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William K. Varnell

William K. Varnell, farmer, Toledo, Ark.

This prominent and very successful agriculturist owes his nativity to Shelby County, Ala., where his birth occurred in 1826, and is the son of Jesse and Margaret (Dixon) Varnell, both natives of Virginia.

Mr. Jesse Varnell was born in 1784, was married in Tennessee, and he and wife afterward removed to Alabama, and in 1840 to Pine Bluff, where they remained one year. From there they removed to Saline River, in what is now Cleveland County, settled in the wilderness, improved a good farm, and there the mother died some years before the war. She was a member of the Methodist Church.

Mr. Varnell died at our subject's house in 1871. He was a prominent farmer, and one of the first settlers of Cleveland County. He cut a road from Pine Bluff to his settlement when the woods swarmed with panthers, bears, wildcats,wolves, deer, etc., and was quite a prominent hunter. The nearest post-office was then at Pine Bluff and the nearest mill above Pine Bluff. They would cross the streams by loading the wagons on logs tied together, and then swim the horses across. If they were delayed long their families ate powdered corn until their return from mill.

Preaching was a rarity, and only occurred at long intervals, at the private houses, as public schools were unknown. What education the children received was taught them by the parents at home. William K. Varnell was the youngest of nine children, four now living: John D., Claborne, Malinda (wife of Francis Harrison (deceased), and William K.

The latter attended school about nine months in Alabama and about three months in Arkansas, and that was the limit of his educational advantages. From the age of sixteen he was reared in the wilds of Arkansas, and distinctly remembers the wild state of the country at that time, and that there were hunting bands of Indians in the country.

He was married about 1850 to Miss Rebecca, daughter of James Williams, and a native of Saline County, Ark. Mr. Williams was an early settler of Cleveland County, where he died before the war. He had previously resided in Central Arkansas. Mrs. Varnell died in 1851, about six months after her marriage, and in 1855 Mr. Varnell took for his second wife Miss Eliza Lane, a native of Tennessee, and the daughter of Willis and Sarah Lane, natives of Tennessee.

From there her parents moved to Craighead County, Ark., thence to what is now Cleveland County, in the forties. Both died here. Mrs. Varnell died in 1861. She became the mother of four children, only two daughters living: Frances (wife of John Hobson), and Mary Emeline (wife of James Akins).

Mr. Varnell's third marriage occurred in 1864, to Miss Susan Hall, who died in 1869, leaving one daughter, Ellen (wife of John Gorman). Mrs. Varnell's parents, John and Mary Hall, were also natives of Tennessee, and came at an early day to this part of Arkansas.

In 1870 Mr. Varnell was married to Miss Rebecca Ashcraft, the daughter of Morton Ashcraft a native of South Carolina, who came to Arkansas at a very early day, and was drowned in the Saline River while keel-boating, some years before the war. Mrs. Varnell was born in South Carolina, and died January 18, 1889. She was the mother of eight children, seven now living: Clark, Julia, Susan, Florence, Nola and Dora (twins), and the latter deceased, Anna and Roxanna.

When first married Mr. Varnell settled near the present site of Rison, improved a farm, and from there moved to Varnell's Point, where he improved another farm, and there remained until 1854. He then moved to his present location, and now has about 240 acres of land, with 100 acres under cultivation all the result of his own industry.

He served four years in the Confederate army during the late war, in Company D, Second Arkansas Infantry, and operated in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. He fought at Belmont, Shiloh, siege of Vicksburg, etc. Soon after the fall of the last-named place he was discharged on account of age, and returned home.

In October, 1863, he joined Company D, Second Arkansas Cavalry, of Gen. Fagan's command, and was in the fights at Poison Springs, Mark's Mill, Jenkins' Ferry, Camden, etc. He surrendered at Marshall, Tex. In the fall of 1864 he was made lieutenant, which position he held until the close. He was never captured nor wounded, and served from April, 1861, to May 1, 1865.

In politics he has been a Democrat all his life. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, now of Culpepper Lodge No. 186, at Rison, and has held various offices in the same. He is a Royal Arch Mason, belonging to a Chapter at Kingsland. He is captain of the Host at present, and is a member of the Agricultural Wheel.

His first and last wives were members of the Baptist Church, and his second and third wives were members of the Methodist Church.


Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas
Copyright 1890
Published by The Goodspeed Publishing Co.; Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis