National Figures

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Austin, Stephen Fuller

Stephen Fuller Austin, most widely known as the “Father of Texas,” spent a short period of his life in Arkansas after leaving Missouri and before heading south to establish the Lone Star Republic now known as Texas. Austin spent only a brief time in Arkansas, but there are various partnerships cited and references to his presence in historical notes regarding the settling of southwest Arkansas. Stephen Austin was born on November 3, 1793, near a lead mining area in Austinville in Wythe County, southwest Virginia, to Moses Austin and Mary Brown Austin. He was the second of five children. His father, Moses, was the pioneer who originally obtained the land grant from Mexico for an American colony in Texas. Moses …

Biffle, Leslie L.

Leslie L. Biffle was a national Democratic Party official from Arkansas. After serving as secretary for Arkansas congressional officials in Washington DC, Biffle became the Democratic Party secretary and finally the secretary of the U.S. Senate, serving from 1945 to 1947 and 1949 to 1953. Leslie (or Les) Biffle was born on October 9, 1889, in Boydsville (Clay County) in northeastern Arkansas. His parents were William B. “Billie” Biffle, who was a local Democratic Party official, and Minnie Ella Turner Biffle. The family soon moved to Piggott (Clay County), and many today continue to cite Piggott as Biffle’s birthplace. Biffle attended schools in Piggott and Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 1909, he moved to Washington DC to be secretary for …

Bowie, Jim

aka: James Bowie
Jim Bowie, the man who popularized the bowie knife and who served as the co-commander of the Texan forces at the Alamo, was also an adventurer and land speculator who achieved notoriety for a number of fraudulent land claims he made in Arkansas. Little is known about Bowie’s birth. His father was Rezin Bowie and his mother Alvina Jones (Elve) Bowie. Their son Jim was most likely born in Logan County, Kentucky, although some accounts place his birth in Tennessee or Georgia. Bowie had numerous brothers and sisters, and two of his brothers, Rezin P. and John, each owned property in Arkansas in Chicot County and Helena (Phillips County) during their lives. It is believed that John Bowie is buried …

Crockett, Davy

aka: David Crockett
The legendary frontiersman and congressman David (Davy) Crockett passed through Arkansas on his way from Tennessee to Texas in 1835. While at a Little Rock (Pulaski County) banquet given in his honor, he reportedly stated, “If I could rest anywhere it would be in Arkansas, where the men are of the real half-horse, half-alligator breed such as grow nowhere else on the face of the universal earth but just around the backbone of North America.” Davy Crockett was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on August 17, 1786. His parents were John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett. He ran away from home at about age thirteen and did not return home for some thirty months. In 1806, Crockett married Mary “Polly” Finley, …

Grey, William Henry

William Henry Grey emerged as a leader of African Americans in Arkansas after he settled in Helena (Phillips County) in 1865. Never a slave himself, he was a tireless fighter for the rights of freedmen. His involvement in politics included being a Republican member of the 1868 state constitutional convention and a member of the Arkansas General Assembly, as well as serving as the Commissioner of Immigration and State Lands. In 1872, he became the first African American to address a national nominating convention, seconding the nomination of Republican presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. He was also the first Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge (Colored) of Free and Accepted Masons of Arkansas, established in 1873 from the merger …

Holloway, William Judson

William Judson Holloway was an Arkansas-born politician and lawyer who moved to Oklahoma, where he became active in politics. He led the state of Oklahoma as governor in the early years of the Great Depression. William Judson Holloway was born on December 15, 1888, in Arkadelphia (Clark County) to Stephen Lee Holloway and Molly Holloway. Holloway’s father was a Baptist minister, and he sent his son to Ouachita College (now Ouachita Baptist University). After graduating in 1910, he studied at the University of Chicago. Holloway settled in Hugo, Oklahoma, and while reading the law, he also served for three years as principal of Hugo High School. He entered Cumberland University Law School to complete his legal training, earning his degree …

Houston, Sam

Sam Houston was the governor of Tennessee, twice president of the Republic of Texas, and later senator and governor of the state of Texas. From May 1829 until November 1832, Houston lived in Arkansas Territory among the Cherokee. Sam Houston was born to Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton Houston on March 2, 1793, at Timber Ridge Plantation in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Moving to Maryville, Tennessee, in 1807, Houston cleared land and clerked in a mercantile establishment. As he “preferred measuring deer tracks in the forest to tape and calico in a country store,” Houston went to live with John Jolly’s band of Cherokee and was given the name Colonneh (“Raven”). Subsequently, he taught school and volunteered in the War of …

King, Bertha Hale

aka: Bertha Hale White
Bertha Hale King was a socialist activist in the first part of the twentieth century. Although born in Illinois, she received most of her early education in Arkansas before leaving the state to serve as a high-ranking official in the national Socialist Party. Bertha Hale was born in Nashville, Illinois, in 1878. Her father was a farmer, but little else is known about her parents. She attended primary school in Golden City, Missouri, just over the state line from Illinois. The family then moved to Arkansas. Following graduation from high school in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), she attended Buckner College, a small Baptist school just a few miles north of Huntington (Sebastian County). In preparation for a teaching career, she …

