2012 Red River Heritage Symposium

This past weekend, I had the honor of being one of the presenters at the 2012 Red River Heritage Symposium (RRHS), hosted by Historic Washington State Park (HWSP) in Washington, Arkansas. I had a great time and got to meet with friends old and new.

Joshua Williams, curator at Historic Washington and the host of the Symposium, opened the event by noting that the purview of the RRHS was not just southwest Arkansas. Like many other places, he noted, our regional identity defies state lines, and that the RRHS exists to serve the people of the Ark-La-Tex with public history scholarship. For non-intimates, the Ark-La-Tex is that corner of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma (not sure why they’re not in the acronym [as a Texan, I could offer a snarky joke, but I’ll refrain]) including Shreveport and Texarkana and many smaller communities.

The composition of the panel of four speakers that afternoon reflected the diversity. Dr. Terry Jones, of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, spoke about Confederate Louisiana infantry units serving in the eastern theater, particularly the Zouave units of Wheat and Coppen, and the 1st and 2nd Regiments. These units, full of foreign-born and non-Anglophone soldiers, cultivated reputations of ambiguous envy amongst Virginians.

Dr. Mary Jane Warde, and independent scholar from Oklahoma, followed with a presentation on the Civil War in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The complexity of the war in the Indian Territory is remarkable, given the different nations and factions within nations at play during the period. Dr. Warde did a nice job of connecting the complexity of the conflict amongst Native Americans to the ways in which Native Americans took part in the war outside of the Indian Territory, notably the Battle of Poison Springs, a profoundly messy and confusing engagement.

After a nice break (HWSP knows how to host a break [take note, SHA]), it was my turn. I was pulling out of the back of the file drawer to talk about some work I got to be part of when I was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas. Jerry Hilliard, my counterpart at the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Fayetteville Research Station, led fieldwork at Cross Hollows, the site of a major Confederate winter quarters, known as Camp Benjamin. I gave a run-down of Civil War camps as social entities (Camp Benjamin was the biggest city in Arkansas, at roughly three times the size of Little Rock), and detailed some of the results of that work. Jerry, Jared Pebworth, Mike Evans, and I did an article for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly on the work.

Finally, Dr. Bill Gurley of the University of Arkansas for Medical Science gave a very nice talk on Dr. William McPheeters, a St. Louis surgeon who, following personal principles, ended up in Confederate service as surgeon to General Sterling Price. McPheeters’s wartime diary, which Dr. Gurley edited with Cynthia Pitcock, is a fascinating engaging account, and one of the few out there that describes southwest Arkansas during the war. I’ve used it extensively in my own research and presentations. Dr. Gurley opened the talk by emphasizing the importance of dedication to personal principles do Dr. McPheeters.

I confess that I missed the dinner and evening speaker, Dr. Andrew Bledsoe. I has spent the previous two weeks earning the Olympic gold metal for sweating doing fieldwork at Crenshaw Mounds, helping a colleague from Fayetteville with his dissertation fieldwork, and I was dead on my feet. I would like to reiterate my enjoyment of the event and state that I’m really looking forward to what gets put together for next year.

One other note: I learned two important things (well, a lot more, but these two are sticking out at the moment) after the talk. One, this book exists. Two, if I do this again, I have got to send HWSP a new headshot (mine is apparently a little squished).

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