Entries - Entry Category: Folklore and Folklife

Gurdon Light

The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light above the railroad tracks near Gurdon (Clark County), which was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories and stories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994, when NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries television show documented the phenomenon. Gurdon is located approximately eighty-five miles south of Little Rock (Pulaski County) on Interstate 30, just east of the Interstate on Highway 67. The light appears along a stretch of railroad tracks outside of the town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off of Interstate 30. However, the …

Hell’s Half Acre

Hell’s Half Acre is a talus hillside (a slope formed by an accumulation of broken rocks) located on Indian Mountain, about four miles northeast of downtown Hot Springs (Garland County). Since the first white settlers arrived in Arkansas, the unique contrast of blighted rock surrounded by otherwise ordinary forest has captured the imaginations of locals. Through the efforts of tourism boosters and storytellers, the area earned its name and its popularized reputation as an area haunted by the Devil himself. A Hot Springs tourist guide published in 1892 described Hell’s Half Acre as “[a] barren, weird, forbidding conglomeration of boulders, an arsenal for Titans. Not a blade of grass, not a shrub, not even a lichen dares brave the atmosphere …

High, Fred

aka: Fredrick Green High
Fredrick (Fred) Green High, who lived in Carroll County from birth to death, was one of Ozark folk culture’s most notable characters. His contributions to Ozark heritage are evident in the many recordings of his folk song performances. The John Quincy Wolf Folksong Collection at Lyon College consists of a dozen recordings of High, and Missouri State University’s Max Hunter Collection contains thirty-one additional High recordings. A 1953 Arkansas Gazette feature captured his near legendary status in the Ozarks: “Everybody in north Arkansas knows Fred High for he seldom misses a fair, festival, picnic, public sale, apple peeling, corn husking, or other public gathering.” Fred High was born on January 15, 1878, to Jacob and Sarah Ann (Roberts) High in …

Hillbillies

The “hillbilly” has been an enduring staple of American iconography, and Arkansas has been identified with the hillbilly as much as, if not more than, any state. Despite the lack of scholarly consensus on the origin of the term—historian Anthony Harkins gives as the most likely explanation that Scottish highlanders melded “hill-folk” with “billie,” a word meaning friend or companion—there is no shortage of hillbilly images in American popular culture. Whether a barefoot, rifle-toting, moonshine-swigging, bearded man staring out from beneath a floppy felt hat or a toothless granny in homespun sitting at a spinning wheel and peering suspiciously at strangers from the front porch of a dilapidated mountain cabin, the hillbilly, in all his manifestations, is instantly recognizable. Wrapped …

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, a nationally known eatery in Marianna (Lee County), is perhaps the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Arkansas, as well as perhaps the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the South owned by a black family. In addition, it is the state’s first recipient of the James Beard Award, which many in the food community consider one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a chef or restaurant. Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has drawn barbecue enthusiasts from around the world while maintaining its important position in this rural Arkansas community. No one is sure when the restaurant first opened, but multiple generations of the Jones family have manned the pits. Some version of the diner has been serving …

King Crowley

King Crowley is the most famous archaeological fake produced in Arkansas and was originally part of a collection “found” in Jonesboro (Craighead County) along Crowley’s Ridge in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the discoverer’s claim that the collection was an important archaeological find, modern researchers now refer to King Crowley and its companions as folk art instead of forgeries, as the pieces did not reproduce prehistoric artifacts. Dentler Rowland, a gunsmith and jeweler from Jonesboro, began selling these artifacts of a “lost” civilization in 1923, and he continued to do so until the 1930s. Rowland claimed to have discovered them while digging along Crowley’s Ridge, an erosional remnant within the Mississippi River Delta upon which Jonesboro was founded. Approximately eighty …

