Twenty-one Steps…

21 Steps

Monuments stand as silent sentinels to the men who fought in the defense of the cause of freedom.

Most, like the Confederate marker inside Jenkins’ Ferry State Park, stand as silent witnesses to the history that swirled around them. When it was dedicated in 1928, thousands attended its unveiling. Today, when you visit the park, the monument stands alone, surrounded by the absolute peace that is that place. Sometimes, urban sprawl will absorb a monument where we might find a civil war battlefield monument standing next to a Taco Bell, the ground where brave men once fought now more valuable as real estate than for the blood soaked ground men gave their lives to protect.

As you read this, a soldier is pacing twenty-one steps in front of a monument. Later today, when you’re enjoying that time at the lake or the backyard cookout, that soldier continues to pace those twenty-one steps. Tonight, as you turn in after a long day of time spent with family or a day at the mall, that soldier will be still pacing those twenty-one steps.

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, a long sentinel is marking time – protecting those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The soldiers who guard the tomb have no rank adorning their uniforms. Since the ranks of the soldiers they protect are unknown, it would be inappropriate for the tomb to be guarded by soldiers who outrank them.

There were moments at Jenkins’ Ferry where rank didn’t matter. The night before the battle, a soldier with the 33rd Iowa Union Infantry recalled a scene around the fire:

“There was the most perfect equality and democracy, we had ever seen in the army. The officers had no “sleeping utensils” with them, fend therefore, had to lie down as they were. General [Samuel] Rice was fortunate enough to have a cloak to lie on. He made a pillow of the bodies of one or two sleepy soldiers, who happened to be near him. One of the men happened to awake about 4 o’clock, and in moving a little, he almost stumbled over our division-commander [General Fredrick Salomon], stretched upon the bare ground, with his feet to the fire, and looking like any other Dutchman.”

 The soldier who wrote that is gone. They’re all gone – Generals as well as foot soldiers.

What remains behind at Jenkins’ Ferry is the 1928 Confederate monument. There are no smartly dressed soldiers protecting that tomb, yet I have no doubt it is surrounded by the brave spirit of the men – Union and Confederate – who fought there.

 

Honor Amongst Political Correctness…

Boy Scout

If you’ve been following the news the last few days, you’ve read where controversy once again swirls around the Boy Scouts of America. Folks are once again examining the merits of whether or not to allow openly homosexual males to serve in scout master positions.

This blog is about as non-political as you’ll find. We get enough of that mindless, depressing hooey everyday when we turn on the news. Heck, with our smartphones, we no longer have to wait for the six o’clock news; we have this constant flow of news coming into our lives. No, this blog is about sharing stories of the men of the 1864 Camden Expedition and the battles that raged across southern Arkansas.

Something that has always made my heart proud every year is the stories I read around Memorial Day where Boy Scouts across America descend upon our cemeteries and place small flags on the gravesites of our veterans.

When I was preparing to write the blog I plan to post on Memorial Day, I came across the photograph in today’s blog of the young scout saluting one of the veterans they came to honor.

What struck me about the photograph is nowhere do we see political correctness (I detest that word, truth be told). Nor do we see the controversy among “the grown ups” of the issues that detract from the honor of this organization.

What I see in this photograph is duty and honor…something so missing from our society today.

I hope one day my son, Stephen Ryan, will join the Boy Scouts. I hope to hear him one day recite the scout oath:

“On my honor, I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; 
To help other people at all times; 
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

 There is indeed honor at this early age. These young men are part of what is good about America. And spending that time in our veteran’s cemeteries placing flags is a good way for them to recall the sacrifice so many made for the cause of freedom.

But more importantly, it serves to honor those brave men and woman who protected our shores and stood as the beacon of freedom throughout the world.

At Jenkins’ Ferry, the local Boy Scout troops have participated in many events related to commemorating the battle. By involving them, you help educate them and inspire them about the brave men – blue and grey – who fought there 150 years ago.

I don’t care for political correctness – it is some contrived term that divides our country.

