The Red Scare (?) at the Picric Acid Plant, 1918

So, I’ve done some historical work on the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant. This was a major munitions factory that stood where the Interstate 440 and Bankhead Drive now meet. During World War I, it made a high explosive called picric acid (bet you didn’t guess that), which was used in American shells sent to Europe.

Some months back, I found a listing in the National Archives online catalogs for two records groups relating to the facility. This was a potential boon, since I’ve been using primarily newspaper accounts up to this point. I requested copies, and hoped that they contained at least some photographs or drawing of the facility, which I haven’t found to date. I was, frankly, surprised by what popped up.

The documents are actually from the office of the Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Marlborough Churchill. They allege that the International Workers of the World were active and “influential” around Little Rock, and may be implicated in two deaths at the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant.

Whoa. That’s an entirely different aspect of the plant than has popped up in the papers…

We’ve known from newspaper accounts that a worker died during construction. This man, W.E. Woodard of Faulkner County, apparently fell to his death from the roof of one of the buildings. The NARA documents give more of the circumstances about the death. Apparently, on the night of June 3, 1918, about 10:35, Woodard and some others were working on one of the buildings when a channel iron slipped its guide rope and struck Woodard in the head, knocking him from the building. He fell 35 feet and landed on an I-beam, breaking both legs and causing massive internal injuries. One hour later (why did they wait an hour?), someone called for emergency services, but Woodard passed away soon thereafter.

Apparently, one of the foremen thought that this was no accident. He reported it to Churchill’s office, believing that International Workers of the World saboteurs had infiltrated the plant and were causing accidents. Woodard’s death was one, but apparently someone shut off the water supply to the fire extinguishers at around the same time. This foreman blamed the IWW.

Ultimately, the Military Intelligence officers sent to investigate decided that both incidents were accidental, not sabotage. Still, the hasty response to purported infiltration bespeaks the importance of military production at the time and the fear of anti-war IWW agitation present in Arkansas.

Carl Drexler
Magnolia, Arkansas


Cheerfully Over the World

Some Quakers, including myself, find themselves living far from other Friends (we’re called “the Religious Society of Friends,” hence the capitalization). It can be a little lonely, and in 2000, the Friends World Committee for Consultation put out a book titled Cheerfully Over the World: A Handbook for Isolated Friends. It is out of print, and a request for a copy from FWCC indicated that they didn’t have any on hand, but provided a link to a Russian site that carried the text. The link does not appear to work anymore, but I did manage to grab the text before it went away. I am posting it here, so long as no one objects.

Public Archeology in Rural Arkansas

Rurality has been popping up in a few different places in my life recently. I have been talking with a colleague about building some course materials on rural anthropology and sociology, my

Arkansas Archeological Survey station territories with urban areas overlain. SAU territory in yellow

recently-submitted platform for the upcoming Society for Historical Archaeology’s Board of Directors elections emphasized outreach with rural communities, and I live in and work in south Arkansas… look out the window… it’s rural.

But, if I am going to talk about working in rural areas, I wanted to know how rural territory is, and, because I am curious, how rural my station territory is in comparison with the other stations in the Arkansas Archeological Survey system. Because I am me, I threw some GIS at it.

I downloaded a shapefile of urban areas from the U.S. Census Bureau, who define such things, and did some simple statistics in ArcMap.

Station Total Area (sq mi) Urban Area (sq mi) Percent Urban Area
ASU 11,503 182 1.6%
HSU 6,423 354 5.5%
SAU 7,348 75 1.0%
UAF 8,238 311 3.8%
UAM 4,967 36 0.7%
UAPB 5,957 581 9.8%
WRI 7,631 95 1.2%

So, we’re the fourth largest territory, but the second most rural behind UAM. Of course, this is just land mass, which was the easiest to calculate with the given files at hand. I pulled populations for the SAU territory, and we’re 58% rural, well above the 42% that is the state average and 19.3% that is the national average. I don’t have specifics for the rest of the state, as that was going to be a bigger data mining operation.

Why does this matter? Comparing the SAU territory to others is pretty much a just-so story, but in the larger scope, all of our stations work with primarily rural territories in a state that has a rural population twice the national average. That creates a different working context than our colleagues on the coasts (East, West, and Gulf). Somewhere, Robert Earl Keen’s “Out Here in the Middle” is playing in the background…

Summer research abroad… Well, at least in a different corner of Arkansas

It’s mid-June, and my summer’s research and field schedule is in full swing. I’m on the road this month, whiling away the hours in a different corner of Arkansas than my usual.

I am currently assisting my old boss and current colleague at the UAF Station, Dr. Jamie Brandon, with the 2017 University of Arkansas Field School at Pea Ridge National Military Park, near Pea Ridge, Arkansas. We are working with 10 students from the UofA, as well as Jerry Hilliard, Jared Pebworth, and Lydia Rees to figure out the exact footprint, size, orientation, and antiquity of the village of Leetown, which figured prominently in the battle (probably the most important one fought west of the Mississippi River).