King, Helen Martin

Helen Martin King was one of Arkansas’s most unique artists, developing the almost-forgotten craft of rug hooking. She became a designer, teacher, and businesswoman, creating thousands of original designs, teaching classes, and creating cottage industries within the state. Helen Martin was born at Powhatan (Lawrence County) on September 20, 1895, the only child of John William Martin, a prosperous landowner and lumberman, and Clara Isabelle Norment Martin. Martin’s family moved to Batesville (Independence County) when she was a young child, and she acquired her elementary and high school education at the preparatory school of Arkansas College (now Lyon College). In 1913, at the age of eighteen, she married a local merchant, Fitzhugh Hail. Within a year of her marriage, both …

Kream Kastle

The Kream Kastle is a family owned and operated restaurant located at 112 North Division Street in Blytheville (Mississippi County). It has achieved a regional and state reputation for both its food and for its history as a central meeting place in the Blytheville community and as part of the larger Delta culture. A son of first-generation Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, Steven Johns started the business in July 1952 in a small building with window service only. In its early days, the Kream Kastle was a high-volume/low-overhead hot dog stand. As the menu expanded, so did its transition to a full-fledged drive-in. Before outdoor speakers, Johns employed car hops who wore white uniforms in all weather. Later, covered parking and …

Lassis Inn

Lassis Inn is a catfish restaurant located at 518 East 27th Street in Little Rock (Pulaski County), founded in about 1905 by Joe and Molassis Watson. Its first known advertising listing was in the Arkansas Gazette in 1931. Originally, Joe Watson sold sandwiches out of the back of the Watson home, and when he later added catfish to the menu, sales rapidly increased. Eventually constructing a separate building for their food business, the Watsons relocated the building in 1931 to its current location, moving it a short distance once in the 1960s to accommodate the construction of Interstate 30 near Roosevelt Road. They had apparently intended to call the establishment the Watson Inn but decided on the derivative of Molassis …

Lindsey, Donnie Lee, Sr.

Donnie Lee Lindsey, longtime bishop within the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Arkansas and noted businessman, founded the regionally famous Lindsey’s Barbecue in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2015. Donnie Lee Lindsey was born in Bluff City (Nevada County) on April 17, 1924, to Newton Lindsey and Anna Lindsey. His father was a sharecropper. By the 1930 census, he had one brother and four sisters. The family moved to the Maumelle (Pulaski County) area when Lindsey was four years old. In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Lindsey described himself as a rebellious youth who dropped out of school, only returning at age seventeen to attend the …

Lost Cause Myth of the Confederacy

The Lost Cause myth consists of a set of ideas about the history of the South that developed following the American Civil War. These beliefs, which are largely considered by historians to be false, were advanced by contemporary Southerners as the so-called true story of the nature of the antebellum South, the reasons for Southern secession, and the character of the South’s people during the course of the war. The story comprised a defense of the South’s “peculiar institution” (slavery), secession, and the war. In Arkansas, the Lost Cause narrative developed with the emergence of various Confederate heritage organizations after the 1890s. These organizations worked to ensure that their interpretation was integrated into the accepted history of the state and …

Lost Forty Brewing

Located in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Lost Forty Brewery was founded in 2014 by John Beachboard, Scott McGehee, Albert Braunfisch, and Russ McDonough. The micro-brewery takes its name from a forty-acre forest in Calhoun County known by locals as the “Lost Forty.” The forest’s virgin hardwood and pine trees are owned by the Potlach Corporation. In 1996, the Potlatch Corporation and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) entered a forty-year cooperative to conserve the forest. Lost Forty Brewery began raising funds for the initiative as well as other ANHC conservation and protection initiatives by forming a new non-profit, the Lost Forty Project Foundation, in partnership with the ANHC. In January 2014, Brewer, Beachboard, McDonough, and McGehee of the Yellow …

Lost Louisiana Mine

The Lost Louisiana Mine is an American legend about buried Spanish treasure that has been sought since the Victorian era, primarily in Arkansas’s Ouachita and Ozark mountains regions. The legend’s core narrative is that a Spanish expedition concealed a rich gold mine in the wilderness of Spain’s Luisiana colony (hence the name), and in returning to New Orleans, all but one of the party was killed by Indians. In the early twentieth century, variants of the legend attributed the treasure to either Freemasons or Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain who brought a fortune in gold and jewels with them, or a Catholic or Aztec trove brought from Spanish Mexico. Such Spanish treasure legends were once part of a deeply anti-Spanish …