McCombs, William

William Frank McCombs, born in Hamburg (Ashley County), became known nationally and internationally for promoting Woodrow Wilson as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States and for serving as manager of Wilson’s successful campaign for election. William McCombs was born on December 26, 1875, to William Faulkner McCombs and Mary Frances Pugh McCombs, whose family was among the most prominent in the area. He was one of six children—three boys and three girls. Permanently crippled in a fall during infancy, McCombs depended on the support of a cane for the rest of his life. He became an excellent student, taught by his mother and private tutors before enrolling in an exclusive preparatory school in Tennessee. Later, …

McDougal, Jim

aka: James Bert McDougal
James Bert (Jim) McDougal was at various times a political aide, politician, instructor of political science, real estate developer, and banker who attained national attention due to his involvement in what came to be called the Whitewater scandal. His second wife, Susan Henley McDougal, was also implicated in the investigation. Jim McDougal was born on August 25, 1940, in Bradford (White County), the only child of Leo and Lorene McDougal. He attended public schools. In 1960, he helped with the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy in Arkansas and was later offered a position as an aide in the office of Senator John McClellan. McDougal left the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) after his freshman year to …

McDougal, Susan Carol Henley

Susan Carol Henley McDougal became famous in the 1990s for refusing to testify before Kenneth Starr and the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) grand jury held in Little Rock (Pulaski County) during the Whitewater scandal investigation. She was imprisoned for almost two years, before ultimately being found not guilty and released. Susan Henley was born in 1955 in Heidelberg, Germany, to James Henley, a U.S. Army sergeant originally from Camden (Ouachita County), and Laurette Mathieu Henley, a native of Belgium. Susan grew up in Camden, the middle child of seven, and attended public schools. She entered Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) at Arkadelphia (Clark County) in the fall of 1972 on a Latin scholarship. At OBU, she met Jim McDougal, then …

McKennon, Arch

aka: Archibald Smith McKennon
Archibald Smith McKennon was a Confederate military officer, storekeeper, lawyer, temperance advocate, and political activist in Arkansas in the latter part of the nineteenth century. These activities led to an appointment to the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, commonly known as the Dawes Commission. This committee negotiated land allotments to individual Native Americans in order to lessen tribal claims. This subsequently opened the area to white settlement in—and facilitated statehood for—the Oklahoma Territory. Arch McKennon was born near Pulaski, Tennessee, on February 7, 1841. He was one of several children of Dr. Archibald McKennon and Sarah Smith McKennon, who had moved there from South Carolina. The family later immigrated to Arkansas and made their home in Carroll County in …

Mitchell, Martha

aka: Martha Elizabeth Beall Jennings Mitchell
Martha Elizabeth Beall Mitchell gained worldwide recognition for her outspokenness during the Watergate scandal—a scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office on August 9, 1974. She was a renowned character in Washington DC. During President Nixon’s first term, her husband, John Mitchell, was attorney general. Nixon once said, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.” Martha Beall was born on September 2, 1918, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Her father, George V. Beall, was a cotton broker, and her mother, Arie Elizabeth Ferguson Beall, was a speech and drama teacher for fifty years in the Pine Bluff School District. Beall graduated in May 1937 from Pine Bluff High School, where she was …

Moose, James Sayle, Jr.

James Sayle Moose Jr. was an American Foreign Service officer and diplomat. A specialist in the Middle East, he represented the United States in a number of positions in that region, playing an important role in both World War II and early Cold War diplomacy. Over the course of a career spanning more than three decades, he served in posts across the Middle East, joining a select group of diplomatic figures who represented the United States to five or more foreign governments or international organizations. James S. Moose Jr. was born on October 3, 1903, in Morrilton (Conway County) to James S. Moose and Ellen Howard Moose. He received his early education in the local schools before attending Kentucky Military …

Nation, Carrie Amelia Moore

aka: Carry Nation
Carry Amelia Moore Nation was a temperance advocate famous for being so vehemently against alcohol that she would use hatchets to smash any place that sold it. She spent most of her life in Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, but she lived in Arkansas for several years near the end of her life; her last speech was in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). The house she lived in, which is in Eureka Springs, was made into a museum called Hatchet Hall. Carry Moore, whose first name is sometimes spelled Carrie, was born on November 25, 1846, in Garrard County, Kentucky, to George and Mary Moore. George Moore was of Irish descent, and he owned a plantation with slaves. Mary Moore had a …

