Entries

William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park

aka: Clinton Library
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park is located on a thirty-acre city park in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County). The center comprises the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the Clinton School of Public Service, Café 42 (an on-site restaurant), and the Rock Island Railroad Bridge. The Clinton Museum Store, also part of the center and managed by the Clinton Foundation, is in the lobby of the Clinton Library. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum is maintained, managed, and staffed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 provided that presidents may raise funds for building their libraries with no cost to the …

William L. Terry House

The William L. Terry House (also known as the Terry-Jung House) is an example of the Queen Anne architectural style, notable for its jigsaw decorative trim. It is eclectic in its details, such as the porch posts, which are Dravidian, a style imported from India. Built at 1422 Scott Street, now within the Capitol Zoning District and the MacArthur Park Historic District in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the home received a National Register of Historic Places designation on January 1, 1976. Exterior alterations have been modest. Interior alterations have been less restrained, but many features have been preserved. The house was constructed in the mid-1880s by William Leake Terry as a family home. Terry was born in North Carolina, but …

William Looney Tavern

aka: Looney-French House
The William Looney Tavern stands on the west bank of the Eleven Point River near the rural community of Dalton in northwestern Randolph County. The one-and-a-half-story log structure with a central breezeway, often called “dogtrot” style, was constructed circa 1833 and is one of the finest examples of vernacular architecture in the state. Thought to have been built as a rural tavern or inn, it may have served area settler William Looney’s distillery as well. It is the only surviving structure on the farmstead Looney established prior to 1815 on land that would become Arkansas. In 1816, Looney was appointed to the first of several civil appointments he held over his lifetime. When he died in 1846, he was one …

William Woodruff House

The Woodruff House, located at 1017 East 8th Street in Little Rock (Pulaski County), was built between 1852 and 1853 by William Woodruff, the founder and first publisher of the Arkansas Gazette; the Gazette was the first newspaper in Arkansas and the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi River. The house is significant because of its association with Woodruff and because it is one of only a few extant antebellum homes in Little Rock. The Woodruff House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 21, 1989. The Woodruff House is a two-and-a-half-story home built in the Greek Revival style, using mostly local materials, including cypress and bricks made on site. The original house had ten rooms, …

Williams Baptist University

Williams Baptist University is a comprehensive liberal arts institution owned and operated by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Founded in Pocahontas (Randolph County) in 1941, the college was moved to Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County) in 1946. The university is one of two institutions of higher education affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the other institution being Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County). The impetus for the establishment of the university was first provided by Dr. Henry E. Watters, former president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, who had hoped to revive Jonesboro Baptist College, an institution that had failed during the early years of the Great Depression. During the mid-1930s, Watters attempted to enlist support for the …

Williams, Albert (Lynching of)

On April 1, 1883, a seventeen-year-old African American named Albert Williams was lynched in El Dorado (Union County) for allegedly attacking the young daughter of John Askew. The only Albert Williams in the area at the time was the son of El Dorado farm laborer Carter Williams and his wife, Lou. He was approximately twelve years old in 1880; contrary to reports, this would have made him fifteen at the time of the lynching. John Askew was also living in El Dorado in 1880. He was a lawyer, and his household included his wife, Sarah, and a number of children, among whom was a five-year-old daughter named Tennessee. Although Williams’s alleged victim is not named, it is probable that it …

Williams, C. Fred

Dr. C. Fred Williams was a professor of history who chaired the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) history department through its largest expansion. Williams authored several works on Arkansas and served in many capacities at UA Little Rock; he also volunteered his services as a consultant for the Little Rock School District, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Society, the Old State House Museum, Ouachita Baptist University, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the Historic Arkansas Museum. Williams was the recipient of the Arkansas Historical Association’s lifetime achievement award. Charles Fredrick Williams was born in Allen, Oklahoma, on December 24, 1943, to Charles H. Williams and Willie Mae Williams. He had two brothers and five sisters. Williams married Glenda …

Williams, Claude Clossey

Claude Clossey Williams was a Presbyterian minister and human rights activist who was long involved in the civil rights movement. In addition, he was an active labor organizer and served as national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. Claude Clossey Williams was born on June 16, 1895, in Weakley County, Tennessee, to Jess Williams and Minnie Bell Galey Williams. His parents were tenant farmers and sharecroppers who were members of the fundamentalist Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1910, he left his family and moved in with cousins, working on their farm. During the winters, he worked as a railroad laborer, carpentry assistant, and painter. He also heaved coal for Mississippi River steamboats. In 1916, with the United States on …