Malnutrition

Social, environmental, and political forces have influenced—and often hindered—Arkansans’ access to nutritious food. From outright hunger to nutrient-specific deficiencies like pellagra, malnutrition contributed to stereotypes about “lazy southerners” Through much of the state’s history. The American Mercury’s 1954 description of Arkansas as a land of “malnutrition, mental disability, hookworm, [and] hogs” did little to refute this stereotype. Although nutrition interventions focused heavily on the Delta area by the conclusion of the twentieth century, Arkansas as a whole received the dubious distinction as having the fifth-highest rate of food hardship in the nation of all states in 2012, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Historical BackgroundSome of the earliest evidence of malnutrition in what is now Arkansas can be traced …

McClard’s Bar-B-Q

McClard’s Bar-B-Q is a family-owned and -operated restaurant located at 505 Albert Pike in Hot Springs (Garland County). It has achieved national recognition not only for its food but also for the prominent political figures who visit the restaurant and extol its virtues, including former president Bill Clinton. Alex and Gladys McClard owned the Westside Tourist Court in Hot Springs in the 1920s, which was located west of the current restaurant’s location on Albert Pike. According to the official history of the restaurant, a destitute traveler could not pay the $10 he owed for his two-month stay at the tourist court. The traveler asked the McClards to accept a recipe for what he called “the world’s greatest bar-b-que sauce” in …

McNeil, W. K.

aka: William Kinneth McNeil
William Kinneth (W. K.) McNeil was a prominent folklorist and historian of Arkansas and Ozark regional folk traditions, especially their folk music and songs, speech, tales, and legends. He published books and articles in both popular and scholarly outlets and produced widely disseminated recordings. Most of his research was conducted while he held the post of folklorist from 1976 to 2005 at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View (Stone County), from which he drew materials for his public programming as well as writing. W. K. (or Bill) McNeil was born near the town of Canton, North Carolina, on August 13, 1940, to William McKinley McNeil, a sales manager, and Margaret Winifred (Rigdon) McNeil, an office worker; he had one …

Meyer, Rhena Salome Miller

aka: Goat Woman of Smackover
Rhena Salome Miller Meyer—better known as “the Goat Woman”—lived in Smackover (Union County) for over fifty years. Her sometimes reclusive nature, numerous pet goats, and considerable musical talents as a “one-woman band” all contributed to her folk-figure status in the region. Rhena (sometimes spelled Rhene) Miller was born in Orwin, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1905. Her father, John R. Miller, was a Quaker who worked on a dairy farm and had a traveling medicine show that promoted the Seven Sisters Hair Tonic. He is said to have used young Rhena as a model in advertising the hair-growth tonic; however, as with much of her life story, no evidence has been found for this. Her mother, Katie Kessler, was an opera …

Miller, Nick

The artistry of stone carver Nick Miller is found in cemeteries throughout northwest Arkansas. The tombstones he made—crisp and legible well over a century later—employ the mourning symbols of his time: clasping hands, weeping willows, lambs, doves. Yet Miller’s bas-relief motifs and deeply incised lettering exhibit a level of skill and detail not generally found among contemporary carvers. All that is known about Nick Miller’s origins is that he was born in Germany. He never married, had no relatives in America, and is listed on the 1880 census as an “old batch” at age thirty-six. In addition to his distinctive carvings, Miller’s tablet-style tombstones are recognizable by his “Nick Miller,” “N. Miller,” or “N. M.” signature at the base. He …

Minute Man

Minute Man of America was a pioneering fast-food chain founded by Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Wesley T. (Wes) Hall (1915–2002). At the height of its operation during the 1960s and 1970s, Minute Man had fifty-seven locations—some franchised, some company-owned—in Arkansas and seven surrounding states. By 2018, the only Minute Man location in operation was in El Dorado (Union County). The first Minute Man restaurant opened at 407 Broadway in Little Rock on May 26, 1948, as a coffee shop with twenty-four-hour service. Hall had three partners at the time: Oliver Harper, Walter Oathout, and Alton Barnett. In 1956, Hall bought out the other partners and converted the flagship store on Broadway into a fast-food establishment. A historical marker was …