Slater, Rodney Earl

Rodney Earl Slater rose from poverty to become an Arkansas assistant attorney general and served in several positions under Arkansas governor (and later U.S. president) Bill Clinton. He was chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, director of governmental affairs for Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), the first African-American director of the Federal Highway Administration, and U.S. secretary of transportation. Rodney Slater was born on February 23, 1955, in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Soon after, Slater’s mother married Earl Brewer, a mechanic and maintenance man about whom Slater has said, “My stepfather was my father.” When Slater was a small child, the family moved across the Mississippi River to Marianna (Lee County), where, by age six, Slater was picking …

Snyder, John Wesley

John Wesley Snyder was the secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Harry S. Truman. He holds the distinction of being the first native-born Arkansan to hold a Cabinet post. John W. Snyder was born in Jonesboro (Craighead County) on June 21, 1895. The third of six children of Jerre Hartwell Snyder and Ellen Hatcher Snyder, Snyder obtained his early education through high school in Jonesboro and later attended Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering from 1914 to 1915. Because of finances, he quit and returned to Arkansas, moving to Forrest City (St. Francis County). He taught in a country school in nearby Palestine (St. Francis County), often walking several miles to get to the classes he taught. Later …

Stanley, Henry Morton

aka: John Rowlands
Sir Henry Morton Stanley, world-renowned explorer of the Belgian Congo, specifically the Congo River, and famous for finding medical missionary Dr. David Livingstone, lived in Arkansas for a few months in 1860–1861, working as a clerk in a country store at Cypress Bend on the Arkansas River near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Stanley was born on January 28, 1841, in Denbigh, Wales, as John Rowlands. He was placed in the local workhouse at an early age by his grandparents and remained there until he absconded, made his way to Liverpool, and signed on as a cabin boy on an American ship bound for New Orleans, Louisiana. When he arrived in New Orleans in February 1859, he found work on the …

Steelman, John Roy

John Roy Steelman, the son of lower-middle-class cotton farmers, rose to become one of President Harry S. Truman’s best friends and top advisors. He performed valuable government services, sometimes without official title, during the administrations of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Born on June 23, 1900, on a farm near Thornton (Calhoun County) to Pleasant (Ples) Cydney Steelman and Martha Ann (Richardson) Steelman, John Roy Steelman was the oldest child in a family of six boys and one girl. He finished high school and, through the Department of War’s Student Army Corps established during World War I, was able to attend Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia (Clark County). After discharge from the army, he managed to stay in …

Taylor, George Edwin

George Edwin Taylor was a native of Arkansas and the first African-American standard-bearer of a national political party to run for the office of president of the United States. George Edwin Taylor was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on August 4, 1857, to Bryant (Nathan) Taylor, a slave, and Amanda Hines, a “free Negro” woman; he had eleven siblings, none of whom are known by name. Nothing is known about his parents, except Amanda Hines was forced to leave Arkansas in 1859 in compliance with the state’s Free Negro Expulsion Act, signed into law on February 12, 1859. She fled with infant Taylor to Alton, Illinois, a major center of the Underground Railroad. Little is known about Taylor’s time …

Watkins, Charles Lee

Charles Lee Watkins served as the first parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate. For more than a half century, he sat at the dais in the Senate chamber, advising hundreds of legislators and ten vice presidents on the Senate’s complex rules and procedures. Charles Watkins was born on August 10, 1879, in Mount Ida (Montgomery County), the oldest of seven children of John A. and Nancy Rebecca (Smith) Watkins. He graduated from the Mount Ida Normal Academy in 1900 and attended the University of Arkansas law school in Little Rock (Pulaski County), though sources differ as to whether or not he graduated. Watkins married Martha Heard Walker on October 3, 1903, and they had one son. Martha died on April 27, 1923, …

Whiteside, John Garrett

John Garrett Whiteside was a congressional secretary who served many of Arkansas’s delegation of U.S. representatives and senators from 1907 through 1947. In the era when ninety-six senators represented the forty-eight states, he was often called “the ninety-seventh senator.” In a twist of history, he also participated in the declaration of both world wars. Garrett Whiteside was born in 1885 in Nashville (Howard County). Whiteside’s father, John Elkanah Whiteside, was a clerk in Robert Burns’s store at Moscow (Nevada County). Whiteside served for a time as a court reporter, but little is known of his early life until he arrived in Washington DC on March 4, 1907, as secretary to Representative Ben Cravens of Fort Smith (Sebastian County), from Arkansas’s …

Witt, James Lee

James Lee Witt served as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Bill Clinton and is often credited with raising the agency’s level of professionalism and ability to respond to disasters. Since his departure from FEMA, he has worked as a consultant on emergency management issues across the nation and world. James Lee Witt was born in Paris (Logan County) on January 6, 1944. He grew up in Dardanelle (Yell County), attending Dardanelle public schools and playing football at Dardanelle High School, graduating in 1962. In 1961, he married Lea Ellen Hodges of Dardanelle; they have two sons. When Witt was twenty-four years old, he started Witt Construction Company. For the next ten years, while heading …