Williams, Edward (Reported Lynching of)

In January 1898, the Chicago Tribune reported on the August 26, 1897, lynching of an African American man named Edward Williams near Baxter (Drew County). He was being sought for allegedly assaulting a Black woman. This information appeared in Ralph Ginzburg’s book 100 Years of Lynchings and has more recently appeared on several online lynching lists. The date of this reported lynching is apparently incorrect, as the first news of it appeared in the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic on August 24, 1897. According to the Daily Graphic, “Ed Williams, a negro rapist, was strung up by a mob near Baxter, Ark., Monday morning.” Monday would have been August 23. Also on August 24, the Topeka State Journal published another report, …

Williams, Ernest (Reported Lynching of)

On June 21, 1908, the Arkansas Gazette reported that an African-American man named Ernest Williams was lynched at Parkdale (Ashley County) by a group of Black women. The report, if true, would be a unique event, with female-led mobs being rare to nonexistent, especially among African Americans lynching a fellow Black person. However, there are reasons to believe that this report was false and, instead, part of a larger pattern of slandering local emancipation celebrations. The report in the Gazette is datelined June 20 from Hamburg (Ashley County) and relays the following information: “A mob of enraged negro women dragged Ernest Williams, negro, to a telegraph pole on the outskirts of Parkdale, a town in this county, and lynched him …

Williams, Harold Gene

Harold Gene Williams was a promoter of country music, a radio and television personality, and a businessman, becoming the host of the most widely syndicated country music television show outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Gene Williams was born on January 3, 1938, in Tyronza (Poinsett County) to Abe Rubel Williams and Myrtis Elease Williams, both Mississippi natives. He was one of three children. His father was a farmer and carpenter. As a boy, Williams helped his family in the cotton fields. Williams and his family moved to Dyess (Mississippi County), where they had purchased land, in 1943. Williams attended high school in Dyess, where he began his lifelong obsession with music. He also excelled as a basketball player and wrote for …

Williams, Hubert Ethridge (H. E.)

Hubert Etheridge Williams was a twentieth-century religious, educational, and civic leader. He founded what is now Williams Baptist University and made an unsuccessful race for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1960. In 1941, he became the youngest college president in the nation. Hubert Etheridge (H. E.) Williams was born on April 8, 1913, in Casa (Perry County) to Robert L. Williams and Anna Emma Williams. Robert Williams, who was a Baptist deacon, had progressive leanings, which he instilled in his son. Williams graduated from Casa High School and enrolled at Arkansas Polytechnic College—which later became Arkansas Tech University—in Russellville (Pope County). He also attended Ouachita Baptist College—which later became Ouachita Baptist University—in Arkadelphia (Clark County), and the George Peabody …

Williams, J. Mayo “Ink”

J. Mayo “Ink” Williams was the first African-American producer at a major record label and the most successful record producer of music by black performers, particularly blues and jazz, from the 1920s through the 1940s. The son of Daniel and Millie Williams, J. Mayo Williams was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on September 25, 1894. He left Pine Bluff with his mother at age seven after his father was murdered in a shooting at the local railway station. After moving to Monmouth, Illinois, he attended public schools, where he excelled in academics and football. In 1916, he enrolled at Brown University, where he became a star athlete. In the early 1920s, Williams became one of the first black players in the National …

Williams, J. Paul

J. Paul Williams made notable contributions to the field of church music. His catalog of published lyrics exceeds 925 songs, running the gamut of sacred and secular texts. A leader of choral clinics and composer symposiums, he was also a member of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). James Paul Williams was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 29, 1937. He was the only child of Ferris Woodrow Williams (a taxi driver) and Violet Simonton Williams (a bank supervisor). He was a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Oklahoma City until he left for college. Williams admired the church’s minister of music, and he decided to pursue that career, even though he had never had a …

Williams, Jack

Jack Williams was a U.S. Navy corpsman from Harrison (Boone County) who received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in ministering to wounded U.S. Marines during the fighting on Iwo Jima in 1945. Jack Williams was born on October 18, 1924, in Harrison, the son of blacksmith and machinist William O. Williams and Dorothy Lee Williams. He had a younger sister, Fern. The Williams family lived at 420 North Second Street in Harrison, and Jack Williams worked at the Lyric Theater. He attended Harrison High School, where he was a member of the Future Farmers of America. He graduated in 1943. Eighteen-year-old Williams registered for the World War II draft on December 23, 1942. He did not …

