If you studied Arkansas History in school and you’re a big boy or girl now, perhaps you are ready for the truth? Arkansas History books were written by Democrats after they had been vanquished by the Union Army. Thousands of Arkansans from North Arkansas fought to preserve the Union but most fought for the Confederacy. Many still have the perception that the first Republican Governor of Arkansas rode into town on a stagecoach with a carpetbag in hand. Rarely was the name Powell Clayton mentioned without calling him the Carpetbagger Governor. Let’s see if he deserved that title.
Clayton did leave Pennsylvania following the advice, “Go West Young Man.” Will Clayton, his great grandfather, was a close friend of William Penn and George Fox. All three were imprisoned because of their religious beliefs and all three were Quakers, George Fox being the founder of the Quakers. Fox visited what was to become Pennsylvania along with other parts of North America and reported back to William Penn. Then Will Clayton immigrated to what was called West Jersey and established the town of Chester named after his hometown Chichester in England. When William Penn was given the land by King George in payment for a debt the Crown owed his father, he wanted to rename West Jersey Sylvania meaning woods. The king talked him into naming it Pennsylvania in honor of his father, Admiral Sir William Penn, Sr. The plan was to establish Chester as the Capital of Pennsylvania. You see, Chester could have become the largest city in the British Empire, the location of Independence Hall and the First Capital of the United States. However, there was a problem with Chester. It was on the northern edge of the land that was in dispute between Penn and Lord Baltimore. Penn was forced to move a few miles north and have his surveyor lay out a new city which became all those things. He called it the city of brotherly love or Philadelphia. Chester and West Chester are just suburbs today.
Will Clayton was acting governor of Pennsylvania for awhile and the Claytons lived in Delaware County and farmed for 200 years. They fought in the Revolutionary War with George Washington. Powell Clayton was the first in the family to leave. Powell became the City Engineer in Leavenworth Kansas. That would be like a City Manager today. Those were the days when Kansas was a battleground between Abolitionists and Pro Slavery forces.
When war broke out, Powell joined the Union Army and fought in the first major battle west of the Mississippi River at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri along the Old Wire Road that runs from Springfield to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Because of Powell’s training under former West Point Superintendent Alden Partridge, he was given command of a company of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry Regiment as a Captain. Although Clayton lost 49 out of his 74 man company at Wilson’s Creek, he fought with such gallantry he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and named Vice Commander of the Regiment. In February of 1862 Clayton was promoted to full Colonel and given command of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry Regiment. Under his leadership, morale and efficiency immediately began to improve. Wilson’s Creek was where First Lieutenant Omer Rose Weaver became the first Arkansan killed during the Civil War. Weaver was born in 1837 at Roseville south of Ozark.
In June of 1862, Colonel Powell Clayton was ordered to Arkansas with General Samuel Curtis to join the Army of the Southwest in Helena. Most of Clayton’s men boarded rafts and river boats south of Calico Rock for the journey down the White River toward Helena. A week later the regimental wagon train departed Houston, Missouri laden with valuable quartermaster and ordnance stores. The wagon train ran into the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry Rangers near Jacksonport and almost lost the whole wagon train before regaining the advantage and proceeding on to join the Regiment not far from Helena. If you think traveling in North Arkansas now is tough, imagine what is was like 150 years ago. My great great grandfather lived in Oxford after the war along the route Clayton took. Joseph P. McVay joined the Union Army and was a POW at Andersonville almost the entire 14 months the prison was open. He lived in Oxford in Izard County. He was a very strong man but barely survived Andersonville and was a broken man when he died in 1900. He applied for his Veteran’s Pension at Marshall in Searcy County before Baxter County or Mountain Home even existed.
Clayton established his headquarters in Helena at Captain Ben McGraw’s Hotel. Captain McGraw had been a riverboat captain on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers before becoming a hotelkeeper. There was only one problem with life at the McGraw Hotel, Ben’s daughter Adeline. She was a Southern lady with no use for the Yankees. Adeline caused such disruption and mayhem for the union soldiers that Colonel Clayton placed her under house arrest. In time her hostility diminished and after the war she became an important reason Powell Clayton chose to remain in Arkansas as Adeline became his bride and later First Lady of Arkansas. I’m thinking Clayton probably regretted arresting his future wife?