Mount Bethel Winery

Mount Bethel Winery in Altus (Franklin County) is the third oldest winery in the state and is a part of the tradition of Arkansas winemaking established by Swiss Catholic immigrants who settled in the western part of the state in the late eighteenth century. Like other wineries in Arkansas, it remains a family-owned and -operated enterprise and has won many awards for its product. Mount Bethel Winery, named after the old church and school district located there, was founded on August 8, 1956, by Eugene Post, who had earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and so entered the wine business with a good knowledge of fermentation and the aging of wine. Eugene …

Murrell, John Andrews

Among legendary characters associated with nineteenth-century Arkansas, John Andrews Murrell occupies a prominent place. Counterfeiting and thieving along the Mississippi River, Murrell was only a petty outlaw in a time and place with little law enforcement. However, he became a greater figure in legend following his death. John A. Murrell was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, in 1806. His father, Jeffrey Gilliam Murrell, was a respected farmer who, with his wife, Zilpha Murrell, raised eight children. Shortly after John was born, the Murrells and other relations moved to Williamson County, Tennessee. However, Murrell’s father fell on hard times, and his sons, who were wild and errant, began to have trouble with the law. At the age of sixteen, Murrell, along …

Official State Cooking Vessel

aka: Dutch Oven
The Dutch oven was adopted as the state historic cooking vessel to indicate the significance of the vessel in the Arkansas’s history. Dutch ovens were brought into the state by the explorers and early settlers and were in wide use by the early 1800s. By the time of statehood, most homes probably had Dutch ovens in use on their fireplaces. The Dutch oven is neither a pot nor a kettle. It is a cast iron vessel that has three legs to provide stable support and to provide space under the oven for coals to heat the oven from the bottom. The oven has a flat bottom and a tight-fitting lid to contain the heated pressure in the oven; the lid …

Ohio Club

The Ohio Club at 336 Central Avenue in Hot Springs (Garland County) is considered Arkansas’s oldest continually operating bar. It was founded by John “Coffee” Williams and his nephew, Sam Watt, in 1905. It became a popular watering hole and meeting place for notorious figures such as Al Capone, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, as well as local legends like Owen “Owney” Madden and Arkansas gambling czar William Stokley Jacobs. The Ohio Club has never closed its doors despite bans on both gambling and alcohol. The Ohio Club was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Hot Springs Central Avenue Historic District on June 25, 1985. In 1905, Coffee Williams and Sam Watt …

Old Mike

Old Mike is the name given to a traveling salesman who died in 1911 in Prescott (Nevada County). The people of Prescott only knew him by his first name, Mike. He was subsequently embalmed and publicly displayed for over sixty years. Mike visited Prescott about once a month to sell pens, paper, and thread to homes and businesses near the railroad tracks in the center of town. He would arrive on the southbound 3:00 p.m. train and stay overnight. The next day, he would re-board the 3:00 p.m. train and continue his journey. On April 11, 1911, Mike probably attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, his body was found underneath a tree in the park, …

Outhouses

Arkansas, particularly in the mountainous regions, has often been criticized as being the home of the oft-caricatured hillbilly. The hillbilly of lore is lazy, shoeless, and likely has an outhouse rather than modern amenities such as indoor plumbing. Outhouses—otherwise known as the backhouse, privy, or necessary—once dotted the landscape. Originally a time-saving and sanitary invention, it remained a symbol of the poverty that plagued Arkansas citizens for generations. The Greeks and Romans had interior chambers for human waste. The medieval population had garderobes if they could afford them, or troughs and chests. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “outhouse,” used for a toilet, is a distinctly American term, the first recorded occurrence of which is as early as …

