Entries - Entry Category: State

Searcy, Richard

Richard Searcy is an often-overlooked figure of Arkansas’s territorial period who helped in the founding and organization of the first county seats in Lawrence and Independence counties. He worked in various positions and professions to serve the people and the Territory of Arkansas, such as secretary for the Arkansas territorial legislature in 1820, county clerk to Lawrence and Independence counties, judge in the First Judicial District (which included Lawrence, Independence, Phillips, and Arkansas counties), postmaster at Davidsonville (Lawrence County), and lawyer based in Batesville (Independence County). Richard Searcy was born on September 1, 1794, in Sumner County, Tennessee, to Reuben Searcy and his second wife, Elizabeth Jett. He was his father’s sixteenth of seventeen living children and his mother’s seventh of eight children. Little …

Secession Convention

On May 6, 1861, a body of men chosen by Arkansas voters in an election held on February 18, 1861, voted to remove Arkansas from the United States of America. Arkansas’s secession ultimately failed in 1865 due to the military defeat of the Confederacy. States’ rights versus the national government had a contentious history prior to 1861. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 suggested that states retained powers to protect citizens from the federal government, and the Hartford Convention of 1814–1815 paved the way for the Doctrine of Nullification that South Carolina unsuccessfully invoked in 1832. States’ rights debates—notably among U.S. senators Daniel Webster, Robert Y. Hayne, and John C. Calhoun—led to a theoretical acceptance of this …

Secretary of State, Office of

The secretary of state is a member of Arkansas’s executive branch and holds one of the state’s seven constitutional offices. Originally the state’s primary record keeper, the position has grown since its inception to include the oversight of elections, production of educational materials on Arkansas history, maintenance of the Arkansas State Capitol and its grounds, and several business-related responsibilities. The position of secretary of state was established with the constitution of 1836 as a carryover of the territorial secretary position (filled by presidential appointees), with the secretary of state being elected by a joint vote of both houses of the Arkansas General Assembly to a four-year term (other constitutional officers, save that of governor, were given two-year terms). The constitution …

Sheid, Vada Webb

Vada Webb Sheid was the first woman to serve in both the Senate and the Arkansas House of Representatives in a political career that stretched across five decades. Vada Webb was born on August 19, 1916, in Izard County, the only child of J. W. “Bill” Webb and Gertrude Reynolds Webb. Her father was a cattle buyer. She grew up in Calico Rock (Izard County) and graduated from high school there in 1934. She later attended Draughon School of Business in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 1935, Webb went to work as Izard County welfare director and then became an interviewer for the state welfare department. She married Carl Sheid of Norfork (Baxter County) on December 31, 1940. They moved …

Shoffner, Martha

Martha Shoffner was the Arkansas state treasurer from 2007 until she was forced to resign from office after an arrest on federal charges of extortion and bribery in May 2013. After being found guilty on multiple counts in March 2014, she began serving a thirty-month prison sentence in November 2015. Martha Shoffner was born on July 10, 1944, in Jackson County. One of two daughters of James Edwin Shoffner and Helen Deaton Shoffner, she was raised in Jackson County. After she graduated from Newport High School, she attended Memphis State University and Arkansas State University; she did not earn a degree. Shoffner began work in the private sector, first joining a Little Rock (Pulaski County) advertising firm. In addition, she …

Smith, V. V.

aka: Volney Voltaire Smith
The last Reconstruction Republican lieutenant governor, known for attempting a coup d’état aimed at displacing a sitting governor, Volney Voltaire Smith was also the most distinguished nineteenth-century figure to have died in the state insane asylum. V. V. Smith was born in 1842, apparently in Rochester, New York. His father was Delazon Smith, a noted Democratic newspaperman and politician. Delazon Smith attended Oberlin College and then wrote an exposé on it for its support of abolition, was lost for eleven months while on a diplomatic assignment in Ecuador (thus becoming known as “Tyler’s Lost Commission”), and served less than three weeks as one of Oregon’s first U.S. senators. V. V. Smith’s mother, Eliza Volk, died in 1846. Two years later, …

