Since the United States is populated by people from around the world, it is sad to see the anti-immigrant rhetoric so popular now in certain political circles. While Arkansas and much of the South seem on the surface to lack the ethnic and immigrant diversity so typical of northern states, a little digging uncovers the situation is not so simple.
My friend and colleague Tim Nutt of Little Rock provides a striking example of an Arkansas family which emigrated from an unexpected location, Liechtenstein. A tiny principality wedged between Germany and Switzerland, Liechtenstein sent only 700 immigrants to the U.S. and only one family to Arkansas. Leaving behind floods, crop failure, and the deaths of most of their immediate family, Andreas and Emmerita Kaufmann Nutt emigrated from Balzers, Liechtenstein, in 1880 with their two surviving children. They settled with other German-speaking immigrants in Dixie near Bigelow in Perry County.
German speakers comprised a large percentage of the European immigrants to Arkansas. This is not surprising since the state actively recruited German immigrants, and the railroads sold them land. An analysis of the 1850 U.S. census by the late C.F. Munn documented that among heads of immigrant households in Pulaski County, Germans made up the largest number: 63 out of 189. Ranked second was Ireland with 50; I suspect most of those were probably from Northern Ireland.
At the other end of the scale were countries represented by only one family in 1850 Little Rock: Denmark, Holland, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Switzerland. Italy and Malta were each represented by two families. The single household from Mexico possibly represents the first Hispanic family in Arkansas.
I cringe whenever I think of immigrants from Scandinavia or Switzerland enduring their first summer in Arkansas. Peder Thomsen Jakobsen, a farmer from a portion of Denmark recently annexed by the Germans, immigrated to America in 1869. Arriving in New York without money, Jakobsen slept his first night in an open field.
Like many immigrants, Jakobsen lived in several states before settling near Gillett in Arkansas County in 1910. Always alert to new economic opportunities, he was a pioneer in the cultivation of rice on the Grand Prairie. He built an expansive home which his wife, Anna, kept spotless, yet found time to grow blue morning glories to shade the large porch.
Jakobsen must have handled the summer heat much better than a Catholic priest from Switzerland who complained of the Arkansas summers: "During May the heat arrived ... Hot weather is the great trial for him who comes from the mild climate of Switzerland. Painful ulcers appeared on my hands and back. To console men, people told me [that] he who had ulcers would not suffer from fever. After all, they said, the heat of May was mild in comparison with temperatures of July and August."
Many non-English-speaking immigrants who came to Arkansas were members of organized groups. For example, Arkansas received its first Chinese immigrants during Reconstruction when the Arkansas Valley Immigration Co. made a recruitment trip to China and the western U.S. The 1870 census found 98 Chinese people working in the cotton fields of southeastern Arkansas. The Chinese experiment did not work out despite the work contracts providing for a monthly allotment of opium.
Later a group of Italians were brought to Chicot County to work the cotton fields. While a number stayed in the area, others moved from the Delta to northwest Arkansas where the town of Tontitown grew up. Smaller Italian settlements arose in other counties, and Pine Bluff came to have a good-sized Italian population.
Not all Italians who came to Arkansas were part of a group. Angelo Marre, for example, left Genoa with his parents in 1854, settling first in Tennessee. In 1872, Marre moved to Little Rock where he became a successful liquor dealer. Angelo and his wife, Jennie, built a fine home at 1321 Scott Street. The structure, now owned by the Quapaw Quarter Association, became famous as the opening scene in the CBS television series Designing Women.
A colony of Polish immigrants settled in northern Pulaski County, the first body of immigrants arriving in June 1877. The settlement became known as Marche. The Arkansas Gazette reported on a remarkable 12-year-old girl who was fluent in Polish, English, and German. The railroad companies transported the immigrants to Arkansas without charge. The late Margaret Smith Ross in her history of Marche reported that most of the immigrants came from Wisconsin and Michigan, having been mostly native to the Polish provinces of Posen, Galicia, and Silesia.
Other Slavic peoples also settled here. In 1894, the Slovak Colonization Society purchased land in Prairie County, and a community known as Slovak emerged. Bohemians and Russians also settled in the area, the Russians even building a Russian Orthodox church. Goodly numbers of Bohemians settled near Dardanelle.
My favorite Russian immigrant to Arkansas was Fedor A. Postnikov. A former colonel in the Russian military, Postnikov came to Polk County in 1929 to teach Esperanto, an artificial language intended to serve as an international means of communicating, at Commonwealth College. Postnikov was the founding president of the Esperanto Society of Russia and introduced the language to Japan. He earned an engineering degree after moving to the U.S. about 1906. After service in the U.S. Army during World War II, he became an aeronautical engineer with Goodyear, experimenting with dirigibles.
Postnikov married a Mena widow, Hilda F. Mills, and apparently lived in the state for the rest of his life, dying in Little Rock in 1952.
Lisa Childs, a Fayetteville lawyer and historian, recently told me about a Japanese woman who, along with her Nebraska-born husband of Bohemian extraction, homesteaded land near the Duckett community in northern Howard County, gaining title in 1929. They had met and married while Mr. Hotovec was stationed in the Philippines. In 1940, Mrs. Otsune Tereda Hotovec was one of four Japanese Americans living in Arkansas.
The Hotovec family, according to Lisa, was "a really important part of the Duckett community--they got magazines which they shared, and had the first radio, and a fancy car, and she made Easter baskets and Christmas presents for all the kids. Everyone who grew up there had a Hotovec story." Lisa's grandfather always asked family members to put flowers on the Hotovec graves on Decoration Day, "and I've continued to do so."
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at Arktopia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 03/15/2020
Print Headline: Making the journey to a new land