Ozark English

A dialect called Ozark English is spoken in the Ozark Mountain region of northwestern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. It is a close relative of the Scotch-Irish dialect spoken in the Appalachian Mountains, as many settlers migrated from Appalachia to Arkansas beginning in the late 1830s. Scholarship posits that the geographic location and subsequent isolation of the Ozark Mountains allowed for the preservation of select archaic properties of the dialect spoken by Appalachian settlers. This isolation fostered an independent development of the dialect that set Ozark English apart from what is widely considered standard American English. Like its Appalachian cousin, Ozark English is commonly linked to stereotypes that depict the mountain culture as backward and uneducated. Scholars began linking Ozark English …

Ozark Folk Center State Park

The Ozark Folk Center State Park at Mountain View (Stone County) may be the only state park in Arkansas dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Southern mountain folkways and traditions. When opened in 1973, the park was hailed as a home for traditional crafts and music and has since become one of the important institutions preserving this particular way of life. The idea for the folk center grew from the success of the Arkansas Folk Festival, which debuted in April 1963 in Mountain View under the sponsorship of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild (later known as the Arkansas Craft Guild) and the Rackensack Folklore Society. Although the Folk Festival continues to highlight the crafts and music of the area, …

Ozark Folklore Society

aka: Arkansas Folklore Society
The Ozark Folklore Society was founded on April 30, 1949, at an informal meeting convened by poet John Gould Fletcher, who was then serving as artist-in-residence at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and held in the study of folklorist Vance Randolph in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). Fletcher was named president and Randolph vice president. Just over a year later, on May 10, 1950, Fletcher drowned himself in a pond near his house in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Randolph assumed the office of president. In the first issue of its newsletter, Ozark Folklore Society, Randolph stated the mission of the society: “We believe that the Ozark region of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma has a richer store of …

Ozark Folkways

Originally known as the Ozark Native Craft Association, Ozark Folkways—located on Scenic Byway 71 south of Winslow (Washington County)—strives to preserve the past by teaching and exhibiting crafts native to the region. Though its mission has changed somewhat over the years, the basic intent has remained: to teach and share native Ozark skills and provide space in which to market crafts created by members residing in the Ozarks. In 1969, the Ozark Native Craft Association was formed when President Betty Cooley, Vice President June Roberts, and Secretary-Treasurer Elaine Cochran filed non-profit incorporation papers, establishing the organization as an outlet for a dozen founding members to market their crafts. Founders held classes to teach their crafts, and an outlet was located …

Ozark Vernacular Architecture

Vernacular architecture is usually defined as structures that groups of people make for daily use—that is, buildings not designed by professional architects but representative of folk culture, produced by members of the community to meet certain needs or desires and guided by the conventions of locality. Ozark vernacular architecture is, therefore, that which was employed in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas from the early nineteenth-century era of settlement until around 1930, when the internationally popular bungalow home began to be introduced into the region. Geographer Fred Kniffen, folklorist Henry Glassie, and several others have identified the Ozarks as belonging to the Upland South “stream” of vernacular architecture, sharing several characteristics with buildings in the Appalachian region, though there were also …

Parler, Mary Celestia

Mary Celestia Parler was responsible for developing and implementing the most extensive folklore research project in Arkansas history. She was a professor of English and folklore at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and the wife of noted Ozark folklore collector Vance Randolph. Through her vast knowledge and appreciation of Arkansas culture, she enabled many future generations to glimpse the state’s cultural history, much of which remains only in the stories, songs, and images she collected with the help of her students and assistants. Mary Parler was born on October 6, 1904, in Wedgefield, South Carolina, the daughter of a country doctor and farmer, Marvin Lamar Parler, and a local historian, writer, and teacher, Josie Platt Parler. Mary had …