Smithee, James Newton

James Newton Smithee, the founder of the Arkansas Democrat, was a prominent figure in the history of Arkansas journalism. Smithee was also an important Democrat during the years after Reconstruction and an advocate of the silver movement in Arkansas. J. N. Smithee was born in 1842 in what would become Sharp County into a poor Scottish-Irish farming family; his parents were Samuel Harris Smithee and Edna Elizabeth (Woodrow) Smithee. His formal education consisted of three months in a country school. When he was twelve years old, he became an apprentice to the Des Arc Citizen, where he learned the printing trade. When Smithee was eighteen, he bought into the Prairie County Democrat and used it to support the Southern Democratic …

Soil and Water Conservation Districts

The most destructive period to the soil and water resources of Arkansas was during the years 1900 to 1930. During this time, farmers generally received money only from the sale of timber and cotton. Sheet erosion insidiously removed the fertile, more absorbent upper layers of topsoil. This increased the rate of runoff from the fields, and gullies soon appeared. Reduced fertility led to crop failures, and repeated failures led to abandonment of farms in many instances. The appearance of the countryside rapidly deteriorated in the absence of an organized program of soil conservation. Agricultural colleges of the day were teaching terracing and crop rotation, but typical forty- to eighty-acre subsistence farmers viewed these practices as being too sophisticated for their …

Spicer, William Leach

William Leach Spicer was a businessman and Republican Party activist. In the early 1960s, he oversaw the beginning stages of the party’s emergence as a competitive force against the long-dominant Democratic Party. In 1964, however, he lost a power struggle with fellow Republican Winthrop Rockefeller and resigned as state chairman. While Spicer played a substantive role in developing the state’s Republican Party, Rockefeller’s vision was ultimately vindicated by his own election as governor in 1966. William L. Spicer was born on October 12, 1918, in Yell County. He was the only child of William Jacob Spicer, who was a Methodist minister, and his wife, Ora Leach Spicer. As his father preached at various churches, Spicer grew up first in Woodruff …

Stallcup, Mary

Mary Stallcup was the first woman to serve as attorney general of Arkansas, although her tenure was brief. She also served as general counsel and in top administrative roles at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). Before she was on staff at UCA, she served in various divisions at the state attorney general’s office. Mary Barbara Stallcup was born on June 21, 1954, in Omaha, Nebraska, as one of six children of Lieutenant Ed Stallcup and Helen Conroy Stallcup. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana College in Pineville in 1974, having majored in history, and earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1979. Beyond her admission to the state …

State Treasurer, Office of

aka: Office of Treasurer
The treasurer of Arkansas is the state’s financial officer and one of seven constitutional officers elected at large. Responsibilities of the treasurer, who is part of the executive branch of state government, include receiving and keeping monies collected by the state, managing and investing funds, and disbursing funds according to state law. In 1819, the territorial legislature created the position of treasurer, and the first to serve as territorial treasurer was James Scull. The constitution of 1836 established the position of state treasurer, though it was not a popularly elected position. Instead, the treasurer was selected by a vote of the Arkansas General Assembly. William E. Woodruff, publisher of the Arkansas Gazette, was the first to serve as state treasurer. …

Stephens, Witt

aka: Wilton Robert Stephens
Wilton Robert Stephens founded Stephens, Inc., which once was the largest brokerage firm off Wall Street. He was a prime mover in the development of the natural gas industry after World War II and exerted great influence on the political and economic fortunes of Arkansas during the second half of the twentieth century. Witt Stephens was born on September 14, 1907, in Prattsville (Grant County), the second of six children of A. J. “Jack” Stephens and Ethel Pumphrey Stephens. His father was a farmer and politician who served two terms in the state House of Representatives from Grant County, as would Witt thirty years later. The elder Stephens directly influenced his son’s early career moves. As a boy, Witt picked …

Supreme Court of Arkansas

aka: Arkansas Supreme Court
The jurisdiction and power of the Arkansas Supreme Court is controlled by Article VII, Section 4 of the Arkansas constitution as amended in 2000 by Amendment 80. Under this section, the Arkansas Supreme Court generally has only appellate jurisdiction, meaning it typically hears cases that are appealed from trial courts. The Arkansas Supreme Court also has general superintending control over all inferior courts of law and equity. The Arkansas Supreme Court’s jurisdiction includes all appeals involving the interpretation or construction of the state constitution; criminal appeals in which the death penalty or life imprisonment has been imposed; petitions relating to the actions of state, county, or municipal officials or circuit courts; appeals pertaining to election matters; appeals involving attorney or …