Williams, Jason Donald

El Dorado (Union County) native Jason Donald Williams is a pianist, singer, and songwriter based in Memphis, Tennessee, whose music combines elements of rockabilly, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, country, and jazz. Often compared to Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams is known for his dynamic piano-playing style and outlandish stage antics (including balancing items on his head and tap-dancing). Williams’s inspirations include Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Memphis Slim. Jason D. Williams was born on January 28, 1959, in El Dorado and is the adopted son of Henry J. Williams Jr. and Dorothy Carpenter Williams. Williams learned to play the piano by ear when he was two years old and received a piano at the age of three. He took lessons from …

Williams, Jeff

aka: Thomas Jefferson Williams
Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Williams was a farmer, preacher, and Union officer in the Civil War. He serves as an example of mountain Unionists, and his experiences show how the Civil War affected farm families in northern Arkansas. Jeff Williams was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of Nathan Williams and Rebecca (Jackson) Williams, a Cherokee Indian. During his childhood, the family moved to Franklin County, Tennessee. Williams married Margaret Ann Hill there in 1832, and the couple had thirteen children. Williams saw Arkansas for the first time in the spring of 1838, when he and two of his brothers formed part of a Tennessee militia company that escorted several hundred Cherokees west to Indian Territory. Six years later, following …

Williams, John (Lynching of)

On July 4, 1912, an African-American man named John Williams was lynched near Plumerville (Conway County) for allegedly murdering a deputy sheriff who was trying to arrest him. Although the Arkansas Gazette calls the deputy sheriff Paul Leisner, most other sources say he was Paul Nisler. Nisler, whose full name was likely Herbert Paul Nisler, was twenty-one years old at the time of his death. He had been in Conway County since at least 1900, when he was living in Plumerville with his parents, Sherman and Nannie Nisler. In 1910, he was still living with his parents (his father this time listed as Andrew S. Nisler) and working on a farm in Howard Township. He was described by newspapers as …

Williams, John Gilbert

A champion of the modern approach to architectural design, John Gilbert Williams was an architect, landscape architect, and the founding faculty member of the Department of Architecture at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). John G. Williams was born on April 30, 1915, in Van Buren (Crawford County) to Vera Jane Wallace Williams and Charles Bunyan Williams; he had one older brother. He studied engineering at Arkansas Polytechnic College (now Arkansas Tech University) in Russellville (Pope County) before pursuing his bachelor’s degree in architecture from Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Oklahoma State University). After graduating in 1940, he returned to Russellville to teach drawing and math at Arkansas Polytechnic College for two years. While in Russellville, he …

Williams, Lenny

Soul singer Lenny Williams is an influential rhythm and blues (R&B) artist who is best known for his time as the lead singer of funk band Tower of Power in the mid-1970s. He pursued a solo career after leaving the band. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2012. Leonard Charles (Lenny) Williams was born on February 6, 1945, in Little Rock (Pulaski County); his family later moved to Oakland, California. He learned to play trumpet in elementary school. He started singing in church and considered becoming a minister before deciding to pursue a career in secular R&B. Williams made connections with Bay Area musicians, the most notable being Sly Stone (who fronted the legendary R&B …

Williams, Leonard Lee (Killing of)

Leonard Lee Williams, a nineteen-year-old African-American man, was killed on Sunday, August 17, 1969, at the Wagon Wheel Drive-In in Benton (Saline County) in an incident sparked by racial strife in the city. The following day, a group of black citizens marched to city hall to demand justice. Mounting racial tensions were eventually eased through an emergency meeting of the city’s newly formed biracial committee. A grand jury handed down indictments to a number of individuals on various charges for their roles in the killing of Williams and the ensuing violence. According to a report in the Northwest Arkansas Times, published on August 18, 1969, Williams and a “girl companion” went for a late-night meal at the Wagon Wheel Drive-In …

Williams, Lucinda

Lucinda Williams is one of America’s most critically acclaimed songwriters and recording artists, as well as the daughter of poet Miller Williams. She has won three Grammy Awards and is considered a leading light of the so-called “alt-country” movement. Her songs, with their simple chord structures and gorgeous melodies, incorporate elements of rural blues, traditional country, and rock and roll. They are distinguished by evocative, plain-spoken lyrics that investigate the human mystery. In 2002, Time magazine called her “America’s best songwriter.” Lucinda Williams was born on January 26, 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her mother was Miller Williams’s first wife, Lucille Day. With her professor father moving from job to job, Williams grew up in southern towns such as Vicksburg, …