Petit Jean, Legend of

The Legend of Petit Jean is a romantic Arkansas tale that purports to explain the origin of the name of Petit Jean Mountain. Although there are other explanations that are both more logical and more mundane, when someone refers to “The Legend of Petit Jean,” the person is most likely alluding to the romantic one. According to the story, in the 1700s, a young French girl named Adrienne (or, more specifically, Adrienne Dumont) disguised herself as a cabin boy named Jean in order to follow her beloved to the New World. Because of her small size, the other sailors nicknamed her “Petit Jean,” French for “Little John.” At some point after arriving in Arkansas, Petit Jean became ill, although the …

Post Familie Vineyards and Winery

Post Familie Vineyards and Winery is located on state Highway 186 in the town of Altus (Franklin County), on the old farm of Professor Joseph Bachman, a noted creator of new grape varieties. Post Familie Winery has its origins in the immigration into the area of German and Swiss Catholics in the 1880s—which made Altus one of the leading wine communities in the state by the turn of the century—and is today one of the 100 largest wineries in the nation. The great-grandfather of this branch of the Post family was Jacob Post, who made wine along with his wife, Anna. Originally, the family made wine from wild grapes as well as other fruits and berries before acquiring grape cuttings …

Prohibition

Prohibition, the effort to limit or ban the sale and consumption of alcohol, has been prevalent since Arkansas’s territorial period. The state has attempted to limit use of alcoholic beverages through legal efforts such as establishing “dry” counties, as well as through extra-legal measures such as destroying whiskey distilleries. Since achieving statehood in 1836, prohibition has consistently been a political and public health issue. As early as the 1760s, European settlers at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) took steps to limit alcohol use by Quapaw Indians living in the area. When the area was under Spanish control, British traders successfully maneuvered to trade goods and spirits in Arkansas, plying the Quapaw with rum despite a Spanish law prohibiting the furnishing of …

Quiltmaking

Quiltmaking is the creation of a bedspread, coverlet, or wall hanging by quilting, defined as tying or sewing three layers of material together. The art of quiltmaking was brought to Arkansas during the earliest days of settlement, and it had come to the United States from Great Britain and other western European countries. The art of quilting was probably introduced to Europe in the form of clothing worn under the armor of Turkish people, and quilting has been traced to ancient China, Egypt, and India. Exploring the Americas, most Spanish conquistadors wore quilted cotton jackets in place of armor due to the scarcity of iron. When armor was available, the quilted clothing may have been worn under it, as it …

Rabies

 Rabies, a viral disease that attacks the body’s central nervous system, causes convulsions, hallucinations, and an inability to swallow liquid—hence its earlier name, hydrophobia, or “fear of water.” Until Frenchman Louis Pasteur’s 1885 creation of a vaccine that successfully treated rabies in humans, the bite from a rabid animal almost always resulted in a death excruciating to endure and horrifying to witness. Pasteur’s discovery was publicized in Arkansas, but it would be almost thirty years before the state had a treatment center using his methods, though it lasted only briefly. Two months after Pasteur’s breakthrough, four New Jersey children who had been bitten by a rabid dog traveled to France and were cured using the vaccine. News of these boys’ …

Rackensack Folklore Society

The Rackensack Folklore Society was organized for the purpose of perpetuating the traditional folk music of the people of Arkansas, particularly in the mountainous area of the north-central part of the state. Stone County, located in the area, was unique in having music-making families throughout its boundaries who founded the base of the Rackensack organization. The society was begun by Lloyd Hollister, a doctor, and his wife, Martha. They came from the Little Rock (Pulaski County) area in 1962 and settled in the Fox (Stone County) community. Hollister set up his medical practice in Mountain View (Stone County) with Howard Monroe, a noted surgeon in the area. The Hollisters attended various musical sessions in the Fox community and joined in the …

Randolph, Vance

Vance Randolph was a folklorist whose wide-ranging studies in the traditional culture of the Ozarks made him famous with both academic and popular readers from the 1930s to the present. Vance Randolph was born on February 23, 1892, in Pittsburg, Kansas, to John Randolph, an attorney and Republican politician, and Theresa Gould, a public school teacher. He was the eldest of three sons. Born to the respectable center, he was as a young man attracted to the margins, to the rich ethnic and cultural diversity and radical politics of the region’s mining communities. He dropped out of high school and published his first writing for leftist periodicals such as the socialist Appeal to Reason, published in nearby Girard. He graduated …

