Fred High (1878–1962)
aka: Fredrick Green High
Fredrick (Fred) Green High, who lived in Carroll County from birth to death, was one of Ozark folk culture’s most notable characters. His contributions to Ozark heritage are evident in the many recordings of his folk song performances. The John Quincy Wolf Folksong Collection at Lyon College consists of a dozen recordings of High, and Missouri State University’s Max Hunter Collection contains thirty-one additional High recordings. A 1953 Arkansas Gazette feature captured his near legendary status in the Ozarks: “Everybody in north Arkansas knows Fred High for he seldom misses a fair, festival, picnic, public sale, apple peeling, corn husking, or other public gathering.”
Fred High was born on January 15, 1878, to Jacob and Sarah Ann (Roberts) High in High (Carroll County); he had three siblings. His father was the son of an immigrant from the Netherlands who had found his way to Ohio, and later Indiana, after coming to America. Jacob was about sixteen when the High (Hoke in Dutch) family moved to Arkansas in 1838. From that point on, the “High” name engrained itself in and around Carroll County. The town of High (Carroll County) was even named after this family.
The demands of farm life kept young Fred High on his father’s farm throughout most of his adolescence and, unfortunately, out of the schoolhouse, leaving him with little formal education. After his father’s untimely death when High was just eighteen, High was forced to make an abrupt transition to manhood and become the breadwinner for the family. He received a mail-carrying contract in 1898 and supplemented his meager income by making and selling molasses.
On June 10, 1900, he married Janie Hayhurst; they had seven children. With a new family to support, and his mail-carrying contract having expired in 1906, High arranged a petition for the establishment of a post office in High in 1907. He was successful and served as postmaster and mail carrier for the next thirty-five years. He also ran a mercantile in High, though this business gave him serious problems since debtors often neglected to make good on their credit purchases. Before long, High found himself in serious debt and subsequently engaged in a variety of different business enterprises, including a canning factory and a sawmill, with hopes of someday becoming debt free. Slowly but surely, his persistent hard work got him out of debt.
Amidst his many occupations, High became a devoted student and preserver of Ozark folklore and music, the latter interest making him a favorite source of prominent folklorists, such as Mary Celestia Parler at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). She and others recorded the numerous folk songs that High recalled from oral tradition, many of which might have vanished without him. High also wrote three small books, all self published, that contribute to Ozark folk culture: an autobiographical and family history book titled Forty-Three Years for Uncle Sam; a compilation of old folk songs that he had learned through oral tradition called Old, Old Folk Songs; and It Happened in the Ozarks, which contains tales and memories that he recalled from his life in the Ozarks.
High’s participation in the various local and regional festivals, picnics, and other gatherings made him a well-known figure throughout northern Arkansas. Perhaps the Arkansas Gazette said it best when it called High “an epitome of the old Ozarks of song and story, a remnant of an almost forgotten age.”
High died on May 28, 1962, and is buried in High Cemetery in High.
For additional information:
High, Fred. Forty-Three Years for Uncle Sam. N.p.: Fred High, 1949.
———. Old, Old Folksongs. N.p.: n.d.
Ozark Folksongs. John Quincy Wolf Collection. Regional Studies Center. Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas.
Max Hunter Folksong Collection. Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri. Online at http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/ (accessed January 17, 2023).
Rayburn, Otto Ernest. “Meet Mr. Fred High of High, Arkansas.” Arkansas Gazette. February 1, 1953, p. 2F.
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I’m Fred High’s granddaughter. My mother was Helen (High) Bonham, who died in 1958. I remember my grandpa well. He would line up the grandkids in a row and give us red hots (cinnamon candy). If one got more than the others, then that one was his favorite, or at least we thought so for the moment. My middle name is Jane, after Grandma Janie. I remember Grandpa being so tall and then Grandma so short. I got the short side.