John Carnall (1818–1892)

John Carnall was a Virginia native who moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in 1840. An educator, legislator, and newspaperman, he was one of the town’s most influential citizens over a period of more than four decades.

John Carnall was born in Virginia on January 9, 1818, but little else is known about his early life. It is known that he came to Fort Smith in 1840 carrying a letter of introduction that identified him as a teacher and scholar. Upon his arrival, he quickly established one of the first schools in the area. His creation, Fort Smith Academy, was incorporated in 1845. He later started a second school on his farm on Massard Prairie. These efforts were memorialized in 1962 when Fort Smith’s leaders named the town’s newly built school, Carnall Elementary School, in his honor.

Carnall served as chief deputy U.S. marshal. Carnall was also active in local politics. He was elected sheriff of Crawford County in 1846 and was reelected three times before resigning in 1851 to assume the post of first county court clerk for Sebastian County. Carnall is also credited with founding the town of Greenwood (Sebastian County) on the banks of the Vasche Grasse stream in 1851.

At the start of the Civil War, Carnall was elected to represent Sebastian County in the Arkansas General Assembly. He served for two terms before abruptly moving to the southern part of the state in 1863, although the location is not known. He returned home to Fort Smith in 1865 and joined with C. H. Wheeler and J. W. Wheeler in the publication of Fort Smith’s Herald newspaper. However, he soon sold his share of the paper. From 1866 to 1871, he was active in the real estate business and printing business, setting up a partnership with Judge John F. Wheeler. He also started the Western Independent newspaper. In 1872, the firm dissolved, and Carnall began focusing on the real estate business. In 1878, he founded a new newspaper, the Weekly Elevator, while turning his real estate business over to his sons.

He remained active in the operations of the Weekly Elevator and also engaged in additional writing, producing numerous pamphlets and articles, including Notes on Western Arkansas, all of which extolled the virtues of the region and especially Fort Smith.

Carnall and his wife, Frances Virginia Hunton Turner Carnall, had four children. In his later years, he suffered from asthma, which over time had gotten worse. It had taken a turn for the better in early 1892, a fact that made his sudden death on February 16, 1892, a surprise. He is buried in Fort Smith’s Oak Cemetery.

For additional information:
“An Old Citizen.” Arkansas Democrat, February 18, 1892, p. 6.

Faulk, Odie B., and Billy Mac Jones. Fort Smith: An Illustrated History. Muskogee, OK: Western Heritage Books, 1983.

“John Carnall.” Fort Smith Historical Society. https://www.fortsmithhistory.org/archive/bios/JohnCarnall.html (accessed June 26, 2020).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 06/26/2020