma Fish House (to magnify, click on the photo)

 

Drew County, Arkansas

Drew County, Arkansas (Selma is in the upper right hand corner, due west of Tillar and McGehee, to magnify, click on the map)

Again, there has been no word of any plans to restore the rustic relic.

One reason I am so concerned about the demise, destruction, or simple disappearance of such vestiges of the past is because (as noted in the opening quote above) they define not only our region and community but also our very lives: past, present, and future.

For example, for years there has been talk about the construction of a new interstate highway to run diagonally southwest across the United States from Canada to Mexico. Models show that interstate highway crossing the Mississippi River in Desha County, just above my hometown of McGehee, and then continuing west and passing right below Selma in Drew County.

As interested as I am in supporting any type of projects that will contribute to the restoration of the Delta and surrounding areas, I must admit that I am concerned about the effects of a huge interstate highway system passing within a mile of my beloved rural birthplace. (See map below.)

Desha County, Arkansas

Desha County (McGehee) with the Mississippi River on the right and the eastern part of Drew County (Selma) to the left, just west of Tillar and McGehee (to magnify, click on the map)

To learn more about the existing I-69, click here. To view a map of the proposed I-69 corridor from Canada to Mexico, click here. To learn about the proposed I-69 in Arkansas, click here.

Finally, although not historic buildings, I am also concerned about the continued preservation of two geographical and cultural sites in Desha and Drew Counties.

First is Bayou Bartholomew, “the longest bayou in the world,” which passes between McGehee and Selma on its twisting route from Southeast Arkansas into Northeast Louisiana. To learn more about this vital but endangered stream, see my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews.” To read about an award-winning documentary on Bayou Bartholomew, click here. To view a Blues music video by Marty Denton of McGehee titled “Delta Mud in Your Blood” featuring Bayou Bartholomew, cotton picking, Delta sharecropper shacks, juke joints, etc., click here.

Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew (to magnify, click on the photo)

Next is the Seven Devils Swamp, which is located just below Selma. Recently my longtime friend and McGehee High School classmate Pat Scavo sent me a link to a most interesting article on this subject titled: “Seven Devils: The Wildlife Paradise with the Ominous Name.”

Seven Devils Swamp

Seven Devils Swamp, south of Selma, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo)

To read this November 15, 2013, piece in Seark Today written by Patty Wooten, and featuring some interesting facts about the swamp’s history and nature, the derivation of its name, and several photos of its foreboding landscape so typical of Southern lowlands, click here.

As I say about this iconic symbol of my birth and childhood, “I was born on the edge of the Seven Devils Swamp. God saw fit to cast me out of the Seven Devils, but unlike Mary Magdalene He has never seen fit to cast the Seven Devils out of me.”

And that’s why I continue to write about and to champion the restoration and preservation of all the “iconic symbols” of not only my own life but the lives of all those who have been shaped forever by these endearing and enduring “places of the heart.”

Videos and Links to “Places in the Heart”

“You are a true Arkie if . . . you think the fall in Eden refers to autumn in Arkansas.” (Used by the Arkansas Times)
–Jimmy Peacock

To view a musical video of the official Arkansas state song with marvelous scenes from all over the state including the Arkansas Delta, click here.

To view a video of Wayland Holyfield’s Arkansas state song “Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me” with glorious scenes of autumn in Arkansas, click here.

To read about the best fall foliage tours in Arkansas, click here.

To view a three-minute video of native Arkansan Glenn Campbell and Carl Jackson playing a tune titled “Dueling Banjos” from the movie Deliverance and based on the Arkansas state folk tune “The Arkansas Traveler,” click here.

To view a Blues music video titled “Whistle Blowin'” with scenes of the Arkansas Delta written and sung by Marty Denton of McGehee, click here.

To visit a Kat Robinson Tie Dye Travels blog post titled “Conceptions People Have about Arkansas That Are Wrong,” click here and then scroll down to the September 19 entry by that title.

Sources

The photos of the Arkansas Delta sharecropper’s shack were taken from Joe Dempsey’s Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind published on September 8, 2014, at:

http://corndancer.com/joephoto/photo360379/photo364.html

The photos of cotton in bloom at Lakeport Plantation and Pickens Plantation were provided by Pat Scavo.

The photo of the Selma Methodist Church was taken from:
http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/my-bucket-list-trip/

The photo, article, and video from Monticello Alive about the fire at the Selma Fish House were taken from:
http://www.monticellolive.com/selma-fish-house-burns/

The entry on the existing I-69 was taken from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_69

The map of the proposed I-69 corridor from Canada to Mexico, was taken from:
http://blog.lordsutch.com/local/nafta-presentation-cnl.pdf

The entry on the proposed I-69 in Arkansas was taken from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_69_in_Arkansas

The information about the two books on Bayou Bartholomew was taken from:

http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/bayou-bartholomew-two-book-reviews/

The photo of Bayou Bartholomew and the Seark Today article about the award-winning documentary on it were taken from:

http://searktoday.com/bayou-bartholomew-documentary-wins-aurora-gold-award/

The photo and information from Seark Today about the Seven Devils Swamp were taken from:
http://searktoday.com/seven-devils-wildlife-paradise-with-the-foreboding-name/

The link to the musical video of the official state song of Arkansas was taken from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department at:

The video of Wayland Holyfield singing “Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me” was taken from:

The link to the best fall foliage tours in Arkansas was taken from:

http://www.arkansas.com/fall/fall-color-locations.aspx

The video of Glenn Campbell and Carl Jackson playing “The Dueling Banjos” was taken from:

The announcement of the Southeast Arkansas Heritage Trail was taken from an email from Lakeport Plantation dated September 15, 2014, in regard to a conference titled “Lakeport Legacies: UAM’s Historic Properties and Tourism in Southeast Arkansas” held on September 25.

The Blues music video by Marty Denton titled ‘Whistle Blowin'” was taken from:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnRaB5V95HU

The post titled “Conceptions People Have about Arkansas That Are Wrong” by Kat Robinson was taken from her Tie Dye Travels Web site at: http://www.tiedyetravels.com/

 “I was born in the delta region of Arkansas, . . . . But Delta, in this case, means more than typography. It is also a landscape of the mind, formed by the culture that blossomed out of that rich soil as surely as the cotton on which that culture was based.”
—Margaret Jones Bolsterli, Born in the Delta

In my preceding post on Arkansas Delta plantations I began a discussion of this subject as presented in an AETN public television program titled “Plantation Homes of Arkansas.” In that post I examined some of these historic homes individually and introduced some lesser-known Arkansas Delta plantations and their misfortunes due to fire.

On a more positive note, one of the earliest Arkansas Delta plantation homes is still standing and is currently being excavated to locate the original cellar and outdoor kitchen. The Taylor Plantation is located on Highway 138 in Drew County near Winchester, Arkansas, a few miles north of McGehee.

According to an online source titled Arkansas Preservation.com, the dig is being co-sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Monticello (the seat of Drew County in which I was born) and the Drew County Historical Society which notes:

Taylor Plantation House

Taylor Plantation House

The Taylor House, a two-story, log dogtrot built in 1846 on the west bank of Bayou Bartholomew by Dr. John M. Taylor and his wife, Mary E. Robertson Taylor, was the epicenter of the 11,000-acre Hollywood Plantation and in 2012 was donated to the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

For additional information and photos at the Taylor House dig from Arkansas Online, click here and here.

Another important Arkansas Delta plantation was located in Mississippi County, at one time reputed to be the largest cotton-producing county in the country. The Robert E. Lee Wilson Plantation covered some 65,000 acres and was said to be the largest cotton plantation in the world. (To read an entry from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture about Lee Wilson and Company, the parent company of this agricultural giant, click here.)

Sharecropper house at Wilson Plantation in 1935

Sharecropper and children in front of company house at the Wilson (Mississippi County) cotton plantation, 1935 (courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Lee Wilson and Company entry)

As for those shacks of slaves, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers so often associated with images of Southern plantations (see photo above), my longtime friend and Ouachita Baptist College classmate Joe Dempsey recently featured one of these few remaining humble dwellings in his Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.

Here is that photo along with Joe’s comment on such disappearing vestiges of Southern plantation life:

Sharecropper shack in cotton field

Sharecropper shack in cotton field

Back in the day, the Delta was liberally sprinkled with domiciles of this genre. The DNA markers inevitably were tar-paper siding and a “tin” roof (aka “roofin’ arn”). As machinery replaced sweat to plant, nurture, and harvest the life-blood crops of the Delta, folks left and no replacement population was forthcoming. Once the technology ratchet was engaged there was no looking back. If one were to plot the curves of advancing agricultural modernization with declining population, I’m betting on a hard correlation.

The old homes were left to face the elements with no maintenance, a sure course to collapse. In a few cases, we find these classic structures still standing and I’m guessing it is not by accident. Someone cares and though the maintenance they do is sparse, it is enough to ward off the inevitable. We should be grateful to these individuals for keeping our past in front of us. Though living in these conditions was hardscrabble at best, few will deny that it “built character.” (italics mine)

To read Joe’s entire Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind for June 29, 2014, click here. To view another of Joe’s Weekly Grist posts on an old abandoned Delta farmhouse, click here. To view Joe’s Weekly Grist post on a restored dogtrot house, click here.

Joe Dempsey photo of a Delta shack

Joe Dempsey photo of a neglected Delta shack

A restored dogtrot house

A restored dogtrot house featured on Joe Dempsey’s Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Slavery on Arkansas Delta Plantations

“The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
—Wendell Berry

For a glimpse into the lives of those who occupied Delta plantation shacks, like those pictured above, here is a recent announcement from Lakeport Plantation of a conference on slavery held on August 28.

Lakeport Legacies:
Slave Life in Chicot County: Toil and Resistance on the River
presented by
Kelly Jones, University of Arkansas (Ph.D. Candidate) 
Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lakeport Slavery

(Note: To magnify the ad for the runaway slave, click on the photo.)

Wealthy planters, like Chicot County’s Elisha Worthington with 543 slaves on four plantations, benefited from the work of their slaves. However, slaves like, Toney, who in 1836 escaped twice from Chicot County plantations, sought ways to act in their own interests and not their masters. Photo courtesy of Annie Paden; Runaway Slave Ad, Arkansas Gazette, June 3, 1836.

In the antebellum period Chicot County’s economy was dominated by slavery and cotton. The labor of slaves, who cleared vast forests and cultivated cotton, helped make Chicot County one of the wealthiest places in the United States. Slave life in the peculiar institution was complex; while not free, slaves developed their own culture, married, worshiped and, at times, sought the freedoms they were denied. Kelly Jones, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arkansas, will explore the world of slaves and slavery in Chicot County through court records, the census, newspapers and WPA narratives.

For more information about plantation life in the Arkansas Delta visit Lakeport’s Web site at: http://www.lakeport.astate.edu/

Sources

The photo and quote about the Taylor Plantation were taken from the Arkansas Preservation site at:
http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/tours-events-workshops/walk-through-schedule/default.aspx

The additional sites from Arkansas Online with photos and information on the Taylor House dig were taken from:
http://www.arkansasonline.com/galleries/18210/album/578458/?page=2#displaySnap

http://media.arkansasonline.com/img/photos/2014/04/03/resized_99261-taylor-house_1_32-18210_t1000.JPG?cc6fa094ad523b984325c7879220d3883a443e7f

The photo and information about the Wilson Plantation from The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture were taken from:
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4437

The photos of the sharecropper house, the abandoned farmhouse, and the restored shotgun house were taken from Joe Dempsey’s Weekly Crist for the Eyes and Mind posts at:
http://corndancer.com/joephoto/photo340359/photo354.html
http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/this-old-old-house/
http://corndancer.com/joephoto/photo360379/photo360.html

The announcement of the conference on slavery in Chicot County, Arkansas, was taken from an email sent out by Lakeport Plantation on August 14, 2014.

