What Eliza Encountered in Scott County — “The Waldron War”

We know very little about what Eliza Hope Dane Cartwright and her children experienced while living in Carroll County, GA between the end of the Civil War (April 1865) and their move to Arkansas (January 1872).  The very fact that she and her family left probably can be taken a good indicator that they believed that the opportunities that they hoped to find in Arkansas were more attractive to them than staying in Western Georgia.

What they encountered in the years after they arrived in Arkansas was a protracted conflict that was left over from the days of the Civil War.  Wes Goodner’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas article on the topic explains:  “The Waldron War was a decade-long period of violence that began during the Reconstruction era and was characterized by arson, general lawlessness, personal and political feuds, electoral misconduct and violence — including murder — throughout Scott County. The civil strife resulted in Governors Augustus Garland and William Read Miller dispatching the state militia to the county on at least three occasions to restore order.”

The conflict was leftover from the period during the Civil War when Waldron was occupied for a time by Union troops. When they left in 1864, the Yankees burned most of the town, leaving only the houses of Union sympathizers. In 1873, conflict broke out between two factions again when Joseph Brooks contested the election that had resulted in Elisha Baxter becoming governor.

According to Kirk Darbe, this split the Republican Party in two, and the conflict exploded in Scott County when Major Franklin Bates, the person responsible for reorganizing the county militia, paraded the militia up and down the main street of Waldron declaring a mild form of martial law.  Shortly thereafter, a local court case involving the former sheriff (Nathan Floyd) and the newly appointed sheriff (Cornelius Gaines) was resolved in a way that hardened feelings. Thereafter, two political factions formed.  The Bates, Gilbreaths, and Malone families squared off against Floyd and his followers in a feud that went on for the next six years.

According to Darbe, the murders of one member from each side of the conflcit in the winter of 1874 “the rival factions turned Waldron into an armed camp. Nobody had control of the county but each faction had just enough power to stop any sort of justice and order. The election of 1874 did not hing to change the situation as violence increased sharply after the election.” Darbe goes on to say that “In the spring of 1875, murders took place regularly. A negro named Sam was murdered for no apparent reason and in February an attempt was made to assassinate [former Sheriff] Floyd.”

In 1876, another “outburst of violence” included arson.  Folks in the community called for outside intervention to restore alaw and order. The sheriff asked the governor to send in the state militia. In June 1876, another cycle of feuding started when the local judge was shot and wounded while in his own home.  Local citizens panicked the following year.  In 1877, the circuit judge was warned not to hold the August term, but the judge proceeded to do so once the state militia arrived.

The climax of the Waldron War too place in February 1878 when a well-known citizen, John L. “Shabe” Davenport was  murdered. A mob of citizens from the northern part of the county gathered to take action, but due to high waters from the flooded Poteau River, they were not able to act.  Once again, the Governor sent in the state militia to restore order. The last act of revenge took place several years later when a group of Scott County citizens attempted to sue the auditor of the state of Arkansas to compensate for damages they had suffered during the Scott County disturbance.

Interested readers can learn more about the Waldron War (aka “Scott County Disturbance”) in the online “Encyclopedia of Arkansas,” but for my purposes this one paragraph summary provides enough information to make plain the anarchic conditioins that prevailed in Scott County throughout the 1870s.

Try to imagine what it must have been like for Eliza and her children to make their way to Waldron once a month to buy, sell, and trade.  They may or may not have witnessed any violence, but they would have heard the stories and the rumors. It is quite possible that they chose at times not to “go to town” in order to avoid violence.  Such concerns surely spilled over to affect the way they engaged their neighbors (John Starr’s family among others), and I can imagine that living with such fears would have shaped their religious sensibilities as well.

As I indicated in the Questions for the week, this is a very different kind of “war story” than the kind that is told by veterans at the American Legion Hall. We may not have many stories of wartime exploits, but I suspect that there are stories that may have been told once upon a time about what it was like to live in Scott County in the midst of the Waldron War.

About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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1 Response to What Eliza Encountered in Scott County — “The Waldron War”

  1. Michael G. Cartwright says:

    As I indicated at the beginning of this post, we do not know what life was like for Eliza Hope Dane Cartwright and her children after the Civil War. However, I think it is reasonable to assume, however, that like other residents of Carroll County, Georgia, the Cartwrights were bruised by the experience of “union raiders” that passed through the town three times in less than two years. Apparently, the first visit produced little actual damage, but that was not the case in June 1864 when 4000 Federal troops passed through the town of Carrollton.

    Here is how Carroll County folks remember what happened shortly after Appomattox.
    “In April 1865, about 10 days after Lee’s surrender, came another gang of Sherman’s fire-bugs, 5,000 strong, under the command of General Craxton. They camped three miles west but took Command of Carrollton. They ransacked the city and passed through the next morning. A report reached them that a force of Confederates was nearing town after they had set fire and destroyed all buildings from Rome to Alabama Streets. As the Confederate troops marched through town they turned down Bowens Ferry Road playing ‘Dixie.’ H.F. Merrell remarked that the street name should be changed to Dixie Street, and it has been that name ever since then.”

    (Much like the bravado I associate with the avowal “They’ve kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yet!” this strikes me as a classic example of way the Southern myth of the Lost Cause shaped the memory of Southerners during Reconstruction — as if the name “Dixie” can overcome the devastation of buildings and lives destroyed by the effects of war.)

    In sum: From their trips to Carrolton, Georgia from 1865 to 1871, I think Eliza and her children would have had an all-too-vivid vivid sense of war’s destruction long before they encountered the lingering effects of Civil War conflict in the town of Waldron, Arkansas from 1872 to 1882.

    For more information, see p.7 (columns A & B) in The Carroll County Story As Told By Its People, sesquicentennial history (1876) produced as part of the celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial.

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