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RE: RIVER VALLEY: 2010: Learning the history of Arkansas

By Caroline Zilk

This article was published January 13, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

— In October, I learned how passionate the people of Perry County are about their history.

Brad Finkbeiner of Houston began researching his family history and decided to share his research about his family and Perry County with his friends on Facebook.

“I thought that it might be a way to find out more if other people could add pieces of the puzzle,” he said.

The group now has more than 700 members who regularly share information and photos about the history of the county.

It’s become a useful tool for people to uncover their family histories.

“People were messaging me asking if I knew where their uncle was,” Finkbeiner said. “They are posting pictures and videos and all kinds of things.”

And now, I may have something to post myself! I at least heard some interesting stories about Perry County history last week while visiting with historian Dr. Michael Dougan of Jonesboro.

You may ask: Why does a Jonesboro man have an interest in Perry County? Well, he seems to have an interest in just about every facet of Arkansas history: From drainage ditches to rice and Arkansas Black apples, Dougan has studied it.

And while writing one of his many entries for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Dougan uncovered a Perry County court case he found amusing. The case was Risen v. Farr.

“One of the parties to that case had been a lawyer in that county,” Dougan began. “He was identified at that time as the only educated man in the whole county.”

(This was in the early 1900s. Of course, there are many more educated people in Perry County these days.)

During that case, which actually had to do with an equal-rights amendment, a legislator — Paul Van Dusen — made a speech in which he said that there were absolutely no educated women in Perry County.

“In his speech, he said that in Perry County, if a woman got a little uppity, they would give her a cow to milk and a few more chickens, and if she continued to be uppity, they got her pregnant and kept her barefoot.”


I’m glad we’ve come a long way, and that married and unmarried women like myself can be uppity without being barefoot and pregnant.

Dougan also told me about a divorce case in which the husband cited one of his reasons for wanting a divorce as his desire to get away from her “hillbilly family.” The judge, who considered himself a hillbilly, denied the divorce.

Dougan, originally from southwest Missouri, considers himself a hillbilly as well.

“I am a practicing hillbilly, and I stand with the Missouri court of appeals in holding that the hillbilly is the person closest to God on this Earth.”

So there ya go. Arkansas history at its best.

You’ll be able to learn more about Michael Dougan in February’s issue of Arkansas Life magazine. For more on Perry County history, search “Perry County Arkansas” on Facebook.

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