Leaving Arkansas: Martha Bettis Cooper

When Arkansas’ free people of color were forced to leave the state in 1859, Martha Bettis Cooper  and her son Drew Bettis sold the properties they had acquired in Jacksonport and boarded a steamboat heading north.  With them came a 10-year-old named John Bettis, who was probably a nephew.  They traveled up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers […]

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From Nation to Wasteland: The Cherokees in the Civil War

The Cherokee Nation, like several others in Indian Territory, was plagued by deep divisions, between mixed-bloods and full-bloods, between those who had accepted removal and those who had resisted till the end. In the case of the Cherokees, the antagonists were, on one hand, those who had accepted the Treaty of New Echota, many of […]

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What Chaos Looks Like: Arkansas Civilians in the Civil War

From the beginning of the conflict, Arkansas’ experience in the Civil War was fated to be one of drawn-out agony. Until the moment that Fort Sumter was attacked, the state was roughly evenly divided between those who favored secession and the Unionists or “cooperationists,” most of whom hoped to preserve their slave-based society while remaining […]

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Unionists in the Hills: The Arkansas Peace Society

In the large majority of seceding Confederate states, there were pockets of Unionist resistance.  In general, these dissenting enclaves developed in the hilly backwoods areas, where farms were small, slaves few, and citizens fiercely independent.  Some of their inhabitants were against slavery for moral reasons, some were deserters disillusioned with the Confederate Army’s habit of […]

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Imagining Cinderella Bettis Drew

The story told here is only partly imagined.  Something very much like it actually happened, a century later.  The coffee drinker was Saidee’s daughter—my grandmother, Margaret Bennett Barringer— whose life paralleled Cinderella’s in a number of respects. It is 1858. In the dining room of the rented house in Fort Smith, Cinderella and her daughter […]

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Slave or Free? The Saga of the Beams Family

The declining status of free people of color during the 19th century, and the increasing precariousness of their lives, can be seen in dramatic relief in Indian Territory.  Attitudes towards African-Americans, free or enslaved, varied considerably among the “five civilized tribes”— Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Cherokees—but as the Civil War drew nearer, the attitudes […]

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Hate Speech and Expulsion: Arkansas’ Free People of Color

The legal disadvantages imposed on free African-Americans, beginning in the late 17th century in the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion, spread south and west from Virginia.  As a stable, stratified society put down roots on each new frontier, it brought with it new laws designed to strengthen the division between the races, and to keep free […]

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Rivers and Freedom: A Child’s Escape

When Patsie Bettis was freed in 1837, a year after the death of her father Elijah Bettis III, she was the mother of two young sons, Drew, age 7, and Martin, age 2.  Drew was the son of Thomas Stevenson Drew, who was married to Patsie’s white cousin Cinderella Bettis.  Martin’s father is unknown, although […]

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The South’s Railroad Problem

In 1851, when Albert Pike visited a number of the Northern states, he reported that Ohio at that time had 29 railroads and 830 miles of track in operation;  Pennsylvania, 52 railroads and 1,224 miles; and Michigan, which had entered the Union at the same time as Arkansas, 4 railroads and 447 miles.  In Arkansas, […]

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Who Were the Know-Nothings?

Americans of our day who oppose immigration and reject science are often compared to the “Know-Nothing” party, which had a brief heyday in the decade before the Civil War.  But the comparison is unfair to the Know-Nothings, who were actually considerably more interesting. The Know-Nothing, or “American,” party came into being at a time of […]

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