 

 

“When I first went north, I was surprised to learn that there were people in the world who did not know that Arkansas has both a delta and a culture that goes with southern lowlands.”
—Margaret Jones Bolsterli,
a native of Desha County near McGehee,
writing in Born in the Delta

In my last post I noted that I had to “take a sabbatical” from blogging for a while due to my failing health. Therefore, in that final post I presented a list of the 115 posts on my blog since it was launched in May 2011.

Now since I am feeling somewhat better, and since I have been receiving and discovering so much information and so many photos and links about Arkansas Delta plantations, I have decided to try to put it all together into a couple of “post-mortem blog” entries on that subject.

If you have been following my blog in the past, especially on the subject of the Arkansas Delta, you will recognize the opening quotation above from Margaret Jones Bolsterli, author of the book Born in the Delta. (To read my earlier post titled “Born in the Delta,” click here.)

Born in the Delta

Born in the Delta

The prevailing ignorance about the Arkansas Delta that the author speaks about is one reason I began this blog three years ago. Perhaps these new blog posts on Arkansas Delta plantations will help to dispel some of that ignorance on the part of many in other parts of the United States and, sadly, even in other parts of Arkansas.

For example, Merriam-Webster defines a plantation as “a usually large estate in a tropical or subtropical region that is generally cultivated by unskilled or semiskilled labor under central direction.” It then provides an example of this usage of the word “plantation” by citing this quotation from literature: “rich cotton land, cultivated in large plantationsAmerican Guide Series: Arkansas.”

Thus, as notable and reliable a source as the American Guide Series recognizes and cites as a prime example of the term “plantation” a literary reference to Arkansas rather than to any of the other Southern states that usually come to mind when that word is mentioned. That distinctive citation alone should serve to dispel ignorance of the fact “that Arkansas has both a delta and a culture that goes with southern lowlands.”

TV Program on Arkansas Delta Plantation Homes

“You are a real conservator of a special place and time.”
—Paul Talmadge, Southern Baptist educator,
to Jimmy Peacock in email dated May 24, 2013

In one of her writings, another Arkansas Delta author, Alice French, who wrote under the nom de plume of Octave Thanet and who lived on an East Arkansas plantation named Clover Bend, noted that there were hundreds of plantations of various sizes in the Arkansas Delta of her day (1850-1934). (To read an Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry about Octave Thanet, click here.)

Alice French, who wrote under the pen name of Octave Thanet

Alice French, who wrote under the pen name of Octave Thanet

Unfortunately, most of those plantations, especially the homes of their owners, have now passed into history. Fortunately, a few of the grander homes have been preserved or restored. On December 13, 2013, three of these magnificent homes were featured prominently on AETN, the Arkansas public television station, in an Exploring Arkansas documentary titled “Plantation Homes of Arkansas.”

The AETN Web site says about this fascinating look into a part of Arkansas history and culture that is now fast fading into the past:

Coming from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia ‘planters’ began arriving in Arkansas during the early 19th century to grow the king of all crops—cotton. The stately homes these planters built with their unique architectural style, exemplified that plantation era steeped in southern history. Through these plantation homes of Arkansas, visitors can experience the plantation culture which illuminated the rich historical and cultural heritage of the American South—the habits and traditions of its people, along with the triumphs and tragedies of its past—all preserved to come alive for present and future generations.

To access the Exploring Arkansas Web site, click here. To view the “must-see” thirty-minute video of Arkansas Delta plantation homes and the Southern history and cotton culture they represent, click here.

The first of the three antebellum homes featured, with its surrounding cotton fields “white unto harvest,” is Lakeport Plantation, located near the Mississippi River at the foot of the Greenville, Mississippi, bridge, about twenty-five miles south of my hometown of McGehee. Lakeport, now restored to its former glory, offers historical and cultural presentations and events relating to the Arkansas Delta and other subjects of regional interest. (To visit the Lakeport Plantation Web site, click here. To view a timeline of the history of Lakeport, click here.)

Lakeport Plantation and cotton fields

Lakeport Plantation and cotton fields

The second Arkansas plantation home featured in the program is The Elms, located about fifteen miles south of Stuttgart in the Wabbaseka/Altheimer area. With its location in the heart of the famed Mississippi Flyway, The Elms is known as a natural habitat for waterfowl. It also enjoys international fame and worldwide attraction as a hunting and fishing lodge, and for its Old South traditional lodging and fine dining. (To visit The Elms Web site, click here.)

The Elms Plantation

The Elms Plantation

The third and final Arkansas Delta plantation home featured on the outstanding AETN Exploring Arkansas program is Marlsgate Plantation at Scott, Arkansas, fourteen miles southeast of the capital city of Little Rock. With its stately Greek Revival mansion shaded by ancient oaks and a pecan grove overlooking Bearskin Lake, in addition to its historic and cultural preservation of a now largely bygone Delta life, Marlsgate is a popular site for elegant weddings and other fashionable gatherings and photo shoots. (To visit Marlsgate’s Web page, click here.)

Marlsgate Plantation

Marlsgate Plantation

In summary, to view a brief video of historic places in the Arkansas Delta produced by Arkansas State University where I once taught back in the early 1970s, click here.

Other Lesser-Known Arkansas Delta Plantations

“One of the saddest things happening around us now, is that no one knows where anyone else came from, nor where they are going. Thus a total focus on self, and the here and now.”
—Hunter Douglas,
Ouachita Baptist College alumnus,
in personal email to Jimmy Peacock dated 5/2/14

Unfortunately, as wonderful as this documentary on historic and preserved or restored Arkansas Delta plantation homes is, it does not and cannot preserve or restore other lesser-known Arkansas plantation homes, commissaries, slave/sharecropper/tenant farmer houses, and other buildings that were such an integral part of Southern plantation life.

For example, just this summer two of my friends and blog contributors, Pat Scavo and Andy Herren, both shared with me photos of a fire at Pickens Plantation. The plantation, known officially as “R. A. Pickens & Son Company,” is located just south of Dumas, Arkansas, about eighteen miles north of my hometown of McGehee.

Fire at the commissary/cafe of Pickens Plantation

Recent fire at Pickens Plantation

In regard to the fire, Andy Herren wrote in an email, “This is a shock. Big Daddy Borland worked in the front corner office of that building for probably forty years or so.” As Andy later explained, “The fire was in the shop, a large building that is about two or three hundred yards down the railroad tracks (north) of the restaurant.”

Fortunately, like the “big house,” the popular Southern-style restaurant and store Andy refers to above went unscathed by the fire. (To read more about what is called by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism the Pickens Restaurant and Commissary, click here.)

(To view a video shared with me by Andy Herren in which John McCown, another Ouachita Baptist College classmate of mine, relates a four-part history of Pickens Plantation, click here.)

Another example of the burning of an Arkansas Delta plantation home is one titled Palmer’s Folly. It is located near the small cotton town of Holly Grove, where Mari and I started out teaching when we were first married in 1962. Decades after we left Holly Grove, the mansion had been restored to its original elegance and grandeur. But then recently, as so often happens to such isolated, rural relics, it was destroyed by fire, again with no information about any plans to once again restore and preserve it.

Palmer's Folly plantation house as it looked after restoration

Palmer’s Folly plantation house as it looked after restoration

Palmer's Folly in flames

Palmer’s Folly in flames

This discussion of historic Arkansas Delta homes will be continued in my next post which opens with a slightly different perspective on these great homes and the traditional outbuildings that surround them and concludes with some related “post-mortem” blog subjects.

Sources

The photo of the book Born in the Delta was taken from:
http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/born-in-the-delta-a-review-of-a-book-by-a-delta-author/

The photo of Alice French was taken from the entry on Octave Thanet in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture at:
http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1651

The AETN Exploring Arkansas quotation and photo were taken from:
http://www.aetn.org/programs/exploringarkansas

The AETN Exploring Arkansas video titled “Plantation Homes of Arkansas” was taken from:
http://www.aetn.org/programs/exploringarkansas/december2013

The Lakeport Plantation photo and timeline were taken from:
http://lakeport.astate.edu/
http://lakeport.astate.edu/timeline

The Elms Plantation photo was taken from:
http://elmslodge.com/

The Marlsgate Plantation photo was taken from:
http://www.marlsgate.com/about-marlsgate.html

The video on historic places in the Arkansas Delta was taken from:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjxDCoDdvZ0&feature=youtube_gdata

The photo of the burning of the building at Pickens Plantation was provided by Pat Scavo and Andy Herren.

The video of the four-part history of Pickens Plantation was provided by Andy Herren from:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-plJIR9j7E&feature=share

The photos of Palmer’s Folly plantation house were provided by Pat Scavo.

 “The goal isn’t to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.”
(That’s what I have been trying to do with my writings
—to preserve them and pass them on to my progeny.)
—Chuck Palahnuik

“What are we but our stories?”
(And here are some of mine and others’.)
—James Patterson, Sam’s Letters to Jennifer 

As indicated by the title and the opening quotes above, what I have been trying to do over the past three years of my blogging is to preserve my writings and pass them on to my progeny and to any others who might feel an attachment to them and to their own lives and past.

Now it seems that due to my failing health and other personal concerns I may have to “take a sabbatical” from my blogging for a while. If so, hopefully I can resume writing new posts to a limited degree this fall.

Meanwhile, since I have now published about 115 posts on this blog I thought it might be helpful if I offered a list of the titles of the past posts along with the dates on which they were originally published.

For ease in locating and accessing these posts I have provided a link to each post. If you see a post that sounds interesting to you, just click on its title. If it does not open, simply go to your search window and type in “myokexilelit + (the title of the post)” and you should be taken to a list of entries among which should be the one you are seeking. If not, type in the nearest post title and when it opens click on the title you are seeking which should appear in the upper margin as the previous post.

At the end of this post is an addenda section of two works reviewed earlier on this blog about the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas. One is a film documentary titled Relocation, Arkansas, and the other is a book titled The Red Kimono. There is also a brief conclusion to the post and the blog.

Good reading and good viewing—until we meet again.

Jimmy Peacock

Titles and Dates of My Past Blog Posts with Links

1. My Story Begins (May 12, 2011)

2. My “Bucket-List” Trip (May 25, 2011)

3. My “Bucket-List Trip” II (May 31, 2011)

4. My Annual Tributes to the Clique (June 8, 2011)

5. A Soldier’s Story (June 15, 2011)

6. The Passing of a Real Man (June 22, 2011)

7. My Cancer Car (July 2, 2011)

8. My Father’s Brand and Seal (July 6, 2011)

9. The Way We Were (July 13, 2011)

10. My Lifelong Attraction to Black Beauty (July 20, 2011)

11. Yo Recuerdo (I Remember) (July 27, 2011)

12. Thank God I’m a Country Boy (Aug. 3, 2011)

13. My Religious Conversion (Aug. 10, 2011)

14. My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music (Aug. 17, 2011)

15. Life Is Reg’lar/My Mother’s Bible (Aug. 24, 2011)

16. Selma Store Evokes Boyhood Memories (Aug. 31, 2011)

17. Facts About Marion Williams Peacock (Sept. 7, 2011)

18. Reader’s Digest-Type Humorous Anecdotes (Sept. 14, 2011)

19. Who Cares About Texas? (Sept. 21, 2011)

20. Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews (Sept. 28, 2011)

