By Guest Nicole
A common belief holds that our rural ancestors, especially in upland regions such as the Ozarks, lived happily in primitive little worlds independent of the larger society. And while there is a grain of truth in this generalization, settlers on the Arkansas frontier found themselves inextricably bound to the larger national and regional economy, government, and culture. How Ozarkers reacted and reluctantly adjusted to being part of the national scene is the subject of Hillbilly Hellraisers, a fine new book by an up-and-coming young Arkansas historian, assistant professor Blake Perkins of Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge.
Many modern Ozarkers have little in common with people who lived in the Ozarks prior to World War II. In the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, many Ozarkers turned to political populism as they fought the growing economic inequalities of the time. They believed that moneyed elites were to blame for many of the challenges facing working people. Defiance of the federal government was a central tenet of this "Populist Ethic."
An impressive example of the populist impulse in the Ozarks--as well as the entire state and region too--was the Brothers of Freedom movement. Founded in 1882, it established lodges across the western and northern parts of Arkansas. The main organizer was Isaac McCracken of Ozone in Johnson County, a Canadian who moved to Arkansas by way of Massachusetts and Wisconsin. This group later affiliated with the larger national agrarian movement known as the Farmers' Alliance. An estimated 100,000 Arkansans belonged to the Farmers' Alliance by 1890.
While the populist movements of the late 1800s involved massive numbers of people, they did little to improve the condition of "the wool hat boys," as populist Gov. Jeff Davis described his avid agrarian supporters. Though the governor was full of reformist bombast and received substantial election victories, Davis "effected practically no substantive change for working people during his long political career," Perkins concludes.
One of the best known means by which Ozarkers defied the government was by flouting the laws on making and selling whiskey. Corn, which was one of the main cash crops of the Ozarks, brought farmers only a few cents' profit per bushel, but that same bushel could produce more than a gallon of "moonshine." Illegal distilling was a federal offense, and confrontations between U.S. officers and local moonshiners sometimes resulted in tragic results--such as the August 1897 Searcy County shootout in which two deputy U.S. marshals were killed.
A ballad resulting from the shootout lionized the bootlegger Harve Bruce and contained these lines: Old Harve Bruce he done well/Killed Ben Taylor dead as hell/Old Harve Bruce [was] never tried/Shot Clay Renfro through the side.
Many poor Ozarkers viewed World War I as another example of the government sacrificing poor people in a fight with no benefit for the people doing the fighting. "It is a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight" was a common refrain heard whenever Ozarkers discussed the conflict. Hillbilly Hellraisers has a chapter titled " 'Silk-Hatted Fellers' and Their War" which recounts an ongoing effort by Ozarkers to avoid the draft.
The first violence over the draft occurred not in the Ozarks but in the Ouachita Mountains in Polk County near the border with Oklahoma. On May 25, 1918, the Polk County sheriff and a posse of 36 men attacked the draft resisters in their hideout in the mountains south of Mena. Two resisters were killed and three wounded, and numerous prisoners taken. One of the resisters was sentenced to death--Ben Caughron, a socialist and vocal opponent of this "rich man's war." Gov. Charles H. Brough refused a pardon, preferring "that an example should be made in this case."
In less than a month after the violence in Polk County--referred to by some as "the battle of Hatten Gap" after the village near where it occurred--a violent clash near Oxley in Searcy County resulted in the death of an army deserter and the arrest of several other resisters.
Interestingly, the resisters at Oxley tended to be members of small independent Baptist churches--"churches of the disinherited" as Perkins described denominations which today most likely do not harbor too many socialists among their membership--Churches of Christ, for example. The newly emerged Holiness and Pentecostal movements also tended to oppose the conflict in Europe.
Religion played the central role in the Cleburne County Draft War of July 1918, a conflict which pitted County Sheriff Jasper Duke against the Tom Atkinson family of Rosebud. The extended Atkinson family members were "Russellite Christians," today known as Jehovah's Witnesses. Then as today, Jehovah's Witnesses were opposed to military service. An initial attempt to arrest Atkinson resulted in the death of a posse member. A second attack later on the same day resulted in a 45-minute shootout, but the draft resisters escaped. The governor sent a militia company to help with the pursuit, and the resisters were eventually captured.
Another source of conflict between Ozarkers and governmental authority was a program intended to eliminate Texas fever among cattle herds. Due to the prevalence of the tick-borne disease among southern cattle, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a quarantine in 1891 which greatly curtailed the cattle industry in Arkansas and the South.
An initial effort to deal with the problem through a volunteer cattle dipping program did not work, and eventually a mandatory dipping fee of five cents per head was assessed on all cattle. Small-scale cattlemen were furious with the twice-weekly dipping requirement, which was not only costly but also required rounding up the herd and driving them to a central concrete dipping vat set into the ground.