Perhaps instead, we should stick to the terms that helped build our country – terms the boy scouts live by…

Honor

Duty to God and County

Morally Straight

We can learn a lot from those brave young men.

Mysteries and Muddy Roads…

Muddy Road

After the Federals had left their encampment where they had burned about 200 wagons filled with supplies and ordinance following the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry (near the intersection of Highways 46 & 291), Frederick Steele began moving his army northward toward Little Rock.

After crossing what is now Highway 270 just east of the city of Prattsville, the army continued northward, and within a few miles, entered the Lost Creek bottoms. That is where things fell apart.

This morass was even worse than the quagmire they just left. The Military Road here was now a sea of mud. A member of the 33rd Iowa recalled the march through the bottoms:

Oh! The interminable time in that dreary swamp! Driven to the last extreme of haste by the imperative necessity for food, and expecting every minute to hear the guns of the once repulsed, but still overwhelming enemy, upon our rear, there we were compelled to wait and linger, while the long train of wagons would stick in the mud, and the mules would flounder in the mire. Many as were the wagons that had been destroyed, the train still stretched out apparently two or three miles. Our duty as train guard that day, was to cut down all the young pine trees near, bring them on our backs to that deepest part of the mire, which was called the road, and so build corduroy across most of the swamp.                                                                                                                                              

When a wagon stuck – and all the wagons were constantly sticking – every endeavor was made to raise it out of the mud and get it moving again. If all means failed, the mules were unhitched, and the wagon broken and burned; and so all over the swamp, and the road, were burning wagons and their scattered contents. If the cartridges that were sown that day should bear fruit even sixty-fold, there would never be peace anymore. Whenever a wagon was fire, most or all of its contents were thrown into the water…but still the occasional explosions of powder, cartridges, etc. lent variety without beauty to the scene.”

It was early afternoon on May 1st before the last of Steele’s Army emerged from the Lost Creek bottoms. The road and conditions improved to allow the retreating Federals a quickened pace.

A few days ago we talked about the “hog pen” – the area of new interest on the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield where relic hunters have discovered traces of possible artillery action. As I mentioned, those who have searched those river bottoms have unearthed some amazing finds. But what of the Lost Creek bottoms? What treasures have these men uncovered?

The answer, according to some of those who have spent a lifetime searching, that possibly the area has not yet been discovered. Now, you might ask how is this even possible, given the scores of people who have descended upon the area since the first metal detectors were produced.

Let’s look at something our soldier of the 33rd Iowa said above:

“…and the wagon broken and burned; and so all over the swamp, and the road, were burning wagons and their scattered contents. If the cartridges that were sown that day should bear fruit even sixty-fold, there would never be peace anymore.”

This statement has perplexed some historians for decades. Granted, relics have been discovered all along the Federal retreat route. But nothing on the scale the soldier wrote about.

Some have speculated that the soldier was referring to the “burning ground,” the high ground where the Federals burned their wagons prior to departing for Little Rock. Others say that based upon the statement, the soldier must be referring to a different location, presumably the Lost Creek bottoms.

I do know of the location of a least one wagon that was discovered a few years ago just north of Highway 35 east of the Tull Community. That particular wagon was filled with medical supplies, with the bottles melted and fused together from the fire when the wagon was destroyed. This particular wagon was discovered years after the relic hunter’s initial sweep through the area, which would give me cause to believe there remains materials to be discovered.

Why seek the artifacts? Easy. They all help tell the story of the Camden Expedition and by pinpointing the Lost Creek bottom’s location; it will fill in yet another piece of the puzzle of Steele’s escape through the piney forests of central and southern Arkansas.

Death…By the Numbers

Dead

Trying to determine actual causality figures from the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry has always been difficult. From the eyewitness accounts, we know there was chaos in that river bottom during and after the battle. Additionally, with scores being removed from the battlefield and treated at makeshift hospitals, it is impossible to know the number of soldiers who’s names moved from the “wounded” column to the “killed” column. To further muddy the waters, several of the Confederate units (including Walker’s entire Texas Division) failed to submit any causality figures, so the numbers are immediately skewed.