21. The Peacock Love Story/The Passing of a Friend (Oct. 5, 2011)

22. Dreams (Oct. 12, 2011)

23. A Gathering at the River (Oct. 18, 2011)

24. Three Significant Insignificant Events in My Life (Oct. 26, 2011)

25. A Summary of My Personal Spirituality and Pilgrimage (Nov. 2, 2011)

26. Keep Arkansas in the Accent (Nov. 9, 2011)

27. Memory and Memories (Nov. 16, 2011)

28. Reflections on My Birthday: Then and Now (Nov. 23, 2011)

29. Barbecue in the South (Nov. 30, 2011)

30. My Favorite Childhood Books/The Truth about Santa Claus (Christmas, Dec. 7, 2011)

31. The Missing Baby Jesus (Christmas, Dec. 14, 2011)

32. The Three Unwise Men: An Arkansas Christmas Memory (Christmas, Dec. 21, 2011)

33. Our Honeymoon Was No Honeymoon for Mari (forty-ninth anniversary, Dec. 28, 2011)

34. A Thing of Beauty Lasts Forever (Jan. 4, 2012)

35. Occupation in Exile, Deliverance in Time (Jan. 11, 2012)

36. Some Southern Stuff I: Self-quotes and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday (Jan. 18, 2012)

37. Some Southern Stuff II: Quotes on the South from Others (Jan. 25, 2012)

38. Thoughts for a Winter Day (Feb. 1, 2012)

39. Some Southern Stuff III: Are You Southern? (Feb. 8, 2012)

40. Some Southern Stuff IV: Do You Speak Southern? (Feb. 15, 2012)

41. Miscellaneous Tidbits of Personal Correspondence (Feb. 22, 2012)

42. Quotes on Writing and Writers: Mine (Feb. 29, 2012)

43. Quotes on Writing and Writers: Others’ (March 7, 2012)

44. St. Patrick’s Day Tributes and Trivia (March 14, 2012)

45. Some of My Favorite Irish Quotes (March 21, 2012)

46. Keiron’s Poems I: The Peacock Seed (March 28, 2012)

47. Keiron’s Poems II: Huntin’ Poems (April 4, 2012)

48. Is It Really True?/Requiem (April 11, 2012)

49. Some Southern Stuff V: Sense of Place (April 18, 2012)

50. Some Southern Stuff VI: Love of the Land (April 25, 2012)

51. Quotes on History and the Past (May 2, 2012)

52. Mother’s Day Tributes (May 9, 2012)

53. Quotes about Women (May 16, 2012)

54. Moments to Remember/Selma Methodist Church Update (May 23, 2012)

55. Keiron’s Memorial Day Speech (May 30, 2012)

56. Tribute to a Female Friend and Mentor (June 6, 2012)

57. Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton, Part I (June 13, 2012)

58. Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton, Part II (June 20, 2012)

59. Additional Quotes about the Delta (June 27, 2012)

60. Reflections on the Fourth of July (July 4, 2012)

61. Arkansiana I: The Name of Arkansas (July 11, 2012)

62. Arkansiana II: Pronunciation of Arkansas (July 18, 2012)

63. Arkansiana III: Change the Name of Arkansas! (July 24, 2012)

64. Arkansiana IV: Arkansas’ French Connection (Aug. 2, 2012)

65. Some Additional Quotes on Arkansas (Aug. 8, 2012)

66. Strange Encounters at the Pink Palace and Beyond (Aug. 16, 2012)

67. “Days Gone By”: A Delta Passing (Aug. 22, 2012)

68. “Born in the Delta” (Aug. 29, 2012)

69. “During Wind and Rain” (Sept. 5, 2012)

70. Country Come to Town: A Youthful Trip to Dallas (Sept. 12, 2012)

71. Quotes about Home I (Sept. 19, 2012)

72. Quotes about Home II (Sept. 26, 2012)

73. Ben’s Report on Hernando de Soto (Oct. 3, 2012)

74. My Cousin Donald: His Early Years (Oct. 10, 2012)

75. My Two Brothers: A Humorous Pair (Oct. 17, 2012)

76. Ben and Levi Get Their Deer! (Oct. 24, 2012)

77. The Return of the Trumpet: A Ouachita Memory (Oct. 31, 2012)

78. Who’s to Blame?: Humorous Self-Quotes (Nov. 7, 2012)

79. “Return to the Arkansas Delta”: A Review (Nov. 14, 2012)

80. Thanksgiving and My Birthday (Nov. 21, 2012)

81. Humorous Quotes from Others (Nov. 28, 2012)

82. My Thirty-five Years as an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant I (Dec. 5, 2012)

83. My Thirty-five Years as an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant II (Dec. 12, 2012)

84. A Baptist Pastor in an Episcopal Christmas Service (Dec. 19, 2012)

85. Mari: Anniversary Remembrances (Fiftieth Anniversary, Dec. 27, 2012)

86. Three Southern Gentlemen and a Holy God (Jan. 17, 2013)

87. About Copyeditors: God’s “Noble Bereans” (Feb. 1, 2013)

88. Ash Wednesday: Home, Stumbling Blocks, and Psalm 119 (Feb. 13, 2013)

89. My Oklahoma Connections (Feb. 27, 2013)

90. The Danger of Mixing Religion and Politics (March 13, 2013)

91. Opening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum (March 20, 2013)

92. Camp Nine: A Book Review with Quotes about the Arkansas Delta (April 18, 2013)

93. The Red Kimono: A Book Review about WWII Japanese Relocation Camps (May 9, 2013)

94. Old Indian Church Burns to the Ground (June 6, 2013)

95. Maps That Show How Americans Speak Differently (June 20, 2013)

96. “Why Cain’t th’ Okies Teech Thur Childrun Howda Tawk Suthun?” (July 4, 2013)

97. Billie Seamans: Arkansas’ War Hero and Master Photographer (July 26, 2013)

98. Spiritual Vision and Renewal, Identity and Mission (Aug. 16, 2013)

99. Faith and Pilgrimage, Life and Growth (Aug. 30, 2013)

100.How the Words in Italics Changed My Whole Life (Sept. 13, 2013)

101.Some “Top-Five Lists” of a Few of My Favorite Things (Sept. 30, 2013)

102.A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, the Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton (Oct. 15, 2013)

103.A Few of My Favorite Things II: Arkansas, the South, Elvis Presley, Gone With the Wind (Oct. 28, 2013)

104.A Few of My Favorite Things III: Quotes and Excerpts on a Variety of Subjects (Nov. 11, 2013)

105.A Few of My Favorite Things IV: Women’s Issues and Conclusion to Blog (Nov. 25, 2013)

106.Addenda to Blog: Christmas and Our Fifty-First Anniversary (Dec. 18, 2013)

107.My Après-Blog Post: Saving Mr. Peacock (Jan. 9, 2014)

108. Dialect, the Delta and Mississippi River, Nostalgia (Jan. 27, 2014)

109. Black History Month: Reprint of a 1996 Article about Race Relations (Feb. 27, 2014)

110.St. Patrick and Other Irish Saints and Names (March 10, 2014)

111.Memory of a Selma Family Tragedy (April 4, 2014)

112.Memory of a Selma Family Tragedy II (April 21, 2014)

113.Updates: WWII Japanese-American Relocation Museum; Camp Nine; Relocation, Arkansas (May 12, 2014)

114.The Red Kimono and Other Month of May Updates (May 27, 2014)

115.Selma Methodist Church and Other Month of May Updates (June 10, 2014)

 Addenda to List of Blog Posts

 Relocation, Arkansas

“I want [the documentary film] Relocation, Arkansas to be a ‘love letter to the Delta!’”
—Vivienne Schiffer, author of book Camp Nine
and film Relocation, Arkansas

In two previous posts on this blog I have presented updates on Vivienne Schiffer’s book Camp Nine and her documentary film Relocation, Arkansas, both about the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas. (To view these posts, click on their titles: Camp Nine: A Book Review with Quotes about the Arkansas Delta (April 18, 2013) and Updates: WWII Japanese-American Relocation Museum; Camp Nine; Relocation, Arkansas (May 12, 2014)

Vivienne and her family with Bill Clinton

Vivienne Schiffer and her family with former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office (to magnify, click on the photo)

Here is a recent update from Vivienne on her film Relocation, Arkansas:

Thank you [to] everyone who has followed the progress of Relocation, Arkansas. We wrapped filming TODAY! I [will] spend the end of June in New Mexico with my editor, cutting the film, so we are on our way to a finished film. This has been a really great journey thus far, and it has turned out vastly different than what I thought it was going to be. But the story is touching, amazing, funny, and sad, all at the same time. Stay tuned, everyone, for premiers in Arkansas, California, and DC, among screenings in many other places. Can’t wait to get this film on the road, y’all!

Part of Vivienne's crew filming Relocation, Arkansas

Story editor Johanna Demetrakas and cameraman Pablo Bryant from Los Angeles, part of Vivienne’s crew filming Relocation, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo taken on June 11, 2014)

To view a very moving twelve-minute preview video of the film titled Relocation Arkansas, about the Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas, especially the one at Rohwer near McGehee, click here. 

To view a similar but updated video trailer with the same title made in 2014, click here.

The Red Kimono

“I appreciate all of your hard work in keeping the history alive
for this part of Arkansas [i.e., the Delta,
the location of two WWII Japanese-American relocation camps].”
—Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono
in recent email to Jimmy Peacock

On my blog I have also presented two updates on Jan Morrill’s book titled The Red Kimono, which is also about the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas. (To view these posts, click on their titles: The Red Kimono: A Book Review about WWII Japanese Relocation Camps (May 9, 2013) and The Red Kimono and Other Month of May Updates (May 27, 2014)

Jan Morrill with George Takei

Jan Morrill with Star Trek actor and Rohwer camp internee George Takei at the WWII Japanese-American Internment Museum in McGehee, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo)

Here is a recent update on that book from Jan:

My latest update is that on October 11, 2014, I will be making a presentation titled ‘Wearing the Red Kimono,’ in which I will talk about what I learned about my family, my culture, and the history of internment while writing The Red Kimono. Also, I am continuing to work on the sequel to it.

In regard to the presentation “Wearing the Red Kimono,” Jan reports:

The Greater Kansas City Japan Festival will take place on October 11, 2014, at:

Johnson County Community College
12345 College Boulevard
Overland Park, KS 66210

For more information go to this link: http://www.kcjas.org/kcjapanfestival.

In addition to these links and my earlier posts, to learn more about Jan, The Red Kimono, and Jan’s other books, go to the Web sites below the photo of the book.

The Red Kimono

The Red Kimono

BOOK TRAILER FOR The Red Kimonohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etyg8feWCiw

BLOGS:
www.janmorrill.wordpress.com
www.theredkimono.com
www.haikubyhaiku.wordpress.com

 Conclusion

In a recent issue of the McGehee Times there appeared a photo of three people standing inside the WWII Japanese American Interment Museum in front of a wall display titled “AGAINST THEIR WILL: The Japanese American Experience in WWII Arkansas.” The photo carried this caption:

Clearwater Paper Corporation recently presented a $1,500 Community Giving grant to the WWII Japanese American Internment Museum in McGehee. Pictured are: (L-R) Clearwater Exec. Asst. Lynn Bliss, Museum Director Jeff Owyoung, and Clearwater Mill Manager Bill Horne.

Due to my failing eyesight (another reason I must take a leave from blogging for a while), I read that last name to be “Bill Home,” obviously a Freudian error! But what better word to summarize and conclude this post and indeed this blog than its theme word “HOME”!

“But since Mari and I were able to visit with so many friends and family; enjoy the delicious catfish and barbecue meal; listen to live gospel music; participate in a fundraiser auction; and take photos of the church, my birthplace, and the Mount Tabor church and cemetery, it was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime, ‘bucket-list’ opportunity to ‘renew old memories.’”
—Jimmy Peacock, “My ‘Bucket-List’ Trip,”
May 25, 2011

As noted in the opening quotation above, the month of May marked the third anniversary of a “Bucket-List” Trip that Mari and I made in May of 2011 to my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas.

The purpose of the trip was to attend the reunion/fundraiser for the restoration and preservation of the historic Selma Methodist Church, right across the “branch” from the farmhouse in which I was born in November of 1938.

Selma Methodist Church, side view

Selma Methodist Church, side view (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Scott Shepard)

To read about that visit and the event that motivated it, click on the title of the blog post (the second on my new post), dated May 25, 2011: “My ‘Bucket-List’ Trip: Part One: The Selma Methodist Church.”

A year after that trip on May 23, 2012, I published an update on the progress of the restoration of the church. To read that update post, click on its title: “Moments to Remember/Selma Methodist Church Update.”

Restored interior of Selma Methodist Church

Restored interior of Selma Methodist Church (to magnify, click on the photo)

Recently I received some photos and information about the church restoration from Scott Shepard who noted that “it was Scotty Howard with Elite Homes (theelitear@yahoo.com, 501-690-6095) who returned the church to the beautiful shape we see today.” He also noted that

“The descendants of the John Barrett family (Idelle and Lucile’s children) had the doors replicated and made by John Alexander of Ozone, Arkansas.”

