Entries - Entry Category: Folklore and Folklife - Starting with B

Back-to-the-Land Movement

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, nearly one million people throughout the United States left urbanized areas for rural settings, intent on establishing themselves as “back-to-the-landers.” While many of these people moved to the Northeast or the West, which had long been centers of counter-cultural movements, a significant number were drawn to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. It is difficult to state how many back-to-the-landers (BTLs) moved to Arkansas between 1968 and 1982, but rough estimates suggest that it was somewhere between 2,000 and 6,000. Nearly all of the BTLs who moved to the region were in their early to mid-twenties. On the whole, the BTLs were well educated, with over seventy percent having completed an undergraduate degree. Approximately …

Barham, Ella (Murder of)

The 1912 murder of eighteen-year-old Ella Barham in Boone County was one of the most gruesome events to occur in northwestern Arkansas in the early twentieth century. The incident has intrigued people for decades, and some believe the wrong man was sent to the gallows for the crime. Much of the story has evolved into folklore. On the morning of Thursday, November 21, 1912, Ella Barham walked from her home south of Crooked Creek to the post office and store in Pleasant Ridge (Boone County), a community once located about eighteen miles east of Harrison (Boone County) near the Marion County line, to buy cloth for a hat. After returning home at about 9:00 a.m., she saddled her brother’s horse …

Basketry

Basket making is the process of interlacing short flexible fibers to form a container using a process of coiling, knotting, plaiting, or weaving. Early inhabitants of Arkansas such as the Caddo and Quapaw made and used baskets. Basket making has continued in modern times in Arkansas but for different reasons. At first, baskets were made for agricultural purposes; they later became objects of beauty—a fine craft acknowledged throughout the country and created for contemplation and decoration for museums and homes. Prehistoric baskets have been found in dry bluff shelters in the Ozark Mountains. Because traditional baskets are made of natural materials such as vines, grass, reeds, bark, or split wood, they are fragile and perishable and have not held up …

Bittick, Helen Long

Helen Marie Long Bittick was an artist of the “primitive folk style,” meaning that she had no academic art training but developed her own unschooled, unique patterns of portraying her subjects. Helen Long was born on June 24, 1918, to Bette Ann Mangum and William Monroe Long on the Judge Level Farm between Washington (Hempstead County) and Hope (Hempstead County); she had three siblings. Her father ran a restaurant in Hope and farmed in McCaskill (Hempstead County). Long attended Brookwood School in Hope, the three-room schoolhouse in Friendship, and schools in McCaskill and Blevins (all in Hempstead County). She did not graduate from high school. She married Cloid Sykes Bittick on November 12, 1933, in Bingen (Hempstead County). They had …

Black, James

James Black, popularly known as the maker of the bowie knife, was one of the early pioneers of Arkansas and settled in the town of Washington (Hempstead County) in southwest Arkansas. James Black was born on May 1, 1800, in New Jersey; the names of his parents are unknown. His mother died when he was young, and his father remarried. Black did not get along well with his stepmother and ran away from home at the age of eight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, he was taken in as an apprentice to a silverplater named Stephen Henderson. During that time, Black apparently became strongly skilled in the art of silverplating. In 1818, when he was eighteen years old, his …

Blues Music

The origins of the blues are murky, but the state of Arkansas seems to have hosted the music and its creators since its beginnings in North America and helped spread it worldwide. Blues is acknowledged as the root from which sprang jazz, rhythm and blues (R&B), rock and roll, and hip-hop; in addition, it has informed the genres of country and western, gospel, and bluegrass. Blues and its offspring have long since crossed the globe, but its standard-bearers are largely confined to the Mississippi River Delta, especially eastern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Emerging in part from call-and-response “field hollers” dating from the slavery era, blues had practitioners originally belonging to many different groups with their own musical styles. Most scholars believe …

Bowie Knife

The bowie knife, made popular in the 1830s, has evolved into a specific form in current use. The bowie knife was worn for defensive purposes; its primary function was for personal combat. It was designed to be part of a gentleman’s attire, and the key difference between the bowie knife and a hunting knife, a dagger, or a dirk was, initially, the quality of finish of the bowie. Bowie knives came in a variety of forms—with or without guards, with differently shaped blades—and often were adorned with silver and other decoration, sometimes including etching and/or engraving on their metal surfaces. The knife got its name from a pioneer family who settled in early Arkansas and Louisiana. Jim Bowie, the best …

Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival

The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival celebrates the pink tomato industry in southeastern Arkansas. Originally a one-day event, it has become a weeklong celebration that attracts approximately 30,000 people each year. In June 1956, the first Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was held in Warren (Bradley County). Loran Johnson, who was director of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, was one of the founders of the festival. The one-day event included musicians, a carnival, and exhibits. Each year, a chairperson of the festival was chosen. A parade and beauty pageant were added the second year. Another festival event began after Jean Frisby, who was the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES) home economist for Bradley County, and Loran Johnson, who …

Breweries

Beer brewing in Arkansas dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Documentation on early beer brewing in Arkansas, however, is sparse. In Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Little Rock Brewery operated until 1920. The Joseph Knoble Brewery operated in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) from 1848 to 1881. After that, however, breweries did not begin operating in the state again until well after Prohibition ended in 1933. As German immigrants migrated to and settled in Arkansas, especially in the western portion of the state, many found homesteads near Fort Smith, where the state’s best-known historic brewery is located. Built circa 1848, the Joseph Knoble Brewery served locals until 1881. Joseph Knoble, a native of Wittenberg, Germany, constructed this three-story building using typical …

Bruno’s Little Italy

Bruno’s Little Italy in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is one of the most well-known restaurants in central Arkansas, serving authentic Neapolitan food since 1949 and introducing hand-tossed pizza to Arkansas. It was founded by Vincent “Jimmy” Bruno and continues in the twenty-first century with his sons and grandson, although it has operated in several locations with brief interruptions over the years. Known for its fine food and also for the many photos of celebrities on the walls, it has been recognized as having the best Italian food in the United States. Giovanni Bruno emigrated from Naples, Italy, in 1903 to join his brother in opening one of New York’s first pizzerias—actually a bakery from which they served pizzas. He was …

Bullfrog Valley Gang

The Bullfrog Valley Gang was a notorious counterfeiting ring that operated in the wilderness of Pope County during the depression of the 1890s. The gang’s origin and methods were mysterious, but the New York Times reported its demise on June 28, 1897. The article said deputy U.S. marshals attached to the federal district court at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) had captured three men, effectively breaking up “the once-famous band of counterfeiters known to secret service operators all over the United States as the Bullfrog Valley Gang.” Previous arrests were reported in Arkansas earlier in the year. In all, some fifteen men were arrested and convicted in federal courts at Fort Smith and Little Rock (Pulaski County). Others, in Arkansas and …