The Group

The Group, Inc., is an intentional community (or commune) that was established at two locations in rural Arkansas before relocating to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the mid-1970s. In Little Rock, they established a number of successful businesses, including the Internet service provider Aristotle, Inc.

In 1964, a group of high school students from Odessa, Texas, formed a musical group named after their leader, Dixon Bowles. They grew in popularity, practicing and playing around Texas. Later, in Hollywood, they met with Dan Blocker, the actor who played Hoss in the television show Bonanza. In 1966, Blocker, who was originally from Odessa and knew of the group, let them use his name.

Living in Hollywood, the Dan Blocker Singers became popular and landed airtime on the Milton Berle Show and the Lucille Ball Show. The group sang and played tunes from a variety genres and venues. Under the supervision of Bowles, all members lived together in one house. Everyone was expected to share in the work, and all money went back to the group.

By 1968, the Dan Blocker Singers had grown disenchanted with the Hollywood scene and disbanded. After seeing an advertisement about managing Big Piney Ranch in Arkansas near Lamar (Johnson County), many members decided to reestablish themselves as The Group, Inc., with Bowles remaining in charge of the intentional community.

Life in the community, considered a “straight commune,” was strict. Bowles prohibited the use of drugs and segregated members by gender except for married couples. Members worked odd jobs and shared all their income.

The Group moved again, this time to Greers Ferry (Cleburne County). The members established themselves in various ways, including starting a dinner theater at the lodge they managed. Members worked as musicians, servers, and cooks. On February 3, 1971, the lodge (worth more than $265,000) on their compound burned down, and two days later, five of their members were killed in a car wreck as they were returning home from a work detail on former Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s farm.

The tragedies led a large number of the Group’s members to move to St. Louis, Missouri, as much of their financial capital was lost when the lodge burned down. They worked in various jobs around the St. Louis area with the goal of opening a restaurant. Besides the heavy work schedule, the Group hoped to take on numerous charitable causes. Their plans fell through, however, when local authorities not only refused to grant them permission for the restaurant but then forced them out of their house, citing health concerns stemming from the large number of people living in under one roof. The St. Louis contingent of the Group returned to Greers Ferry.

Members were determined to stay in the Group and remain in Greers Ferry, although some local people expressed negativity toward them. Tensions escalated when members of the commune voted as a bloc and tilted an election toward a particular candidate, causing animus for the losing side. Hooligans intimidated members of the Group by threatening members and throwing rocks at their compound.

By 1974, given the hostility and economic situation, life at Greers Ferry became untenable. The Group relocated to Little Rock, where it remains in the twenty-first century. Bowles and other members were on the cutting edge of many entrepreneurial endeavors such as founding Aristotle, Inc., and a digital training service. Bowles died in 2010.

For additional information:
“Back-to-Back Tragedies Shatter Commune.” The Bonham Daily Favorite, February 9, 1971, 2.

Bevier, Thomas. “The Group.” Mother Earth News, May 26, 1971.

Brantley, Max. “Dixon Bowles, Founder of Aristotle, Dies.” Arkansas Times Blog, December 22, 2010. https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2010/12/22/dixon-bowles-founder-of-aristotle-dies (accessed July 18, 2019).

Kersen, Thomas. An Exploration of Popular Culture in the Ozarks. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2020. (In Press)

Reed, Roy. “Civic Minded Commune May be Forced to Move.” Lakeland Ledger (Lakeland, Florida), October 1, 1973, 2A.

Rosenbaum, Connie. “The Group, Inc. One Man’s Family.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1971, 77.

Thomas Kersen
Jackson State University

Last Updated: 07/18/2019