Williams, Miller

aka: Stanley Miller Williams
Stanley Miller Williams, known professionally as Miller Williams, was one of the foremost American poets of the post–World War II era. For thirty-three years, he was a professor of English, foreign languages, and comparative literature at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was a key figure in the university’s nationally known programs in creative writing and translation. He was the author, editor, or translator of over thirty volumes of poetry, literary criticism, and fiction. Miller Williams was born on April 8, 1930, in Hoxie (Lawrence County) to Ernest Burdette and Ann Jeanette Miller Williams. In his early years, he lived in five Arkansas towns, where his father served as a Methodist minister. After graduating from high …

Williams, Robert Lee, II

Robert Lee Williams II was a leading figure in American psychology known for his work in the education of African-American children and in studying the cultural biases present in standard testing measures, especially IQ tests. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2011. Robert Lee Williams was born on February 20, 1930, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His father, Robert L. Williams, worked as a millwright and died in 1935; his mother cleaned houses. He had one sister. He graduated from Dunbar High School at age sixteen and attended Dunbar Junior College for a year before dropping out, discouraged by his low score on an IQ test. He married Ava L. Kemp in 1948. They had …

Williams, Samuel Woodrow

Samuel Woodrow Williams was an African-American Baptist minister, college professor, and civil rights activist who had a major impact on race relations in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, from the mid-to-late 1950s until his sudden death in October 1970. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Samuel Woodrow Williams was born on February 20, 1912, in Sparkman (Dallas County), the oldest of the eight children of Arthur Williams and Annie Willie Butler Williams. As a child, he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and playing baseball and basketball, but nothing gave him as much pleasure as reading; over his lifetime, he amassed a collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Lessons about racism came early for Williams. Before he …

Williams, Sidney Banks, Jr.

Sidney B. Williams Jr. was a pioneering African-American athlete as well as an accomplished businessman and attorney. The first black man to quarterback a Big Ten team when he was at the University of Wisconsin, he later combined his training in chemical engineering with a law degree to become a leading patent attorney. Sidney Banks Williams Jr. was born on December 31, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Sidney B. Williams Sr. and Eloise Gay Williams. He grew up in Little Rock as the only child in a single-parent household, being raised by his mother. Williams graduated from Dunbar High School in 1954. At Dunbar, he was president of the senior class and also starred in football, basketball, and …

Williams, Sophronia Reacie

Sophronia Reacie Williams worked more than forty years as a nurse and nurse educator, becoming one of the first African-American nurses in hospitals and universities in Missouri, Ohio, and Colorado. Sophronia Williams was born on June 19, 1929, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the second of six children of Leon Williams and Theessa Woods Williams. Her father was a minister at the Church of God in Christ congregation in Little Rock, as well as a school cafeteria cook. Williams attended segregated John E. Bush Elementary School in Little Rock and graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock in 1947. As a teenager, she worked at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock as a hospital aide. Williams attended Dunbar Junior …

Williams, Sterling B.

Dr. Sterling Williams was a groundbreaking leader in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) who served in several important roles in national organizations dedicated to medicine and medical education. In addition, he was a gifted vocalist who performed with numerous choral groups. Sterling B. Williams was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on April 3, 1941. He grew up in Little Rock and graduated from Horace Mann High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a master’s degree in physiology from Northern Illinois University in 1966 and an MD from what is now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in 1973. He also completed work toward his …

Williams, Sue Cowan

Sue Cowan Williams represented African-American teachers in the Little Rock School District as the plaintiff in the case challenging the rate of salaries allotted to teachers in the district based solely on skin color. The tenth library in the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is named after her. Born in Eudora (Chicot County) to J. Alex Cowan and Leila Roberts Cowan on May 29, 1910, Sue Cowan began life in a small town in Arkansas. Her mother died soon after her birth. Raised until age four by her maternal grandmother in Texas, Cowan returned to Arkansas to live with her father. From fifth grade until high school, she attended Spelman, a religious boarding school in Atlanta, Georgia. She undertook undergraduate …

