Chapter IX -- Notable Families of Sevier County Arkansas

There are a few descendants of some of the old families of Sevier county still living around DeQueen, Arkansas who can trace their relationships to some of the most noted families of the United States. Among them is James Todd, a pioneer settler of Sevier county, who was a brother of the father of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. His son, William Todd (Uncle Bill) an own cousin of Mrs. Lincoln, once lived at DeQueen and will be remembered by many of DeQueen's earliest settlers.

Another person that should not be forgotten is a granddaughter of one of America's Generals, and she now fills a pauper's grave in Sevier county. I met her in the last years of the 1870's at the County Home at Lockesburg, Arkansas and she recited to me the history of her adventurous life. She told me she was the granddaughter of General Nathaniel Green of Revolutionary fame, and that she had a brother somewhere in the United States; she did not know where, but that his name was George - named for George Washington. She told me where she was born, where she had lived and how she came to be in Arkansas, and that she was about ninety years old and had never been married. She had lost all traces of her family connections. I have since regretted that I did not make a note of the story of her life, but I did not, and her history is lost. At the time I met her, perhaps in 1879 she was in possession of all her mental faculties and was a woman of immense reading knowledge; and was one of the brightest historians I have ever met.

She defended the cause of the Southern States in real oratorical language - in fact I considered her virtually a living encyclopedia of general knowledge. How she came to be in the County Home I do not remember. Mr. J.A. Wofford who was Superintendent of the County Home at that time informs me that he remembers her as a very old lady, and that she died in 1880 or 1881, and that is all that he can remember about her.

I have often thought of her, as I have of the man without a country, and thought that his last request would fitly apply to her, and ask will someone not erect a stone to her memory, and engrave upon it: "She loved her country more but received less from its hands than any other woman."

I have wondered if someone, some society or church; the DAR or UDC would not some day take the matter up and rescue her grave from the potter's field and oblivion.

I chanced to be at Guilford courthouse on Saturday July 3, 1915. It was at that place that General Green, the grandfather of this woman, commanded the American forces and fought Lord Cornwallis at the battle of his name in the war for American Independence.

There was a large gathering of people there from all parts of the state. Several noted speakers from other states were there, and many able and patriotic speeches were made, and a fine monument to the memory of General Green was unveiled, and I thought of the difference that was shown between him and his granddaughter, who was then sleeping in a pauper's grave in a distant state, without a friend or relative to drop a tear or a flower on her lonely and forsaken grave.

            For now she sleeps in a lonely grave,
            Where the wildflower nods its head,
            Where the wild birds come
            And the wild bees hum,
            Above her lonely bed.

After the Civil War and the slaves were freed there lived a Negro in this area named Peter Norwood, and he was an aspirant to greatness. We dubbed him "Peter the Great." Peter had, under the edicts of the war, made himself a gubernatorial possibility under reconstruction rules.

As a slave he had been the property of Ben Norwood Sr., the founder of Norwoodville, but Norwood never spoke of Peter as being one of those good old reliable antebellum Negroes noted for faithfulness to "Ole Marster" and their kindness to old missus and the chilluns.

Peter was not built that way and refused to be an humble ex-slave and to follow a plow and mule as in the olden days. When he was receiving so much encouragement from men who said they had fought and risked their lives that he might be a free man and equal to the white race, to become a man among men, and all they asked in return from Peter, was his vote whenever they might demand it.

Peter, in turn, became very insulting to his old time white neighbors, and was holding secret meetings at night among the other Negroes, and it could easily be seen that these meetings boded no good for the whites.

About this time two young men - strangers - dropped into the area from somewhere. They were soon very intimate with Peter, attending the secret meetings with him, an honor accorded no other white man. They dined with Peter, wined him with white mule likker, and they three became the most prominent men in the Rolling Fork River community. And why not? For Peter had been appointed Justice of the Peace by the great Carpet-Bagger Governor of Arkansas, and his plans for the future governorship of Monroe township at least were laid before, and approved by Peter's two chums and allies.

Among Peter's declarations of future rules of government to his chums were, that no white man need sue or enter into suit with a Negro in his court, and a white man refusing to marry a negro, when proposed, would receive the condemnation of Peter's iron- handed law. Peter delivered other similar threats against the local populace but I only mention these to show how the people were ruled in the days of the carpet-bag government.

I will leave Peter for a short while, with his two allies, to hold the reins of government on Rolling Fork, while the reader accompanies me to Paraclifta, the county seat of Sevier county at that time.

A man named Ballard, also a carpet-bagger, had been appointed head of the Negro Bureau of Sevier county, and stationed at Paraclifta, and he had a company of Irish soldiers given to him for a bodyguard and for use in enforcing the law, as he was in full control of everything pertaining to the negro, and like the laws of the Medes and Persians, from his edicts there were no appeals.

His Irish soldiers however, like most Irishmen, were clever and generous-hearted men, and wholly unsuited for Ballard's use, so Ballard had them removed and a company of Negro soldiers were sent to Paraclifta in their stead.

Any contract whatever made with a Negro, had to be endorsed by Ballard. If a Negro had any complaint to make against his white employer, he went to Ballard, and as the Negro's statement was always taken in preference to the white man's, the white man always came out worsted, and Ballard never failed to charge the white man for settling a dispute or acknowledging a contract.

So Ballard and the Negroes had everything going their way, until an old enterprising farmer, said to be one of the best in the county, and noted for his long-headedness, knowing that without relief from this unjust rule, the farmers of the county were doomed, made a warm friend of Mr. Ballard and bargained with him to give Ballard every fiftieth bale of cotton grown by Negro labor, for Ballard's agreement to withhold his interference in their Negro labor arrangements.

