Arkansas Governor Jeff Davis enjoyed White County cooking during his political career more than 100 years ago, as described by the Arkansas Gazette’s L.S. Dunaway in his book Jeff Davis, His Life and Speeches published in 1913.
ne time, in company with Doctor Abington, of Beebe, who was styled one of the Old Guard, Governor Davis and Mr. Kirby drove from Beebe over to Rosebud, in White County, to attend an old-fashioned picnic and political gathering. Governor Davis and I spent the night with a farmer by the name of Harrell, who lived between the two points. The next day in his speech at Rosebud Governor Davis referred to the good supper, consisting of turnip greens, hog jowls, cornbread and buttermilk. He said to the audience, “This Gazette Yankee ate eggs until he had every hen on the place cackling.”
The farmers and hay-binders came in with their families from three or four counties and at least ten thousand people were on the grounds. Every farmer invited Governor Davis to go and eat dinner with him. He would walk around under the large, stately oaks and eat pie at one place, custard at another, then a slice of country ham, and then a slice of chicken, until he got around to more than a dozen places, and said he had a good notion to telephone his wife to send his trunk out to Rosebud.
One of the most peculiar features of Governor Davis’s campaign was his mixing with the people after his arrival at a public gathering. He would go all through the audience, shake hands with the farmers and their wives and children and discuss matters pertaining to the welfare of the farmer. If the cotton season was on he would readily say that they should have twelve or fifteen cents a pound for their cotton. He knew how to meet the “hay-binders” from up at the forks of the creek and talk to them regarding matters pertaining to their welfare. He was always one of the boys... He usually had the audience in sympathy with him before he began speaking. It was very seldom that Governor Davis made a speech without referring to his family in some way, his father and mother, or his nine pointer dogs, bringing out some little personal event that always caught the crowd...
One of the funny incidents I recall took place near Searcy, in White County, a number of years ago. A prominent Methodist book agent spent the night with Neighbor Jones on the outskirts of Searcy, after attending the district conference. The train left at 7 o’clock for DeVall’s Bluff, and after a good night’s sleep, the preacher relished some fried chicken, and appreciated the hospitality of his good brother. One of the young ladies of the home had an engagement with one of the men to attend a May-Day fish fry at the old Camp Ground several miles away. While the folks were entertaining the preacher at breakfast, the parson forgot to put his nightshirt in his grip, and it was folded up, and with the grip placed in the hallway. In the meantime a lunch for five, including gherkins, pickles and cake, pies and custards, was rolled up in about the same size bundle, and placed near the grip. The buggy was ready and “All aboard!” was the alarm which attracted the young lady, who, through mistake, took the nightshirt instead of the fried chicken. The preacher soon followed with his grip, not knowing but that he had his nightshirt. He went on the same train, and watched the fish-fry party get off on the bank of the river. At the noon hour, when the young ladies were preparing their dinner, and while their beaux were frying fish, they began to bet who had the finest lunch. And, to the surprise of all, the nightshirt was soon reached, which caused a great deal of laughter. It was after 9 o’clock before the preacher began to retire for the night at Gleason’s Hotel in Little Rock, and discovered that he had chicken for five…
Jeff Davis was born in Little River County, May 6, 1862. He was admitted to the bar in Pope County at the age of nineteen years. He was elected Attorney General of the State in 1898. In 1901 he was elected Governor and re-elected in 1903 and 1905. February 29, 1907, he was elected to the United States Senate for the term beginning March 4, 1907. His term would have expired on March 4, 1913. Senator Davis’ death January 2, 1913, came as a shock to every one, many persons not realizing that he was even under the care of physicians. vvv