Down From the Hills

Down From the Hills is a two-volume memoir written by Orval Eugene Faubus, the long-serving Arkansas governor who precipitated the national constitutional crisis over school desegregation in 1957 by sending soldiers to block nine Black children from entering Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Down From the Hills, which essentially covered his first four years as governor and included the school crisis, was published in 1980, while Down From the Hills II appeared in 1986 and covered the last eight years of his administration and his three-time struggle to regain the office while navigating personal and family ordeals.

The two volumes, each on oversized eight-by-eleven-inch pages, totaled 1,074 pages. An earlier memoir, In This Faraway Land, published in 1971, covered another 736 pages and recounted his experiences as an infantry soldier in Europe in World War II. All three books were prepared more as day-by-day documentaries than as personal narratives by Faubus, although the excerpts from newspaper articles, editorials, speeches, personal letters, and favorable letters to newspapers are intermingled with his own descriptions of state, local, and national events and, at crucial times, his own rationale for what he and his administration had done.

Although they accumulate more than a million words, both volumes of Down From the Hills constitute albums more than they do memoirs. They are packed with hundreds of illustrations and photographs of the governor on almost every public occasion, including one of him wielding an axe in the woods when he joined a Highway Department crew in 1963 to trim a road right-of-way near Huntsville (Madison County). He devoted three pages to his efforts at highway beautification. Nearly every turn of a page reveals newspaper editorial cartoons, mostly sympathetic ones by Arkansas Democrat cartoonist Jon Kennedy, but many iconic caricatures of Faubus by Arkansas Gazette cartoonist George Fisher and many by cartoonists for other American newspapers and magazines are included.

Faubus, who had written for his small Madison County newspaper when he was serving in the military and later published and edited the paper, was an excellent and occasionally eloquent writer. But his books—with their endless excerpts, subheads, disjointed topics, and self-serving commentary—provide little literary compensation for readers. A primary purpose seems to have been to mention as many names as possible: every political supporter and friend he could think of and perhaps everyone who served in his administration beyond regular government employees. Appendices list every state legislator who served with him and everyone whom he appointed to state boards and commissions in twelve years.

For Faubus, the two volumes represent something of an Apologia Pro Vita Sua—the classic defense of his life written by Cardinal John Henry Newman. In his work, Faubus seeks to counter the notion that his actions were politically motivated (that is, designed to fend off challenges from rabid segregationists) rather than those actions likeliest to promote the greatest public good.

Faubus finished the second volume of Down From the Hills as he was planning his last race, against Governor Bill Clinton in the spring of 1986, which is not mentioned in the book. Its final pages are his most earnest and compelling narrative, covering the bitterness over so many friends and supporters abandoning him in the 1974 race against David Pryor, when he thought he would surely win back the office he had so cherished. This section also covers a few of his many personal travails, including the mental and emotional trials and suicide of his only child, Farrell; his running over and killing Farrell’s beloved terrier; his sentimental recollections of Farrell’s troubled youth and adulthood; his mad, furtive extramarital romance with the sultry Elizabeth Westmoreland of Wisconsin (who famously wore a beehive hairdo); their later tumultuous marriage; and her murder in Houston, Texas. Faubus omits many of the most opprobrious episodes, like the couple’s ugly battles with the townspeople in his native Madison County, their flight to Houston, and Elizabeth’s ordering him back to Arkansas and filing divorce papers shortly before her murder in 1983. His books make passing references to his wife of thirty-eight years, Alta Haskins Faubus.

His narrative tells about his and Westmoreland’s secret love affair in the two years after he left office after she had landed a job in Little Rock doing political radio shows for his old Democratic friends, often using scripts that Faubus had sent her from Huntsville. (Actually, the romance was not much of a secret. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller had a photographer with a telephoto lens take pictures of the lovebirds around Faubus’s room in the Crestwood Manor apartments in Allsopp Park and in the woods west of the city in the summer of 1968, the year before Faubus’s divorce from his first wife.) Faubus described an amorous meeting in a secluded Ozarks forest: “On a large beech we carved our initials and the date. In the years that followed, we returned each year to the spot and carved another date on the tree’s trunk. Now the giant beech, with a round hole in its side made by the woodhens which inhabit the valley to reach the ants in its decaying heart, stands in the quiet forest at a location known only to me. The winds whisper through the trees, the woodhens call to each other and the stream murmurs in the valley below, as the beech, with a set of initials and ten dates carved in its smooth bark, waits for two lovers who will never return.”

Faubus paid for the publication of the books and carried piles of them with him in the trunk of his car for years, until shortly before his death. He would set up a table in the rotunda of the Arkansas State Capitol and at craft fairs and other events in the Ozark Mountains, autographing and selling them. He tried to establish a rapport with people who stopped by so that he could find a relative or an acquaintance in the voluminous index and scribble a note by their name. He expected that by his listing every legislator and everyone he appointed to the hundreds of state boards and commissions over twelve years, they or their relatives would buy a book. Like everything else that happened to him in the last twenty years of his life, the book sales were a bitter disappointment. Little was ever written about the books in newspapers, given that they were viewed as scrapbooks rather than literature.

For additional information:
Faubus, Orval Eugene. Down From the Hills. Little Rock: Pioneer Press, 1980.

———. Down From the Hills II. Little Rock: Democrat Printing and Lithographing Company, 1986.

———. In This Faraway Land. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1971.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/19/2022