Terral, Thomas Jefferson

Lawyer and politician Thomas Jefferson Terral served the state of Arkansas as a two-term secretary of state and a governor from 1925 to 1927. Terral used his governorship to push for economic reforms and stability. Thomas Jefferson Terral was born in Union Parish, Louisiana, on December 21, 1882, to George W. and Celia Terral. His father was a planter and merchant. Terral had numerous siblings. At the time of his death in 1946, two sisters and three brothers were living in Arkansas. Beginning his education at the University of Kentucky, Terral transferred to the law school at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Graduating in 1910, Terral quickly entered the Arkansas bar, establishing a law practice in …

Townsend, Wallace

Wallace Townsend was both a prominent lawyer and a prominent leader in the Arkansas Republican Party. Townsend was a leading member of the “lily-white” faction that helped alienate African Americans from the Grand Old Party (GOP). Wallace Townsend was born on August 20, 1882, in DeWitt, Iowa, the son of John R. Townsend and Italia James; he had a brother named A. E. “Jack” Townsend, who was the assistant postmaster in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for several decades. Townsend moved to Little Rock with his family in November 1894 and received his BA from Hendrix College in 1902, after which he entered the field of public education. His most noteworthy service as an educator was his tenure as principal of …

Trammell, Bobby Lee

Bobby Lee Trammell was known as a boisterous performer of boogie-woogie-flavored rockabilly music with such songs as “Arkansas Twist” and “You Mostest Girl.” He was later elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Craighead County Quorum Court. Trammell’s high-energy music has been compared to that of fellow Arkansan Sonny Burgess, while his onstage antics drew comparisons to Jerry Lee Lewis. Bobby Lee Trammell was born on January 31, 1934, in Hergett, a small unincorporated community in Craighead County near Jonesboro. He was one of four children born to Wiley and Mae Trammell, who were cotton farmers. His parents were also musicians, with his father playing fiddle and his mother playing the church organ. Trammell was exposed to gospel …

Tucker, Jim Guy, Jr.

aka: James Guy Tucker Jr.
James Guy Tucker, the forty-third governor of Arkansas, had a brief gubernatorial career that abruptly ended due to criminal conviction. His administration carried Arkansas from the end of the Bill Clinton administration, during which Tucker essentially acted as governor the last year because of Clinton’s campaigning for president, to the beginning of the Mike Huckabee gubernatorial administration, which remained in power long enough to be stopped only by term limits. In his personal life, Tucker weathered political challenges, survived health problems, and faced a criminal indictment. Jim Guy Tucker was born on June 13, 1943, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to James Guy and Willie Maude (White) Tucker. His family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he was a child, …

Upham, Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips Upham was an active Republican politician, businessman, plantation owner, and Arkansas State Militia commander following the Civil War. He is perhaps best remembered, and often vilified, for his part during Reconstruction as the leader of a successful militia campaign against the Ku Klux Klan in the Militia War from 1868 to 1869. D. P. Upham was born in Dudley, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1832, to Clarissa Phillips and Josiah Upham. His mother died less than a week later at age 29. His father remarried Betsy Larned in March 1836, and the couple had four sons. Upham received his education at Dudley’s public schools, and he married Massachusetts native Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nash on February 15, 1860. The couple eventually …

Van Dalsem, Paul

  Representative Paul Van Dalsem—with his cigars, his aggressive style, and his fiscal conservatism—came to represent the classic southern politician. He was a master of the legislative process and parliamentary procedure. This mastery served him well, allowing him to serve on and off for thirty years in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Paul Van Dalsem was born in Aplin (Perry County) in 1907 to Pyke Van Dalsem and May Thompson Van Dalsem. He had one sister. He attended public school in Perryville (Perry County) and began college at what is now Arkansas Tech University before transferring to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana, where he earned his degree. He later attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), earning …