Williams, Virginia Anne Rice

Biochemist Virginia Anne Rice Williams helped develop more nutritious grains through her pioneering studies of rice, a major Arkansas crop. She conducted important research on the B-vitamin content of rice, on ways to keep rice from turning rancid in storage, and on the vitamin fortification of rice. Virginia Rice was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Roderic J. Rice, a banker, and Mattie Thurman. Her high school teachers urged her to pursue music as a career, as she was a gifted musician. Fearing that she would not succeed as a concert musician, however, she opted for science, a field in which she also excelled. In 1940, Rice graduated from Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) with a BA …

Williamson Hall (Arkansas Tech University)

Williamson Hall, located at 1205 North El Paso Avenue on the Arkansas Tech University campus in Russellville (Pope County), is a two-story, E-shaped brick building designed in the Classical Revival style of architecture and built by the National Youth Administration (NYA), a Depression-era federal relief program. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 18, 1992. Arkansas Polytechnic College (which later became Arkansas Tech University) had seventeen major buildings when Joseph W. Hull became the college’s eighth president in January 1932 and embarked on a major building campaign, much of it financed by federal programs like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Public Works Administration (PWA), and Works Progress Administration (WPA). In July 1935, Hull was appointed as …

Williamson, “Sonny Boy”

aka: Aleck Miller
Sonny Boy Williamson first became famous as a blues harmonica player in 1941 on the groundbreaking King Biscuit Time radio program (often credited as the first regularly scheduled blues radio show) broadcast by station KFFA in Helena (Phillips County). Williamson’s fame spread, particularly through Europe, in the 1960s and has continued to grow since his death. The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena-West Helena still features his music. Williamson went to great lengths to mislead would-be biographers, and facts about his life are difficult to verify. His real name was Aleck Miller; he was apparently sometimes called Rice, and he was most likely born in 1912 in Glendora, Mississippi, to Millie Ford. He took his stepfather Jim Miller’s surname. As a very young child, …

Williamson, Corliss Mondari

Corliss Mondari Williamson is a retired National Basketball Association (NBA) player from Russellville (Pope County). During his basketball career, Williamson played for the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and helped the Razorbacks win the 1994 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Basketball Championship. Corliss Williamson was born on December 4, 1973, in Russellville, one of two sons of Jerry and Bettye Williamson. During his career at Russellville High School, Williamson earned all-conference and all-state honors three times. During both the 1990–91 and the 1991–92 seasons, Williamson was awarded the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. During his senior year, he averaged twenty-eight points and nine rebounds per game. He also holds the record for most points …

Williford (Sharp County)

Williford is a small community located in the eastern part of Sharp County near the Spring River, one of Arkansas’s most popular streams for recreational floating. During the early twentieth century, it was one of the county’s largest and fastest-growing towns, but since then it has experienced a steady decline resulting in an almost nonexistent business district and a population of fewer than eighty citizens. While the earliest inhabitants of the area were Native Americans, the first white settler, Jeremiah Pitt Baird, established his homestead on the banks of the Spring River in 1841. Shortly after he settled his family on the opposite side of the river of the present-day town, others began to move into the area. Among those …

Williford Methodist Church

The Williford Methodist Church, located near the northwestern intersection of Ferguson and Hail streets in Williford (Sharp County), was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 22, 1992. Located behind the wood-frame structure is a large cemetery, which is not included in the historic property. When Jeremiah Baird settled near the Spring River in 1841, others soon followed. Within a short time, Williford was established. The community experienced slow growth until the construction of the railroad in the post–Civil War years. The town was incorporated in 1914. The town’s congregations of various religious denominations shared the local schoolhouse for regular services. In 1910, the Methodist congregation initiated the raising of the town’s first church building. The church was constructed by …

Willis Shaw Logistics

Willis Shaw Logistics is a national transportation company based in Elm Springs (Washington and Benton Counties). Willis Dean Shaw was born on August 29, 1918, in Custer City, Oklahoma, to George H. Shaw and Eva L. Shepard Shaw. By 1935, Shaw had moved to Elm Springs, which is where he met his future wife, Helen Lorene Dodd. Dodd was born on January 9, 1919, in Poteau, Oklahoma, but had moved with her family to Elm Springs by 1938. It was in that year that Shaw and Dodd were married, on June 16. That same year, the Shaws opened the Kever and Shaw Feed Store in Elm Springs, which operated a feed mill, hatchery, and poultry farm. The previous year, Shaw …

Willisville (Nevada County)

