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Notable Arkansans

by Clyde Snider, Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 6, 2021 at 2:05 a.m.

He was born in 1832 in Dudley, Mass. Less than a week after his birth, his mother died. Four years later, his father married Betsy Larned; the couple had four sons.

He attended Dudley public schools and married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nash in 1860. At the beginning of the Civil War, he bought a building materials business in New York from Alexander Shaler, who joined the Union Army. Shaler would become a brigadier general and, by the end of the war, be posted in Arkansas.

The New York business did not do well and he soon found himself in debt. At General Shaler's invitation, he left Lizzie behind and traveled to DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), where Shaler was the commanding officer. Shaler put him in a position where he was quickly able to gain interest in several successful businesses, including two steamboats, two saloons and a cotton plantation in Augusta (Woodruff County). By 1866, he was able to go back East, pay his debts, and return to Arkansas with Lizzie. They settled in Augusta and bought the remaining interest in the plantation. They adopted a daughter, Isabel.

In 1867, Congress passed the Congressional Reconstruction Acts, beginning the era known as Radical Reconstruction. Every former Confederate state had to hold a constitutional convention to form the new state governments — former Confederate leaders were not permitted to participate. The new constitutions were required to provide for "universal manhood suffrage" without regard to race.

Due to his cotton plantation and other business interests, his wealth grew; this fueled resentment from ex-Confederates who considered him a carpetbagger, taking advantage of the South's defeat. Nonetheless, in 1867, with the backing of freed Blacks and white unionists, he was elected to represent Crittenden, St. Francis and Woodruff counties in the state House of Representatives. A major supporter of Republican Gov. Powell Clayton, he pushed to ratify the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the U.S. — including Black people.

In retaliation, a white-supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, began terrorizing anyone who supported this political and social change, particularly members of the liberal Republican Party — the majority party in the new state Legislature — both white and Black. During a three-month period in 1868, the Klan killed 12 people, including free Blacks and a Freedmen's Bureau agent. He became a target and was ambushed and wounded.

A state guard and reserve militia was formed, and he was appointed to command the northeast military district. The Woodruff County Klan, led by former Confederate Col. A. C. Pickett, pillaged his plantation, but he, with approximately 100 militiamen, was able to save the town of Augusta from occupation and defeat Pickett and his Klansmen. During the next few years he led skirmishes against the Klan around the state, sometimes using brutal tactics and personally engaging in battle, and was credited, by many, with driving the Klan out of Arkansas.

With the end of Reconstruction came the loss of his power and influence. He was tried in Augusta for the murder of four men during what became known as the Militia War, but was acquitted.

In 1869, the family moved to Little Rock, where he became involved in real estate and served as a clerk in the county chancery court as well as being elected to the city council and school board.

In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him U.S. Marshal for the Western District Count, presided over by Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith. It is said he served with distinction until his successor was appointed.

In 1882, he contracted tuberculosis and traveled back to Dudley to visit family. That October he died in his father's house, but his body was returned to Little Rock, where he is was buried in Oakland Cemetery. Lizzie and Isabel lie next to him.

Who was this controversial political and military leader?

See Notable Arkansans — Answer


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