Farkleberry is a common name for the shrub species Vaccinium arboreum of the family Ericaceae and is sometimes called the sparkleberry. This bushy evergreen is native to the southeastern United States and ranges from the East Coast to west Texas. It bears small, black berries that are appealing to birds but not to humans. The shrub, which can grow to be about twenty-five feet tall, is not generally considered desirable or valuable, but its bark has been used to tan leather and its wood to make tool handles. In Arkansas, however, the farkleberry has been long associated with Arkansas governor Orval Eugene Faubus due to cartoons drawn by George Edward Fisher. The shrub is nearly unknown today, but its funny-sounding name has become a symbolic term referring to all things unique to Arkansas politics.
During his administration (1955–1967), Governor Faubus acquired the unofficial nickname “Farkleberry” from Fisher, who used the term to humorously skewer the governor in political cartoons published in the Arkansas Gazette. Over time, the name Farkleberry became interchangeable with Faubus in the minds of most Arkansans. In an interview in 2000, Fisher said that Governor Faubus was once supervising work along the highways in Franklin County. In what may have been a self-promoting stunt, Faubus dressed in overalls and carried an ax to make a show of directing workers who were clearing weeds and underbrush from the roadsides. The governor was driven around to personally identify the ornamental trees, such as dogwoods and redbuds, that he wanted left standing to beautify the roads. Fisher recalled hearing that a woman drove by and recognized Faubus standing beside the road, and when she pulled over to ask, “Are you really you?” the governor replied, “Yes, it is I.” Lou Oberste of the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Commission photographed the governor at work that day and published an article wherein Oberste listed the trees Faubus saved from the ax. Fisher, unable to resist lampooning Faubus over the event, facetiously added the worthless farkleberry to the list receiving the governor’s pardon. Fisher said he “edited in the word farkleberry, so from then on it became synonymous with Faubus.”
The obscure shrubs’s name has since been used throughout the state. Faubus called the walking path behind his Huntsville (Madison County) home the “Farkleberry Trail.” In 1967, the Arkansas Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists launched “The Farkleberry Follies,” a live theatrical satire of state news-makers produced to support journalism scholarships. From 1975 until 1988, the Farkleberry Restaurant was located in the Regions Bank building in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where several original Fisher cartoons were displayed. The cartoons were later donated to the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Farlkeberry shrubs can be found on the campus of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
For additional information:
Dumas, Ernest. Interview with George Fisher, Little Rock, Arkansas, August 5, 2000. Arkansas Gazette Project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Online at http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/project.php?projectFolder=Arkansas Gazette&thisProject=2&projectdisplayName=Arkansas Gazette Project (accessed December 9, 2016).
Hunter, Carl G. Trees, Shrubs, & Vines of Arkansas. Little Rock: Ozark Society Foundation, 1989.
“Vaccinium arboreum.” Oklahoma Biological Survey. http://www.biosurvey.ou.edu/shrub/vacc-arb.htm (accessed July 7, 2009).
Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
Last Updated: 03/23/2018