Polk County Possum Club
The Polk County Possum Club (PCPC) began with a challenge issued to local hunters of opossums (commonly called “possums”) in 1913 and henceforth hosted yearly banquets of opossum meat and side dishes until 1947, though it was active again for five years in the 1990s.
The PCPC began when attorney J. I. Alley wrote a letter, dated December 11, 1913, to Mena (Polk County) mayor John H. Hamilton that read, in part: “The undersigned has recently seen and heard of much of your boastful conduct and self praise with reference to possum hunting. In fact I learned from reliable sources that you claim great credit to yourself as chief of all such sportsmen in these parts. Therefore believing that others should share at least a part of those honors, I challenge you to a single or a series of possum hunts most suitable to yourself and those with whom you train.” The contest was held but was declared a draw “after an hilarious evening on the trail.”
The first opossum banquet was arranged by Dr. Ben H. Hawkins, who invited a few friends to an evening of feasting and fun at the Mena Hotel. When opossum hunting season opened next November, practically the same group went on another opossum hunt. They cooked their opossums at their camp and made a several-day event of it.
Not sure if the event should be annual, Alley and Sheriff H. W. Finger wrote a letter to fellow opossum hunter B. S. Petefish, who was a Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroad agent at Acorn (Polk County), just north of Mena. The letter asked Petefish fifty questions pertaining to the hunting, catching, raising, propagation, feeding, and care of opossums and for an opossum census of Acorn Township. Petefish delivered serious answers to Alley, Finger, and fellow hunter M. B. Legate. Southwestern Bell Telephone Company manager H. W. Roberts happened to be in Mena, and they formed the Polk County Possum Club with Petefish as president.
Petefish organized a big opossum hunt the first week of November 1915, and the first banquet, at the Hotel Mena, on November 6, 1915. The “sumptuous meal” featured baked opossum and all the trimmings, with a dash of “fun, nonsense and good fellowship.” Its success spawned another banquet on November 27, attended by 106 people. At it, Alley called the opossum the “greatest peacemaker on earth,” adding, “the potential and far reaching value of the Possum Club in the future cannot readily be visioned here tonight.” The gathering became an annual affair. According to one source, Legate unsuccessfully ran a woman candidate against president Petefish, stating, “Now that the fair sex has full and complete suffrage, it is possible for one of them to hold this distinguished seat.” However, the Mena Star carries no record of this candidate.
In 1932, women of the Christian Church prepared food for over 300, but an afternoon snowstorm cut attendance to less than half. A Possum Club member discovered a group of hungry tramps seeking shelter at the KCS depot. They were brought inside and fed opossum and turkey with trimmings. It was later written that, “No more appreciative guests ever attended a Possum Club banquet than this nonpaying group.”
The 1933 banquet served Senator Joe T. Robinson, Governor Junius M. Futrell, Congressman Ben Cravens, and Chief Justice C. E. Johnson. During the 1939 PCPC banquet, the women of the Mena Hospital Guild served over 650 meals. Long rows of tables were set up in the rock-walled armory on De Queen Street. However, the “possum and taters” ran out, and about 100 people were turned away. That evening, the Goldman Hotel Orchestra from Fort Smith (Sebastian County) played for the Possum Ball at the Elks Club.
For the 1941 Polk PCPC banquet, Secretary Emeritus Bob Berry explained, “Our ‘Minits’ are different in that they are always written in advance of the meetings, this before rather than after recording makes sure all club members know what has happened without having to wait a year for a report nobody cares much about.” This banquet, which took place on December 4, 1941; three days later, the radio carried the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The banquets were suspended during World War II. PCPC banquets resumed on December 7, 1945, but they were short lived. The 1947 banquet was called off, the only reason recorded being a “lack of interest.” Roy Vail revived the PCPC banquets from 1995 through 2001. However, interest in “possumology” subsequently moved to Mount Ida (Montgomery County), which is home to the non-profit group Possums Unlimited.
For additional information:
Fletcher, John Gould. “Polk County Possum Club.” Arkansas Gazette, Sunday magazine section, January 5, 1941, p. 3.
Grove, Anthony. “The Polk County Possum Club.” Booklet issued for the December 8, 1938, Polk County Possum Club Banquet.
“The Polk County Possum Club.” The Mountain Signal 1 (July 1989): 15–18.
Vail, Roy, compiler. “The Rest of the Story, or Possumly More Than You Really Wanted to Know about the PCPC.” Booklet issued for the October 21, 1995, Polk County Possum Club Banquet.
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