That being said, we are able to make some sense out of the limited data that we have available. What stands out the most to me are the wounded, particularly the Federal wounded. I can understand the high Confederate causalities; they were moving across open ground, visible for 200+ yards prior to being mowed down by the Federals, entrenched behind makeshift breastworks.

But apparently, the breastworks weren’t as effective as what might have been expected.

The night before the battle, as the Federals were desperately trying to cross the Saline River, the sound of axes were heard throughout the river bottom as General Samuel Rice’s Third Brigade piled trees and fence rails to form a barrier to the anticipated Confederate onslaught coming at daylight.

Confederate General Thomas Waul, commanding a brigade in Walker’s Texas Division, recalled the breastworks in front of him as he made the charge:

“The Federal’s principal line concealed and protected by fallen timber and other hastily constructed defenses and the banks of a slough, commanded the only direct approach through an open field in front. They had also a strong force nearly at right angles with the right of their main line, position under the high banks of a deep bayou that skirts the Jenkins’ Ferry road, directly on the edge of the field and commanding the left flank, and enfilading any force that might enter the field in front of the main line. The enemy’s left extended a considerable distance beyond the field, forming an obtuse angle, inclining toward our right and commanding a large portion of the field.”

The available causality figures for the Confederates are brutal: 517 killed and wounded but keep in mind that these figures do not include several of the units who were engaged. Again, I can understand the figures, given the head-on assaults across the open cornfield. However, the Federal causalities were equally high: 621 killed and wounded.

It was a hell of a fight.

That’s 1,200 causalities before calculating in the missing figures from the other Confederate units. I have no doubt, especially with Walker’s Texas Division, that the causality figures would rise to over 1,500-1,700.

Here are the reported causality figures for those companies reporting their numbers:

Federal:

50th Indiana Infantry: Killed-13 Wounded-71 Missing-9

29th Iowa Infantry:    Killed-8 Wounded-84 Missing-0

33rd Iowa Infantry:    Killed-9 Wounded-105 Missing-9

9th Wisconsin Infantry: Killed-14 Wounded-71 Missing-0

Casual Detachment:    Killed-5 Wounded-27 Missing-5

43rd Illinois Infantry:   Killed-3 Wounded-9   Missing-0

40th Iowa Infantry:   Killed-6 Wounded-34 Missing-0

27th Wisconsin Infantry: Killed-5 Wounded-11 Missing-14

2nd Kansas Colored Infantry: Killed-15 Wounded-55, Missing-3

Springfield Illinois Light Artillery: Killed-15 Wounded-55 Missing-3

 

Confederate:

3rd Missouri Cavalry: Killed-6 Wounded-31 Missing-0

4th Missouri Cavalry: Killed-1 Wounded-12 Missing-0

19th and 24th Arkansas Infantry: Killed-8 Wounded-18      Missing-0

28th and 38th Arkansas Infantry: Killed-4 Wounded-22 Missing-0

33rd Arkansas Infantry: Killed-21 Wounded-71 Missing-0

Gause’s Brigade, Arkansas Infantry: Killed-15 Wounded-67 Missing-0

Dismounted Casuals: Killed-1 Wounded-14 Missing-1

8th Missouri Infantry: Killled-7 Wounded-22 Missing-0

9th Missouri Infantry: Killed-7 Wounded-45 Missing-0

Ruffner’s Missouri Battery: Killed-4 Wounded-6 Missing-0

10th Missouri Infantry: Killed-3 Wounded-7 Missing-0

11th Missouri Infantry: Killed-2 Wounded-15 Missing-0

12th Missouri Infantry: Killed-1 Wounded-2 Missing-0

16th Missouri Infantry: Killed-5 Wounded-20 Missing-0

9th Missouri Sharpshooter Battalion: Killed-4 Wounded-4 Missing-4

 

Killed: Federal-93 Confederate-107

Wounded: Federal-522   Confederate-410

Missing: Federal-43 Confederate-5

 

Killed: 200

Wounded: 932

Missing: 48

 

The number of killed/wounded/missing were not recorded from the following Confederate units:

14th Missouri Cavalry

8th Missouri Cavalry

Harris’ Missouri Battery

11th and 14th Texas Infantry

28the and 6th Texas Cavalry

Daniel’s Texas Battery

The only possible way of compiling the missing causality figures would be to analyze the service records of each of the companies who failed to report their numbers. That, I am afraid, would be a monumental task but one that I hope someone will one day take on the challenge. It would finally fill in a significant piece of the puzzle that is the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

The Smell of War…

Sixth Texas Cavalry

Flags are silent eyewitnesses to history.

Scattered about our country are a dozen or so flags that flew during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. The one in today’s photograph is cotton and silk, four foot by six foot and is typical of the banners that flew that day in the Saline River bottoms.

Today’s photograph is the flag of the Sixth Texas Cavalry. The Sixth were part of General Horace Randal’s First Brigade, serving in General John Walker’s Texas Division.

There were three Texas Brigades at Jenkins’ Ferry that morning: 1st (Randal’s), 2nd (Scurry’s) and 3rd (Waul’s).

A member of Scurry’s Brigade, Corporal Joseph Blessington, kept a diary throughout the way, publishing it in 1875 in a book entitled, “The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division by a Private Soldier.” Included are Blessington’s eyewitness account of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

The Texas Division arrived late at Jenkins’ Ferry, having been left behind initially in Louisiana in the event that the Federal Army under Nathaniel Banks might attempt another push against the Confederate forces under command of General Richard Taylor.

As they approached the battle, the Division paused at the Giles House, a house alongside the Military Road several miles south of the battlefield. The home had initially served as the headquarters of US General Frederick Steele. Once the Federals departed, moving north toward the Saline River, Confederate General E. Kirby Smith used the home as a headquarters. It was there that he met with General Walker and issued orders for the Texans role in the battle.

The 3rd Brigade (Waul’s) was to make their push across the second cornfield (Grooms) with the 1st (Randal’s) and 2nd (Scurry’s) pushing up from the south along a little used road (Cunningham Road).

Blessington recalled the heat of battle that day:

The 1st Brigade, commanded by General Randall, was ably led by that distinguished officer into action. He seemed ubiquitous as he screamed his orders here and there, always urging his men on the foe. An incessant roar of musketry prevailed for about six hours. During this time the tide of battle ebbed and flowed—now advancing, then receding ; but at no time did the ground fought over vary more than two hundred and fifty yards. Owing to the dense fog and the dense clouds of smoke which hung in the thick woods, many times, opposing fines could only be discovered by the flash of their muskets. The firing on both sides grew more terrific every moment; even the elements were terribly convulsed. They seemed to groan with the heavy burden of storms which had been gathered from the hemispheres, to pour upon the heads of God’s erring children the vial of wrath, as an admonition to both armies to stay their bloody hands. But we continued fighting, irrespective of the storm. In the midst of the battle, our gallant general (General Walker) could be seen galloping along the lines, cheering his men forward.”

I’ve stood where the Texan’s stood that day a hundred times. I admit it’s hard to imagine what Corporal Blessington wrote. When you visit the area, you hear silence, broken only by the occasional passing logging truck or the songs of birds. When I’ve taken tours down onto the battlefield, when I point out the spot where the Texans stood and where two of the Generals (Randal and Scurry) fell, I sometimes see the expressions of “is this it?” on their faces.

The area where Blessington and his fellow Texans stood is devoid of markers. But more importantly, to many, it just simply looks too peaceful to be the scene of such horror.

But it was far from peaceful – it was absolute horror on a scale we cannot comprehend. Corporal Blessington wrote:

“Soon after the battle ended, a detail ended, a detail of men were employed in burying the dead. Armed with shovel, pickaxe, and spade, they proceeded along the battle-ground to complete this mournful task, which the enemy were unable to accomplish. The ground was thickly strewn with the ghastly and mangled forms. The effluvium from the swollen, festering forms was too horrible for human endurance. No conception of the imagination, no power of human endurance. No conception of the imagination, no power of human language, could do justice to such a horrible scene.”

