Searcy County Draft War

Coming on the heels of a notorious case of World War I–era draft resistance in Polk County was the less notable Searcy County Draft War in Leslie (Searcy County). Like other such so-called draft wars in Arkansas, the Searcy County incident involved a family/clan living in an isolated, mountainous region.

In August 1917, a year prior to the incident, the youngest son of the local Goodwin family, Miller Goodwin, had committed suicide rather than enter into military service. The Arkansas Gazette reported that he had left his home to report for military service in Marshall (Searcy County). During the trip, he stopped at a neighbor’s house at breakfast time. Shortly after his arrival, he shot himself. Suicides such as that of Miller Goodwin were not uncommon throughout Arkansas during the draft.

On June 5, 1918, the rest of the Goodwin family, along with an associate named Wesley Passmore, engaged in a shootout with county law officials led by Deputy Sheriff J. Barnett, who had come to enforce the conscription of the Goodwins’ eldest son, Levi. In the ensuing gunfight, Levi was killed, after which the Goodwins and Passmore surrendered. Pat Goodwin, father of Levi and Miller, was ineligible for the draft due to his age and was taken into custody alongside Eli Goodwin and Passmore.

The three men were held in the county seat of Marshall on charges of resisting the law. There are references to the Goodwins as “pernicious socialists,” but there is no solid evidence linking them to any organized Socialist Party collective, even though it was alleged that Pat Goodwin had been using his home to harbor draft resisters. It is more likely that, as with many other episodes of draft resistance at the time, the Goodwins were self-reliant “hill-folk” who resented federal and state intrusion into their hardscrabble lives.

There is no information on what sentences were handed down to the resistors in this case.

For additional information:
“Alleged Resister of Draft is Shot.” Arkansas Gazette, June 6, 1918, p. 3.

Sealander, Judith. “Draft Resistance in Arkansas to World War I” Ozark Historical Review 2 (1973): 1–12.

Phillips Stephens
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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