Union County -- The Way It Was

Submitted by: Dawn Dykes Petz, 10 February 2002
Written by Cheryl Reames
Staff Writer for the News Times
Vol. 18, No. 1, Tracks and Traces, May 1996
Permission by UCGS

The county of Union was organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature on Nov. 2, 1829. It's original limits were very large, embracing more than five times its area, as now constituted. It took all the present territory of Bradley, Calhoun, and Ouachita, and part of Ashley, Drew, Dallas, Cleveland, Nevada and Columbia counties. The original seat of justice of this large trace of land was Ecore Fabre (town of the bluffs) at present Camden, AR. Here the first county court met at the house of John Nunn, April 19, 1830. The records of that days proceedings reveal but two minutes, one acknowledging the claim of $5 against the county, by Francis C. Bourge, the other accepting the commission of John Nunn for an appointment of Justice of the Peace of Union Co, issued by the Governor of the Arkansas Territory, Nov. 20, 1829.

No public buildings were ever erected at this place, but it continued to be the county seat for the next 10 years. The great extent of the territory made a trip to the county seat a journey of hardship and trial for the remote corners. Sheriff Cornish, on his official trips around the county, carried with him provisions and camping gear for he was obligated to sleep in the open spaces, the distance between towns being very great. The woods at that time were full of game animals such as bear, deer and wildcat. Back in those days, when the sheriff made his annual visits to the settlements he would collect the tax money, which was often paid in gold and silver.

The territory of Union was beginning to be cut off from the other counties and the location of Ecore Fabre (Camden) came to be situated in a corner of the county and it was necessary to select a new site for the county seat. In 1839, commissioners were elected to make the change. In June of that year this entry appeared on the records.

"June 15th. This day came William Young into open court and presented the following report to wit. State of Arkansas, County of Union, 30th July 1838. We, the undersigned commissioners, being duly elected and qualified under the provision of an act of the Legislature, do, by virtue of powers invested in us, locate the county seat of Union County at Scarborough's Landing." Signed, William Young, E. S. Franklin, and J. H. Pearce.

At the same session of this court it was ordered that the books and records of this county be removed to this place. This location soon secured the name of Champagnolle, and became the site of some importance, commercially. Much business was transacted here, and it was the shipping point for an extensive Territory. A government land office and a post office were established here and remained for some time and was known as the Champagnolle Land District. People from all around would travel to Champagnolle to file their land claims with Albert Rust, who was the land surveyor from Virginia for the U.S. Government Land Office.

The county erected a two story frame court house and a strong log jail here, but further division of the territory of this county gave the place a position of the extreme northwestern frontier and the people were soon clamoring for yet another change to a more central location.

Champagnolle was located in the northeastern part of the county, on the Ouachita River.

Among the early merchants many did a large trade, among whom may be mentioned the Langford's, father and sons, in business here from 1842 to their deaths.

It was for a long period of time that this landing was the most important point of the river. In the past, farmers and merchants shipped vast quantities on the Ouachita River.

This was the only means of transportation except by the overland roads. This was also the center of a large coal deposit. The bottoms in the vicinity were covered with choice timber and on the west is a good section of rich and fertile farmland.

Some of the business interest back in that time when Champagnolle Land District was a booming settlement were: general store managers - J. D. Staples, J. Monroe Smith, A. S. Sorrells, W. L. Slade; forwarding and receiving merchants - Smith and Staples, steam-mill and cotton gin; S. L. Slade was the physician, W. O.Reagan owned the Travelers Rest Hotel and W.L. Slade was also the postmaster and proprietor.

In the Union County census Records for 1850, the Champagnolle District has about 345 settlers living in the surrounding area. In this time in history El Dorado and Hillsboro and also New London, Wesson, New Caledonia and Lisbon were striving little villages.

Champagnolle also built the Missionary Baptist Church and had a public school. Some of the citizens living in this town were Mathew Lambert, merchant and planter. He was one of the most prominent and most respected citizens of Union County. He was born in Georgia and moved here with his parents Issac and Abigail (Davis) Lambert about 1815.

He was the first to enter Arkansas and take up 200 acres of land and as his means were limited, he suffered many privations and hardships. He was a first class businessman, carrying stock of goods valued at $2,500 and in all he owned about $10,000. He served as a private in all the Indian Wars and was a brave and fearless soldier. He was married to Sarah A. Miles of Alabama. They had five children.

Among the prominent families of Champagnolle, we must mention the descendents of Jarvis and Mary (Christie) Langford, who immigrated to Arkansas in 1842. They landed at Scarborough's Landing and settled on a farm. Later, they engaged in merchandising and he was the third merchant in town. He built up a large business, but withdrew in 1850 and his sons, James R. and Joseph Jackson, continued the business. This firm continued as the Langford Brothers until 1861 when Jackson died and the other brother James R. continued until his death in 1885. Mr. Langford had another son, W. C. (William) Langford, who was a lawyer and an important political figure in the community of El Dorado after the county seat was changed. The Langford family played an important role in both Champagnolle and El Dorado history. James R. Langford, his wife Harriet Langford, Julia M. Langford (daughter), Lizzie Langford (daughter), Francis Langford (son), and John F. Langford (grandson) and Elvin Langford are all buried in a small cemetery on top of a hill at Old Champagnolle. Another man, E.R. Hoffman, is buried outside the Langford family cemetery. James R. Langford died in March 1885 and his wife Harriet and daughter, Julia, died Dec 1883, just two days apart. I was unable to find out the cause of their deaths. Dates were not readable for the other Langford's buried there. I was unable to find out the relation, if any, of E. R. Hoffman or who his family might have been. He died in 1873 and was apparently the first to be buried in the old Champagnolle Cemetery, to my knowledge.

W. L. Slade was a planter, merchant and mill man. He was a prominent businessman carrying a stock of goods valued at $2,000 and had a gin with all the latest equipment of that time. His farm consisted of 640 acres with 218 acres under cultivation.

Aurelius S. Sorrells was a merchant and the postmaster of Champagnolle. During his residence in the community, he was referred to as a very social person and always conducted a prosperous business. J. Monroe Smith was among the popular businessmen and successful farmers of this county. He was Royal Arch, a son socially and in politics, the Democrats affiliated him. He was the owner of 600 acres of good farmland with 125 acres under cultivation. He held many positions and filled them with a capable and official manner. He held the office of sheriff for two terms and clerk of the circuit court for some time and was Sergeant at Arms of the Senate in 1883, after which he went back to farming.

The first merchant to open up a place of business in Champagnolle was John D. Staples. He was one of the leading merchants and shippers in the town at the time. He served as a private in the Indian Wars and also fought in the Confederate Army. He first began his merchandising capital with $500 and later his business yielded him around $8,000 annually.

The Champagnolle Land District was settled at a very early date and continued to grow in population. Its early name was Scarborough's Landing. It remained the county seat from 1829 to 1843 when the commissioners decided that the seat of justice be moved once again to the southwest section of Section 28, of Twp 17S, of Range 15W, as the best point calculated to promote the interest of the majority of inhabitants. The town site was soon surveyed and platted and named El Dorado.

Champagnolle is pronounced - Sham-pa-knoll. The "g" is silent.