Walker, David

David Walker, a lawyer, a jurist, and an early settler of Fayetteville (Washington County), was the leading Whig in the state’s “great northwest” region for nearly fifty years. He began his career as a member of the convention that wrote the state’s first constitution in 1836. He chaired the 1861 convention, and remained active in politics and law until shortly before his death. David Walker was born on February 19, 1806, near Elkton, Kentucky, to Jacob Wythe Walker and Nancy Hawkins Walker. The Walkers were a prolific and politically prominent family in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Virginia. In 1808, his father moved to Logan County, Kentucky, where in 1811 Walker first attended school. In two years, he memorized the grammatical rules …

Walls, A. J.

aka: Andrew Jackson Walls
Judge Andrew Jackson (A. J.) Walls was a Lonoke County pioneer, planter, and elected public official in the early days of the county. He was a state representative, chairman of the State Democratic Committee, and father and grandfather of many prominent Lonoke County lawyers and politicians. A. J. Walls was born on April 2, 1862, in the Pleasant Hills community in northern Lonoke County (about ten miles north of Lonoke, the county seat). He was the son of Jackson Walls, a native of North Carolina, and Catherine Dickerson Cook, who was a native of Tennessee. Tax records reveal that the elder Jackson owned real estate in Pleasant Hills in 1852. He married Catherine Dickerson Cook, his second wife, in 1860. …

Watkins, George Claibourne

George Claibourne Watkins was a prominent attorney in nineteenth-century Arkansas. His partnership with Chester Ashley is one of the roots from which one of the state’s most respected firms, the Rose Law Firm, grew. In addition to his role in the development of the firm, Watkins also served briefly as chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. George C. Watkins was born on November 25, 1815, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to Isaac Watkins and Marie Toncray Watkins. In late 1820, seeking new opportunities, the family set out for the newly opened territory of Arkansas. They arrived in March 1821, and, settling in what would become Little Rock (Pulaski County), the family quickly earned a place among the town’s most prominent early …

White, Frank Durward

Frank Durward White was best recognized as the little-known Republican candidate who defeated Bill Clinton in 1980 after Clinton had served only one term as governor. White himself was limited to one term when Clinton reclaimed the office of governor in 1982. Though his tenure in office was marked mostly by his support of teaching “creation science” in schools, White later became the grand old father of the Grand Old Party (GOP), known for his expansive sense of humor and his ability to relate to people of all political leanings. Born on June 4, 1933, in Texarkana, Texas, to Durward Frank Kyle and Ida Bottoms Clark Kyle, White was given the name Durward Frank Kyle Jr. His father died when …

Wilson, Billy Roy

Scott County native Billy Roy Wilson is a raconteur, a mule and guinea fowl farmer, and a longtime civil and criminal defense attorney. In 1993, he began serving as U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. In 2008, he chose to go on senior status designation, maintaining a ninety percent case load. Born to Roy Wilson and Vada Bowen Wilson in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 18, 1939, he was named Billy Roy Wilson. The doctor, who was a family friend, erroneously listed the name William R. Wilson Jr. on his birth certificate. The error was not discovered until some years later. After Wilson’s birth, the family returned home to Forester (Scott County), an isolated and company-owned …

Yell, Archibald

Archibald Yell, a larger than life and colorful figure in Arkansas history, was Arkansas’s first congressman, second governor, founder of Arkansas’s first Masonic lodge, and Mexican War hero. He was a consummate, magnetic politician. Yell County and Yellville (Marion County) were named for him. Archibald Yell is believed to have been born in Jefferson County, Tennessee, in 1797, although North Carolina appears on his tombstone and Kentucky can be found in newspaper accounts. Yell himself wrote that he was born in Tennessee, although he could not spell that word or anything else above two syllables correctly. Best evidence indicates August 7, 1797, not 1799, as his date of birth. His parents—Moses and Jane Curry Yell—settled in the Duck River region …

Yell, James

James Yell was a lawyer, state legislator, and major general in the Arkansas State Militia during the Civil War. Never holding an active field command, he was removed from his position early in the war because of his allegiance to state troops rather than the Confederate government. He did not see action in the war. James Yell was born on March 10, 1811, in Bedford County, Tennessee. He was the son of Pearcy Yell and Jane Gist Yell, and he was the nephew of Archibald Yell, Arkansas’s first congressman and second governor. Receiving some education, he taught school for three years and also served as a magistrate in Tennessee. He married Permelia Young in Bedford County in 1832, and the …