Pearson in Cleburne County was known for its excommunications
Written by: Tracy L. Crain
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Sunday, August 27, 2000

Evalena Berry's book, Time and the River: A History of Cleburne County, describes the town of Pearson as a place not in any way typical of the rural plantation South.

Perhaps it's because Pearson wasn't the typical cotton farming community. It was a bustling cattle farming, lumber, and Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad town, where religious rule seemed paramount.

Although still religious, the town of Pearson, located along the curve of Arkansas 16, eight miles from Rosebud in Cleburne County, is not the same today.

There are only a few houses and a couple of churches, and commerce is conducted in neighboring towns.

It's quiet, uninhibited and peaceful--so much so that it doesn't seem befitting of the historical tales that have emerged from it.

Berry says in her book that from 1865 to the early 1900s, Pearson had a much larger population where folks lived, worked and worshipped in the shadow of the church.

Although the religious base was strong, Berry said there were times when town residents where known to get a little too "wild and wooely."

The church rule was so concentrated that many were excommunicated from the church for too much frolicking and dancing.

Records from the Little Red River Association show that there were three churches in Cleburne County in 1882, whose members congregated on the second, third, and fourth Sundays of each month.

Perhaps the best example of the religious rule in Pearson during the late 1800s is Berry's tale of Sister Sarah Jane, who was charged with contempt of church for leaving the county with a man without marrying him first.

Because of her act, she was excluded from attending the church again. Interestingly enough, the person who brought charges against her was later charged with drinking too much and was also removed from the church.

"Of all the churches, the Palestine church, located in Pearson, is the most famous for its historical roots. They used to baptize people down in Cadron Creek. People still attend the church today," said Roy Herring, a resident of Pearson.

"Many of the religious upheavals in Pearson resulted from what was known as the Peace of the Church. That was sort of an order that gave the church authority to exercise discipline on those who strayed from the rules," he said.

According to Berry, the Peace of the Church came about in January 1869 when Brother H. Blankenship asked the church if they should tolerate "frolican and dancing among members. They decided they would not, resulting in charges against a large number of town members throughout ensuing years.

As far as the land was concerned, Berry notes that the entire Cleburne County area was made up of only half a dozen farms that had more than 100 acres of land. Of those, there were only two that raised cotton. She attributes Jesse Pearson, who had a place in Cadron Township, as the only local cotton producer.

Although it had ample land, resources and historical ties, Pearson is mostly remembered as the town where blacks could reside. Culturally, that was a lot different than the neighboring communities where, according to Berry, "one is seven families (in Cleburne County) were slave holders."

Most of the farms and the remnants of that lifestyle are gone now. They seem to have faded with the railroad and lumber industry. And, when they were gone, so were most of the residents. Pearson has roughly 20 people living in the community today.

"Some of those residents still farm cattle. There isn't much about this town that interests anyone anymore. All I know is that there is a lot of hard work to do," said Vila Lovin, a resident of Pearson since 1950.

"When we first moved here, there was a post office, but that's gone now. Everything's gone. It's just the same ole thing," she said.

Although the town does suffer from a declining population, existing residents still support their three churches immensely and also participate in an annual spaghetti fund-raiser to support the Pearson Volunteer Fire Department.

"I love going to those events. There is always a good turnout. They usually have three fund-raiser dinners a year," Herring said. "The next one is in September and it only costs around $5 a plate. You couldn't ask for more. It's the only annual get together that we have."

He continued, "There are not many people who live in our town anymore, but that's why I like it here. It's very quiet and just the other day, I had three deer at my back door. That's what I really treasure about this place."

He went on to say, "I think subdivided neighborhoods bring in a lot of crime. We don't have that problem here."

(Pearson is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of small towns in Arkansas written by Tracy Crain and published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.)