Thursday, April 7, 2016

Life on the White River: Two Revealing Images from the 1920s and '30s

Undated photograph of a family on their houseboat, presumably along the White River. Ark Post Museum State Park  
     This image was posted on Facebook by Denise Parkinson who, like me, remembers houseboats up and down the White River in our younger days.  I have become fascinated, largely thanks to her and a fellow Crockett's Bluff descendant Jim Prange, with the photographer Dayton Bowers who maintained a studio in DeWitt from the 1870s to his death in 1924.  Clearly, one of the pioneers of the art form: more skilled (better cameras?) than Mathew Brady and with a more artistic eye.   This image, like the one below of Helen Spence and her father Cicero and others, which was made by Bowers,  has a number of the same details, particularly in the attention paid to its composition.

     Both images have been carefully staged with captivating attention to detail.  Both designed to reflect a lifestyle.  Would that the houseboat gathering above had been just a bit closer to the camera.  How interesting would be the details of the clothing, particularly those ties worn by men on the roof, two seating in a semi-yoga position, with another squatting to their right  and two others standing behind in casual positions with a leg crossed.

     Below on the lower porch, the elders? or parents? with two young girls, one standing between the elders and another perched on the railing.  Everyone in his or her place.   Randomly balanced.

     And, unlike the image below,  the houseboat leaves everything to the viewer's imagination.  Is this the White River? All one family?  An extended family?  Since the men on the roof appear to be about the same age, were they both family and friends?  Sunday afternoon?  Holiday?  And that relatively fancy boat tied at the right?  And what's the story of the second smaller houseboat in the right background?

     What is clear, however, is this dwelling is several cuts above the houseboats of the ordinary inhabitants -  depicted in the image below - who made their living from the river.

L-R: Cicero Spence, Helen Spence, John Black and others at fur trading barn at St. Charles.  Circa 1919

     Unlike the image above of the houseboat gathering, this image is much closer to the camera and therefore more revealing in its detail.  Although intriguing in its detail of life on the White River in the early decades of the twentieth century, it is even more astonishing as a virtual glimpse of the prehistory of Cicero Spence and his daughter Helen at the left.

     In her Daughter of the White River, Denise Parkinson includes an expanded view of this image that includes the unidentified figure with a rifle at the right of the black dog: "Expanded view of Cicero and Helen Spence and John Black, as well as unidentified boys and a hunter, at a fur trading barn in St. Charles, possibly circa 1918."

     A staged collection of related objects, in addition to the array of furs, are displayed on the wall.  Mostly "hides" of raccoons, with perhaps those of mink - far left behind the rifle next to Cicero - and a single one of a deer, with its  head and antlers at Helen's left.  Everyone kneeling or sitting, everyone dressed appropriately - Cicero with his pistol and vest of shells, the boys in their hats, the powder horn hanging over the deer skin - and every object significant to its theme.  The Brown's Mule chewing tobacco can/box along with angled
Brown's Mule Tobacco Box
wooden beam at the right foreground serve as perfect objects to add balance to the image.

     Obviously, the photographer had more in mind than a simple recording of some folks and some furs.  Hunting and trapping and fishing were the mainstays for survival on the White River in those days - especially during winter months - activities that for survival required killing and slaughter.

     None of those present when this image was captured, certainly not the photographer Dayton Bowers, could have dreamed that by the time this young Helen Spence in her white leggings reached her late teens Cicero would be killed and she would use perhaps the pistol, held here casually in her father's hand,  to kill "her daddy's" killer at his trial in the DeWitt Court House.

Parkinson, Denise, A Treasure Comes Home, May 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prange Family 1995 Visit to Their Birth Place

The Adolph Prange family was arguably the largest and most prominent family in Crockett's Bluff from the late 1920s to the end of World War II.  In 1929 they moved to their house  west of the Prange Store that stood overlooking the White River and the riverside road that ran northward from Rt. 153 along the river embankment to what was generally known as the "steamboat landing."  By the late 1930s and the war years, the older children gradually moved away from the Bluff, and in 1944 the store was closed and Adolph and Edna and the youngest children moved permanently to California.

Fortunately for us today, the Pranges believed in recording the activities and progressions of their family.  From early "box" cameras on, they recorded the milestones of their lives.  Like so many other images on this site, I'm indebted to Jim Prange, the son of James, one of the eldest of the clan, for many images of the family and the Bluff generally, as well as these videos.

Over the years, various members of the family paid visits to the Bluff, particularly for annual Fourth of July celebration.  In 1995 they made a major - and for many, a final - pilgrimage to the Bluff that was faithfully recorded by a video camera.  Jim was kind enough to transfer them to me via DVD.  Though sections of them understandably vary in clarity, the sound is generally clear and the moments have been captured.


Part I begins with a windshield view from one of a caravan of Prange vehicles approaching from the west on Rt. 153 (the old Hill Road).  David Prange moderates the first gathering on the bank of the White River at the old "Steamboat Landing."  Stories and laughter.  Afterward, there are similar stops at the site of the Prange Store and Schwab's Store and the Cemetery across from the old Post Office.


Part II  returns to the old Prange homesite.  General  recollections of their memories  of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church that stood nearby it.  Gravesite of Adolph Prange's younger brother Bernard who died in his childhood.  Lin "Hal" relates his memory of the day his parents left for California in his brother Joe's 41 Ford for California, and their stop for one final look back at their home and store.  It ends with the arrival of the group at the Poplar Creek Missionary Baptist Church (which in part is composed today of the Lutheran Church that was moved west five miles or so to this spot) where other older friends and members of the community from the 1930s and 40s.


Parts III and IV, also moderated by Hal who opens their discussion with a poem "At Two O'Clock," after which he invites stories from the Prange siblings, as well as others in the gathering: Halley and Sikes Keithley, Lucille and Shelby Woodiel, Boone Bullock, and others.  Two members of the Poplar Creek congregation - L.S. Stiggers and Roy Allan, both old friends of the Prange family - host the gathering, along with their Minister Rev. Williams.  Boone relates the story of his dog Charlie and the cart he made that carried Hal as a young boy.


Part IV continues the general discussion and concludes with Roy Allen's rendition of a folk hymn entitled "How Sweet It One Day Will Be."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 1918: White River Frozen at Clarendon

[This image was originally posted by Gary Shaw (with Betty Edwards Norwood) on Facebook and later shared there by John Coker, Vickie Schwab, and others.]

The White River at Clarendon, AR: January 1918

"This is a 1918 photo of a solid White River at Clarendon in January of that year, frozen when temperatures ran 13 below zero.  The River was solid enough to cross with wagons and horses and cars crossing at Clarendon that winter when the biggest snowstorm to hit Arkansas in the 19th century left no region untouched in Arkansas.  Little Rock was buried in 19.4 inches of snow.  Other parts in the northern part like Searcy had up to 30 inches." Facebook note.

This is the first image I've seen that verifies the legend heard from time to time by all of us as children growing up there in the 1940s and 50s.  I can recall Russell Marrs stories of it from his childhood. DPW

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Tindall-Prange Store and the Port of Crockett's Bluff

Two additional beautifully preserved images  that has surfaced and been forwarded to me by Jim Prange, along with some detailed comments posted by John Cover on Facebook.  The originals, as Jim notes, were in the possession of a descendant of the Tindall Family and were pass on to him by Glen Mosenthin, the editor of the Grand Prairie Historical Society Journal. "The Prange Bros. referred to here are the four sons of Henry Prange: Theodore, August, Edmund, and George.  i would place the photo circa 1915, almost definitely between the years 1908-1923."

Tindall-Prange Store late 1800s or early 1900s

As John Cover notes, before its steady decline in population over the past half century or so, Crockett's Bluff was once a relatively "hopping little town" in the early decades of the twentieth century.  This impressive structure, with what appears to be a freshness of construction, he assumes probably stood, as Jim Prange states, a little south of the present Schwab store building.  There was, as John also notes, and even I remember in the 1950s and 60s, a Prange store just to the north of the Schwab store.

The Port of Crockett's Bluff: Sunday morning,  March 18? 1917

The above image, unlike so many Jim Prange and others have gleaned from their family archives, leaves little mystery, since someone has inscribed the details on the image itself, complete with assurance that the water in the background is the White River: "Prange Bros. and Co. unloading boat load of feed on Sunday morning" followed by the date. It clearly reflects, as he notes, "how busy Crockett's Bluff was at one time."

The image, like so many before it,  reveals much  about "the port" at the bend of the White River that was gone when those of us who were born and grew up there during the 1940s.  The following, passed along by Jim from the archives of the DeWitt Era Enterprise, clearly depicts a relatively thriving, even prosperous community -- essential evidence of the origins of rice farming in Arkansas County.

PRANGE BROTHERS HAVE LARGEST RICE FARM - Purchase of Tindall's 2,000 acres give 6,000 acre farm.

    "The purchase of A. A. Tindall's 2,000 acre rice farm from which adjoins it's holdings, makes Prange Brothers Company of Crocketts Bluff the owner of the largest rice farm in the state one of the largest in the world.  The farm now contains 6,000 acres, 5,000 of which is rice land and the balance timber.  The company expects to plant 4,200 acres of rice this season and about 2,000 acres has already been seeded.
    There are 18 tenants on the farm, each having charge of from 160 to 400 acres.  A single canal system supplies the land with water, which is pumped from White River by two large plants with a total of about 800 horsepower.  Two smaller auxiliary pumping plants are located on Sunset Lake.  A commissary supplies the tenants and employees; there are huge warehouses for storing grain and a barge line brings in fuel and supplies and delivers the rice to market.  Pikes will reach the farm from two directions, when the new system of roads for Arkansas is completed.
    Prange Brothers Company, Incorporated, is composed of C. H. Prange [Henry], George and August Prange.  The Pranges have been engaged in the rice industry at Crocketts Bluff for a number of years."

These figures fascinate those of us who were born into this community when much or most of this world was gone.  Particularly "Pikes will reach the farm from two directions, when the new system of roads for Arkansas is completed."  I can only barely remember (I think) when Rt. 153 was graveled.  It would not be paved until well into the late 1950s.

Born there in 1935, I can never remember there being any "settlement" of out buildings on the "east" side of the river, so the image surprises.  The paddle wheel steam boat is apparently pre-Mary Woods II with no stack of any kind, although it is obviously powerful enough to push a substantial barge of feed (we assume from the inscription).  One assumes this was near the bend of the river before the chute for loading grain was built by the Prange Co.  The dozen or so flat bed wagons reflect a major operation.  If this is feed for livestock in addition to the hay that was bailed, it reflects an operation of impressive size.  Of course, those of us who grew up in the 30s-50s  would have known little or nothing about horse/mule wagons so prominent  here. Those decades just before tractor-driven everything.

When I followed "Old Buck" down George Kline's cotton middles a mile or two west of the Bluff in the late 1940s, followed by Mr. Kline and his favored "Lightning" harnessed before a cultivating plow, we hardly realized we were among the last of a horse-drawn tradition.  In springs and summers to follow, however, I would perform similar operations in the driver's seats of seeming endless tractors on Graves, Anderson, Rush, Bullock, Currie, and other farms extending south and west of the Bluff.  Although I never became wealthy on my $5.50 per day (sun-up to sun-down) salary (actually $2.50 plowing cotton middles) the work wasn't a complete waste.   During a summer between my last high school years I would go to a summer 4H Club "camp" at the University at Fayetteville where I would win the tractor driving contest!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hog Roundup 1931

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, folks in Arkansas have the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto to thank for bringing swine to Arkansas in 1541.  Their offspring remain throughout the state today.  While in the 1930s they served, in both their wild and domesticated varieties, as a welcomed source of protein for folks in Crockett's Bluff, today they have in their feral form become a statewide nuisance and enemy of the general natural environment.

Among several rare photographs passed along to me some time ago by Hallie Keithley - still to this date the oldest current resident of the Bluff -  reflect life in the 1930s generally and more specifically life on the River. 

The image below is especially rare and historically interesting for both the subjects in the fore and background.  Thanks to the notes neatly inscribed on the back of the picture by Flavelia (Bela) Kline, both the husband of one of the figures in what appears to be a make-shift barge and for most of the years of my youth the post mistress from a room in the Kline house.  

George and John Kline are returning from the final day of the wild hog roundup in 1931:   "Geo and John Kline leaving Monroe Co. on the last day of the hog round up, Jan. 15, 1931.  The Steamer Robert H. Romander(?) coming up the river with 2 barges of logs 200,000 ft.  It took her 15 min to make Crockett's Bluff Bend in White River."

The Kline Brothers

Charlie McDonald's House Boat
Excellent image of what appears to be two houseboats abutting each other.  Although Charlie McDonald was not someone I remember, his name was frequently mentioned in the Woodiel household.  Could the boy in what appears to be "cowboy" attire be his son Gus, pictured elsewhere on this site hanging from the water tower as a young boy who would later loose one of his legs in World War II.  "Im sure this picture was taken down at Mattox Bay because that's where the McDonalds tied up all the time."- Hallie Keithley

CC:Riley Pool, Geo. Kline, Emmet Yokem, Chas. McDonald and ?
Then names in the caption are from Hallie's notes.  Only George Kline (all white in center background) I can positively identify because he gave me my first job working with him in his cotton field west of the Bluff near Voss Lake.  The scene is a shady spot down on the nearest bank to the water on the White River.  Why do I assume it's Sunday or a holiday.  The white shirts and Mr. Pool's necktie, I guess.  Must be early spring, because the water's "up" with little bank showing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Grandmother I Never Met

After examining closely these images, I'm astonished by my youthful grandfather's awesome gaze and my grandmother's apparently innocent youthfulness. After applying our cousin Alice (Woodiel) Craft's records to their histories, I will never again neglect to remember and honor my grandmother on Mother's Day or any other day when I'm reminded of just how harsh life can be and how it must surely have been to Alice and Fate in those hills around Lonoke County AR during those first decades or so of the twentieth century.
Alice Catherine Almond Woodiel
My grandparents: Alice (1876-1926) and Lafayette (1871-1956) Woodiel.  She (Alice Catherine Almond) and he (William Lafayette) were married 9 July 1891 at Lonoke AR. At the time, if the records are accurate and my math correct, he was about 20 and she about 15. Their first child, born in 1892 was an unnamed son that died apparently shortly after his birth. Their second child, Viola (perhaps the child pictured with her father) was born the following year, 6 July 1893.
In her 35 years of marriage Alice would give birth to 13 children. The first, a son born in 1892 would die during his first year and would be unnamed. A daughter Elizabeth, born in 1900, would die before her second year. Another son (1910) and a daughter (1911) would be unnamed as well as her last (1914) listed as "Child" Woodiel.
Grazing over the length of their life spans I can't avoid contemplating our present fuss and preoccupation with health care and longevity. Of Alice and Lafayette's eight children that survived to adulthood, Viola would die at 17 and Fred at 25. Winnie would be killed in a
William Lafayette Woodiel
storm at 31. Mertie at 43 from cancer. Paul would die primarily from alcoholism at 58. Only three would survive to what today we call retirement age, Victor only barely at 67. My uncle John would live to be 74 and only my father Allie would live into his 80s, dying at Crockett's Bluff AR at the age of 87.
I'm compelled to wonder just how different the families of those of their direct line might be today had there been even a make-shift system of preventive health care available to poor folks during those year.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walter Allen "Hoolie" Bowermaster 1932-2014

I have my former classmate Eunice M. (Ward) Brown to thank for passing along this program of the memorial service for Walter Bowermaster whom we both remember even though he was two years ahead of us at St. Charles High School.

Because he was three years older, Walter was not a close friend of mine, but he was one of a number of older boys we younger boys respected, because in those days they were worthy of respect.  The commonplace social plague known today as bullying was both rare and short lived in those days at St. Charles High School, as I recall..  Older boys were generally charged by their parents and other adults in the larger community with the responsibility of "looking out" for younger boys.  To behave otherwise, was, well, simply disgraceful.

Regardless of your class, however, in the "high school" of St. Charles in those days, we were generally a closely knit group with relatively little class "rank," with perhaps the exception of seniors, of course.  Walter's fellow juniors included (as pictured in the yearbook) Jack Dempsey, Ruth Tuck, Jimmy Horton, Neva Graves, Doris Dawson, Charles Bisswanger, Leo Padgett, and Charles West.

This same year I was in the freshman class with twenty-one classmates.  Sixteen of us would graduate the spring of 1953. - DPW