Knowing Their Tears & Hearing Their Laughter


President, White County Historical Society, 1996-97 & 2001

As we celebrate Heritage Month each May, it is fitting to reflect on the heritage of the White County Historical Society. The society was organized in 1961 with 34 charter members representing all parts of White County. Members came together with the purpose or remembering and recording our history - our heritage. In the words penned by W. E. Orr, the second president of the WCHS, “Here is the possibility of a hobby to make the present more interesting-the chance of joining us in one of the most fascinating of all types of detective work. We are searching for men and women through this hobby; seeking to know how they lived and what they thought and said. We trace them through faded newspapers, dusty court records and the memories of old-timers whose eyes sparkle as they recall ‘what grandpa told me when I was a boy.’ And often, if we try hard enough, we come so close to these White County people of the past that we can know their tears and almost hear their laughter. In doing this we know ourselves better, and we form a greater appreciation for our pioneer heritage.

Our detective work continues today. We still search for our forebears and what they thought and said. Just as two people standing on a street corner witnessing the same accident, we sometimes discover two or more versions of what was “reality.” But in addition to getting all the facts straight, we must preserve the “feeling” of our heritage. Or, as Mr. Orr said, “to know their tears and almost hear their laughter.”

As I write this, I can hear the voice of Mr. Orr, his storytelling ability with his deep laugh, and his ability to see the humor in nearly any situation. Remembering other charter members who have gone on, I also think of our first president, Mrs. Esther Smith, who was always precise in what she did. She was a conscientious lady who had a quiet sense of humor, and her love for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was always evident.

Claude Johnson was a charter member who loved to write, and spent years collecting information on White County. He was able to print his collected works as “The Humorous History of White County.” His publication has been invaluable as a quick reference to our county’s history, and his retelling of the old-timers’ view of life is a lesson for us today. W.C. “Spud” Welch and his wife were always ready to assist the Society in any way; Spud had a phenomenal memory of the Little Indian Creek area of the county. Oran Vaughan made the Pioneer Village Museum possible and was most interested in having these concrete reminders of the past preserved to remember the “good old days.” Ivan Quattlebaum was another supporter of preserving mementoes of the past, both through work in the museum in the old library at Spring Park and in assisting at Pioneer Village. Miss Ellen Key loved our county’s history and worked tirelessly on our annual White County Heritage and in support of the museum at Spring Park. Mrs. Lloyd Henry’s late husband was the last descendant of John Magness, our first pioneer, to live in White County. She was always willing to help with any project, and served our society as long as her health would permit. Mrs. W. H. Collison has been a faithful member and again has had an interest in Pioneer Vllage and in particular helped furnish the Gordon House. Don Choate was interested in the Southwest Trail and the early county history. In his later years he took care of the old Stamps Cemetery, one of the most historic in the county. Mrs. Inez Bishop was the county librarian, a quiet, kind lady who made the library available for our meetings for many years. She was most helpful in starting the Arkansas Room at the Searcy Library, and was also helped make the old library building available for the museum.

Other members of the society have contributed much over the years, but as we look back on the past 40 years, perhaps, the greatest achievement has been the 4,000 pages of White County history that have been recorded in White County Heritage. This was possible because of the dedication and persistent work of Cloie Presley, who collected, researched and wrote most of the editions. A native of Goff Cove in Cleburne County, she graduated from high school at Wilburn, then earned her degree from State Teacher’s College (now UCA). She taught school at Garner before marrying Leister, then worked for Garner’s Ace Hardware for years. She was involved with the Historical Society from its inception and was the consistent force that kept it going over the years. Her name became synonymous with the county’s history, with most history questions being referred to her for her expertise. She volunteered at the library on Thursday afternoons, assisting people with research questions and starting many on their climb up their own family trees. These activities were always accompanied by a gentle voice, a smile and a genuine interest in people. An annual award has been established in her honor, with the recipient to be named each May. In summary, this lady is most deserving of recognition by the White County Historical Society during Heritage Month.