Days in AR History

April 1, 1813

Minor Swedish nobleman Gösta von Fersen, whose travelogue of his journey through Arkansas was published in 1837, wrote that he rose from his bunk after an illness and began walking “in a vaguely northwesterly direction, as if being summoned by some spectral force.” He soon found himself within a village composed of tightly clustered cottages, each one featuring a wide veranda and pitched roof. This village was inhabited by people whom von Fersen described as “pale, far paler than you might see anywhere on this earth, even in the northern lands.” In addition, each person was accompanied by a dog of some kind: “Whether they ran or simply shuffled about, always at their side was a hound of the noblest breed.” Arkansas State University Heritage Studies scholar Gustav Lindström’s recreation of von Fersen’s travels gives a high probability to the location of this colony being within the boundaries of present-day Little Rock, most likely somewhere in the hilly triangle-shaped area bounded by Markham Avenue, Kavanaugh Boulevard, and North Van Buren Street. As historian Michael B. Dougan has written, “Many people in Little Rock may well go about their lives completely unaware that they reside within the bounds of that colony of dog-worshipping, novelty-obsessed, pale freaks to which Gösta von Fersen so poetically applied the name Helkrets.”  

April Fools!

April 1, 1863

The USS Queen City was commissioned. Converted for use as part of the so-called tinclad fleet and assigned identification number 26, the Queen City was one of the few tinclads actually to carry iron plating. Fitted with 1.25 inch iron plating, the Queen City weighed 212 tons and carried a crew of sixty-five sailors and officers. It saw extensive service along the Mississippi and White rivers prior to its 1864 capture and destruction by Confederate forces.

April 10, 1833

The Baptist church in Delight (Pike County) converted to become a Restoration church. The Delight congregation has continued to meet without break since then. By June 1834, there were three Restoration congregations in Crawford County and one in Piney (Johnson County). The Restoration Movement had been brought to Arkansas by Dr. Benjamin Franklin Hall, a dentist from Florence, Alabama, who traveled to Little Rock (Pulaski County) to visit to his brother. Hall’s Restoration messages soon caused considerable excitement in the congregation and in the community. Later that same day, Hall organized Arkansas’s first Restoration church with a congregation of eight, all drawn from the other churches in the city.

April 10, 1911

Edward Palmer died in Washington DC and is buried there in Rock Creek Cemetery. Palmer, who came to America from England at age nineteen, worked as a natural history specimen collector under sponsors including Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. His work in Arkansas was centered mainly in the eastern Delta lands and focused on Indian mounds. His team discovered evidence that these mounds had been built by ancestors of historical eastern U.S. tribes.

April 10, 1945

A tornado destroyed Camp Magnolia. The camp, established near Magnolia (Columbia County) as a civilian work camp for conscientious objectors to military service, occupied the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp and housed about 400 men whose religious and personal beliefs made them oppose combat duty. Their presence was resented by some local people, as evidenced by the local newspaper’s headline the day after the tornado: “God Strikes the Conchies” (“conchie” being a disparaging term for conscientious objector). After the tornado, residents of the camp were transferred to other camps in the nation.

April 10, 1965

A devastating tornado swept through Conway (Faulkner County) and killed several area residents. Children cared for in the Arkansas Children’s Colony in the northeast section of town were not physically harmed, although some of their buildings were severely damaged and the children were nervous and upset. Some of the displaced children were cared for at nearby Hendrix College until their parents could come for them.

April 10, 1967

Allport (Lonoke County) was incorporated. Allport is a town on Highway 165 in southern Lonoke County located two miles west of Humnoke (Lonoke County). Allport is largely populated by African Americans, although Lonoke County’s population is over eighty percent white.

April 10, 2005

Samuel Massie died in Laurel, Maryland. Massie was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1919. Massie overcame racial barriers to become one of America’s greatest chemists in research and teaching. As a doctoral candidate during World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project with Henry Gilman at Iowa State University in the development of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb. In 1966, the U.S. Naval Academy appointed him as its first black faculty member. Chemical and Engineering News in 1998 named him one of the top seventy-five chemists of all time. He is buried at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

April 11, 1827

Andrew Scott was appointed as the circuit court judge of the First District. He moved to lands formerly owned by Native Americans and established the town of Scotia. Scott was one of the first Supreme Court judges of Arkansas Territory by virtue of appointment by President James Monroe, and Scott County bears his name.

