by | Oct 1, 2010 | Features

Modern day Clarksville is a peaceful city; better known for the Peach Festival than for its past drama. But did you know the city was well-known as “Bloody Clarksville” in the 1870’s because outlaws, gunfights and hangings were common? 

Or, that several prominent Johnson County families on their way to California in the 1870s were brutally murdered at the Mountain Meadow Massacre in Utah and a few of their children lived to tell the tale?
Forget the made-up dramas on TV or in movies. Get up-close and personal with true-life stories at the new Heritage Center of the Johnson County Historical Society.
Even sleepy little Coal Hill once had a reputation as a “town too tough to die” and was site of the infamous 1915 “Wheelbarrow” coal mine strike which US Marshalls had to quell. Although Coal Hill had its share of Union problems and was once considered a dangerous place, it was by-far the largest producer of coal in the area. By some reports, Coal Hill was even recommended as the “best town between Fort Smith and Conway” and had the largest population in Johnson County in 1912, at least double the size of Clarksville.

Let’s not forget the rich Indian history of the county. First inhabited by prehistoric Indians, these early inhabitants left ancient petro glyphs hidden in the rocks of Kings Canyon. Protected from public display since the 1930’s, these ancient symbols are designated a national treasure.
Later, Osage Indians used land north of the Arkansas River as seasonal hunting grounds and Choctaw Indians also claimed isolated portions of northern Johnson County. Naturally, the Osage, Choctaw and later the Cherokee, hunted and sometimes fought over this land, so a rich cache of arrowheads and other artifacts have been found in open fields and along creek beds across Johnson County.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the Cherokees were granted land rights in Johnson County. However, years before it became official, some Cherokee had already settled here and in 1805 an Indian trading post (store) was set up at Spadra Creek. But the land grant was short lived (1817-1828) and local Cherokee along with those who still lived in eastern states, even half- breed Cherokee/whites and their black/half breed slaves, were brutally pushed off their land and into Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, which also runs through the county.
Did you know that during the Civil War, Clarksville and Johnson County was occupied by both Union and the Confederate troops at one time or another? While no major battles were fought in Johnson County, skirmishes were frequent and local residents suffered horrible atrocities from both sides. Musket ball casings have been found near Horse Head Creek where Confederate soldiers reportedly camped one winter under miserable conditions.
During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, the saga of Clarksville resident, Sid Wallace, began. Although some claimed Wallace was a hero because he avenged his father’s death and supposedly fought bushwhackers and carpetbaggers, he reportedly shot and killed several men, including a Constable and a Judge, before he was hanged in Clarksville.

Want to see pictures? The museum has a vintage photo of the last hanging in Clarksville in 1903 and scores of other black and white photos lining the hallway that capture the county’s past.
“There’s a wealth of history here that few residents even know about,” said Mark Hodge, President of the JC Historical Society.
Perhaps you want to research your family history or learn more about Johnson County’s fascinating history. The Heritage Center is located on Hwy. 64 in downtown Clarksville and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week (Closed Sundays). See next page for further information.
Got Roots?

With ‘staycations’ more popular than ever, a short trip to the new Johnson County Historical Society might be your next ticket to adventure.
If you or any family member ever lived in Johnson County, chances are good the Heritage Center of the Johnson County Historical Society has information you might find interesting. From birth, death, marriage, cemetery and tax records to old clippings from local newspapers, finding your family roots may be easy as a trip to town. Or, maybe you’re an “outsider” looking into Johnson County’s colorful past. Either way, you are going to be surprised at what you might discover at the new Heritage Center in downtown Clarksville.

Johnson County is truly a history buff’s delight,” said Johnson County Historical Society Treasurer and Corresponding Secretary, Rubye Moore, as she sat cutting out old newspaper clippings from a huge stack of papers donated to the recently opened Heritage Center Museum.
“We’ve already grown so much since we opened in June 2010!” said Moore. There’s been lots of interest. At first we were only open Monday, Friday and Saturday, but now we’re open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Sunday. There’s that much to do!
Many people come here on genealogy trips to locate their ancestors, while locals come to drop off artifacts and information about their relatives, make donations and reminiscence, explained volunteer, Emilie Pannell, a retired schoolteacher at Hartman/ Westside District. Each day different volunteers man the front desk including a 90-year-old former Coal Hill miner, Virgil Phillips. Many people who come in are interested in the coal mines and its history, she added.
With new material coming in almost every day, the museum already had to purchase more filing cabinets as volunteers sort and categorize every bit of information.
“I hate to think what our electric bill will be this month with the lights and air conditioning!” said Moore. That stack of newspapers we just acquired had been stored for decades in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Now they are starting to turn color and disintegrate, so temperature control is very important to us, she added.

Of course, all this costs money and the Historical Society welcomes tax deductible cash donations, agreed Moore and Pannell. Last year, when the Society was preparing to open the Museum, members were asked to donate an extra $20 or more to their annual membership fee of $20 and 95% responded, said Moore.
Some families have memorialized their departed loved ones with a lasting tribute and made memorial contributions to the Historical Society. We hope that will continue, said Moore. What better way to remember someone’s life than to keep their memories alive here at the museum!
The Heritage Center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Sunday. The Museum is located at 131 W. Main Street, Clarksville. The phone number is (479) 754-3334 and email is www.

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