Selma Methodist Church doors

Selma Methodist Church doors (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Scott Shepard)

To learn more about the Selma Methodist Church, contact Dorris Watson at: djwatson2001@yahoo.com.

My Father’s Death

“Any man who’s gotta consult his wife about his bizness
ain’t got no bizness bein’ in bizness.”

“You jus’ gotta take a deep seat in th’ saddle,
lock your spurs, and ride it out!”

—Arthur Peacock quotes on taking care of business,
and getting through difficult situations

On July 6, 2011, almost three years ago, I published a post titled “My Father’s Brand and [Corporate] Seal.” (To read that post with my poem about my father’s branding iron and the corporate seal of his livestock business, click on the title.)

In that post I recalled my father’s sudden death of a heart attack at the McGehee Livestock Auction in which he was a co-partner with auctioneer C.B. Walker. I noted that at the time of his death Daddy was forty-nine years old and I was fifteen and in the back of the barn penning cattle.

Arthur Peacock in the ring of the McGehee Livestock Auction in 1952 before his death in 1954

Arthur Peacock (on right in white hat) in ring of McGehee Livestock Auction in 1952 before his death in 1954 (to magnify, click on the photo)

I now tell Okies: “I started out life as a cowboy in Arkansas and came to Oklahoma as a French translator. Go figure.”

Me as a cowboy in Selma, Arkansas

Me as a “cow-boy” up on Ole Blue in front of our house in Selma in the 1940s (to magnify, click on the photo)

Jimmy as an older "cowboy" on the Peacock family place in Selma in the 1980s

Me as a visiting older Arkansas Razorback “cowboy” at our former family home place in Selma in the 1980s (to magnify, click on the photo)

Since my father died on May 25, 1954, it has been exactly sixty years since his death. This portion of this post, like the previous post in July 2011, serves as a remembrance of and a tribute to him and his life as a livestock dealer and a family man.

Arthur Peacock and his family in Selma, Arkansas, in about 1947

Daddy and the Peacock family (from left: Adrian, Joe, Arthur, Vivian, and me) in front of my birthplace in Selma, Arkansas, in about 1947 when I was nine years old (to magnify, click on the photo)

I hope he would be pleased with it and not tell me, “Son, I think you need to go back an’ lick your calf over agin.”

Our Younger Grandson’s Birthday

“You can take away my church but you can’t take away my God!”
—Ben Peacock’s response to his mother’s threat to punish him
by taking away his church’s youth night activities

As evident by the quote above, our younger grandson Ben has a sharp mind and a quick wit. He is also a sharp and quick learner in school. His report on the life and discoveries of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto is the second most popular post of the 113 that I have published on my blog. (To read “Ben’s Report on Hernando de Soto,” published on October 3, 2012, click on the title.)

Ben with "finally finished" sticker on his face after completing his report on Hernando de Soto

Ben with a “finally finished” sticker on his face after completing his science fair project for which he won first place (to magnify, click on the photo)

Born in Tulsa on May 31, 2002, Ben turned twelve years old this past month. In addition to his sharp mind and quick wit, he is also adept at mastering all the latest electronic gadgets that interest so many youngsters these days. In fact, whenever his grandmother and I have any kind of computer problem, before calling our computer geek in Tulsa we always say, “Let’s ask Ben what to do to fix it!”

Ben also loves board games and puzzles, and shines in arts and crafts, making full use of his nimble fingers and active imagination to create all kinds of interesting and useful objects from yarn, rubber bands, paper, small pieces of metal, and other ordinary household items. He has made us all colorful and attractive items such as bracelets, necklaces, potholders, coasters, artistic robotic mantelpieces, pencil and pen holders, etc.

As further evidence of Ben’s creativity, as a young child he taught himself to make Power Point presentations and composed one for each member of the family on their favorite subjects. For example, his brother Levi’s was on hunting; his father’s was on the military; his grandmother’s was on pink flowers (her signature color); and mine was on (what else?) Elizabeth Taylor! (See my earlier blog post titled “My Lifelong Attraction to Black Beauty.”)

And what was the subject of Ben’s own Power Point? It was about what he used to call when he was a youngster “putty gulls,” with his favorite being Marilyn Monroe. Hmmm. I wonder where he got that boyish fascination with pretty girls?

But his interests and skills are not limited to academics, electronics, games of skill, arts and crafts, and Power Point presentations. He also enjoys biking and skateboarding, as well as hunting and fishing with his father and brother, and recently killed his first deer. In addition, he enjoys the indoor activities of his church’s youth program and the outdoor activities of an annual summer camp for the offspring of military personnel, especially archery, rappelling, and balloon water fights with other campers.

Ben after killing his first deer

Ben after killing his first deer (to magnify, click on the photo)

Ben is also a star player on local basketball and soccer teams. Although small in size and short in height, he is so fast and energetic that he always manages to match the skills of older, bigger, and taller kids his age.

So as seems evident in this post dedicated to Ben’s twelfth birthday, we are proud of the gifts, talents, activities, and creative works of our young Thomas Benjamin Peacock, a name he inherited from his great-grandfather.

Happy Birthday, Ben! And don’t let anyone take away your God who gave you all those marvelous gifts and talents!

Ben at age twelve

Ben Peacock at age twelve (to magnify, click on the photo)

My Family’s Move to Oklahoma in May 1977

“I moved to Babylon (Oklahoma) from the Holy Land (Arkansas) in 1977 (“the year that King Elvis died,” see Isaiah 6:1) to take a much-needed job in religious publication. If ever a man put his hand to the plow looking back, it is me. I only miss home two times—night and day!”
—Jimmy Peacock

In several different previous posts I have written or quoted sayings of mine about what I have called in biblical terms “My Oklahomian Exile Literature by an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant.”

One of the most prominent and descriptive of these exile sayings is the one above about my moving from my beloved Holy Land (Arkansas) to Babylon (Oklahoma) in 1977. (See for example the earlier post titled “Occupation in Exile, Deliverance in Time” on this very subject.)

However, the fact is that since my wife was teaching elementary school and our two sons were attending that same school in our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, when I was offered the job of a French-English translator in Oklahoma, I had to leave my family behind and move to Tulsa all alone in February of that year.

The Jimmy and Marion Peacock family in McGehee, Arkansas, just before Jimmy moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1977

My family in McGehee before my move to Tulsa to start a new job in 1977 (Mari’s mother in back, left rear; me and Mari in right rear; and our sons Keiron (third boy from left in front wearing a yellow shirt; and Sean, second boy from right wearing a reddish shirt; to magnify, click on the photo)

In keeping with the title of this post about “Other Month of May Updates,” I did not move my family up to join me in Tulsa until school was out in McGehee on Memorial Day 1977: thirty-seven years ago this past Memorial Day weekend.

The house the Peacocks bought and moved into on Halloween Day in 1977--an omen of their "Oklahomian Exile"?

The house in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, which we bought and moved into on Halloween Day in 1977–an omen of our thirty-seven-year “Oklahomian Exile”? (to magnify, click on the photo)

That involuntary move—and my more than three decades-long unsuccessful attempt to “go home again”—have been the inspiration and impetus for all of the writings in this blog. As I so often quote myself: “I had been writing for twenty-five years before I realized that the theme of all of my writing is  . . . loss!”

And the crux of that loss has been the loss of home, which I call “the most beautiful word in the English language.”

Thus, each year I commemorate that fateful day in May so long ago when I moved my family from my beloved and sorely missed home state of  Arkansas to join me in my ongoing and seemingly unending “Oklahomian Exile.”

Jimmy and son standing under a "Welcome to Arkansas" sign during their "Oklahomian Exile"

Me and our younger son Keiron standing under a “Welcome to Arkansas” sign on one of our “semi-annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land” over the past thirty-seven years of our “Oklahomian Exile” (to magnify, click on the photo)

 

“The Red Kimono tells it all—the bitterness and pain as well as the joy, pride and patriotism of a people too resilient to be beaten by racism.”
—Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author of
Tallgrass and True Sisters

In my previous post titled “Updates: Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum; Camp Nine; Relocation, Arkansas” I examined these three subjects a year after I had written about them in posts on my blog.

Since that time there has been one correction. There have now been visitors to the museum from forty-five states and more than one hundred cities in Arkansas.

(To read the original posts from a year ago, click on the following titles: “Opening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum” (March 20, 2013) and “Camp Nine: A Book Review with Quotes about the Arkansas Delta” (April 18, 2013.)

Now in this follow-up post I present an update of The Red Kimono, by Jan Morrill, the other book about the relocation camp at Rohwer, near my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, which I reviewed a year ago. (To read that review titled “The Red Kimono: A Book Review about WWII Japanese Relocation Camps” (May 9, 2013), click on the title.)

Jan Morrill at book signing in Tulsa

Jan Morrill at book signing in Tulsa

In order to write this update I requested that Jan send me information and photos about her and her book since that post a year ago. (To learn more about Jan and her writings, visit her Web site at: http://www.janmorrill.com/.)

Jan Morrill holding copy of her book The Red Kimono

Jam Morrill holding a copy of The Red Kimono (to magnify, click on the photo taken from Jan’s Web site)

Following is part of what Jan wrote to me in response to my request for an update:

1) In August, The Red Kimono was selected as an Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. [A review of the book can be found at]

http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-red-kimono/

2) In May, The Red Kimono was selected as the Best Published Book by the Oklahoma Writers Federation.

3) I recently published a book of haiku titled, Life: Haiku by Haiku. Many of the haiku from The Red Kimono appear in the book, and were read by Susan Gallion [curator of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas, see the previous post] at the anniversary celebration of the museum.

4) In August, I will be speaking to the Japan America Society of Chicago.

5) I am currently working on the sequel to The Red Kimono.

Jan Morrill (in red) with George Takei (Star Trek actor who was interned at the camp) at the Rohwer Japanese-American relocation camp in Arkansas

Jam Morrill (in red) with George Takei, a Star Trek actor who was interned in the camp (leaning over with a white box in his hand) on the speakers’ platform at the Rohwer Japanese-American relocation camp near McGehee Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo)

I am sure that all who are interested in the relocation camps, especially the two near McGehee, would like to congratulate Jan on her writing awards and will look forward to the sequel to The Red Kimono. I will keep readers updated on this subject in this blog.

Meanwhile, to view a brief video interview with Charlotte Schexnayder, the former editor of the McGehee Times, on her experience with the camp at Rohwer, click here.

The Clique Meeting in Tulsa

“The Old South will never die, not as long as there are darling debutantes, doting docents, indomitable dowagers, and other groups of proud Southern women like the Junior League, the Ya Ya Sisterhood, the Sweet Potato Queens, the Steel Magnolias—and the Maggie [McGehee] Clique!”
–Quote by Jimmy Peacock in letter
to Charles Allbright, the Arkansas Traveler columnist,
dated June 10, 2002

As indicated by the self-quote above, my next update is about the Maggie Clique, a group of “girls” from the McGehee, Arkansas, high school class of 1960 who have met together annually since 1991, which must be some kind of record.

This particular update marks an addition to a blog post I published on June 8, 2011, almost three years ago, titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique.” (To read those annual poetic tributes accompanied by photos of the Clique over the years and of the greeting cards I sent to them with each tribute, click on the title of the post.)

The Clique card for 2014

The Clique card for 2014 (to magnify, click on the card)

This year the Clique met in Tulsa on May 1-4 with a special luncheon to which I was invited to attend at Miss Scarlett’s Tea Room in the historic Southern-style residence called the Burnett Mansion in Sapulpa where we live. The Clique had met the two previous years on the beach in Florida. Mari missed those two meetings because of my failing health; she would not leave me alone while she was gone that far away for a whole week. So the Clique graciously voted to meet this year closer to our residence.