On April 30, 2014, the 150th anniversary of the battle, I stood on the banks of the Saline River at sunset, remembering the men who remain on the battlefield today, forever separated from their loved ones. As I stood alone on that riverbank, I reflected on a portion of Corporal Blessington’s diary reflecting on the that same moment, 150 years earlier:

“Faint rays of the sinking sun now peered through broken clouds upon the blood-stained waters of the Saline.”

If you ever find yourself near the park at sunset, take a moment and spend a few minutes on that riverbank, imagining colorful banners blowing in the breeze, the sounds of battle echoing through the river bottom and the smell of war overpowering you.

Today, the flag of the Sixth Texas Cavalry is safely tucked away inside the Texas State Archives in Austin, Texas. Gone, through preservation efforts,  are the smells of war and batlle. It joins the banners of the 33rd Arkansas, 33rd Iowa, 43rd Illinois, 2nd Kansas Colored and others – preserved and prepared to help tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry for generations to come.

Cox Creek….Then and Now

  Cox Creek Blog

Today, when you visit the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield, you find many of the landmarks from the battle still evident. This is especially true of Cox Creek, the wandering stream that meanders through the northern portion of the battlefield. Only Cox Creek is far from just a stream, with steep banks, it resembles more of a slough. Commanders noted during the battle, Cox Creek was running bank full with depths of ten feet.

This created the northern barrier to the battlefield. And with the Saline swamp to the south, the only choice Confederate General Kirby Smith had was a series of headlong attacks across the open ground of the second cornfield (Grooms). With the corn only ankle high, the Confederates would have been visible the moment they stepped off from the timber.

There was limited fighting on the north side of Cox Creek as Kirby Smith concluded that repeated head-on assaults on the Union line were ineffective. The Confederate troops that did make their way across the swollen creek were forced to move through thick canebrakes that remain even today.

As the Confederates moved eastward in an attempt to flank the Federal line, the Federals rushed troops to the north side of the creek in an effort to stop the Confederate advance.

The 43rd Illinois Infantry were one of the units ordered across the creek. A soldier of the unit recalled the scene:

“When they approached the rain-swollen creek, a number of the soldiers exhibited ‘some hesitancy’ about plunging into the waist deep water. But as soon as the first files successfully waded the turgid stream and scrambled up the steep, muddy bank, the rest followed, many of the men found their cartridge boxes were full of water. [The] Colonel advised no time to stop for fresh ordinance.”

What has always intrigued me about Cox Creek is not the slough itself, but how the development of Cox Creek Lake a few miles west of the battlefield affected the flow of the creek today as compared to how it must have looked in 1864.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission created Cox Creek Lake in 1964 for recreational use (fishing and swimming) by damming the creek. In the 1980’s the lake was drained while improvements were made to the valve system that controlled the flow of water from the lake to the creek.

Today, the 254-acre lake is a favorite of area residents and includes campsites as well as a boat ramp and fishing pier.

There are several people from the Leola and Sheridan area that follow the blog and some of them may remember a time before Cox Creek Lake was constructed. My father was not that familiar with the lake as we spent our times at the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park, enjoying the Saline River for fishing and swimming.

Today, for the most part, Cox Creek is a shallow creek as the photograph in today’s blog shows. I have seen it run deep during times of heavy rains. However, by the time the creek would reach bank full status, the entire river bottom would be flooded so there have never been many opportunities to photograph Cox Creek as it may have looked during the battle.

Now…something else that must be said when trying to imagine Cox Creek as it may have looked during the battle is how the terrain has changed in the river bottom. I am refereeing to the development of Highway 46 that runs between Sheridan and Leola. For many years, the road was graveled and the roadbed that was cut through the river bottom would flood when the river flooded. Once the decision was made to raise the road, it corrected the problem of the road being flooded but at the same time the raised bed created a dam like structure that, during times of flooding rains, would back the water up all across that portion of the river bottom where the battle was fought.

