This is in the Memory of Jim Berry - my great grandfather - by Herman Curtis Cummings
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The song you hear was written for the Jim Berry story by ledendary folk singer Jimmy Driftwood and tells Jim Berry's story in music.

 

The Legend of Jim Berry

I want to Thank - Lolly Woods, the Jimmy Driftwood Legacy Project and the Oklahoma City Community Collage for helping me with this. The Collage is redoing the Story of Jim Berry and as soon as they get it done I will add to the webpage.

DARK DAYS

        Over north of Timbo and running northeast toward Big Springs there is a valley known as "Dark Holler". A lady who spent some time around that area as child said she always supposed it was so called because of the deep shadows which seem to linger there, but most residents agree that it was named for a man who once lived in this "holler" and many are the dark tales told of the man himself.

        Sometimes called "King of the Jayhawkers", Bill Dark is credited with every sort of atrocity from robbery to murder in the days of the Civil War, and many stories persist of his terrorization of widows and children in this area. Of course we must realize that after a hundred years some crimes attributed to Dark's gang of "Jayhawkers", or "bushwhackers" as they were sometimes called, may have been committed by other renegades, but it is to be remembered that Bill Dark lived in this area and was doubtless recognized alone with some of his men whose family names still ring familiar, and that there were also many unfitness murders with which Dark might well have been connected, so perhaps the score is fairly even after all.

        The name "Bill Dark" is almost certain to bring a tale of violence from nearly any long time Stone County resident over the age of 50 and from many much younger, for such stories have a way of being passed from generation to generation, particularly within the family of the victim. What many people do not know is that Bill Dark led an interesting if macabre double life. He had a wife named Adeline and a son called "Little Will". Bill was good looking, red headed and, during the time of the Civil War at least, wore his hair long, perhaps in imitation of Confederate officer Marmaduke who, along with Joseph O Shelby commanded troops in this area, and whose long blonde hair was much heralded.

        Most surprising of all, Bill Dark was an officer in the Confederate Army, a Captain serving under Colonel J.T. Coffee and commander of Company A of "the Coffee Recruits". A letter written in pencil by Capt. Dark evidences fine penmanship and an unusual command of the written word. Were the first sentence complete, we might be able to determine whether or not the letter was directed to Col. Coffee himself.

        The name on the reverse side of the paper in the same handwriting is "E.M. Flinn, Batesville (sic), Arkansas" and no title precedes the name. The existence of such a letter causes one to speculate on what kind of individual could wear the Gary officer's coat yet prey upon the families of Confederate soldiers away at war. When were Dark's raids carried out? Were the members of his gang soldiers in his command? Could it be that the "Business of importance" which called him away from his company was in fact a Jayhawkers foray. Here, then is what remains of the letter reproduced without editing just as it appears today: "furloughed all my men (paper torn) first of July. By order as I supposed of Col. J.T. Coffee.

        After you left here I organised an other company I.W. Cypert Capt.

       
 I got my men to gether at the earliest opportunity to proceed to our 
camp - got as far as the mouth of Syllamore when I was called away on Business 
of importance: left Capt. Cypert in command with orders to march to Mt. Olive & 
thence in the direction of Salem in Fulton County. After I had attended to the 
Business Refered to and was returning to the command I met all the men of both 
companies returning home with furloughs Stating that Capt. Cypert had received 
orders from you to furlough them: Capt. Cypert was not to be found was gone in 
the vicinty of Calico Rock: He should have got orders through Judge Edwards of 
Mt. Olive.


      Col. I knew if you had ordered furloughs in your absence without some 
on to approve them that it was an illegal proceedence. But what could I do the 
me all scattered hell west & crooked Cypert gone to hell or some where else I 
couldent tell for I never was at Calico Rock in my life I did not know what to 
do neither do I till yet let me know by the earliest convenience what I shall do 
& By God I will do it.
					
                         Your Col.
                     Most Respectfully
                          I.W. Dark
                     Capt. Comdg Co A
                          Coffee Recruits
MORE DARK DAYS

        The story: Bill Dark was an infamous Jayhawk leader who raided in this area during the Civil War. He married a local girl and made their home in what is now called "Dark Holler" near Big Springs. Dark was a Captain in the Confederate Army but still found time to carry out numbers of raids in the are now known as Stone County(at that time a part of Izard County).