Once again, it was in the uplands where the dipping program ran into trouble. Vats were blown up in Izard and other counties. In March 1922, a federal cattle tick inspector from Jamestown in Independence County was shot from ambush and killed.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book recounts how the Ozarks changed dramatically after World War II. Nothing has brought more change to Arkansas in the past 50 years than the influx of non-natives, especially retirees from the Midwest. The impact has been felt culturally, economically, and especially politically. As Perkins notes, in-migration is a demographic change which continues "largely unabated into the second decade of the 21st century."
Hillbilly Hellraisers is published by the University of Illinois Press, contains 296 pages, and sells for $24.95 in soft cover.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at Arktopia.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 10/29/2017
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Following with brother Lett talk in the 2015 Annual Meeting, he goes to mention that brothers in IWW period did not behave so badly, they did what they could or knew how to do. And sure we agree.
But, in spite of the fact this could be said about the brotherhood in general, there is some basic principle to bring up.
· (Luke 12:48) “Indeed, everyone to whom much was given, much will be demanded of him, and the one who was put in charge of much will have more than usual demanded of him.”
As these words would directly apply to servants with serious responsibility in the congregation (interpretations apart), what would be the degree of responsibility of the bureau of editors at those times, regarding this petition addressed to all congregations in 1918?
As quoted, with some emphasis in a 1967 Watchtower:
*** w67 2/15 pp. 111-112 pars. 27-28 Jehovah Makes Full Might Abound ***
And just as Samson slept on the treacherous Delilah’s knees, so the Samson class’ conciliatory attitude toward languishing apostates finally brought weakening, and a beginning of compromise. That the dedicated witnesses fell into just such a trap in 1918 is shown by an article appearing in The Watch Tower of June 1 of that year. This came out in support of the “day of prayer and supplication” proclaimed by the president of the United States for May 30, 1918, stating: “Let there be praising and thanksgiving to God for the promised glorious outcome of the war . . . and the making of the world safe for the common people.”
28 Worldly compromise resulted in loss of Jehovah’s spirit. The hair of the Samson class was shorn off in a symbolic way, and their “power kept departing” from them.
Now, follows the whole text, only emphasizing the, perhaps, the most embarrassing expressions. (sorry if any type errors)
The Watch Tower, June 1, 1918
MAY 30 FOR PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION
In accordance with the resolution of Congress of April 2nd, and with the proclamation for the President of the United States of May 11, it is suggested that the Lord’s people everywhere make May 30th a day of prayer and supplication. God was graciously pleased to cause this nation to be formed and to grow under the most favorable conditions in the world for the preservation of liberty, civil and religious.
This is the land divinely “shadowed with wings” –overshadowed by the providential watchcare of God’s Word—where God has lifted up an ensign on the mountain (kingdom), and where he has blown the trumpet message of the truth. Here the love of truth has for three hundred years attracted from all quarters of the world people who love God, love the Bible and love religious liberty. Here, practically alone of all the nations, exists in the fundamentals laws of the land the safeguard that so long as the Constitution stands no law may be made nor any governmental action taken prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.
Countless blessings have flowed to devout people through the wise provisions of the laws of the United States, blessings whose influences have been felt to the remotest corners of the earth, wherever even a spark of love for God-given freedom might be fanned into a glow. Here, more perhaps than elsewhere, exits that “present” which shall be brought unto Jehovah (Isaiah 18:7), earth’s oblation (Ezequiel 45:1) to God of that class who, when in the age to come the restitution hosts shall be numbered, shall be found to have been “born in Zion” (Psalm 87:5,6), taken out of the world and given, in a figure, as humanity’s present to their God, to be forever sons and servants of the Most High.
This class love to “assemble themselves together, and so much the more as they see de day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25), and they will be of all people the most ready to embrace an opportunity of gathering in an additional service of prayer and supplication. As says the spirit through the Apostle Paul: “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; and we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3) Let there be praise and thanksgiving to God for the promised glorious outcome of the war, the breaking of the shackles of autocracy, the freeing of captives (Isaiah 61:1) and the making of the world safe for the common people ---blessings all assured by the Word of God to the people of this country and of the whole world of mankind.
=============================end of quote
It’s easy one century later to criticize this behavior. Well, according the aforementioned word from brother Lett, the brothers could not be punished because they did the best they could. Right. But according Jesus words, the brothers overseeing the work had greater responsibility, hadn’t they?
If this is correct, perhaps it explains what happened later, you know. The seven brothers, mainly the directors, were imprisoned. Curious this fact contained in the next quotation:
*** w87 6/15 pp. 15-16 pars. 4-5 Testing and Sifting in Modern Times ***
The clergy and the governments brought great pressure to bear on Jehovah’s anointed servants. Falsely accused of sedition, the anointed remnant attempted to make their innocence clear publicly. However, on May 7, 1918, warrants were issued for the arrest of eight members of the management and editorial staff of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, including the president, J. F. Rutherford. Their trial began Monday, June 3. On June 20 the jury returned a verdict of guilty on four counts. Then on July 4, 1918, these dedicated Christian men were taken by train to prison in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
The same nation they praised so much imprisoned them. And did you note when, exactly, start their trip to prison? Yes, on July 4. Surely, they had so much to ponder, sitting in the train, while the fireworks exploded around them.