For much of the year, Cox Creek looks very similar to today’s photograph, with its deep banks and quiet stream working its way toward the Saline River. It looks much different than it did that April morning in 1864.

New Discoveries at Jenkins’ Ferry…

dreamstime_l_6232985

There is a new chapter to the story of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry waiting to be written.

We know, due to the flooded river bottom, there was limited use of artillery during the battle. The artillery pieces that were used fired mostly canister shot – hundreds of 1½ inch iron balls fired like buckshot out of the cannons at opposing troops. We know that during the battle, Confederate artillery fired several rounds of canister at the Federal rear guard, holding firm behind makeshift breastworks in the wooded area between Grooms and Tucker’s fields. Relic hunters using metal detectors confirmed this when, in the 1970’s, they unearthed hundreds of pieces of canister shot buried deep in soil.

And that was the end of the artillery, right?

Maybe not.

A few years ago, a new area on the battlefield gained the attention of several of the seasoned veteran relic hunters. Near the Saline River just south of the crossing site is an area known as the “hog pen.” Where the name originated from no one knows but what was discovered there is an even greater mystery.

It seems, among the concentration of relics there, were several pieces of fired canister shot. Now, the canister fired by Confederate Artillery during the battle would not have landed here. The canister fired by Lockhart and LeSeur’s batteries are well documented and the canister pieces discovered in the 1970’s confirmed their impact upon the Federal line.

If the Confederates didn’t fire the canister discovered in the “hog pen,” then who did?

The answer may have been in front of us the entire time.

After the Confederate attack had ceased, the Federals completed their crossing of the Saline River. The commander of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, Colonel Samuel Crawford, wrote in his memories that his unit was posted on the west side of the Saline River as the Federals completed the crossing. While waiting, one of Frederick Steele’s staff officers approached Crawford and berated him for taking too long to get his men across the Saline. Crawford recalled the meeting:

While we waiting for the men, another staff officer from Steel’s headquarters came splashing back through the mud with his eyes a-glare and nostrils distended (having snuffed the battle from afar) and wanted to know why ‘in hell’ I didn’t hurry up. He further said: ‘if you keep fooling around this way, Price and Kirby Smith will hop on to you in less than fifteen minutes, and we shall lose our pontoon bridge.

To which Crawford replied:

Yes, that is exactly what I want. They hopped on me this morning, but didn’t get the bridge. If they come along now, I think I shall turn it over to them and stop this disgraceful retreat.

Shortly before 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of April 30th, a steward assigned to the Union field hospital arrived at the crossing and informed Captain Junius Wheeler there were no stragglers left on the west side of the Saline River. Wheeler, acting on orders from Steele, ordered the immediate destruction of the pontoon bridge to retard any Confederate pursuit. Remarking on the worn pontoon, Wheeler reported, “The Pontoons were very much the worse for wear, and several were worn out, as to no longer to be reliable.” Wheeler’s crews were soon hard at work with axes tearing the bridge apart, throwing the pieces into the Saline River. Standing guard during the demolition was Samuel Crawford’s 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry.

There was at least one Confederate unit who sought to pursue the Federals. Colonel Colton Green took his Cavalry Brigade, consisting of the 3rd, 4th and 8th Missouri Calvary units, and headed toward the Saline River. Once they reached the west bank of the Saline River, they reported the Federals guarding the escape across the river fired upon on.

I was always under the mindset that the Confederates were fired upon by musket fire from Second Kansas Colored Infantry.

But with the discovery of the canister shot in the “hog pen,” could the Federals have set up artillery at the Saline River in order to push back any threat from the Confederates? That seems the only logical explanation for the fired pieces of canister discovered.

Relic hunters who have shared their discoveries have helped redefine the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry in ways the written record could not. The idea of relic hunting is a controversial one and I support the landowners in their right to restrict unauthorized access to their properties. And of course there are those who relic hunt for profit, seizing the opportunity to make money on their finds. However, it has been my experience over the years when encountering those who have relic hunted the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield that they do it for the love of history and of wanting to learn more about what happened in those Saline River bottoms so long ago. Many of them share their artifact collections with the public, speaking to school groups and other organizations. To me, that only helps to preserve the story of Jenkins’ Ferry for future generations.