The Burnett Mansion in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where the Clique held its formal luncheon on Friday, May 2, 2014

The historic Southern-style Burnett Mansion, home of the fashionable Miss Scarlett’s Tea Room, in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where the Clique held its formal luncheon on Friday, May 2 (to magnify, click on the photo)

Here is my tribute and thank-you to them accompanied by a bouquet of red and white spring flowers and a greeting card with this poem inside which I composed:

 The Maggie Clique came to Tulsa . . .

. . . for the sake of my dear wife,
to try to save her husband’s life.
I wish that they would never [de]part,
‘cause they take with them my grateful heart!

Blessed art y’all among women!

The Clique on the side steps of the Burnett Mansion at their formal luncheon meeting on Friday, May 2, 2014

The Clique on the side steps of the Burnett Mansion at their formal luncheon on Friday, May 2, 2014 (Mari is the blonde on the left in the first row) (to magnify, click on the photo)

Since I have known these “girls” most of their lives and dated and/or double-dated several of them, as an “honorary member of the Clique” (a title conferred on me in 2000 with the gift of a tee-shirt with that inscription on it), I felt I could take the liberty of sharing with them in my card a bit of “chick reunion” humor from an older Southern Gentleman and Scholar:

 “The Ladies’ Meeting at the Ocean Springs Café”

The Clique in their matching white robes at their bed and breakfast inn during their May 1-4 meeting in Tulsa

The Clique in their white bathrobes at breakfast in their bed and breakfast inn in Tulsa during their May 1-4 meeting (to magnify, click on the photo)

Here is a story about a group of Southern ladies who met together like the Maggie Clique, except that they met every ten years.

When they were forty years old, someone said, “Where shall we go to eat?” One of them said, “Oh, let’s go to the Ocean Springs Café, because the waiters there are all young, handsome, flirty, and wear tight uniforms.”

When they were fifty years old, someone said, “Where shall we go to eat?” One of them said, “Oh, let’s go to the Ocean Springs Café, because the food there is delicious, and it is all low-fat and low-cholesterol!”

When they were sixty years old, someone said, “Where shall we go to eat?” One of them said, “Oh, let’s go to the Ocean Springs Café, because the restrooms there are so clean and so big and well-equipped that you never have to stand in line!”

When they were seventy years old, someone said, “Where shall we go to eat?” One of them said, “Oh, let’s go to the Ocean Springs Café, because it is handicap accessible with wheelchair ramps and everything!”

When they were eighty years old, someone said, “Where shall we go to eat?” One of them said, “Oh, let’s go to the Ocean Springs Café, because  . . .  we’ve never been there!”

 —Jimmy Peacock, quoting Dr. Paul Talmadge
his former dean in Anderson, South Carolina

 My High School Senior Trip and Graduation

“When the ivy walls
Are far behind,
No matter where our paths may wind,
We’ll remember always
Graduation day.
We’ll remember always
Graduation day.”
“Graduation Day”

(To hear this song being sung by the Four Freshmen,
click on the title above.
To view the full lyrics to the song, click here.)

In a post titled “Moments to Remember/Selma Methodist Church Update” published on May 23, 2012, I quoted some of the lyrics of another graduation day song titled “Moments to Remember.” That song happened to be our McGehee High School Class of 1956 graduating class song.

McGehee, Arkansas, High School class of 1956

McGehee, Arkansas, High School Class of 1956; I am the fourth student from the left in the second row from the back (to magnify, click on the photo)

Jimmy Peacock in cap and gown at graduation from McGehee, Arkansas, High School in 1956

Me in cap and gown at graduation from McGehee High School in 1956 (to magnify, click on the photo)

To read this post about our senior class trip to Petit Jean State Park, click on the title above.

Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

Petit Jean (pronounced Petty Gene) State Park near Morrilton, Arkansas

However, although the post was published on May 23, 2012, the actual graduation ceremony took place on May 14, 1956—fifty-eight years ago!

In either case, regardless of the precise day, it is another one of the precious “Month of May Updates” in this nostalgic blog post in an effort to assure that “we’ll remember always: Graduation Day.”

In the next post I will provide a follow-up and progress report on the other subject on this post, the Selma Methodist Church and a few more month of May updates.

 

“Don’t let your memories fade . . .”
—Advertisement for Tulsa Clinical Research,
Tulsa World, May 5, 2014

“The two most engaging powers of an author are
to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”
—Samuel Johnson, quoted in Today’s Cryptoquote,
Tulsa World, May 5, 2014

In this post and the next one, I will offer updates on past subjects and events discussed in my blog that relate to the months of April and May.

As indicated by its title, this first post in that two-part series marks three such events, each one the subject of a previous post on my blog:

First, the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum in my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, an event that originally took place on April 16, 2013.

Second, an update on the book titled Camp Nine, a historical novel based on the relocation camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, near McGehee, which I reviewed a year ago.

Third, a report on the progress of the planned documentary on the relocation camps in Arkansas titled Relocation, Arkansas, with two introductory videos featuring Star Trek actor George Tekai, who was detained in one of those camps as a child.

First Anniversary of Opening of WWII
Japanese-American Relocation Camp Museum

“The anniversary event is not about the museum itself, but about the people and families who were affected by the camps.”
—Susan Gallion, curator of the WWII
Japanese-American Museum

On April 2, 2014, the McGehee Times published a front-page article titled “Museum grows as anniversary nears.”

That article referred to plans to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, which took place on April 16, 2014. It noted that the museum, “also known as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretative and Visitor Center, officially opened its doors inside the walls of the south building of the downtown railroad depot.”

The Times article went on to note that several hundred people, many of whom were directly affected by the interment, gathered for the opening and dedication. Since that time more than 2,200 others have visited the museum which “serves as the permanent home for the exhibit ‘Against Their Will, The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas.’

Some of the Japanese-Americans who attended the first-year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps near McGehee, Arkansas

Some of the Japanese-American internees of the relocation camp who attended the first-year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo scanned by permission from the April 25, 2014, issue of the McGehee Times)

“The exhibit tells the story of life inside the internment camps in Rohwer and Jerome where more than 17,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during the war.”

According to the article, “A number of historical items and publications have been donated to the museum since its opening, including a collection of publications from the War Relocation Authority during WWII. An archivist from Drury University donated the publications to the museum, all related to the evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.

“In addition to the new publications, visitors at the April 16th anniversary [had] a chance to view the artwork of renowned artist, Nancy Chikaraishi. The college professor’s father was a Rohwer internee and her works [will be] on display for several weeks after the celebration.”

At the end of the article was a piece of art work by Nancy Chikaraishi. It featured a quote from her father on a banner at the museum, which will be on display soon. It had to do with the rigid racial segregation of the era and area:

“I got on the bus and my first decision I
had to make outside of camp was ‘Where
do I sit? The white people sat in the front
of the bus. The blacks were in the back,

‘And so I got on and I thought, ‘Gee, I
don’t know where should I sit?’ So I said,
‘Gee, we were confined so long and we
were discriminated so much that maybe
I’ll be considered black,’ so I went to and
I sat in the black area. The bus driver
stopped the bus and he says, ‘Hey, you
gotta sit in the front.’ So I got up and
moved, but I didn’t come way to the front
either, I sat right by the dividing line.”

Ben Tsutomu Chikaraishi,
Rohwer inmate

“This museum has been good for me,” states Susan Gallion, the museum curator, who says that she will never stop learning from it. “Not a day goes by that I don’t see something different [in it], learn something new [from it].”

Susan Gallion, curator of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas

Susan Gallion, curator of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo scanned with permission from the April 2, 2014, issue of the McGehee Times)

Later, on April 23, 2014, another McGehee Times article was published titled “Internees return for museum anniversary.”

In that updated article the personal stories and experiences of several of the Japanese-Americans or their children or relatives interned in the camps at Rohwer and Jerome were presented.

One internee was born in the camp before it closed in 1944. “Having the museum means a lot to us,” she stated. “This place will touch many lives.”

Another internee was too young to remember what life was like for herself and her parents while incarcerated along with nearly 130,000 other Japanese-Americans in ten such camps throughout the Western United States. The two camps near McGehee were the only two in the South. Together they held more than 17,000 Japanese-Americans against their will.

Another family, detained at the camp in Jerome, were among the many “who returned to the area to mark the first anniversary of the museum.”

Another young Japanese-American was born four years after her family was released from the camps. Her uncle was killed in action during the war in France as a member of the U.S. Army 442nd Infantry, one of the units in which the Japanese-Americans from the camps served with distinction.

Nancy Chikaraishi, mentioned above in the first article on the museum anniversary, is a professor at Drury University and grew up listening to the stories of her people detained in them. Her artwork depicting those stories is currently on display in the museum where it will remain until July 16.

According to a third article in the April 21, 2014, McGehee Times titled “Local museum to feature works by Missouri artist”:

“Her solo exposition explores her parents’ experience in the Japanese American internment camps. Her artwork includes charcoal drawings, and canvasses painted in both oil and acrylic. She does sculpture as well, but their size makes shipping prohibitive. The art exhibit will be open during regular museum hours.”

The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

“This museum is fantastic opportunity for generations to come to know this story,” she notes.

Nancy Chikaraishi, a proffesor at Drury University in Missouri, as she speaks at the first-year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas

Nancy Chikaraishi, a professor at Drury University, in Missouri, as she speaks at the first-year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas, where some of her art work will be displayed until July 16 (to magnify, click on the photo scanned by permission from the April 23 issue of the McGehee Times)

“Keeping these stories alive is not the only goal of the museum,” state museum officials.  “Sharing these stories with the world is equally important.”

Those officials estimate that 2,355 people have visited the museum since its opening a year ago. These visitors have come from four foreign countries and forty-five cities in Arkansas.

“Every day these people bring different stories to us,” museum officials report. “And every day we get emails from more families wanting to share theirs.”

In an address to a group of state leaders in Little Rock, McGehee mayor Jack May stated:

“We met yesterday at the Governor’s office so I got the opportunity to talk about our museum. I talked about the injustices these Japanese-Americans endured. In McGehee, we’d long hoped for a museum to explain that to people. . . .We’re proud of this museum and I was so happy to help spread the word [about it].”

And so I am.

To read more about the opening of the museum, visit my earlier post titled “Opening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum,” published on March 20, 2013.

 Camp Nine

“I know that Camp Nine was something that should never have been. It destroyed lives and separated families; it interrupted joys and brought, in their stead, wretched sorrows. But the experience was mine, too. On a deeper level than I had ever understood, Camp Nine [like the Delta itself] had defined my life [and the lives of all who have ever lived there].”
Camp Nine, p. 196

A year ago in my post about the opening of the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camps I inserted a link to a book of historical fiction titled Camp Nine about the camp nearest McGehee.

As I noted then, that fictional work was written by Vivienne Gould Schiffer, the daughter of former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould who was instrumental in collecting, preserving, and displaying many of the artifacts from the camps.

Rosalie Gould, Vivienne Schiffer, and the Paul Takemoto family at the Butler Center in Little Rock

Rosalie Gould (center) and her daughter Vivienne Schiffer (right of Rosalie), surrounded by members of the family of Paul Takemoto, the principal subject of Vivienne’s documentary film on the Japanese-American internees in Arkansas, at the Butler Center in Little Rock (to magnify, click on the photo provided by both Vivienne Schiffer and Pat Scavo)

In a following post published on April 18, 2013, I presented a review of that book with quotes, photos, and links about it, especially ones that relate to the Arkansas Delta. (To read that post titled “Camp Nine: A Book Review with Quotes about the Arkansas Delta,” click on the title.)

Since it has been a year since that post about Camp Nine I thought I would offer an update on the book which I requested from the author. Here is her response sent to me in an email dated May 4, 2014:

“In connection with Camp Nine being named the 2013 selection for the If All Arkansas Read the Same Book program, I travelled the state in October of last year, presenting at libraries, and I continue to get requests for readings.

Vivienne Schiffer reading her book Camp Nine in Malvern, Arkansas

Vivienne Schiffer reading her book Camp Nine in Malvern, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo)

“The Arkansas Studies Institute has a fine program for history teachers which they conduct in June, where they teach about specific moments in Arkansas history, then lead teachers on a tour of sites. They have asked me to keynote open their series with a lecture and preview screening in the new Robinson Theatre in downtown Little Rock. I am so excited to be a part! So far, the film [Relocation, Arkansas, see next section] has kept me from making much progress on a follow-up book, sadly.”