Willisville is a town in southern Nevada County. It is located on U.S. Highway 371. Caddo Indians were living in what would become Nevada County when the land was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Gradually, white settlers moved into the area to farm cotton and other crops. Thomas Mendenhall purchased land south of the future location of Willisville in 1855 and 1856. Nathan Ray purchased land just north of that location in 1860. After the Civil War, Jason Tyson opened a general store where Willisville is now located. Tyson had moved from Alabama to Arkansas in 1860 and had served in the Confederate army. In 1883, his son John was named postmaster of a …

Williwaw War

The “Williwaw War” has become the common term for the World War II conflict between American and Japanese troops in the Arctic Aleutian Islands. The term “williwaw” apparently dates to the nineteenth century, though its origin is uncertain; it describes sudden violent gusts of wind, often accompanied by rain, snow, and fog. The Aleutian theater in the war held particular interest for Arkansans: according to a story widely believed at the time (and which may actually be true), the loss of a coin toss in July of 1941 resulted in assignment of the 206th Coast Artillery Regiment of the recently federalized Arkansas National Guard to Aleutian duty. The winners (as they then thought), New Mexico’s 200th, were dispatched to the tropical …

Willow Flycatchers

aka: Empidonax traillii
The willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) is the only bird species that has been discovered in the geographic area that is now the state of Arkansas. The noted naturalist and painter John James Audubon found the bird in 1822 while he was traveling near the community of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), in what was then Arkansas Territory. When Audubon described the species in print for science in 1828, he named it Traill’s flycatcher for his friend Dr. Thomas Traill of Edinburgh, Scotland. Ornithologists have since determined that “Traill’s flycatcher” is really two different species, willow and alder flycatchers, which have almost identical appearances but distinctive vocalizations. The form Audubon discovered is of the species that was renamed willow flycatcher in 1973. …

Wilmar (Drew County)

  The city of Wilmar, in western Drew County, was once home to a school known as Beauvoir College. A center of the southern Arkansas timber industry, Wilmar flourished in the early part of the twentieth century but is now mostly a suburb of Monticello (Drew County), the county seat. The history of Wilmar is generally said to begin with James Thomas Dionysius Anderson, who bought 700 acres of land in Drew County for a dollar an acre in 1859. Earlier landowners in the area were Andrew Govan, who purchased his land in 1848, and Collins Hemingway, a landowner since 1856. Anderson cleared five acres of land and planted corn, which was tended by five slaves: Simon and Lizza Taylor, …

Wilmington [Steamboat]

The Wilmington was a steamboat that burst a boiler while traveling on the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Arkansas River on November 18, 1839, killing several passengers and crew members. Baltimore’s Watchman & Bratt firm built the Wilmington for the Raleigh Rail Road Company, working from a design by shipwright Langley B. Culley and launching the steamboat in early September 1839. The $60,000, 400-ton steamboat was 182 feet long and forty feet wide, with a ten-foot draft. Powered by a 135 horsepower Watchman & Bratt engine, the Wilmington (according to promotional material) “has one of Raub’s patented double self-acting safety valves, the first which has ever been introduced to operate successfully, on board of any boat on our …

Wilmot (Ashley County)

  Although it was not incorporated until 1898, Wilmot is one of the older settlements in eastern Ashley County. Situated just east of Lake Enterprise, which was once part of Bayou Bartholomew, Wilmot was a steamboat stop long before the railroad came through, built a depot, and renamed the community. Twenty-first-century Wilmot is located on Highway 165 between Parkdale (Ashley County) and the Louisiana state line. Evidence of prehistoric habitation of the area includes a mound north of Lake Enterprise that was excavated by the Arkansas Archeological Survey in 1997. The mound is thought to have been built around 1500 BC, possibly making it the oldest mound in Arkansas. Much of the dirt and many of the stone tool fragments found by the …

Wilshire, William Wallace

William Wallace Wilshire was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the Third District of Arkansas in the Forty-Third and Forty-Fourth Congresses, serving from 1873 to 1874 and from 1875 to 1877. W. W. Wilshire was born on September 8, 1830, in Shawneetown, Illinois, to William Wilshire and Mary Akers Wilcher (the spelling of the name seems to have varied over the generations). He was educated in the local schools before heading to California in 1852 to prospect for gold. He returned to Illinois in 1855, pursing coal mining and mercantile endeavors in Port Byron while also studying law. His was admitted to the state bar in 1859, but his legal career was interrupted by the …

Wilson (Mississippi County)