Rayburn, Otto Ernest

Otto Ernest Rayburn was a writer, magazine publisher, and collector of Arkansas and Ozark lore. Vance Randolph, in his introduction to Rayburn’s autobiography, Forty Years in the Ozarks (1957), defined Rayburn as a “dedicated regionalist” and added, “There is no denying that, in the period between 1925 and 1950, Rayburn did more to arouse popular interest in Ozark folklore than all of the professors put together.” Otto Rayburn was born on May 6, 1891, in Hacklebarney settlement, Davis County, Iowa, to William Grant Rayburn, a farmer, and Sarah Jane Turpin Rayburn. The family soon moved to Woodson County, Kansas, where Rayburn grew up. In 1909–1910, he attended Marionville College in Marionville, Missouri. In the spring of 1917, Rayburn bought forty …

Rhodes, Richard (Hanging of)

Few people survive a hanging, but Dr. Richard Rhodes—a plantation owner in Dallas County, living just south of present-day Sheridan (Grant County)—may have survived two. Richard Clinton Rhodes was born in North Carolina in 1801 to a prominent family. He received medical training in Europe and then opened a practice in Robeson County, North Carolina. There, he invested in land and quickly became a rich plantation owner with nearly 200 slaves. Rhodes married Susan Davis Russell when she was sixteen and he was forty-six. The Rhodes family’s oral history says that while practicing medicine in North Carolina, Rhodes delivered Susan as a newborn. The Russell family could not afford to pay Rhodes’s medical fee, so the baby girl was offered …

Robertson, Irene

Irene Robertson was an interviewer and writer for the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project in Arkansas. She preserved the life stories and experiences of former slaves—or, in some cases, their children—then living in the counties of Crittenden, Lee, Monroe, Phillips, Prairie, and St. Francis. Using her straightforward style of reporting, she prepared 290 out of a total of 300 slave narratives produced in the above counties. She also prepared approximately 116 narratives from interviews with older white residents. Irene Robertson was born in May 1893, possibly in Troy in Greenwood County, South Carolina, near the “Hard Labor” section of Edgefield County, where her parents had lived. Robertson’s father, Samuel Elisha Robertson, a farmer, was born in Edgefield County; he was a …

Rock Art, Native American

Rock art is a term archaeologists use to describe images on rock surfaces created both prehistorically and historically. Arkansas has one of the richest concentrations of rock art in eastern North America, primarily in the Ozark and Ouachita mountain areas of the state, with a concentration in the central Arkansas River Valley. Rock art has also been discovered along the Mississippi River escarpment toward the eastern part of the state. Most rock art is found in bluff shelters, but it also occurs on exposed boulders, bedrock outcrops, and in caves. Along with the other archaeological resources in the state, rock art is important to understanding the lives of Native Americans living within the region during the pre-colonial era. Rock art …

Rock Island Line, The

“The Rock Island Line” is a world-famous song—recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, and Grandpa Jones—the earliest known performances of which are two 1934 recordings made in Arkansas prisons. A tall tale in rhyme, the song’s subject is a train so fast that it arrives at its destination in Little Rock (at 8:49) before its departure from Memphis (at “half past nine”). The collectors responsible for the first recordings were an unlikely pair. John Lomax was a white, Mississippi-born college teacher already well known as a folksong collector, while Huddie Ledbetter was a black, Louisiana-born singer and guitar player just released from prison and soon to be even better known as “Leadbelly.” Arriving in Arkansas in late …

Salt Making

Salt making was an enterprise carried out in Arkansas for more than 600 years, first by the prehistoric Native Americans, who began to make salt around AD 1400, during the time in which they adopted a diet rich in corn and other domesticated plants. Salt was desirable for flavoring stews and other corn dishes, and it was an important nutrient for people living in a hot climate. It may have had a number of other uses, including for rituals, but it was not commonly used by Indians then to salt meat in much the same fashion that Europeans were accustomed to. European explorers and American settlers made salt for their own uses and for sale, until good quality, commercially available …