The discoveries at the “hog pen” are a good example where relic hunting helps to answer unanswered questions. Is relic hunting the idea way to uncover new facets of the battle? Of course not. The idea way would be through archeological research, with very controlled digs where scores of data is gathered to help tell the story of the battle. However, it is impractical to expect complete archeological digs at all of our Civil War battlefields. There is not enough funding or archeologists for these tasks. That being said, I would like to have seen some organized archeological excavations at several of the key sites at Jenkins’ Ferry, now including the “hog pen.”

Only those who were there that day can tell us what actually happened. Through their writings, we have snippets of information to help complete the puzzle that is Jenkins’ Ferry.

I wrote this in “Harvest of Death” about the closing moments of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry:

“As they started toward the safety of the high ground, Colonel Crawford sat astride his horse on the east side of the Saline River, reflecting on the ordeal he just endured. With one final look toward the battlefield, Crawford turned his horse to the east and put Jenkins’ Ferry behind him.”

 Even after 150 years, more of the story of Jenkins’ Ferry remains to be written.

Titanic…

titanic_ship-1920x1080-2

Everyone has “those stories” in their family histories. The stories that sound just a bit too farfetched to be believable; the ones where what began as a simple story has snowballed into something huge over the passage of time.

When I was growing up, we attended the House family reunion each year. House was my mother’s maiden name and has a long history, tracing its origins back to 17th century Virginia.

The reunion was always held in the building adjacent to the cemetery at Holly Springs in Dallas County, Arkansas where, after a morning of food and fellowship, the group would adjourn to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of those who were no longer amongst us.

I especially remember one reunion in particular. During that reunion, someone had brought a very ancient pair of ladies shoes (the type from the 1800’s that resembled high lace up boots) and placed them on one of the tables where they soon became the center of attention. The story being told was that they belonged to one of our House relatives who had been onboard the Titanic.

THE Titanic I asked my mother?

Even in the age before the Internet, everyone knew about the disaster known as the Titanic.

The problem was…and this was a big problem…no one seemed to recall the woman’s name. It seems that after all those years following the sinking, her name had been lost to time.

Now, even as a child I could sense something was just not right about this story.

Over the next few years, I would hear my mother speak of this elusive Titanic ancestor, never knowing her name or anything about her.

When I was older, I actually spent some time researching the issue and discovered that were Arkansas passengers aboard the Titanic. There was a couple from the Pine Bluff area that was aboard and survived the sinking. However, I could never connect them to our family. I eventually chalked up the shoes and story to just one of those made up stories that find their way into our family histories – and not in a bad way. I’m sure there was no ill intent in the story – it was just a fun made up story.

Then I found the postcard.

After my mother died in 2002, my brothers and sisters and I spent some time going through her possessions. Contained within those papers was a postcard dated three weeks after the April 15, 1912 sinking postmarked Philadelphia. The postcard was addressed to my mother’s grandfather, William Dudley House, indicating they had survived the disaster and had just arrived “here” (Philadelphia?). They promised to write more soon.

WOW!

So there was truth in the Titanic story after all. The postcard confirmed the family legend with one important problem…the postcard wasn’t signed. Apparently, my great-grandfather knew the writer well enough that no signature was necessary. Even though the postcard seemed to confirm the story, I was still no closer to learning the name of our relative who was aboard. To make matters worse, the shoes themselves have been lost to history as those of us who were just children at these reunions cannot remember who the relative was that brought the shoes.

There is a bit of a tie in to Jenkins’ Ferry to all of this.

Something that saddens me nowadays is that the tradition of family reunions seems to be fading away. I used to anticipate the yearly reunions of my Walker and House families but with the older generation passing away, it seems that the tradition was lost as well. Growing up, our family used to gather annually at the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park for a day of food and fellowship. It remains one of my favorite childhood memories. I’ve thought recently about resurrecting the idea and invite my brothers and sisters and their children for a day at Jenkins’ Ferry, complete with time in the Saline River swimming hole.