Other farmers were soon put "next" and the Negro soon learned that it was useless to carry his woes to Ballard, and Ballard was soon receiving a snug income from Negro labor.

But there was a transient, loafing class of Negroes that could not be controlled, and would not work, and like the proverbial stray dog, had neither home nor master, and something had to be done to make them law-abiding and self-supporting.

When the Confederate Government went under, General Shelley of Missouri, with his men, went to Mexico. In a year or two they had become tired of their long stay away from home and were passing through the country on their way to their homes in Arkansas and Missouri.

Along about this time unknown white people commenced to handle the last named class of Negroes as they thought justified, telling them that they were Shelley's men. Ballard became indignant at this; what he called outrages, and offered rewards and threatened dire vengeance on the Shelley men, and promised to make an example of the first one he could lay hands on. He did not have long to wait.

One morning a young man of perhaps twenty years of age rode into the town and inquired for Mr. Ballard. He was pointed out to the boy as he walked across the street.

The boy rode up to Mr. Ballard and told him he was one of Shelley's men and proceeded to read Mr. Ballard the riot act at the point of a Colt 44 and Mr. Ballard never advertised any more for Shelley's men.

As of this writing, this boy is now old and gray, but a respected citizen of one of your Arkansas towns, and if called on in the same way would again be ready to respond and play the part of a Shelley man.

We will now leave Mr. Ballard and his Negro guard and go back to Rolling Fork River community and see about Peter the Great and his two white friends.

During our absence the two young white men have been holding secret conferences with an old Confederate friend of theirs, who had known them all during the war; had also known of Negro soldiers killing the father of one of them.

The two white men were now ready to leave the country, and as they passed the home of Peter, not far from Ultima Thule, they took Peter down the road a little way. Some shots were heard and Peter the Great had passed to his reward.

I have given a lengthy description of these things that the unsophisticated may know what the days of Reconstruction meant to those who lived in southwest Arkansas.

As I have before stated everything in this county at that time was in what might be called a crude state, and our schools as well as our churches, were no exception to the rule.

An old log cabin with a board roof, with split pine puncheon seats had been built before the war at what is now known as Chapel Hill grave yard, and was used as a school house and church whenever a teacher could be procured or a preacher dropped around.

Another house with the same conditions existed at Bear Creek, near our post office Netta Boc, of which I have told you.

Don't raise your eyebrows and look up in horror and amazement when I tell you I have seen children ten years old that had never slept in a bed and had never heard a sermon preached or even been inside a church or schoolhouse. Yet when it came to riding a wild range pony or horse, driving cattle, bulldogging stock on the range or throwing a lariat, riding yearlings, these boys had learned their lessons well, and the smart alec from back east had better not try to teach them any of Hoyle's games or the art of swapping horses if he didn't expect to experience a financial crash on a small scale.

I might say that I am only speaking of what was then Monroe township, and not all of southwest Arkansas. Monroe township extended from Polk county on the north to Little River on the south and from the Indian Territory on the west to somewhere east of where DeQueen now stands. At that time all of Little River county, Center Point and Mineral Springs were in Sevier county.

I must get back to the schools or the boys I have been telling about that wore leather breeches and slept on bear skins, will think that their education is being sadly neglected.

A short time after the war an old gentleman came into the county and made up a small subscription school, as he was too old to do any hard labor. He was a very quiet, moral old man, and tried to teach morality and Christianity, as well as literature. After a time his precepts and moral persistency had a very salutary effect. Among his ventures was to get a Sunday School started. It was not of the present day style or I wouldn't mention it; but it suited the country and the times, and that was sufficient.

The meetings were held each Sunday alternately at the two houses mentioned. After select Bible readings, anyone was at liberty to ask Scriptural questions he chose, while the smaller members of the gathering were given verbal instructions from those supposed to be competent. Fortunately for this school, a good singer had dropped into the county from somewhere and after the Bible lessons singing followed until the noon hour, when dinner was served on the ground.

After the dinner recess, some two would choose up for a spelling.

Our old teacher and R.D. Wright, another ex-teacher would superintend the matches and the old blue-back speller was never more in evidence. These Sunday Schools became very popular and there were but few men of families but what were always in attendance. I don't think that I ever knew of a Sunday School that wielded the influence for the general good that this school did. I have known people to have come ten miles to attend these schools.

Preachers were soon finding their way into the county and with them came new ideas, and our schools were voted a back number and gave way to a new order of things, but whether for the better, I am in doubt. I know, I myself have been voted a back number, and like our old primitive Sunday Schools, will soon pass away.

For the sake of recollections of the past and old time friendship, such as existed nowhere else, and I fear never will again, if anyone may chance to read these sketches that attended these schools, it would afford me great pleasure to hear from them, or to meet them again. I know of but three or four of the old class now living, and but one of them is living in Arkansas at this time and this person was a little girl at that time and her father was general superintendent of this school, but she is now the grandmother of a grown young man, and some of her sons are successful business men.

I think that the person must be of a cold nature and slow pulsating blood that can peruse this old book of memories and not wish for one short peep behind the curtains of time.

With this I will close these memories of the past. Other things I could have told that I still remember, but as they belong more to the past than to the present, I will desist.

If I have written anything in these sketches that has wounded anyone's feelings, I humbly ask their pardon, and if I have amused, instructed or entertained anyone I am fully repaid for the writing; so with a wave of the hand and a smile and good wishes for all, I bow and make my exit.

--- W.S. Ray

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