April 11, 1878

James Newton (J. N.) Smithee, competing with the Daily Arkansas Gazette, purchased the printing presses belonging to the defunct Evening Star newspaper; he published the first Arkansas Democrat. Over the next few days, the Gazette started criticizing the Democrat. The continued criticism eventually led to a duel between Gazette owner John D. Adams and Democrat owner Smithee. The Smithee-Adams Duel has been described as “the last duel fought in Arkansas.”

April 11, 1878

Colonel J. N. Smithee acquired a variously named newspaper (once the Liberal, the Journal, the Chronicle, and the Evening Star) and renamed it the Arkansas Democrat. Smithee, who had served in the Confederate army, immediately launched an attack on the Arkansas Gazette, which was founded by William Woodruff at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) in 1819 before being moved to Little Rock in 1821 after the relocation of the territorial capital. Throughout 1878, Smithee criticized the Gazette editorially concerning the newspaper’s position on the repudiation of state debt.

April 11, 1898

Stamps in Lafayette County was incorporated. It was developed as a lumber town situated on the railroad. Stamps was the childhood home of famous author Maya Angelou. The city has two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: the Presbyterian church, built in 1905, and the Lafayette County Training School.

April 11, 1911

Old Mike, the name given to a traveling salesman who visited Prescott (Nevada County) about once a month to sell his wares at homes and businesses, apparently attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, his body was found in the park, where he had evidently died of a heart attack or stroke. The body was taken to the Cornish Funeral Home, where it was embalmed. A search of Mike’s belongings did not turn up any identification. The body was placed on display at the funeral home in hopes of someone identifying it. Old Mike turned into a tourist attraction, and people traveled from surrounding areas to view him. In 1975, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office asked Cornish Funeral Home to bury the body.

April 11, 1938

The Barbershop Harmony Society, also known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA), was founded in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is now an international men’s singing group with more than 34,000 members. The Greater Little Rock chapter, the Diamond State Chorus, is a grandchild of the Memphis, Tennessee, chapter. The Diamond State Chorus, at any one time, has forty to fifty singers who perform as a single group and in several four-man quartets, singing tenor, lead, baritone, and bass. Members, who range in age from in their twenties to their eighties, are from throughout central Arkansas.

April 12, 1803

French minister of the Public Treasury, Francois Barbe-Marbois, met with Robert R. Livingston, the American ambassador, in Paris, France, to discuss the possibility of the United States purchasing about 800,000 square miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This became known as the Louisiana Purchase. Named “Louisiana” after the French “sun king” Louis XIV, the territory comprised most of the present-day western United States, including Arkansas. The Louisiana Purchase allowed the U.S. government to open lands in the west for settlement, secured its borders against foreign threat, and ensured the right to deposit goods duty-free at port cities (mainly New Orleans). In Arkansas, the Louisiana Purchase signaled an end to French and Spanish dominance.

April 12, 1861

The Civil War began with orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to fire on Union forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Initially, Union sympathizers had had the strongest presence in Arkansas, but Governor Henry Massie Rector, a Confederate sympathizer, refused to comply with President Abraham Lincoln’s call for forces, including 750 men from Arkansas, to combat the uprising. This led to a reassembly of the state convention and its resulting 69-1 vote to join the Confederacy.

April 12, 1864

Major General Frederick Steele withdrew from Prairie D’Ane (Nevada County) and began marching on Camden (Ouachita County). The Action at Moscow fought the next day signaled that Steele’s Union forces would not be allowed to occupy Camden without a fight. Although Confederate Washington (Hempstead County) would be spared from Union occupation, the Confederates were not content to merely defend this town—they went on the offensive. The Action at Moscow was overshadowed by the more momentous actions of Steele’s Camden Expedition, such as the battles of Poison Spring and Jenkins’ Ferry. Still, the action was an indication of what the Union troops could expect in the coming days: Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates would continue to contest the Union army’s presence.

