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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Fantasies of a Slave Empire

The mid-19th century in America was a time of exuberant optimism.  We had defeated Mexico, and annexed half of its land.  We were the masters of half a continent, who had driven its original inhabitants off their ancestral territories and confined them in ever-shrinking enclaves of poverty and insignificance. There seemed to be no limit […]

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The Limits of Human Decency

We may never know how Thomas Stevenson Drew lost his fortune, after rising to the position of Governor of Arkansas, but the available sources seem to show that he was a genuinely decent man.  He spent his life in efforts at conciliation and compromise; there is no record of his being involved in any of […]

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A Birthday in Pocahontas

No one in Pocahontas, Arkansas, seems to know why its 150th birthday was celebrated in 2006, when the town, as everyone knows, was given its current name, and chosen as the county seat for Randolph County, in 1835.  Nor does anyone know for sure why it was named “Pocahontas,” although it may be because it […]

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The Uses of Dueling

In the society of frontier Arkansas, as in the rest of the South, all respectable white men were expected to conform to a code of honor.  But that code imposed some special requirements for the status of  “gentleman,” qualities that constituted a key part of a person’s social rank. Donald P. McNeilly, the author of […]

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Wolf Scalps, Murder, and the Real Estate Bank

The birth of the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas was marked by a very public murder. The bank, established by the 1836 Arkansas Constitution, was conceived and operated as a mechanism for the wealthy planters of the cotton-growing south and east to plunder the state—and the state’s most powerful politicians were among the plunderers.  It […]

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What were They Reading? Mark Twain Had Some Thoughts.

Albert Pike, a lawyer, journalist, Civil War general and later a major figure in American Masonry, kept a circulating library in the office of the Arkansas Advocate.  We know the titles of some of his books, because borrowers often failed to bring them back, and he had to put ads (and poems) in his paper […]

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Young Men Making Their Way on the Border

How does a young man establish himself in a raw new border community?  In early 19th-century Arkansas, as in many other places, money and family connections were the key.  The men who had already risen to power by the time Thomas Stevenson Drew arrived in the territory in 1827 had come as the heirs of […]

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Talking Ourselves Into Hatred: the Arkansas Cherokees

“What is civilization?” wrote Nu-Tah-E-Tuil, or “No-Killer,” in an April, 1828, letter to the Arkansas Gazette. “Is it a practical knowledge of agriculture? Then I am willing to compare the farms and gardens of this nation with those of the mass of white population in the Territory.   The advantage will be on our side.  Does civilization consist […]

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