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 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, 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, 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, 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, 1927

Hot Springs (Garland County) native Mary Kidd Lewis, who became an acclaimed opera singer, ended her first season at the Metropolitan Opera House with a sudden marriage to the Met’s German bass/baritone, Michael Bohnen. Lewis was possibly the most publicized singer of the 1920s. Using her childhood training, she climbed her way to grand opera, gaining stage experience through vaudeville and operetta. Her career included radio performances and recordings with His Master’s Voice (HMV), Victor, and RCA.

April 15, 1981

Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) native Admiral John Thach died in Coronado, California. Thatch was awarded the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Medal for developing the Thach Weave, one of the most significant tactical advances in the history of aerial combat.

April 15, 1997

Famed Hot Springs (Garland County) madam Maxine Temple Jones died in Warren (Bradley County); she is buried in Palestine Cemetery. One of her former business locations, the Central Avenue Hotel, was renovated in 1989 and reopened in 1991 as Maxine’s Coffee House and Puzzle Bar. Jones was a Hot Springs businesswoman during the period from 1945 to the early 1970s. A well-known madam with numerous political connections, she managed a lucrative brothel operation that catered to politicians, businessmen, and mobsters. She documented her life in an autobiography published in 1983 titled Maxine “Call Me Madam”: The Life and Times of a Hot Springs Madam.

April 16, 1829

Sam Houston resigned his office as governor of Tennessee after his marriage to eighteen-year-old Eliza Allen fell apart under mysterious circumstances. Three weeks later, he traveled in disguise on the steam packet Red Rover, by flatboat, and by steamship into Arkansas Territory on his way to live in the “wigwam” of the chief of the Cherokee in Arkansas, John Jolly. (Jolly’s “wigwam” was in fact a plantation house.) Six months later, Houston received citizenship in the Cherokee Nation and served as Jolly’s representative between tribes. Ultimately, he decided not to settle permanently in Arkansas because of the many factions and the poor prospects for prosperity.

April 16, 1863

Confederate brigadier general William L. Cabell’s cavalry, with about 900 men, left Ozark (Franklin County) with a mission to attack the Federal command at Fayetteville (Washington County). The Union army had occupied Fayetteville as a place to take care of its wounded soldiers following the bloody Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862. Although ensuing skirmishes were indecisive and the Confederates failed to achieve their goal, the Federal troops withdrew only a few days after the action, feeling that the area was exposed to attack and should be abandoned.

April 16, 1873

Governor Elisha Baxter signed the act creating Lonoke County from the parent counties Prairie and Pulaski. Lonoke received its name from a “lone oak” tree standing on the site of the present county seat (also called Lonoke). George P. C. Rumbough used the tree as a landmark while surveying for the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad. The county and its seat of government having the same name distinguishes Lonoke County from the other counties in the state.

April 16, 1911

Central Arkansas’s first flight took place. Pilot Joseph J. Pendergrass flew Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) banker William Henry Langford’s Curtiss biplane at Rob Roy (Jefferson County). Aviation history in Arkansas includes one pioneer inventor, a few attempts at commercial airplane production, a regional commuter airline, a now-national air freight company, and varying degrees of impact on the state’s communities. By the 1970s, aviation had become essential both for business use and for personal travel.

April 16, 2001

Paul Kazuo Kuroda died at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kuroda, who was born in Japan, was a professor of chemistry at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) from 1952 to 1987. Kuroda brought international attention to scientific research in Arkansas by correctly predicting the presence of naturally occurring nuclear reactors nearly twenty years before the first discovery of a reactor of this kind in the Oklo Mines in the Republic of Gabon in west-central Africa.

April 17, 1783

Scotsman James Colbert led a joint force of Britons and Chickasaw in an unsuccessful attack on Spanish-controlled Arkansas Post (in modern-day Arkansas County) in the only Revolutionary War engagement to take place in Arkansas. The impetus behind the attack was Spain’s decision to ally itself with the revolutionaries.