April 12, 1873

Faulkner County was created, named after Sanford C. Faulkner, the originator of the “Arkansas Traveler.” Its county seat is Conway. It was one of nine counties established by the Republican state legislature during post–Civil War Reconstruction. Faulkner County was one of the last counties formed in the state of Arkansas. Sparsely populated in its early years, it became the sixth-most-populous county in the state. Faulkner County is home to the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), Hendrix College, and Central Baptist College.

April 12, 1927

The Aesthetic Club, one of the oldest women’s clubs west of the Mississippi River (it began in 1883), resigned from the Arkansas Federation of Women’s Clubs, stating that its own objectives did not include the civic work of the federation. The Aesthetic Club’s objective is “to present programs at various meetings of a literary, artistic, musical, and timely trend; to assist in educational uplift; and to bring its members together for social enjoyment.” A member of the Aesthetic Club may read a paper, play a musical instrument, sing, or be appointed chairman of the day and be responsible for introducing speakers and musicians or greeting members. Membership of the Aesthetic Club is limited so that its active members total no more than 100.

April 12, 1961

The world’s first open-heart surgery in a private hospital was performed at what was known at the time as Arkansas Baptist Hospital. Arkansas’s largest healthcare system, now known as Baptist Health, has campuses in Little Rock (Pulaski County), North Little Rock (Pulaski County), Arkadelphia (Clark County), and Heber Springs (Cleburne County). In addition to its medical centers, it also operates therapy centers, physician clinics, a retirement village, and a school of nursing and allied health.

April 12, 1974

Racecar driver Mark Martin drove a car his father built for him in his first stock car race, which was at a small dirt track in Locust Grove (Independence County). Martin became the only driver from Arkansas competing in the top circuit of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). He ranked tenth on the all-time win list and sixth on the all-time pole position list. His last race was in 2013, and he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017.

April 13, 1864

The Action at Moscow began, signaling that Major General Frederick Steele’s Union forces would not be allowed to occupy Camden (Ouachita County) without a fight. Although Confederate Washington (Hempstead County) would be spared from Union occupation, the Confederates were not content to merely defend this town—they went on the offensive. The Action at Moscow was overshadowed by the more momentous actions of Steele’s Camden Expedition, such as the battles of Poison Spring and Jenkins’ Ferry. Still, the action was an indication of what the Union troops could expect in the coming days: Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates would continue to contest the Union army’s presence.

April 13, 1906

Eddie Hamm was born in Lonoke (Lonoke County). Hamm was a state- and world-class athlete in high school and college who competed in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. He set a world record in the long jump, becoming the first Arkansan to win a gold medal. The Atlanta Journal called him “the South’s first world champion in any sport,” and he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.

April 13, 1917

Amid fierce anti-German sentiment during World War I, local government officials arrived at the Subiaco Abbey in Logan County, seeking to destroy the abbey’s radio to prevent the monks from receiving messages from the government of Germany. The next year, in Lutherville (Johnson County), Pastor Roerig of the Lutheran Church was driven from his house and threatened by gunmen. Some Lutheran and Catholic congregations began worshiping in English rather than in German, and the German National Bank and German Trust Company in Little Rock changed their names to the American National Bank and American Trust Company.

April 13, 1932

The first game was played at Travelers Field (renamed Ray Winder Field in 1966) in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In the new millennium, the field’s age became a concern, and North Little Rock (Pulaski County) voters passed a two-year sales tax to build a new field. On April 5, 2007, the Arkansas Travelers opened their new ballpark, Dickey-Stephens Field, in North Little Rock.

April 13, 1981

John Brown III, president of John Brown University in Siloam Springs (Benton County), announced that that year’s baseball season would be its last. The reason behind this decision lay with student dissatisfaction with the team, attributed to behavioral problems that the student body felt were unbecoming to a Christian university. President Brown’s announcement drew criticism, but his replacement of baseball with a soccer team proved positive when the new team won the National Christian College Athletic Association championship two years later.