Vivienne Schiffer reading her book Camp Nine in Malvern, Arkansas

Vivienne Schiffer previewing her film to the Northern California JACL Time of Remembrance celebration in Sacramento in February 2014 (to magnify, click on the photo)

On my blog I will continue to offer updates on the book and any subsequent books by the author on the subject of the WWII Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas.

Relocation, Arkansas

“In the post-war rural south, a person could only be one of two things: white or black. For the Japanese Americans [from the relocation camps in Arkansas] who stayed behind, it was necessary to fit into one or the other—and how did they choose?
—Vivienne Schiffer, author of book Camp Nine
and producer of documentary film Relocation, Arkansas

As noted above, the third section of this post is an update on the film documentary about the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camps in Arkansas being developed by Vivienne Schiffer, the daughter of former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould.

One of Vivienne Schiffer's cameramen standing on top of a bus to film the ttower of one of the Arkansas Japanese Relocation camps

Vivienne Schiffer’s cameraman for Relocation, Arkansas, standing on top of a school bus to film the tower at one of the Japanese-American internment camps in Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo)

Since it has been a year since my last blog post on this subject, I requested an update on its progress from Vivienne Schiffer. Here below is her response:

“We continue to make great progress on Relocation, Arkansas, now that our major funding is in. We have at least one more filming trip to Arkansas (probably in June) to finish out the fascinating story of the Japanese-Americans who stayed behind in Arkansas after the camp closed.

Vivienne Schiffer's crew filming Paul Takernmoto while he was surfing the Maryland coast in January

Vivienne Schiffer’s crew filming Paul Takemoto, the principal subject of her film Relocation, Arkansas, while he was surfing the Maryland coast in January (to magnify, click on the photo)

“That story is interesting on many fronts, but the one that we will likely focus on is this: in the post-war rural South, a person could only be one of two things: white or black. For the Japanese-Americans who stayed behind, it was necessary to fit into one or the other—and how did they choose? [See the quote of Nancy Chikaraishi’s father on this subject earlier in this post.]

“The community chose for them that they would be white. We intend to explore that decision and how it impacted their lives in the civil rights era that followed. This story will intersect with our other stories—the impact of the incarceration experience on the generation that was born after camp, the sansei; and how their loss of identity leads them to return to the scene of their parents’ and grandparents’ deep pain: Rohwer and Jerome, and the one person they’ve heard they must meet: former McGehee mayor Rosalie Santine Gould. The film will also explore how Mayor Gould became a legend in the Japanese-American community.

Rosalie Gould (left), Skip Rutherford (center), and Pat Scavo (left)

Rosalie Gould (right), with Skip Rutherford (center), and Pat Scavo (left) (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Pat Scavo)

“I had been invited to attend the PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] annual meeting in San Francisco in the middle of May, but it appears now that that trip may be in jeopardy.

“But my co-producing partner, the Center for Asian American Media, will be there to meet with the PBS team to discuss whether or not they want to officially become involved with our film. Even if they don’t contribute funds, we remain hopeful for a PBS broadcast in 2015.”

Vivienne Schiffer (right) and her friend Pat Scavo (left)

Vivienne Schiffer (right) and friend Pat Scavo (left), who provided several of the photos and much of the material about Vivienne and her book and film (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Pat Scavo)

Videos on the Japanese-American Relocation Camps

To view a very moving twelve-minute preview video of the film titled Relocation Arkansas, about the Japanese-American relocation camps in Arkansas, especially the one at Rohwer near McGehee, click here. This trailer for the full documentary was made two years ago. It features scenes of the flat Arkansas Delta, the cotton fields and cypress sloughs that surrounded the camp, and comments from Japanese-Americans who were confined there, as well as Arkansans Bill Clinton, former U.S. president and governor of Arkansas; officials of the programs and efforts to preserve the camps’ history; and Rosalie Gould, former mayor of McGehee, who was instrumental in preserving the artifacts of the camp and reviving interest in preserving them and the memory of the camps and their internees.

To view a similar but updated video trailer with the same title made in 2014, click here.

To view a seven-minute video interview with Japanese-American actor George Takei about his experience at the Rohwer camp and why he and his family were later sent to an even more restrictive camp in California as “enemy aliens,” click here.

To view a similar interview with George Tekai titled “Allegiance,” click here.

Addendum: Blogger’s Note

Coincidentally, this post marks the third anniversary of this blog titled “My Oklahomian Exile Literature by an Exiled Arkie of the Covenant,” which was officially launched on May 12, 2011, with a post titled “My Story Begins.”

It also marks the first post to be published after the blog had produced more than 60,000 visits during that three-year period, an average of 20,000 visits per year or about 500-plus visits per post.

Sources

Rachel Denton Freeze, “Museum grows as anniversary nears,” McGehee Times, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Used with permission.

Rachel Denton Freeze, “Internees return for museum anniversary,” McGehee Times, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Used with permission.

Author unknown, “Local museum to feature works by Missouri artist,” McGehee Times, April 23, 2014.

 

“The daily newspaper—a record of prehistory.”
—Jimmy Peacock

“We long to be allied with two things: with all the people who came before us—tradition—and also with our hope, so we can transcend life.”
—Dale Brown, Of Fiction and Faith

In my previous post I offered Part I of the story of the murder of my grandfather Rev. Willis Barrett’s first wife Edna Ella Fox Barrett while she was carrying their first child. That story was taken verbatim from a newspaper article in the Dumas (Arkansas) Clarion of Wednesday, December 31, 1980.

The actual story, which took place in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, was dictated by my grandfather to my mother who recorded it word for word in a Big Chief tablet. (To read this story, go to my previous post titled “Memory of a Selma Family Tragedy.”)

In this second post about the same subject, I offer Part II of that story, which was written by Mrs. Marion Stroud of our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas.

Mrs. Stroud was the wife of Hilliard Stroud, one of the officers of the McGehee Bank who was a friend of my father Arthur Peacock, especially after my family moved from Selma to McGehee in 1948 when I was ten years old. She was also actively engaged in the Desha County Historical Society for many years.

A year after our move to McGehee, I became better acquainted with Mrs. Stroud when she was my sixth-grade teacher in the McGehee Elementary School, a class that was held in one of the converted barracks from the WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camp at Rohwer, about twelve miles northeast of McGehee. (For more about these buildings and the camp, read my earlier post titledOpening of WWII Japanese American Internment Camps Museum” published on March 20, 2013.)

I had known the Strouds for decades before I learned that they had a direct connection to the triple murders described in Part I of these stories. It seems that the older couple, the Stephensons, who were murdered along with Edna Ella Fox Barrett, were relatives of Mr. Stroud. Before that time I had no idea that the Strouds had any connection to my birthplace of Selma, much less that their family was part of the tragedy that took place there in December 1904.

Here now, exactly as it was presented in the Dumas Clarion on Wednesday, January 7, 1981, is the account of the murders from the viewpoint of the Strouds whose relatives also lost their lives in that tragic event.

The opening and closing editor’s notes were part of the original Clarion article, which had no photos or captions. As with the first part of the story, I have made some minor editorial changes and insertions set in brackets, capitalized and lower-cased some words for consistency of style, and divided some longer paragraphs into shorter ones.

Below I have inserted maps of Desha and Drew counties in Southeast Arkansas with some of the places mentioned in the following text.

A map of Desha County, Arkansas, with some of the places mentioned in the story.

Map of Desha County, Arkansas, with portions of Drew County, Arkansas, and Bolivar County, Mississippi. McGehee is near the bottom of the map with Tillar and Winchester a few miles northwest on U.S. Highway 65 along the Desha-Drew county lines. Dumas is north of Tillar and Winchester, while Selma is west of Tillar. Northeast of McGehee is McArthur and beyond it Rohwer, the location of the WWII Japanese American Relocation Camp. The Mississippi River is to the east (right) of McGehee with Bolivar County, MS, across the River. Gaines Landing is a former port on the River below Arkansas City, the seat of Desha County. (To magnify, click on the map.)

A map of Drew County, Arkansas, with Selma, and some of the other places mentioned in the story.

Drew County, Arkansas, with Selma in the upper right; Tillar, Winchester, and McGehee (in Desha County) to the extreme right of Selma; and Monticello, to the southwest of Selma. Fountain Hill (in Ashley County) lies south of Monticello. (To magnify, click on the map.)

Part II

 “Selma tragedy: triple murder”

(Editor’s note: This is a second part of the story of a triple-murder at Selma in 190[4], which was discussed at the Desha County Historical Society meeting in McGehee recently.)

By Marion Stroud

Late in December 190[4], William (Billy) Stephenson, his wife Jennie, and Edna Barrett, who was pregnant, were murdered at the Stephenson home on the old road between Selma and Monticello. The house was burned.

Despite reward offers and investigations and hunches and rumors, the triple murder was never solved although the motive seems clear enough. Just that day Stephenson, who did not trust banks, had been to Tillar [east of Selma and north of McGehee] to sell his cotton and it was believed he had the money home with him.

There had been a dance that night at Selma, which back then was nicknamed Shanghai, and Edna Barrett was staying at the Stephensons’ because Billy Stephenson had asked her husband [my grandfather Willis Barrett] to take his fifteen-year-old daughter, Alberta, and her half-brother Frank Hayes to the party.

[As described in my grandfather’s account of the events of that evening, he returned from the dance to the Stephensons’ house only to find his wife Edna and the Stephensons brutally murdered and the house burned down with their dead bodies inside.]

Even in those days when roads were bad and communication was difficult word of the crime spread quickly and the people of Drew and Desha counties reacted with shock and horror. The murderers, many believed, had to be neighbors, people who knew about the dance at Selma and knew that Billy Stephenson had his cotton money with him.

Even today, old timers have their theories about who murdered the Stephensons and Edna Barrett. Even today they will whisper the names of the persons they suspect of the crime. Still no one knows for sure who the murderers were or how they escaped detection in such a small, isolated community.

Something is known, however, about the victims.

William Stephenson was the son of William and Malinda Stephenson of Bolivar County, Mississippi. His father died of pneumonia either just before or just after William was born. In 1860, he was living in Bolivar County with his mother and his step-father, Joseph B. Stroud, his three sisters, Josephine, Ellen, and Victoria, and half-brothers, Calvin, age 2, and George Washington Stroud, 6 months.

The childhood of the young boys was spent in a [Mississippi] river town constantly being shelled by Union gunboats and raided by the soldiers—education was non-existent, the economy in chaos.

In 1867 [two years after the end of the Civil War], thirty-four-year-old Joseph Stroud died, leaving his wife who was now forty-two. The older girls were married, but Malinda had the three little boys and a little girl Jennie Matilda Stroud to care for, and these were the worst of Reconstruction Days.

The daughter Ellen had married a Mr. O’Banion who was a Civil War soldier. He was wounded and died on his way home. Ellen later married a Confederate veteran J.T. Lilly who owned a ferry at Old Eunice on the [Mississippi] river in Chicot County [Arkansas]. Mr. Lilly brought his mother-in-law up Bayou Macon during flood time and settled the family on what is now the J.H. Stroud farm. The widow evidently bought the place, for back taxes by her son Calvin. Malinda was living here when the 1870 census was taken.

The nearest post office was Gaines Landing. Then Malinda Stroud was head of the household and living with her were Willie, age 13; Calvin, age 11; George W., age 10; Jennie Matilda, 8; and an orphan child, 2.

At that time the farm was in Chicot County, but in 1879 when it was sold, the land was in Desha County. In 1872, Malinda Stephenson died. She is buried in the McArthur (Arkansas) Cemetery at the top of a small mound. Her little boys planted a wild cherry tree at the head of her grave.

By 1880, William Stephenson had married Nancy Duff, and they had a one-year-old daughter Kate. The family lived in Richland Township, Desha County.

In 1887, Mr. Stephenson, then living in Drew County near Selma, married Mrs. Jennie Hayes of Prairie Township, Drew County. She had one son, Frank Hayes.