Spence, Helen

Helen Ruth Spence of Arkansas County was a famous outlaw and prisoner whose story captured the imaginations of many during her life and engendered a body of legend afterward. She was the focus of unprecedented media coverage in her day, up until her death at the hands of Arkansas prison officials. The July 12, 1934, issues of the Washington Post and New York Times published accounts of Spence’s death on the previous day. The date of her birth aboard a houseboat on the White River near St. Charles (Arkansas County) was listed by the funeral home as February 23, 1912. Arkansas’s houseboat-dwelling “river rats” were eventually expelled from the area as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tamed the White …

Springer, Andrew (Lynching of)

Andrew Springer, a white man, was lynched in Powhatan (Lawrence County) on May 21, 1887. His is the only lynching recorded as happening in Lawrence County and occurred during a decade when whites and African Americans were lynched in relatively equal numbers. That would change the following decade as lynching violence became more exclusively anti-black. The lynching of Springer became the subject of the October “Ghost Walk” held at the Powhatan Historic State Park each year and is a significant component of local folklore. The event was mentioned by newspapers as far away as Perth, Australia. The exact identity of Springer remains a mystery. Some newspapers reported that he was originally from Cook County, Illinois, but the four possible matches …

Starr, Fred

Fred Starr was an educator, farmer, sometimes-politician, and writer who spent the second half of his life working in, observing, and writing about the Ozarks. He was best known for essays that were published in Arkansas and Oklahoma newspapers for more than thirty-five years. They were a mixture of Ozark folklore, often-funny stories of life in the hills, and his own homespun philosophy, told in unpretentious and conversational prose. Fred Starr was born in Waco, Georgia, on September 11, 1896, to William D. Starr, who was a farmer, and Alice Murphy Starr. He was the sixth of their nine children, with six brothers and two sisters, one of whom died soon after birth. He and his family moved to Oklahoma …

State of Arkansaw, The

The ballad, or narrative folksong, usually titled “The State of Arkansaw” has been a principal exhibit in Arkansas’s recurrent laments about its disreputable image. It is a clear example of the expressive culture of the late nineteenth century that depicted Arkansas pejoratively. The story, which the ballad relates in first person, has its protagonist—known by several names, including “Sanford Barnes” and “John Johanna”—leave his home, most frequently “Buffalo town” or “Nobleville town,” to seek employment. He hears of job opportunities in Arkansas, sets out by railway, and arrives in an Arkansas community, variously identified as Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Van Buren (Crawford County), Little Rock (Pulaski County), or Hot Springs (Garland County). There he meets a “walking skeleton” who conducts …

Stilley, Edward Lawrence (Ed)

Edward Lawrence (Ed) Stilley was a farmer and instrument maker from Hogscald Hollow (Carroll County). In 1979, according to Stilley, he received a directive from God to make and give away musical instruments to children. Without any prior knowledge of instrument making, he created and gave away over 200 instruments, only stopping in 2004 when his hands could no longer do the work required to build them. Ed Stilley was born on July 27, 1930, in Carroll County, the third child of six. His parents were William Stilley, who worked at a sawmill, and Sarah Parker Stilley. Stilley was partially raised by a longtime resident of Hogscald, Anna Frances “Fannie” Prickett. Prickett was an elderly woman who lived alone and …

Stump Saw

Consisting of vernacular technology that combined a horizontally positioned circular saw blade with an automobile engine, the stump saw was used to clear rice fields of virgin timber during the early twentieth century. In northeast Arkansas perhaps as early as 1909, the stump saw became essential to rice cultivation after farmers had planted all the region’s treeless prairie and had turned to post oak flats and sloughs for potential rice acreage. In order to cut off trees at or below ground level, farmers developed a device consisting of a circular saw blade, probably a cast-off from a sawmill, fixed horizontally on a sled and driven by a gasoline engine. The rear axle and differential of a Model A Ford (or …