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My bedside table is sagging under unread magazines and books. For the past two days I have been methodically attacking this backlog of publications, and a whole trainload of interesting stories have come to light. I especially enjoy perusing county historical journals, since they often contain tidbits which illuminate larger historical subjects. And they have the added bonus of containing some unexpected tidbits on the human condition in our small southern state.

One of the most interesting and diverse local history publications in Arkansas is The Journal, published by the Fort Smith Historical Society for more than 40 years. The April 2018 issue was in honor of the bicentennial of the founding of Fort Smith in 1818 by U.S. Army Major William Bradford. One article, by A. Harris Fennimore, takes an interesting and fun look at the "riflemen and laundresses" comprising Maj. Bradford's contingent to Belle Point at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers.

Here is a list of supplies Bradford ordered for the expedition: a keelboat to float down the Mississippi and up the Arkansas River, cannons, powder, shot and a three month supply of food, clothes, blankets, brandy, rum and some chickens; harness for oxen, pots of grease for axles and lard for cooking.

Bradford was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a skilled and dependable leader. He was assisted by Maj. Stephen H. Long, a topographical engineer detailed to assist in building the fort. Although most of the 65 enlisted men were classified as riflemen, they were responsible for building a large fort and all the needed structures therein. Two enlisted men filled the required positions of company drummer and fifer. Four washerwomen, known as "laundresses," were assigned to the unit. Laundresses were paid at the same rate as soldiers, plus they could draw rations and they had the right to use a store provided by a resident "sutler."

Several of the enlisted men were blacks who had fought in the War of 1812, including Peter Caulder, who would later join a settlement of about 130 free black residents near the White River, deep in the Ozarks of Marion County. Interestingly, at this early time in American national history, the U.S. Army was integrated, though black soldiers were not promoted into leadership positions.

Bradford's men built a standard U.S. Army fort, consisting of a square stockade with walls 132 feet long. Two block houses sat atop opposite corners. Much of the fort was taken up with barracks, shops and storehouses, a magazine and a hospital. This first fort would later be abandoned, to be followed by a grander fort. Thus began the settlement of what would soon become the largest city in western Arkansas.

John N. Cantwell recently made me aware of the Alpena Historical Society, and he sent me all five back issues of its annual publication, Legends of the Hills. Alpena, a small town of about 400 people near the western border of Boone County, started out as a camp for workers building the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad. Many merchants and residents of nearby Carrollton -- which was bypassed by the railroad -- relocated to Alpena, sometimes hauling their homes on wagons for the three miles to the new village. Originally, the town was named Estes, then Alpena Pass, but by the time a post office was established in 1901, it was Alpena.

A 1909 newspaper account of Alpena described the settlement: "The town is beautifully located on Long Creek, and from its elevation, the eye dwells restfully on a beautiful landscape dotted o'er with charming homes and thriving farms." The account brags that Alpena "is conceded to be the most important point along the line between Harrison and Eureka Springs."

One of the most interesting articles in the Alpena history journal deals with the canneries situated in the Alpena area and throughout much of upland Arkansas. The cannery at Alpena employed 40 people during the busy season.

Not surprisingly, the railroads played a role in developing and sustaining the canning industry. The Missouri and North Arkansas teamed up with County Extension agents to teach farmers how to grow crops suitable for canning. These efforts in turn produced a number of agricultural associations. Washington County in 1925 was home to two sweet potato grower associations and six grape associations, while tiny Alpena had a strawberry growers group. Tomatoes were the most commonly canned product, sometimes called "red gold" by local growers.

The latest issue of the Pulaski County Historical Review contains several interesting articles, including one titled A Living Hell: The story of a B-47 Bomber Crash that Devastated Little Rock Neighborhoods by Travis Ratermann.

It was almost 6 a.m. on March 31, 1960, when a B-47 bomber which had just departed Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville bound for Barksdale AFB in Louisiana fell apart as it flew above the capital city. The plane carried a standard three-person crew, a pilot, co-pilot and a navigator. Also aboard was an Air Force civil engineer.

The plane did not explode but disintegrated due to its inability to pull out of a "nose down, left bank, high speed condition," as it was stated in an official report on the accident. This was blamed in part on pilot inattention.

Parts of the plane fell over a long diagonal path stretching from Hillcrest across Capital View neighborhood to the intersection of Summit Street and Maryland Avenue where, as Ratterman writes, "the fuselage of the plane came down with such force that it created a [six foot deep] crater in the intersection." Colonial Court in Hillcrest suffered considerable damage, including the only civilian death, when an engine crashed into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew L. Clark, killing Mrs. Clark, who was home alone at the time. Another airman's body and extensive debris were found on the grounds of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.

Two crew members managed to exit the plane, but only one survived, his parachute coming to rest in a tree above the intersection of Martin and Lee streets. Co-pilot 1st Lt. Thomas G. Smoak was badly burned, but he survived.

And these are merely three of the stories to be found in our local history journals. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about history publications in Arkansas.

Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at

NAN Profiles on 07/01/2018

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