Wilson is located on U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Mississippi County. It was founded as a company town around the sawmill and logging camp of Robert E. Lee Wilson, for whom it is named, and his father-in-law, Socrates Beall. It is an unusually attractive town with its entire downtown commercial district constructed in the English Revival, or Tudor, style and its streets all lined with large cottonwood trees. R. E. Lee Wilson was a Mississippi County native who, after being orphaned at the age of thirteen in Memphis, returned to Arkansas at fifteen to work as a wage laborer on a farm near Bassett (Mississippi County). He began farming a portion of his late father’s land a year later. By …

Wilson Hall (Arkansas Tech University)

Wilson Hall, located 502 West M Street on the Arkansas Tech University campus in Russellville (Pope County), is an elaborate two-story building designed in the Colonial Revival style of architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 18, 1992. The campus of Arkansas Polytechnic College (which later became Arkansas Tech University) comprised seventeen major buildings, including several dormitories that the U.S. Office of Education deemed “unfit for human habitation,” when Joseph W. Hull became the college’s eighth president in January 1932 and embarked on a major building campaign. Hull and the board of trustees applied for and received an $82,000 loan from the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1933 to build a new men’s dormitory. …

Wilson-Anthony Duel

The only recorded violent death on the floor of the Arkansas General Assembly occurred on December 4, 1837, in a knife brawl leaving state Representative Major Joseph J. Anthony of Randolph County dead at the hands of Speaker of the House Colonel John Wilson of Clark County, who was subsequently expelled and tried for murder. The Arkansas Gazette cited it as “another example of the barbarity of life in Arkansas,” lamenting how it “stained the history of the state.” The events have long been obscured by variants of the narrative. Speaker Wilson, who was presiding over an extraordinary session of the Arkansas General Assembly called by Governor James Conway to deal with a predicted tax surplus, was debating a wolf-scalp bill, sent …

Wilson, Alexander (Lynching of)

On October 20, 1919, an African-American man named Alexander (Alex) Wilson was lynched near Marianna (Lee County) for allegedly murdering Ruth Murrah (identified in many newspaper articles as Rosa or Rose), who was about nineteen years old. Wilson had attacked Ruth, who was killed, and a relative named Estelle, who escaped. There was a Murrah family in Lee County as early as 1880. Charles Murrah was working as a farm laborer in Bear Creek Township and living with his wife, Celia, and their one-year-old daughter, Mary. A family member (probably a daughter) named Clara Belle, age fourteen, married thirty-one-year-old William Clifton in August 1893. By 1900 Murrah, age fifty-four, owned his own farm in Bear Creek Township. Also in the …

Wilson, Billy Roy

Scott County native Billy Roy Wilson is a raconteur, a mule and guinea fowl farmer, and a longtime civil and criminal defense attorney. In 1993, he began serving as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. In 2008, he chose to go on senior status designation, maintaining a ninety percent case load. Born to Roy Wilson and Vada Bowen Wilson in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 18, 1939, he was named Billy Roy Wilson. The doctor, who was a family friend, erroneously listed the name William R. Wilson Jr. on his birth certificate. The error was not discovered until some years later. After Wilson’s birth, the family returned home to Forester (Scott County), an isolated and company-owned …

Wilson, Charles Banks

Charles Banks Wilson was a world-renowned lithographer, painter, teacher, historian, and book illustrator whose art has been exhibited throughout the United States and the world. He is best known for his drawings and paintings of Native American life as well as for his vivid representations of the people, events, and landscapes of the Ozark Mountains, his primary artistic inspiration. Charles Banks Wilson was born on August 6, 1918, in Springdale (Washington County). His father, Charles Bertram Wilson, was serving in France during World War I when Wilson was born. His mother, Bertha Juanita Banks Wilson, was a public school teacher. Both parents had lived in Springdale but did not meet until each had moved eighty-five miles westward in the Ozark …

Wilson, Charles Kemmons

Charles Kemmons Wilson was a businessman who founded the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Called the “Father of the Modern Hotel,” he revolutionized the travel industry by providing affordable, comfortable, dependable lodging. Kemmons Wilson was born on January 5, 1913, in Osceola (Mississippi County) to Kemmons Wilson, who sold insurance, and Ruby “Doll” Wilson, a homemaker. He was their only child. His father died when Wilson was nine months old, and his mother took the baby to her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where she found work as a dental assistant. Wilson’s business career began when he was six and sold subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post. When he was fourteen, he was hit by a car while making deliveries on his …