It the hectic world we live in, we often lose sight on what is most important to us. I used to hear my parent’s talk about how much easier life was in “simpler times.” I must admit I say the same thing around my children. My daughter cannot even comprehend a world without Internet or cell phones but those of you old enough to remember such things can recall we got along just fine without cell phones and YouTube videos.

This summer, we’re going back to Jenkins’ Ferry State Park – and celebrate a simpler time, and share the stories of our childhood. It will be an awesome day.

Memories of Spearpoints & Confederates…

IMG_2454

As a child, I was surrounded by history.

I’ve spoken of my parents and the love of history they instilled in me. I remember as a child, I was the one who sat at the feet of my elders and absorbed the stories they told.

I was named after my uncle, Joe Walker, who was named after his uncle, Joe Walker (are you sensing a pattern here?). Growing up in my hometown of Tull, I would spend great amounts of time at the home of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Elsie. They too shared that love of history.

One of my fondest memories is of two items my Aunt Elsie owned. The first was a tattered piece of Confederate currency that her grandfather had passed down to her. She would tell the story of his service as a Confederate soldier and of being captured at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, always pointing to the frame where she had placed the Confederate currency.

Then there was the arrowhead.

Some of you are old enough to remember the days when you could walk a freshly plowed field alongside a river or creek and find Indian Arrowheads. It amazed me as a child hearing my father explain the history behind these strange arrow points we’d find scattered across our fields especially after it rained. I can remember having a pretty sizable collection of arrowheads growing up (I’m not sure what became of them, no doubt they are packed away in one of the many boxes in my storage building). Most of them all looked the same and after a while you knew which ones you could expect to find.

Then there was Aunt Elsie’s arrowhead.

It was unique and unlike anything I had ever laid eyes on. When I would visit my uncle and aunt, if the conversation turned to arrowheads, she would leave the room for moment and then emerge with an arrowhead carefully wrapped in a cloth. But this was no ordinary arrowhead; it was more of a spear point. I still remember the story behind it. She, along with her brothers and sisters, would hoe cotton on their farm near the Saline River and would often find arrowheads in the plowed field. It became commonplace but one day, while hoeing cotton, she looked down to see the most magnificent spear point she had ever laid eyes on. She kept it for over fifty years.

Prior to the Internet, if you wanted information, you went to library. I still remember many happy hours in the research room of our local library perusing encyclopedias, my mind a sponge absorbing anything historical I could lay my hands on. After I had gone off to college, one night in the college library, I discovered a book on identification and classification of arrow points. I immediately remembered my Aunt Elsie’s arrowhead and, thumbing through the pages, I found it. The image in the book was a mirror image to her arrowhead. The images in today’s blog are images identical to her spear point and of the Confederate currency.

A “Scottsbluff Point,” dated between 8,000-10,000 years old.

Could this even be possible? My father had told me that the Caddo Indians had lived in the area about a thousand years before. Even that was hard to believe, but 10,000 years? It seemed incomprehensible.

After that, I had conversations with professional archeologists who explained the Scottsbluff arrow points had been found in many parts of the south and southwest, including Arkansas so it was not an uncommon occurrence. They also explained the points were left behind, not by the Caddo Indians, but by nomadic hunters who roamed the area thousands of years ago. Once she learned the history of it, my aunt had the point professionally framed in a shadow box and proudly displayed it alongside the Confederate currency of her ancestors.

My aunt and uncle had no children of their own and after my uncle died in 1993, my aunt passed away within a few months. After her death, her possessions were distributed to her relatives and unfortunately I never knew what became of neither the Confederate currency nor the Scottsbluff arrow point. But regardless, I have the memories of that special time.

In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll share an amazing story from my mother’s side of the family. It involves a relative and a ship named Titanic.

Video Blog: Visiting the Grant County Museum

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