Page 877


Goodspeed’s 1891 Biographical Memoirs


  wilderness, and forerunners of the civilization to follow, till in 1846, in and about Fountain Hill, were William Daniels, an Alabamian, Elijah Kirpatrick, from North Carolina, a Mr. Sparks and Dean, from Georgia: also Nathaniel Denson, a preacher, Capt. Derton, a Virginian, living at Long View, and William S. Willis, who, upon the organization of the county, was its first county and probate judge, a man whose good, hard sense, great native ability, and remarkable originality made him a leader until the time of his death.

In deciding points of law, his high regard of right and wrong weighed heavier than the points of legal arguments that might be advanced by the counsel in the case.  An anecdote will serve to illustrate this.  An attorney, W.M. Harrison, who afterward became one of the associate chief justices of the State, was making quite an elaborate argument before him.  Court was being held in the dwelling of Isaac Denson, whose house had a broad porch extending its entire length in front, around which was a railing.  A mulberry tree in the yard, when bearing ripe fruit, was visited by a red headed woodpecker, which, after securing a berry, would fly to the railing and then to an old pine snag standing near.  After repeating the performance several times, Judge Willis became so interested in the motions of the bird that he entirely forgot court, advocate and all surroundings.  Harrison having finished his speech, the Judge came back to a realization of his position, and requested the attorney to make his speech over, as that d---d woodpecker had taken his attention.  Harrison desired to call the Judge's attention to some particular point in law.  Willis said, "Mr. Harrison, that is the law, is it?" Harrison answered, "Yes, sir."  Then hold up your hand and swear to it." came the command from the Judge.  It was useless to expostulate and urge that such a proceeding was without a precedent, so as Harrison would not take the required oath, his plea was not admitted. 

The Judge then turning to the sheriff, said, "Mr. Sheriff, take a gun and kill that d___d woodpecker, it interrupts this court."

Willis was convivial, rollicking, big hearted man, fond of hunting and given to occasional indulgences in the social glass.  He lived some eight or ten miles from the nearest settlement, and near his house found a deer lick.  Fixing a place on the bank of a small creek, which the game might approach, he frequently took his station there and awaited the arrival of the deer.  On one occasion being duly installed in his quarters, intently watching along the path, he was suddenly startled to hear a noise behind him.  Turning quickly, the sight that greeted him was a huge bear standing upright, with it's paws extended, looking upon him.  To tumble over into the ravine was but the work of a moment, and upon casting his eyes upward, there was old brain in the same attitude, gazing solemnly down.  In this, the supreme moment of his life, the Judge offered up his first and probably his last petition to the Throne of Grace.  The sound of his voice frightened the bear away it is said, as well as his display of piety.  His personal appearance was rather striking.  In height, five feet ten inches, he weighed about 240 pounds, and had strongly marked features.  He came to Arkansas from Mississippi, in the fall of 1846, and was a surveyor by profession.  At the time of his arrival he was about fifty-five or sixty years old.  He died in 1855 or 1856.

Another very popular man was J.B. Savage, an Alabamian.  He was here but a few years, though during this time he twice served as county clerk.  At the expiration of his second term of office he left and went back to his native state.  He was a man of medium height, weighing about 190 pounds, of commanding appearance, and possessed a fine education. During his stay in the county he was justly popular.

Mark M. Fleming, a Georgian, who came to Arkansas in 1847, was a man of limited education, but possessing great native ability, soon won his way to the front rank among the representative men in the county.  From 1854 to 1856 he was county and probate judge.  He was a good judge of men, a ready stump speaker, and had a large personal following.

There were many others equally prominent, each filling his place, and men whose lives, while shorn of all conventionalities, were of real value.  Unfortunately the lapse of time has left reliable information of them too meager to venture much mention of their careers.  A resume, however, of the characters of the early days of this county would be incomplete without some reference to Rev. Jimmie (or "Jawbone") Shelton: A Hardshell Baptist preacher, who flourished from early in the forties till 1860.  He was a man of medium height, weighing perhaps 180 pounds, and having a deep gray eye; from the first his hair was almost white.  Naturally gifted with extraordinary intelligence, his education was limited to a slight knowledge of the three R's.  He was one of the old "canebrake" preachers--earnest, devout, enthusiastic-- never questioning the words of the Bible, interpreting them as they read.  Always ready to expound the faith, or take up the cudgel in its defense.  He was original and unique in his thoughts, remarks and similes.  No