In 1896, Stephenson had Z.T. Wood, a Monticello lawyer and grandfather of Judge Warren E. Wood of Little Rock, draw up his will. R.W. Harrell of Selma (later of Tillar) was named executor. Witness[es] were J.T. Wood, R.L. Hyatt, and J.L. Prewitt. Wood and Hyatt in 1904 signed a statement saying that the 1896 will was Stephenson’s last will and was witnessed by them. Proof of the will was filed for probate [on] December 31, 1905, by J.W. Kimbro, Drew County Clerk.

The will was unusual in that it provided for the wife Jennie in her widowhood so long as she did not let her son Frank live with her or on the money Stephenson left Jennie. His daughter Kate, who was not living with them at the time, receive[d] $5, but his only other child Alberta would receive “the remaining portion of my estate real, personal and mixed of every sort or character.”

Gertrude Stroud Boyd, daughter of George W. Stroud, remembers the night when a group of men on horseback awoke her father’s household at their farm on Bayou Macon with the terrible news of the tragedy at Selma and of the death of her father’s half-brother, William Stephenson. George Stroud immediately dressed and rode off to Selma. He later hired a private detective to track down the criminals, but nothing was ever proved.

People over the two counties [Desha and Drew] were shocked, and it was the general opinion that the triple crime of murder, robbery and arson was the work of local people whose motive was robbery, that the victims were first killed, then robbed, and the house was burned to cover up the crime. A known group of horse and cattle thieves operated in the area all the time. They rode and stole at night and led respectable lives by day. Again, no proof.

A new family, very poor, lived in a shack away from town, having little to do with Selma people. A son of this family disappeared but came back to his family sick with smallpox. The entire family died of the disease, and the same righteous settlers thought the boy had committed the murder, and the Lord [had] punished the entire family. Someone else said the criminal is buried in Mount Tabor cemetery [near Selma] with a nice stone at the head of the grave. People checked to see if the suspect had been at the dance and [had] slipped away to do the mischief. Even today an old timer whispered the name of a man of good family that he knew was guilty. But as far as anyone knows there was never even an indictment.

The probate of the case was closed in 1907. In 1911 Alberta Stephenson Wood and her husband, Ashley B. Wood of Ashley County, sold 320 acres of land for $1500. It was Alberta’s land, as the deed stated.

What of Kate, the older daughter mentioned in the will and left $5[?] Relatives in Desha County remember her as Cousin Kate, but nothing else is known.

Frank Hayes, the step-son who attended the dance with his half-sister, Alberta, and Willis Barrett, and who was left out of the will—what became of him[?] And nobody seems to know. But relatives in Desha County, who as children visited in the Stephenson home, remembered that they rather liked Frank and thought Uncle Billy was a bit hard on the boy.

This is the story of what happened near Selma in December, 190[4]—murder, robbery and arson, and of the people involved, a happy young expectant mother who looked forward to celebrating her first wedding anniversary, a hard-working farmer who didn’t trust banks, and his fifty-four-year-old wife, Jennie Hayes Stephenson.

Note: Since this paper was read to the Desha County Historical Society, the author has learned that at age sixteen, Alberta married Mr. Wood, a druggist at Fountain Hill [in Ashley County]. They had four children. Alberta developed tuberculosis, and Mr. Wood sold his drug store and other property and the family moved west for his wife’s health. There she soon died. It may be that she sold her property near Selma (1911) just before they moved.

[Blogger’s note: When I was a child and the story of this triple murder was still rather recent news, a rumor went around Selma and the surrounding area that an elderly lady had taken sick and thought she was going to die. So in fear of facing her Maker with a guilty conscience she confessed that it was her three sons who committed the horrendous crime.

[She said that they wore masks and had only intended to rob Mr. Stephenson of his cotton money. However, she claimed that one of the three victims recognized the intruders, called them by name, and pulled down their masks. At this disclosure and reacting out of fear and panic, the three thieves murdered the victims by the use of axes, chopping off Mr. Stephenson’s head and striking Edna Barrett a fatal blow to the chest. They then set the house on fire in an attempt to hide the evidence of their crime and made it impossible to be identified by it.

[However, as the rumor went, the elderly lady in fact did not die as expected, so she quickly changed her story, denying it entirely, claiming that she was out of her head with fever and delirium. The result was that no conviction of her sons was ever made. However, those who knew her and them always believed that she told the truth, even though she recanted when she regained her health.

[The end result was that no one was ever indicted for the crime, which is still unsolved to this day.]

Sources

The map of Desha County, Arkansas, was taken from the following source and may ordered from it:

http://myokexilelit.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/deshacounty.jpg

The map of Drew County, Arkansas, was taken from the following source and may be ordered from it:

http://www.mygenealogyhound.com/maps/arkansas-maps/ar-drew-county-arkansas-1889-map.html

“I had been writing for twenty-five years before I realized that the subject of all my writing is . . . LOSS!”
—Jimmy Peacock

“For all of my great love of the Delta, Mari says my basic problem is that I have never left Selma!”
(See my earlier post titled “The Way We Were.”)
—Jimmy Peacock

In this post I reprint an article published by the Dumas Clarion newspaper on December 31, 1980. It is a personal story recounted by my maternal grandfather, Rev. Willis Barrett, of my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas. It is presented just as he told it to my mother, Vivian Barrett Peacock, who recorded it in pencil on a Big Chief writing tablet still in my possession.

A Big Chief tablet like the one in which my mother recorded her father's life story

A Big Chief tablet like the one in which my mother recorded in pencil the life story of her father, Rev. Willis Barrett of Selma, Arkansas

I submitted the story to Charlotte Schnexnayder, editor of the Clarion, who published it along with three photos from my mother’s private collection of family photos. I have reprinted the article below just as it appeared in the Clarion thirty-four years ago with the photos and original captions in approximately the same positions as in that article.

The only change I made in this post is the date of the tragedy which occurred in 1904 rather than 1902 as reported in this newspaper article and the spelling of the word “Shanghai.”

The event described in the Clarion newspaper article includes the death of my grandfather’s first wife, Edna Ella Fox Barrett, who was carrying their first child at the time of her brutal murder at the hands of unknown assailants.

I am indebted to Estelle Fox, whose husband Meritt Fox is a relative of Edna Ella Fox.  It was E. Fox, as she prefers to be referenced, who provided me two Arkansas newspaper articles from 1904 which described the event in detail when it occurred a hundred and ten years ago

Homemade tombstone of Edna Ella Fox Barrett in the Selma, Arkansas, Cemetery

Homemade tombstone of Edna Ella Fox Barrett in the Selma, Arkansas, Cemetery (to magnify, click on the photo)

Now here is the Dumas Clarion presentation of my grandfather’s story from his childhood to that unthinkable and unforgettable event that changed his life forever. The opening editor’s note is part of that Clarion account. I have made some minor editorial changes and insertions set in brackets, capitalized and lower-cased some words for consistency of style, and divided some longer paragraphs into shorter ones.

“Unsolved Murders at Selma Remain a Memory”

(Editor’s note: Desha County Historical Society members recently heard the story of triple, unsolved murders near Selma in 190[4]. The community then was known as Shanghai. Vivian Barrett Peacock prepared this paper, and permission for it to be used was given by her son, Jimmy Peacock of Sapulpa, Okla. The paper was read to the Historical Society by Mary Gail Tutt.)

If you should happen to meet my dad, you would see a small man of fifty years who really shows his age. He works hard all the week on the farm and rides 12 miles horseback, every Sunday to preach at a country church. He always wears a sad, far-away look. Yet he goes about his work whistling a low tune.

I used to wonder when I was at home why he asked, “Where is your mother?” the minute he hit the door when he came in from work. And he never stopped until he laid eyes on her. As I grew older I learned from other people that there was a story in his life.

I always buy the True Story [a popular magazine of the time] and save it for Dad and Mother to read. One night after supper Dad came over to get it and sat down to talk awhile. He seemed to be in a mood to unload his troubles so he told the following story to [my] husband and myself before he realized it was twelve o’clock and Mother would be wondering why he had not come back.

This is Willis Barrett’s story as told to his daughter Vivian Barrett Peacock.

I was born in the backwood of southeast Arkansas. The youngest of a family of seven children. My father died when I was eight years old [possibly as a result of his imprisonment as a Confederate soldier in a Union POW camp during the Civil War], leaving my frail mother only a small farm, heavily in debt. Yet the memory of their years of love and companionship gave her the will-power to carry on for the sake of their children.

The education I received came from riding a mule three miles to Shanghai school. Sometimes in the winter I was forced to study at home, for I could not cross the creek that ran close to our house after the rains set in.

Our best farming land was in the lowlands or bottoms along the creek. Many times after our crops came up in the spring a big rain would come and the water would rise, washing our crop[s] out of the ground. Then by the time we would get them up again the weather would be so hot they would burn up and we would not make anything.

I often wonder how my little mother (who weighed hardly more than a hundred pounds) had the courage to keep trying. Always saying, “Everything will turn out all right.” Or I suppose it is the Lord’s Will.” Even when the fall payment was due on the place and the winter food and clothing had to be bought and not a dime in sight. She had a way of saying, “Don’t worry children, the Good Lord will provide.”

I know it was her continual praying, hard work, and good management that kept us from actual hunger at times. But the “Good Lord” did provide and by the time all the children were gone from home but Tom (a brother) and myself, the old place was clear and we were living fairly well.

In my boyhood days the people of Shanghai gave me the name of being a tough kid. There is no wonder they thought that of me. For I was the leader of a mischievous gang of boys who wanted to have some fun. But most of them were afraid of the consequences, should their parents find them out. So to clear themselves they laid the blame on me. In time I accepted it as my lot and made no effort to deny anything I was accused of.

I know that the mothers gossiped to each other about what an outlaw I was going to be, since my father had died right when I needed a strong hand to control me. For when one of the boys happened to get mad at me he never forgot to tell me, “Ma said you never would amount to anything.”

I will admit that I couldn’t resist the temptation to knock the windows out of a vacant house with my bean shooter, or sometimes make a kid sick on a chew of homemade tobacco (that I slipped just for that purpose), and all such things that many a boy does. Especially after he learns that all the women are wondering what in the world he is going to do next.

Shanghai consisted of the post-office, a general mercantile store, the one-room school, church, a saloon, a one-room log calaboose [jail], and a grist mill.

Sometimes on Saturday afternoon I would take a sack of corn on my mule and go to the mill. While I was waiting to get the corn ground I would slip off over to the saloon where the men were always drinking, playing cards, cursing, and spitting on the floor. When they saw me they would nod to one another with a look of understanding. I knew from their slow grin and sly wink that they were thinking it wouldn’t be many years until I was in their midst.

As I look back now I don’t doubt that the so-called “Christian Mothers” would want their boys to shun me, although my own mother never seemed to worry about what I was going to “turn out to be.” She did lecture me on the importance of right and wrong and I surely was not sassy or disobedient. If it had not been for her love and the confidence I learned to know my mother had in me, who knows what I might have been just what everyone expected of me.

Young Willis Barrett, husband of Edna Ella Fox Barrett, one of the three victims of the triple murder near Selma in 1904

Willis Barrett, husband of Edna Barrett who was one of the three victims in the triple murder near Selma years ago.

How well do I remember the first kind word or praise that I received from a grown person. The first respect anyone showed me as a kid came from an absolute stranger.

What a sight I must have been to her. Dressed in my homemade jean pants that struck me two inches above my heavy brogan shoes, which were about two sizes too big.  In an outgrown coat and an old corduroy cap with the bill flopped over my left ear. I was riding a tall raw-boned horse with a turtle-shell saddle and using a blind bridle with a rope plow line for the reins. And this is how it happened.

I was on my way home from the post office riding Tom’s horse in a slow gallop. I was wondering about the creek water, for it had rained all night Friday night and the water was nearly out of the banks and rising fast when I went over right after noon. I could hear it roaring before I reached the top of the hill that led down to the flats.