From the day Colonel Powell arrived in Helena until midwinter, the regiment was engaged weekly, and almost daily, in skirmishes with members of the confederate cavalry circling that post. On Thursday September 10, 1863, Major General Fred Steele, Army of Arkansas commander, marched on Little Rock. His army included Colonel Clayton’s Cavalry regiment along with Brigadier General John W. Davidson’s cavalry. The capital fell to Union troops that evening.
Following the capture of Little Rock, Colonel Clayton was ordered to Pine Bluff Garrison as commander of the military forces there. At 8:00 am, October 25, Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s men advanced toward Pine Bluff. General Marmaduke appeared before the garrison and demanded its surrender. Colonel Clayton replied that if General Marmaduke desired Pine Bluff, he was at liberty to attempt its capture. A furious attack ensued involving four thousand men and twelve pieces of artillery. Colonel Clayton’s command only comprised six hundred men and nine pieces of artillery. He massed his little command in the courthouse square, and with the help of 300 African American soldiers, he barricaded all the streets leading to the square with cotton bales. Houses between the barricades were filled with sharpshooters who commanded all the vacant space in front. With the artillery sweeping the streets in every direction, each charge upon the square had no effect. After failing to take the square by force after five hours of fierce fighting, General Marmaduke’s men attempted to burn out the Union forces. When this too failed, the Confederate forces retired, leaving Pine Bluff to the Federals and giving Colonel Clayton a brilliant victory.
Clayton then defeated General Thomas P. Dockery and his 2,000 men at The Battle of Mount Elba near Monticello. Years after the war, Clayton and Dockery would work together to establish the Eureka Springs Railroad. General Dockery owned a plantation and slaves before the war in Columbia County, at Lamartine, four miles north of Waldo, Arkansas.
Abraham Lincoln promoted Colonel Clayton to the rank of brigadier general in August 1864. General Clayton remained at Pine Bluff until August 24, 1865, when he was honorably mustered out of the service four months after General Robert E. Lee’s surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. To stand in the very house where that surrender took place is a highlight of my mundane life.
Powell Clayton’s evenhanded treatment of the citizens of Pine Bluff had won him respect. He had grown to love Arkansas and the friendly people of Jefferson County. Immediately after mustering out of the Army, and marrying Adeline, Powell and his younger brother, William went in together and bought a large plantation on the Arkansas River not far from Pine Bluff for $53,000. They called the plantation, “Linwood.” Later William’s twin brother John joined them on the farm. William and John were both veterans of the Civil War and the Battles of Antietam, South Mountain, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
I know several people who were ordered to Little Rock Air Force Base and Fort Chaffee who retired or were discharged and remained in Arkansas and made great contributions to our state. Just this week I had dinner with a local Doctor who agreed with his wife that they could live anywhere except Arkansas or Mississippi. He was stationed at Fort Chaffee and met my dear friend Doctor Marlin Hoge who asked him to join his practice. They are both General Surgeons. He did that about 60 years ago and has not regretted it. Doctor Hoge turns 100 in October 2014. My point is that these people are not carpetbaggers and neither was Powell Clayton.
Of the four Clayton brothers, Thomas J. Clayton, was the oldest and remained in Pennsylvania and became a judge in the common pleas court of Delaware County. The other three ended up on a farm in Arkansas happy and content. Their father, John Clayton was a farmer in Delaware County with no claim to fame except for being the father of four distinguished sons.
One hot summer day in 1866 Powell Clayton was on a Mississippi River Steamboat traveling to Memphis on business when he bumped into his old friend and fellow plantation owner Colonel Willoughby Williams. Willoughby was a Democrat traveling to his summer home in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a native of Tennessee although almost all of his holding were in Arkansas. The two sought the shade of an awning on the hurricane deck and whiled away the hours talking about subjects of mutual concern. After a few mint juleps Willoughby opened up to Powell and shared the whole Democratic scheme to restore the old slaveholding regime in Arkansas. Willoughby mistakenly thought Clayton would go for it for his own benefit. He could not have understood that Powell Clayton fought and bled to free the slaves and preserve the Union.