        Bill Dark's wife Adeline was well thought of both before and after marriage to the "stranger from Baxter County". Once after a farmwife had been robbed by Jayhawkers, the victim's sister, Lucindy Thompson Pierce, went to visit Adeline, returned home to report to her husband that Dark's wife had bee wearing one of the dresses stolen in the raid.

        "I'm goin' back over there and tear that off her!" she cried. But her husband advised, "Don't do that. You go back and tell her about it and maybe she'll give you the dress." This Lucindy did and Adeline pulled it off and gav it to her.

        But not so much can be said of Adeline's husband. "Bill Dark was a Jayhawker and he was a mean one."

        He was counted the worst there was.

        He killed a hundred people.

        These were but a few of the initial remarks made by persons interviewed about the infamous Jayhawker of Civil War days. One of the two most notorious gang leaders who raided in this area (the other was a man named Sinclair whos band came from Missouri), Dark was particularly despised for his brutality and treachery--being both a Confederate army officer and a citizen of the vicinity which he plundered.

        Young men and boys were especially vulnerable to Jayhawk bullets. Feared and hated by the outlaws, many were shot down on sight or used as torture objects to ascertain the location of hidden money, ammunition or food supplies Most of the men were away at war, the majority with Confederate, although some went with the Union and many more hid out to avoid conscription. Consequently, young men and boys not in the service lived in mortal fear for their lives, sleeping in the woods and creeping back to homes when food supplies grew low. Bill Dark's gang is believed responsible for the murders of two of Dark's own neighbors who had come out of hiding to help kill a hog for their grandmother The grandmother, Mrs. William Moore, and "Old Aunt Cath Cole" buried the boys in the field. Dark is also said to have killed five or six children near Newnata whose graves are protected by a rock wall constructed by the man who owns the land on which they are located. He is believed to have killed a man named "Dancer" who was in route from Tennessee when the family was robbed by the Jayhawker band. The woman and two small girls came on in the wagon and settled near Timbo.

        Some say that Bill Dark burned his victim's feet, that he threw hot grease on them and burned out fingernails. Two separate accounts are told of incidents involving sweet potatoes. One says that a Mrs. Bloodworth was "bakin sweet taters in a skillet" when Bill Dark's outfit arrived. When she refused or was unable to answer his questions, he is said to have "filled her ears full" of sweet potatoes. The other story says that an elderly woman named Mary Branscum was cooking sweet potatoes. One of his gang ostensibly threw one of the potatoes at Mrs. Branscum's treasured "eight day calendar clock with a red bird in it", breaking it to pieces. Mrs. Branscum, sorely distressed, cried out "Ain't you ashamed to treat an old lady so?" at which Dark is said to have rubbed the remaining sweet potatoes in her face.

        While raiding the home of Mrs. Sally Smith over on Red River, Dark force Aunt Sally's wedding ring from her hand and placed it on his little finger. In the home of Katherine Farris a gang of bushwhackers came upon a roll of ribbon and lace carefully put away on top of a wall clock. Mrs. Farris begged to be allowed to keep the mementos, explaining that they were scraps from the homemade coffin of her dead baby. The leader of the robbers, perhaps Dark, tossed the roll to one of his compatriots sneering contemptuously, "We'll giv them to our babies to play with!"

        Aunt Jane Stevenson watched her livestock driven off in successive raids Finally, Dark took the last one--the milk cow which "was a freshenin" (about to bring calf). When he saw the animal was unable to travel, he shot her, leaving the carcass in the yard. Aunt Martha Gammill "had thirteen children and her man was dead". Dark's gang took the last heifer--drove it down over the hill by the spring and killed it and dressed it right there," putting the meat into sacks and carrying it away on horses. Mary Ann Branscum has told her children how the women gathered the fallen kernels of corn from the feeding of the Jayhawkers' horses and washed them to feed their own children.

        One long time resident reports as fellows:

        "The women hated him. If he'd see one walking in the road he'd jump down off his horse and catch her. He killed Icy Mills' Daddy and sister over near Alco. Burned his fingers and toes off and when he didn't tell what Bill Dark wanted to know he said he would shoot him. He took him outside and his two little girls a clinging to him, begging the jayhawkers not to shoot him. Bill said, "Get away from him or you'll get what he gets" One of them let go but the other'n hung on to her daddy and he killed them both."