April 17, 1783

British-sympathizing Native Americans and British nationals carried out an attack upon the Spanish garrison based at Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. This attack, known as the Colbert Raid, was considered the only battle of the American Revolution to be fought in what is now Arkansas. The Colbert Raid is interpreted by the National Park Service at Arkansas Post National Memorial near Gillett (Arkansas County).

April 17, 1823

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businessman, politician, and the first elected African-American municipal judge in the United States, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children. In California, Gibbs founded the first black newspaper west of the Mississippi River, The Mirror of the Times (1855). He settled in Little Rock in 1871. Gibbs died in 1915 at his home in Little Rock; he is buried in the Fraternal Cemetery on Barber Street. A school in Little Rock, which was once a school for African Americans and later an elementary school, then the first international studies/foreign languages magnet school in Arkansas, is named for Gibbs.

April 17, 1863

The initial incident in the Civil War battle known as the Action at Fayetteville (Washington County) took place near West Fork before the actual battle, when Lieutenant James A. Ferguson and his men from Carroll’s Arkansas Cavalry discovered a party in a farmhouse and quickly captured nine Union bluecoats who were in attendance. Indecisive action in the encounter at Fayetteville on April 18 symbolized the Civil War in Arkansas as well as any other event in the state. Although Confederate forces failed to achieve their goal of driving Union troops from northwest Arkansas, Federal troops withdrew a few days later with losses about even on each side.

April 17, 1893

Irene Castle was born in New Rochelle, New York. Castle was a famous ballroom dancer in the 1910s to the 1930s who appeared in several silent movies and many Broadway shows. She lived in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) for a time and worked for animal rights. In her autobiography, she wrote that she wanted to be remembered more for her work to prevent animal cruelty than for her dance career.

April 18, 1831

Confederate colonel Robert Glenn Shaver was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, exactly on the line between Virginia and Tennessee. Robert Shaver organized and was colonel to the Seventh Arkansas Regiment that became known as “Shaver’s Regiment.” After the war, Shaver emerged as a prominent leader of the Ku Klux Klan and had to flee to British Honduras (now Belize) after his Klan activities got him in trouble with the state government.

April 18, 1863

The home built in 1853 by Judge Jonas Tebbetts, a staunch Union supporter who fled Fayetteville (Washington County) with his family after learning of a plot on his life, was severely damaged during the Civil War Action at Fayetteville. It served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate armies when each was in command of the area. The house is one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture remaining in the state. Carefully restored by each of the several families who owned it after Tebbetts’s departure, the building is now known as the Headquarters House Museum and serves as headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society.

April 18, 1922

Sid Benton, born in Buckner (Lafayette County), pitched in his only game for the St. Louis Cardinals. Benton walked the only two batters he faced and never returned to the mound for a major league team. Another short career was that of Joe Brown, born in Little Rock (Pulaski County), who pitched to three batters for the Chicago White Sox on May 17, 1927. Brown walked one batter and gave up two hits; all three players scored for the opposition. Brown also never had another chance to pitch for a major league team.

April 18, 1938

Federal agents arrested two men in Arkansas for transporting an unregistered sawed-off shotgun from Claremore, Oklahoma, to Siloam Springs (Benton County). Frank Layton and Jack Miller had been watched by federal agents who suspected them of being moonshiners and bank robbers. Their defense was weakened when their attorney quit because they were unable to pay him. The judge’s opinion was: “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

April 18, 2005

The members of the musical group Point of Grace were inducted into the “Arkansas Walk of Fame” in Hot Springs (Garland County). Point of Grace, which originated in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 1990, is a female vocal quartet that performs Christian music. The group has had five gold albums and two platinum. As of 2006, they have had twenty-four number-one hit singles. The members of the group live in Nashville, Tennessee.

April 19, 1878

Murfreesboro (Pike County) was incorporated. It is the county seat of Pike County, which lies in the southwest corner of Arkansas and is an area of tremendous geological diversity. In addition to diamonds, other gems and minerals such as amethyst, quartz, garnet, jasper, calcite, barite, lamproite, and banded agate are found in the area. The discovery of diamonds is celebrated every June with the Diamond Festival. The Crater of Diamonds State Park sponsors a gem and mineral show and John Huddleston Day, honoring the man who discovered the first diamonds in the area.