The plan was to secure Democratic representation in Congress from Arkansas. With such representation the Democrats would be able to manage their own affairs to suit themselves. This end was to be established through three successive stages, first through the temporary acceptance of the once despised and hated Murphy government; second through Democratic successes in the elections and third, pending the election of Democrats to Congress, the wielding of power with such tact and discretion so as to dispel any suspicions on the part of the Northern People. The Democrats would pretend to be reconstructed and recover by the ballot what had been lost by the sword. You see, Barack Obama did not invent Democratic lying.
While this scheme was repugnant to Clayton he decided to stay out of it. What followed is not widely understood by Arkansans even today. In Monroe County United States Congressman James Hinds was murdered and the Honorable Joseph Brooks was shot down and badly wounded. You may remember the Brooks-Baxter War that occurred later? In Ashley County the Sheriff was openly assaulted, several black men were beaten, a man and wife were found hanged and a freed former slave hauling cotton was shot dead. In Columbia County five men were killed in 10 days, Aaron Hicks was murdered for being a Union man and armed KKK riders were threatening citizens. There was virtually no law and order in several counties. Even the Clayton plantation was physically damaged by neighbors.
Powell Clayton realized that any person who had supported the Union could not safely live in Arkansas. While he had been asked to run for governor by both Democrats and Republicans, he knew he was no Democrat. On April 2, 1867 a Union Convention in Little Rock Nominated Powell Clayton for Governor. He ran on doctrines of loyalty, freedom, minority rights, economic development and free public education for both races alike. In 1868 he became the 9th Governor of Arkansas and plunged into the problems facing the lawless state. On November 4th he declared Martial Law in Ashley, Bradley, Columbia, Lafayette, Mississippi, Woodruff, Craighead, Greene, Sevier and Little River Counties. Using militia forces he restored law and order. There was still hatred in the state and even an effort to impeach Clayton that failed to go anywhere.
As governor, Clayton made levee and road improvements, reclaimed swamp land, established free public schools, established the schools for the deaf and the blind and prohibited racial discrimination in transportation, housing, education and restaurants. On March 15, 1871 Powell Clayton was elected United States Senator by a 2/3rds majority and served until 1877.
After the Senate, Clayton served as president of the Little Rock, Mississippi River and Texas Railroad Company before moving to Eureka Springs. His home there is now a bed and breakfast called the Crescent Cottage Inn. In 1880 Eureka Springs was an international destination as it is today. Clayton was the head of the downtown development committee. He and other businessmen built the Crescent Hotel and established the Eureka Springs Railroad.
In 1897 Clayton became the Minister to Mexico and in 1899 he was named the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. He returned to the United States in 1905 and passed away nine years later at the age of 81. Powell Clayton is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Elisha Baxter was the last Republican Governor of Arkansas for almost 100 years until Winthrop Rockefeller became Governor in 1967. Four years later Governor Rockefeller left a surplus in the treasury. That was unheard of under Democratic Administrations. Governor Dale Bumpers called a special session of the Arkansas Legislature to figure out how to quickly spend that surplus. What do you think, were they able to spend that money and a lot more?
Blacks had a tough time in Arkansas under the Democrats. In 1957 Governor Orval Faubus blocked integration of Central High School in Little Rock. Republican President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and used Federal Marshals to escort blacks to class. What Powell Clayton started took over a hundred years to finish. The incredible story is that the Democrats managed to make minorities think civil rights was their idea. LBJ said the (blacks) were getting uppity and the Democrats would have to give them something, nothing significant, just something to appease them. It worked.
I just looked at Wikipedia and found that it too is full of hogwash. I demanded that Wikipedia remove an article about me some time ago. Everybody can edit it and my article was being vandalized every day. That’s why no reputable school permits Wikipedia as a reference. I have just presented you with the truth as I have been able to discern it. Republicans should be very proud of Powell Clayton. The same goes for John and William but that is a story for another day.