When I came to a halt at the top of the hill I could see nothing but one mad whirling stream of water, foaming and churning, sweeping away logs and chunks. It must have been about 300 yards across the flat and the water was from hill to hill. In this distance the road formed the letter “S” and I could not tell whether the bridge was there or not for it was around the bend from me. I could tell just about where the road lay by the tops of the bushes that grew along the sides and the opening in the trees. I was not afraid for I had crossed it many times and I knew my horse was not excited.

It was getting late so I drove on without a thought of danger for mother was waiting for the mail which we only got on Saturday afternoon.

As I came around the bend a woman began to scream at me from a buggy sitting on the bridge. My heart gave a leap for I saw the harness piled on the dashboard and no horse in sight. She was telling me not to come on for there was a hole in the bridge.

What could a woman be doing sitting there at this time of day alone? Where was her horse? I rode closer to the foot of the bridge and saw that a plank had washed away but a horse could step it. She explained that she and her son had come from Blue Ridge, 16 miles away, to spend the night in Shanghai with a sick relative. When they reached the water it was too late to go back so they had decided to tackle it. But when the horse saw the hole he began to buck and pitch, so the boy rode the horse back to Old Man Will Stacey’s house at the top of the hill, to get some help. The woman was scared half to death and her teeth chattered so she could hardly talk.

I rode my horse up to the hole. He snorted a little and all at once made a quick step and was standing beside the buggy. I jumped down on the bridge in the water that was splashing over the bridge and with the woman crying, talking, and protesting, hitched my horse to her buggy. When the boy returned with a plank and a couple of Negroes on mules, I had piloted the lady with her buggy all high and dry to the other side.

You should have heard the praise I received. It would have been a treat to any boy’s heart and it was more than that to me for I had never known what it was to even hear such words. She raved about what a brave boy I was. What a big heart I had in me to help an old lady like her. And saying that she knew I must have a good mother to raise such a fine boy.

I could not say a word for my heart was nearly bursting and I could hardly hold back the tears. I muttered some quick excuse about having to hurry home not even realizing that I was shaking and numb with cold. I rode back across the waters home.

From there I grew into young manhood never forgetting that I had at least one good deed in my life, although I never told anyone about it—not even my mother.

The mother of Willis Barrett and widow of a Confederate veteran of the Civil War

The mother of Willis Barrett and widow of a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. (Photos, courtesy of a grandson, Jimmy Peacock)

During these years my older brother had died, leaving a wife and several small children. She had a hard time trying to fee[d] and cloth[e] them so it was only natural that Mother was always sending them something and visited them as often as possible, doing everything we could to help them along. I grew very fond of the children so when my sister-in-law married an old man (more for a home than love), I still visited the children. It was there I met the girl of my heart. They lived so far from our home that I would always go on Saturday afternoon, spend the night, and come back home Sunday. The boys, Dick and Ralph, always went with me to put up my horse for the night.

[Here the original newspaper story was broken to be continued on a later page]

Historical Society hears about mystery 

[Continued from the front page]

On this particular day, I related that Dick was eager to be off to the barn. Before we were out of hearing distance of the house, Dick ran up beside me and said, “Uncle Willie, I have found you a girl. She’s one of Mr. Cox’s (their stepfather) girls. Ma knew he had some grown children, but she didn’t know any of them was going to live with us. Her name is Edna [though she came to be called Ella]. She’s been living with an aunt, but quick as they found out her Pa was married, they sent her home. Her and Ma don’t get along very well and I don’t see why. She’s purty and I like her. She works hard.”

I let him rattle on for I had always been too bashful and awkward to pay any attention to girls and I wasn’t much interested. Yet his brief story put me to thinking. I had noticed someone sweeping in the back yard when I drove up but I did not see her face for she wore one of those old time sun bonnets and darted in the kitchen door as soon as I got down from my horse.

At supper, I saw her again for she had to wait on the table. I know the boys had given her a history of me for I could feel her looking at me when she slipped in at the end of the table after everyone else was nearly through eating. Of course she had to wash the dishes so I pretended to get a drink from the wooden bucket on the back porch just to peek in and get a good look at her.

I didn’t like the looks of the old man and I was really surprised at the girl. She was actually beautiful, dark brown eyes, auburn hair and a complexion as soft and fair as a lily. She carried herself in that kitchen as if she were in some beauty parade. I could not resist the temptation to go in [the kitchen]. I soon found that I wasn’t as backward as I had thought. I even put away the dishes for her, something I hadn’t done since I was a small boy helping Mother.

We sat at the kitchen table and laughed and talked as if we had known each other all our lives, until we were reminded that it was bed time. When I went to bed that night, I knew she was the girl for me. I knew life would be different and it was nearly daylight before I could go to sleep, for dreaming of the future. After that I went there nearly every Saturday night and it wasn’t many months until I brought her home with me to live with Mother and myself.

It is strange how the love of a good woman can change a man’s life. I didn’t need a drink of booze to make me feel carefree and light. I noticed the beauty of the world about me. I walked on air. I had always thought that life was cruel and unhappy. I never had anything particular to love for. I [had] merely existed, getting on a spree nearly every Saturday night and feeling bad all the week from the effects of it.

For the first time in my life, I was actually living and enjoying it. I had someone to love and to work for. Someone loved me and showed it in every word and move. Edna was so gentle and kind. I got a job hauling stave bolts that fall after the crops were gathered and sometimes when I was late getting in she would already have the feed and water put out for my team.

I begged her not to overdo herself, for she had already whispered a secret that makes any man’s heart swell with pride. But it made her happy to do things for me. After supper when we sat before the open fireplace, I would smoke my pipe while she sewed the tiny garments that we both loved to touch. Oh! we were so happy it makes my heart ache to think of it. I sometimes wonder if it was because we gave no thought to anything else but ourselves that she was taken from me.

I dreamed of the boy through which I was going to relive my boyhood. Through him I would enjoy the childish pleasures I had missed in my own life. He was going to be treated like other boys—not shunned and scorned. He would not be hurt by the gossip of wagging tongues. I pictured him in school. The head of his class, appreciated and honored by well-to-do people. All day at my work, I thought this out. It was my guiding star and caused me to work even harder and faster as my thoughts ran on. But oh, how soon were my hopes and happiness shattered.

Vivian Barrett Peacock and Arthur on their honeymoon in Fort Worth in about 1927

Vivian Barrett Peacock and her husband Arthur on their honeymoon in Fort Worth. She related the story told to her by her father about the events leading up to the Selma tragedy. (Photo, courtesy of Jimmy Peacock)

We lived about a quarter of a mile from Mr. Sturgeon (Stephenson) and it was his bolts I was hauling.

One Friday in late December, I carried a load over to Shanghai and Mr. [Stephenson] asked me to stop at the store and bring him some money that a certain fellow was going to leave there for him as a payment on some of the timber. I well remember I brought him 30 dollars in paper and three silver dollars.

When I stopped to leave the money on my way back home he [Mr. Stephenson] asked me if we were going to the dance that night. His daughter, Bertie, wanted to go but she was only fifteen years of age so he would not let her go unless some married person was along, I was in a hurry to get home for Edna was alone. Mother was off visiting my sister, but I told him we would go if Edna felt like it.

The moon had already risen when I reached home and Edna was at the lot with the gate swinging open when I drove up. What a picture she was, the soft moonlight shining on her face. She ran into my arms as soon as I stepped from the wagon. I hated to mention about the dance for I had rather stay at home with her and I knew too that she would not want to go in her condition.

When I did tell her I saw a disappointed look come over her happy face. She hesitated a moment then she cried, “Oh, Willie, I had a little party all planned for just the two of us. You know tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and we were going to make a cake and some candy tonight. You know we seldom ever get to be alone, not that Mother is any trouble or in the way, but wouldn’t you just love to have a little party all by ourselves?”

Of course I would enjoy it but after all Mr. [Stephenson] had been good to us. He gave me work and was our nearest neighbor, so in a way I felt like I ought to go. Again he was old and childish and used to being humored.

So we decided that we would hurry on back and she could stay with the old folks while I went with Bertie and her half-brother to the dance. I promised not to stay long. The dance was about two miles over across the creek and we would go horseback instead of in the buggy.

Arm in arm we walked to Mr. [Stephenson’s] in the moonlight, leading my horse. I kissed her at the gate before [she went back] in the house. She clung to my neck with such a grasp that I asked her what was the matter. “Oh, nothing, I guess it’s because I’m not well that makes me feel like this.”

What was the trouble? It wasn’t like Edna to act like this. I wanted to tell her I wouldn’t go. Yet, in some unknown way, I felt obligated to Mr. [Stephenson] so I never said anything. There was something telling me to stay and another feeling that I ought to go. By this time our appearance was known and Bertie and Fred were grabbing their coats and hats, ready to be off.

When they were ready we went out. Mr. [Stephenson] was sitting straddle of a cane chair looking over the back of it into the fire. Mrs. [Stephenson] had brought out her sewing basket, preparing to do some mending, and Edna still had her coat on when I left.

The dance had already started when we got there so Bertie joined in with the fun. But somehow there was a cloud about me. Something I could not shake off. I stood out on the porch and smoked one cigarette after another while the others went on with their fun.

I guess God printed that picture [of the Stephensons and Edna] on my mind for I never saw them alive again.

Everyone undoubtedly thought old man [Stephenson] had a lot of money in the house and came that night to rob him. No one will ever know what happened, for the house was burned to the ground. The charred bodies [of the Stephensons and Edna] were found on the bed springs. The head was completely severed from Mr. [Stephenson’s] body. [On December 18, 1904, an Arkansas Gazette newspaper report of the triple murder noted, “When found Mr. Stevenson’s (sic) head was about four feet from his body, apparently having been severed with some instrument, and his skull was cracked.”] They were identified by their teeth. The sewing thimble was still on the bone of Mrs. [Stephenson’s] hand.

This is another one of those unsolved murders, for there was never any evidence found to start on in trying to find who did this horrible thing. If I only knew who did it and that they were being punished, maybe I would not think of it so much.

This is the story that Willis Barrett told concerning the tragedy that took the life of his beloved first wife.

Since this story was started my father passed away with a sudden heart attack. We all feel that maybe it was brought on because of this thing that had bothered him all these years. We cannot grieve too much for him because maybe he is with the one he once was so happy with–his first love. Now we can truly understand why he always asked us, “Where is your mother?”

[Blogger’s Note: Willis Barrett eventually became a country Southern Baptist preacher, married the daughter of an Irish immigrant, and produced six children: three boys and three girls, one of whom was my mother Vivian Barrett Peacock who recorded this story on that Big Chief tablet so long ago. Together, she and my grandfather and a small group of others established the Selma Baptist Church of which my grandfather was the pastor during my childhood in Selma until his sudden death not long before my family moved to McGehee, Arkansas, in 1948. He is buried in the Selma Cemetery between Edna Ella Fox Barrett and my grandmother Ola Emery Barrett.]

Selma Baptist Church as co-founded by Vivian Barrett Peacock, her father, and several others with Rev. Willis Barrett as pastor

Selma Baptist Church which was co-founded in the 1940s by my mother, her father, and several others with Rev. Willis Barrett as pastor (to magnify, click on the photo)

Rev. Willis Barrett and his second wife, my grandmother, Ola Emery Barrett, in later years

Rev. Willis Barrett and his second wife, my grandmother, Ola Emery Barrett, in later years (to magnify, click on the photo)

Sources

The photo of the Big Chief tablet was taken from the following Web site:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-frYGbaQoNwU/ToiI2A70-wI/AAAAAAAADuY/IuM8FjtXFkk/s1600/BigChiefTabletScreenShotBON003.jpg

The two 1904 newspaper articles about the murder of Edna Ella Fox and the Stephensons were provided by Estelle Fox from the December 17 and 19 issues of the Arkansas Gazette and titled “Triple Tragedy Near Monticello, Arkansas.”

The photos of Edna Ella Fox’s tombstone, Rev. Willis Barrett and his second wife Ola Emery Barrett, the Selma Baptist Church, and Arthur and Vivian Peacock on their honeymoon in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1927, were taken from the original family photo collection.

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