April 14, 1864

Colonel John Phelps of the Second Arkansas Calvary (US) ordered Major James Melton to take 110 men and move against a guerrilla force nearby under the command of a man known as Sissell (quite likely John Cecil). Melton and his men departed the next day. Captain John Bailey and his company were ordered to work with Melton’s unit in creating a pincer movement to ensure that the guerrillas were destroyed. Unfortunately, Sissell and his men had moved from the location where the Federals expected them to be, and the two Union groups joined forces to continue their mission.

April 14, 1905

Elizabeth Paisley Huckaby, who served as an instructor of English for thirty-nine years and was vice principal for girls at Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) during the 1957 desegregation of the school, was born in Hamburg (Ashley County). Charged with protecting the five female members of the Little Rock Nine, she became the target of hostility and anger from segregationists within the school and in the community.

April 14, 1927

Dardanelle (Yell County) lost electrical power as flood waters enveloped the entire surrounding countryside and covered the low-water areas in town. The Flood of 1927 wreaked havoc in and around Dardanelle, given the related flooding of the Arkansas and other area rivers. By June 1927, the American Red Cross had expended $10,562.49 in Yell County, private citizens had donated hundreds of dollars to relief efforts, health threats had increased due to excessive water pooling, and levees had been severely damaged.

April 14, 1930

Dubbed “The Finest High School Building in the South for Negro Boys and Girls,” Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) was officially dedicated, although it had been operational since the fall. The building, which could serve as many as 1,600 students, cost $400,000 to build. Principal John H. Lewis spoke at the dedication, as well as the presidents of Atlanta University and Virginia State College and prominent black attorney Scipio A. Jones. The ceremony included musical performances and the playing of the “Negro National Anthem.”

April 14, 1986

Prescott (Nevada County) native John Calvin “Toby” Munn died in Encinitas, California. Munn was a commander in the Pacific Theater of World War II and a pioneer among U.S. Marine aviators who perfected the use of aircraft carriers for combat operations. After the war, he was responsible for securing the major Japanese Yokosuka Naval Base, which became the largest U.S. naval base in the Far East. During his career, he continued to guide the improvement of U.S. Marine air capabilities, and he rose to the top echelon of marine leadership as the assistant commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

April 14, 2003

The world premiere of the movie version of John Grisham’s 2001 bestseller A Painted House was shown at Arkansas State University’s Fowler Center. The benefit included a dinner that raised $170,000 in endowment funds for the Heritage Studies PhD program. Hallmark had turned Grisham’s novel into one of its made-for-television movies, filming in and around Lepanto (Poinsett County); the farmhouse from the set is on display there. In 2001, the Arkansas Library Association presented Grisham and A Painted House with the Arkansiana Award, recognizing authors and books that represent a significant contribution to Arkansas heritage and culture.

April 15, 1864

Major General Frederick Steele led the occupation of the Ouachita River town of Camden (Ouachita County), only recently abandoned by Confederates. He had attempted to destroy the remaining Confederate forces in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana by moving a Union army southwest from Little Rock (Pulaski County) toward Shreveport, Louisiana, to meet another Union army moving north from New Orleans. This ambitious endeavor turned to disaster when the Louisiana wing of the operation was defeated at Mansfield, Louisiana, and forced to retreat. Dwindling supplies and growing resistance forced him to turn east and occupy Camden.

April 15, 1880

Citizens of the Little Rock community celebrated former president Ulysses S. Grant’s visit to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Grant stayed at the Capital Hotel as part of his grand world tour.

April 15, 1889

Thomas Hart Benton, a noted artist and user of the style of painting known as regionalism, was born in Neosho, Missouri. Benton was strongly influenced by the environment of northwest Arkansas and was a regular visitor to the Buffalo River, which he enjoyed floating and fishing and where he often sketched and painted. He became acquainted with several Arkansas personalities and visited frequently with a number of Arkansas artists.

April 15, 1908

The current Little Rock City Hall held a grand-opening celebration. From 1929 to 1942, the third floor of the building was home to the Museum of Natural Science and Antiquities, precursor to the Museum of Discovery. Thompson’s original design included a dome, but a popular vote in 1955 decided that it should be torn down; it was demolished in 1956.