As we are operating out of Fayetteville, I am taking time on weekends to delve into the prodigious stacks at the University of Arkansas’s Mullins Library to advance some writing projects. I owe the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Online and the Pulaski County Historical Review each an article on the Little Rock Picric Acid Plant (LRPAP). The LRPAP was a munitions factory that, during World War I, produced a high explosive for the U.S. military. It’s also feeding into a longer work on World War I production that will be presented at the Old Statehouse Museum this fall. On top of all that, I have been doing some additional groundwork for expanding out a recent SHA paper into a book chapter for an edited volume on place and historical archaeology in the West, focusing on the construction of place through archaeology and history associated with the Camden Expedition of 1864. That’s got an October due date, though, so it’s not feeling the front-burner flames as keenly as the other things.

Being alone in the evenings is also great for productivity, and I’ve finished two books that I have wanted to polish off for some time. Ian Hope’s A Scientific Way of War: Antebellum Military Science, West Point, and the Origins of American Military Thought and Gary Pinkerton’s Trammel’s Trace: The First Road to Texas from the North, which I am reviewing for the Journal of Southern History (the other [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA). There’s some work for the Society for Historical Archaeology (the real [for myself and other historical archaeologists] SHA) that needs doing, too.

Stay out of academia, kids, or else this is what your “holidays” will start to look like…

New Horizons and Old Haunts

It’s been some time since I put a post up here. It’s been a busy time, factoring in the demands of classes and research. I guess it beats being bored (though boredom looks kind of nice from time to time). We’ve had some new things going on around the Station and Southwest Arkansas, and I’m spending some times going back to my historical archaeological roots, as well.

First, the new things. At this past Caddo Conference, held in Natchitoches, Louisiana, I and Fiona Taylor (the new research assistant in the Station) gave our first paper on Caddo archaeology. We have been doing some work on the Holman Springs site (3SV29) and the Society Digs that were held there back in the 1980s. It is a start towards moving that project closer to completion. In addition to giving a paper on it (which was mostly background to the project), we have started to do rough sorts and inventories of the boxes of material. This is both a needed step towards finer analyses, and it is the genesis of an inventory system that will be used for all of the 4,000+ boxes of artifacts in the Station collections area. That bit will take years to implement, but it is massively satisfying to have that in progress.

Stepping back to an earlier time, I am now up in Fayetteville, assisting the UAF Station (Dr. Jamie Brandon) and the Computer Services Program (Dr. Jamie Lockhart) with some remote sensing and mapping at Pea Ridge National Military Park as part of a CESU research program concluded with the park (Superintendent Kevin Eads) and the NPS’s Midwest Archeological Center (Dr. Steve DeVore). We are working on the site of the village of Leetown, which factored significantly into the battle, and was explored back in the 1960s by Rex Wilson. This is all gearing up towards the UofA Field School that will be held there this summer.

Other things continue apace. We did a booth at the Jonquil Festival in Historic Washington last weekend, and have the Art Walk in El Dorado on Saturday. There are lots of cemetery projects popping up, which will keep the Station occupied for a good chunk of the coming months, as well.

New things in archaeology and historic ordance

So, the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings are next week in Fort Worth. One of the workshops this year is hosted by Tom Gersbeck, of the Center for Improvised Explosives at Oklahoma State University, and offers some training in safety and identification of unexploded ordnance in archeological contexts.

This morning, the Charleston Post and Courier put out this article, detailing some concerns about the handling of cannonballs found after a recent hurricane. I get quoted in it, and it came out well. Give it a look, and if you want to chat at the SHAs, come find me.

Disposessing Duwali on Lost Prairie

My doctoral dissertation focused on Dooley’s Ferry, a crossing on the Red River that was part of the mid-19th century landscape of cotton production in southwest Arkansas. Dooley’s Ferry, as a community of some coherence, is very much a 1840s-1890s phenomenon. It was not, however, the first kind of community in its location, nor was it the last. The Caddo maintained a presence there many centuries ago, and one of the earliest communities in the American period was a group of immigrant Cherokees, who arrived in 1819.

Though I never really focused on it in my doctoral research, as I had other priorities, the presence of a Cherokee community was fascinating, though it was short-lived. We know, from several historical sources (e.g. Sabo 1992) that the Cherokee settlement on the Red River, in an area known as “Lost Prairie,” only lasted one winter, and was violently broken up by neighboring whites in 1820. Claude McCrocklin, an avocational archeologist who used to work in the Red River Valley, believed he found some of the footprint of the settlement in the 1990s (McCrocklin 1990). Still, we do not have a good handle on what, outside of racist, exclusionist concepts of civilization, progress, and property rights common to the early 19th century, drove the events that forced the Cherokees away.

I spent a little time researching it this morning, looking through old Arkansas Gazette stories. What follows is far from the last word on the subject, and is limited by working with the period white accounts, but it does illuminate the period a bit.