        There are many more "Bill Dark stories" which have been handed down from parents or grandparents who lived through these trying days. They are tales of cruelty and wanton destruction of burning every feather bed and quilt in a home, of throwing "beegums" (hives) into the creek, of taking the last morsel of food, of burning houses, of torturing and pillaging and killing. These are the reasons why people hated and feared the name "Bill Dark".

DARK DAYS END

        In order to help protect their homes, families and themselves, a group of fifteen men formed what was called "The Home Guard" with an elderly man, Christopher Columbus Denton, as their commander. Most of these were boys too young to be in the army, and to old to be outside. Any male individual big enough to manage a gun was a potential threat to the Jayhawkers, hence, was in mortal danger all the time. One member of the group was 15 year old James Hiram (Jim) Berry who lived with his parents over on "Injun Creek" but kept to the woods much of the time.

        One cold morning in the winter of 1864, Jim went to the home of a widow woman over near the mouth of Little Tick Creek on the Little Red River near Arlberg to help her kill and clean a hog. He was accompanied by another boy. The widows sister had died during the night and the body lay in the cabin awaiting burial. But in times like these even death had to concede to life and the business of the hog took precedence. The fire was burning to heat the wate in the scalding kettle and the tell-tale smoke rose heavily on the frosty air. Jim had brought along his little cap and ball pistol and at close range could scarcely have missed hitting the big hog right between the eyes, but the young man was known to be a fine shot and the widow, who had experienced one of Dark's notorious raids, allegedly asked, "You reckon you could shoot old Bill Dark like that if'n he come ridin' in?" Jim reckoned that he could and the process of the hog cleaning proceeded. Suddenly the widow lifted her head and her eyes must have met the boy's across the white car- cass of the animal they were scraping. It was the sound of horses' hooves coming fast! There wasn't time to make a plan. There wasn't time even to get out of sight. Bill Dark's gray horse leapt the rail fence with the rest of the gang close behind.

        "We'll have fresh meat for dinner!" the Jayhawk leader shouted as the widow dashed into the cabin. Young Berry, clutching his pistol, ran behind the cabin with Bill Dark in hot pursuit. Around the cabin they raced, Jim watching for an opportunity to break for the woods; yet he knew that even if he eluded his mounted pursuers he would be picked off by the armed desperadoes who sat astride their horses idly enjoying the unequal race. Young Berry seed it was him or Dark one, so when he rounded the corner where the "Stick and dirt" chimney rose, he threw himself breathlessly against the wall. Bill Dark charge around the corner, his gun drawn. Some say that Dark's gun jammed: the cap had come off one of the tubes and hung in the cylinder and the ball caught and it wouldn't turn; others contend that he was trying to remove his glove with his teeth, the better to pull the trigger. The one thing about which there is no disagreement whatsoever is that Jim's little cap and ball revolver discharged and Bill Dark crashed to the ground, a bullet "square between the eyes, and he fell right in a low place where they had dug up clay to patch the chimney. Hearing the shot and seeing their leader's riderless horse gallop from behind the cabin, one of the gang cried "it's a trap!" and the remaining Jayhawkers put spurs to their mounts and dashed away.

        The teenage boy must have looked in stunned disbelief as the celebrated renegade who lay at his feet "his brains leaking out" of the gaping hole in his forehead, but Jim didn't linger to study the situation. He knew that he and the widow woman were in imminent danger. The remaining Jayhawkers might be hiding in the woods to pick off anything that moved. Climbing the hill in the opposite direction from which the outlaws had ridden, he sent a smoke signal for Denton and the rest of the Home Guard.

        But the commotion did not go unheard. Another sister to the widow was even then making her way toward the Cabin with her son Joe Moody. She was coming to help bury the dead woman; little did she expect to assist in the burial of the celebrated "King of the Jayhawkers ." Al- though it seems unlikely, many informants report that Bill Dark lay in a state of semicon- sciousness for hours after the shooting. The news traveled fast. Aunt Jane Stevenson and Mrs. Bloodworth are both reported to have swum the river which was swollen "all out of banks" in order to establish that their hated enemy was in truth dead. As Mrs. Stevenson approached, the widow is said to have called, "Shout, Jane, shout! Old Bill Dark's dead!" Aunt Jane, who remembered mole on Bill's hand "jerked his glove off" at which the renegade blared his eyes at her like he could kill her! Aunt Sally Smith, who had also arrived at the widow's home, upon seeing her wedding ring on the outlaw's little finger, ostensibly chopped the finger off to retrieve the ring-- "boiled it before she'd wear it again too" --and Mrs. Bloodworth, recalling the hot sweet potato incident, is said to have "kicked him in the teeth."