Background: The Bowl on the Red River

Some of the first stages of Removal pushed tribes like the Cherokee out of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and into the Arkansas Territory. The first land allotted the Cherokee was up on the Arkansas River Valley, in the vicinity of modern-day Dardanelle. Within a few short years, however, the U.S. government sought new treaties that would change those land allocations.

The Treaty of 1817 called for the Cherokees to give up land south of the Arkansas River, a condition that many went along with. Many, but not all. Duwali, also known as “The Bowl,” “Chief Bowles,” or “John Bowles,” objected, as he and his closest associates had established homes along the Petit Jean River, south of the Arkansas. Rather than move north, putting them in close contact with tribal members with whom they had significant political differences, Duwali’s followers instead relocated to the Red River, establishing a small community along what would become the Miller County side of Dooley’s Ferry, an area known as “Lost Prairie.”

The area around Lost Prairie was thinly-settled by Americans in 1819. The first stages of migration from the eastern seaboard, which would bring both European and enslaved African Americans to the Red River Valley, was just beginning. A few farms and plantations were in operation, and these mostly centered along rivers, which were the main arteries of commerce and communication with the wider world (Goodspeed 1890).

There were not many white residents, somewhere around 2,250 for all of southwest Arkansas. These were people who were both trying to make a new home for themselves and trying to keep their families safe. For them, part of those processes involved establishing law and order over growing Southern communities. This was a social system where whites were in power, blacks were enslaved, and Indians had no real place. Indians posed a particular problem within this worldview, as they were “a fierce and savage enemy” (Arkansas Gazette, 7 Oct 1820) who should be “removed to the lands allotted to them in [Oklahoma]” (Arkansas Gazette 15 July 1820) and were unlikely to do so amicably, as their “resentment has already been raised to the highest pitch, and who… calculates on glutting his vengeance… for unjuries [sic] which he has sustained in his native country” (Arkansas Gazette 7 Oct 1820).

We see from these period accounts that there was no concept of making a place for Indian communities within white-dominated society, and that Indians were fierce, merciless, and already-provoked by injustices done to them back east. It is an image of angry, violent Indians, not of Indians as families, communities, or cultures. It is in this template that Duwali’s followers were trying to find a place.

The Red River Valley, 1820

They did not find a hospitable set of neighbors. A letter to Governor James Miller noted the event by calling it “to the great annoyance of the inhabitants of Hempstead county” (Arkansas Gazette, 15 Jul 1820). Soon, allegations of horse-stealing and “other depredations” were being lodged against the Cherokees and some remaining Caddos, referred to as “these faithless savages” (Arkansas Gazette, 26 Feb 1820).

Fanning the flames of anti-Indian outrage, the Arkansas Gazette, in February 1820, printed a laundry list of actions committed by Indians against white settlers, and includes a reference to an 1819 incident in which a party of 10-12 Caddos stole thirteen horses from Pecan Point on the Red River. They were pursued by Captain Nathaniel Robbins and a small party of whites, but when the Caddos stood to give a fight, Robbins and his men decided they did not have the numbers to win, so returned home (Arkansas Gazette, 26 Feb 1820). The other incidents listed in the long enumeration printed by the Gazette could have done little more than offer a laundry list of grievances meant to heighten anti-Native sentiment.

That sentiment would have been added to by incidents in May of the following year. On the 22nd, another raid on Pecan Point resulted in another theft of horses. Again, Captain Robbins and a small party set out after the robbers, pursuing them 100 miles before overtaking them. Apparently, they were able to capture one Cherokee, whose name they record as “Hog in a Pen,” who identified himself as one of Duwali’s followers. Robbins’ party set off towards home with Hog in a Pen, but were waylaid by a party of 40 Cherokees and Caddos, who set Hog in a Pen free “by force of arms” (Arkansas Gazette, 15 Jul 1820).

The Expulsion(?)

The following month, the Gazette ran a copy of a letter to Governor Miller stating that the Cherokees on Red River reported “a difference” that took place between them and local whites, which resulted in the death of one of their number and that “the balance, or nearly so, are in confinement” (Arkansas Gazette, 18 Jun 1820). It is unclear from context what the difference was, though it would not be surprising if some kind of retribution for the events of the preceding month took place, and whether the “confinement” mentioned was indication that the Lost Prairie Cherokee community was rounded up in preparation for expulsion from the territory.


So, this is a brief retelling, but it adds some detail to an under-studied event. Also, I find it fascinating that there are clear indications of Caddo-Cherokee collaboration during this period, a subject to be further investigated. The Red River Valley during what Goodspeed (1890) refers to as the “Squatter Period” (1804-1840) definitely deserves a lot more research.


Goodspeed Company
1890  Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas. Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis.

McCrocklin, Claude
1990  Three Historic Sites on Red River. The Arkansas Archeologist: Bulletin of the Arkansas Archeological Society 31: 31–41.

Sabo, George
1992  Paths of Our Children: Historic Indians of Arkansas. Arkansas Archeological Survey, Fayetteville.