        One account has it that Bill Dark's men did, in fact, return for the bod of their leader (each taking a lock of his long red hair to wear on their bridles) and throwing the corpse across a horse, carried it to Timbo for burial. But far the more prevalent story is that the body was buried by the women under a walnut tree near Oak Vale. One elderly resident says he used to pass it nearly every day on the Kenner or Godsey place. Them women put him in the grave face down so's he couldn't scratch out, some maintain. But Uncle Joe Moody himself used to declare that the ground was frozen and that his aunt's body could not be buried for several days. As the older boys had left, it fell to him to attach a rope to dark's corpse and drag it to the river where the women made a hole in a pile of snow-covered debris and dropped the body in-- we assume, face down. This is about the location indicated as "Bill Dark's grave on a slough up on Red River."

        Young Jim Berry is said to have gone to a dance that night in the outlaw coat and boots and called himself "Captain Dark." Needless to say, the young man was regarded as a hero. There is a kind of sinkhole back over toward the region in which Bill Dark and his wife lived (they had two homes slightly separated). This has been called Bill Dark Cave and its believed that he used it as a hiding place after many of his raids. Local residents also believed that some of his loot was buried there. A man who as a child lived in Dark's old log house remembers man a Sunday when strange people would be seen crossing his father's land with shovels, picks, and even bulldozers, searching for Bill Dark's money. He himself has even done some digging, but to his knowledge, no one ever discovered any treasure.

        After Dark's death his widow married again and this family is much respected in our community. In fact, we appreciate the help some of them have given in compiling the information for this story. They are among some twenty seven persons who might be considered as principle sources. Although the name are too numerous to list here, the author extends thanks to one and all.

THE STONE COUNTY HOME GUARD

        The commander of the Stone County Home Guard of the 1860's was Christopher Columbus Denton, known locally as "Chris" Denton. Chris was an old man and a pioneer when the Civil War broke out. He formed the Home Guard. Most of the members were to old or young for service in the regular army. There were 15 members. Chris lived on Little Red River near Arlberg and the members lived within a few mile radius of him. Captain Denton got his commission and his guns and ammunition from the Union Army at old Lewisburg on the Arkansas River near Morrilton. However the Confederacy respected the Home Guard, and the gun with which Jim Berry killed Bill Dark, King of the Jayhawkers, was given to him by Col. John O. Shelby, Confederate Calvary leader who made a raid and march through Stone County.

        The names of some of the Home Guard members are:
        Christopher Columbus Denton
	 Jonathon Moody
	 Ham Branscum
	 John Goonight
	 Carol Meriman
	 Brad Ramsey
	 James Hiram [Jim] Berry

      The members of this company fought, caught, and punished with death all 
Jayhawkers regardless of whether they favoured the North or South or the Devil 
Their activities were in what is now  Searcy, Stone, Van Buren, Baxter, Izard, 
Independence, and Cleburne Counties.

       Captain Chris Denton died of pneumonia in 1868.

MORE ON JAMES HIRAM [JIM] BERRY

        James Hiram (Jim) Berry was born in 1847, month or day not known, in Fox Stone County, Arkansas.

        Jim Berry had attempted to enlist in the Confederate Army at 14 (he was turned down because of his small stature). "He never talked about the War without we'd ask" Maggie declares. Nor did he speak of the Bill Dark incident. It was long in the past and perhaps he felt it best forgotten, but Maggies curiosity caused her to ask questions. She remembers the old cap and ball pistol with which Dark was killed, and she speaks of her father's marksmanship "He was a wonderful shot. Why he could shoot a hen's head off when he was 80 years old." There are other old timers who will attest to Jim's shooting skill One former neighbor tells how he went out before breakfast one chilly morning because he had heard a turkey gobbler on the hill."I'm a gonna go get him" he' told their school teacher boarder the night before, "If I'm gone when you get up, why you just go ahead with breakfast." The school teacher was eating his breakfast when he heard Jim's heavy shoes on the boards of the breezeway between the rooms of the old log house. Then something dropped heavily to the floor and Jim threw the door open and exclaimed "I gonnies, I got him!"

        Apparently Jim Berry made a practice of getting about anything he went after. His daughter tells how he and the rest of the Home Guard killed most of Bill Dark's gang not long after the death of their leader. "The gang went up the river and there was two widow women a-living in a cabin up the river and s my father and the rest of the Home Guard men heard they was there and they wen up to see. Dad said they surrounded the house and one of the men gathered up some leaves and took them and pushed them right under the house and they hollered and says,"You women come out now, the house is a-going to burn down!" Them women came out of there a-running. He said, of course they let them go on but said when the house went to burning then out come these men, one right behind the other'n. He said they just killed them as they come out."

        A gentleman, whose father was a friend of Jim's, maintains that Jim was also in on the killing of a Jayhawk leader named Sinclair. "He was from Missouri," our informant explains, "he'd send a gang down here to steal cattle Now Jim was just a young man and he'd went to a dance one night and Sinclair's gang come in on him the next morning." (It wasn't an uncommon practice for several guests to spend the night at the home where a dance was held. Perhaps after an hour or two of sleep it would be light enough to ride on over the mountain for home). "They had some young ladies a watching, but they got kind of carles and the gang got up pretty close to the house before they waked JIm. He run to the front door and they shot at him. Knocked the splinters off the door jam in his face and he jumped back. Old Sinclair pushed the door open and started edging in and Jim was standing there by the side of the door and he shot Sinclair just over the hip bones, just cross shot him, and he died on the porch."

        This must have been the occasion so many elderly residents mention on which Jim ran barefoot across a field of corn stubble and escaped up the mountain. One of the Stubs cut his foot quite badly and he was hiding on the mountainside within earshot of his pursuers, when he heard one of them say,"We got him! If we ain't killed him, anyhow we got some of his blood."

        But time goes on and years go by. For some time Jim carried guns for fea some of Bill Dark's sympathizers might try to retaliate, but the only threat h apparently, ever received was delivered by word of mouth, a challenge from young Will Dark who had since grown to manhood and was living in Missouri. The message Jim sent back was "Come ahead. I've still got the pistol that killed your Daddy." Young Will is said to have died of pneumonia before he was able t carry out his act of vengeance.

        After the Civil War was over Jim married his first young wife. (No name on her). She died soon after they were married. He then married Jane Wilson of Middle Settlement, a community between Shirley and Clinton, Cleburne County, Arkansas. He traded a yoke of steers (oxen) for a place on Turkey Creek east of Fox. Where "fine pine timber" could be cut with axe and hewed with an adze to construct such buildings as necessary. Jane died in child birth, and the baby also. They are buried in the Fox Cemetery, Fox, Stone County, Arkansas. Three years later he married Jane's half-sister Josephine Wilson, the mother of his children. She was born on August 11, 1856. They lived on the lower part of his land, down the creek near the present Coleman Morris place in what became know as "Barn Hollow" for the stock buildings which jim put up while constructing a new house farther up the creek.

        Jim and family were now living at the upper place. They attended school on the hill above the old school building which now stands near the Turkey Creek bridge. "There was cracks big enough you could crawl out at," Maggie remembers. Kids haven't changed much, though. They were always hungry when school let out and Maggie describes racing to the orchard for sweet juicy apples on the way home. Automobiles came to the hills and neighbors recount Jim's mistrust of the new means of conveyance. "I'm afraid of them 'kahrs'" he is quoted as saying,"I pull my hack right off the road when I hear one of'em comin'. I gonnies, them things cain't see where they're a-goin'!"

        Josephine died on April 3, 1911 and the following year Jim married Sarah Dodd who passed away soon after. In 1915 he remarried a widow named Betty Bloodworth who was still living when Jim himself died on April 11, 1936. He is buried in the Rushing Cemetery, Rushing, Stone County, Arkansas.The Census stated that they had two children with one living. The living one wasn't listed. Billy and an infant with no dates are buried in Ramsey Cemetery, Timbo, Stone County, Arkansas.