Paul Hickman (second from right, front) is a fearsome-looking two-way tackle with no helmet but an impressive pompadour for the 1926 Searcy Lions. Others shown are (from left) front - substitute Howard Edwards, end Darden Hassell, tackle Arthur Blankenship, guard Moody Parson, center Jerry Gentry, guard Raymond Dees (wearing a baseball cap), and end Harry Price; back- coach J.L. Taylor, halfback Kendall (Bud) Rand, quarterback Tom Johnson, fullback Howard (Beast) Patterson and halfback Sammie James. Hickman was president of his senior class in 1928.< p class="center"> Shooting Anvils On Armistice Day < p class="center"> INTERVIEW -- PAUL HICKMAN & J.D. WHEETLEY
By the President of the White County Historical Society.
(This is a continuation of "MORNING SUN BLACKSMITH")
Location: Byrd Haven Nursing Home, 105 South College, Searcy.
Date: Noon, Saturday, July 26, 1997
Interviewer: G. Edwin Best Jr.
Others Present: Pat R. Best
Paul Hickman lives at 800 North Spring in Searcy. I had seen him walking in the parking lot of Byrd Haven when I drove up and asked if he knew Johnny Wheetley. Explaining that his wife was living at the Byrd Haven Nursing Home and he did indeed know the subject of my interview, he very graciously agreed to take me to Mr. Wheetley’s room. In subsequent conversation, it became obvious that at a venerable 88 he had excellent recall and was an additional source of information about the early days. Paul pushed Mr. Wheetley, in a wheelchair, to the room for the interview, left briefly to check on his wife, and returned. By then, the old blacksmith was tiring ... so I asked Mr. Hickman to join the interview. Mr. Wheetley immediately perked up and also participated. The boldface comments are Mr. Hickman’s, the comments indicated by (JDW) are Mr. Wheetley’s.
Noel Paul Hickman is with us now. How did you know Mr. Wheetley?
I used to be his insurance agent.
Did you live at Higginson?
No, I lived here in Searcy since 1922.
You heard the questions I asked about the wars. Do you remember much?
I was 9 years old when World War I was over. We came down on November 11, 1918 -- the day of Armistice. There were no paved streets in Searcy...
(JDW:) That’s right -- there sure wasn’t. I recollect that mud in them old back streets.
...And people were driving around in the old cars with the tops down -- touring cars, they called it.
(JDW:) T-models and A models both.
... shootin’ the guns in the air. Pistols and shotguns. I was 9 years old.
They shot some anvils on the Court Square, on the east side of the Courthouse...
(JDW:) I recollect that pretty well.
...The sheriff came around and made ‘em quit. They had one anvil this way and the anvil was hollow on the bottom side. They’d put black powder in there and a short fuse... and they’d light it. And this top anvil would go as high as the canopy on the east side.
(JDW:) Yep, that’s right.
Who did those anvils belong to?
(JDW:) Belonged to the farmers -- didn’t it?
I guess they got ‘em out of the blacksmith’s shop down on Market Street.
The sheriff told ‘em to quit shootin’ anvils. One of ‘em was goin’ to burst and hurt somebody. I did get to see the anvils twice -- shot up into the air.
How high did it go?
High as the canopy. I’d say 20 feet or more.
(JDW:) It was at least 30 feet.
How much would one of those anvils weigh?
They weighed different weights. You had 100 pounds, 150 ... 200. These were average size ... probably 100 pounds, maybe 100 and a quarter.
Do you remember much about social life in the early days here ... what did people do for fun?
Well, mostly they’d have a meeting at the park there in Searcy. The park was growed up then, of course. It’s been cleaned out. Different from what it was.
Was it a hot spring then?
No. Sulphur spring. There were seven springs here at Spring Park. Later on, the city drilled a water well. They filled them all.
(JDW:) Went dry.
The old building down there by the Library now ... I’m sure it’s over 100 years old.
The one they tore down?
This one’s still standing. About 100 years old. My great grandfather ... my mother’s grandfather ... I talked to him when I was 10 years old ... up in Missouri. She went up there and visited and I went up there with her. I wish I had asked him more questions.
Was he from here?
He was from out of Missouri. I think he was on the Union side.
Of course, my grandfather -- my daddy’s daddy -- he fought on both sides. He went in a Rebel ... captured. They called him a "galvanized Yankee." They were going to send him north to one of the prisons and he bucked up about it. They said, "well, you’re either going to prison or you’re going to sign papers that you’ll be on our side." I don’t know whether they sent him west to fight the Indians. A lot of them did. I don’t have his military records. I was up in Washington DC a week and never did go over to look about it.
What was his name?
William Michael Hickman.
What was his wife’s name?
Louisa Hess. They married at Locust Grove, up here on White River, close to Batesville. And he used to live up there. Daddy, in his latter years, wanted to go up there. I said "yeah, we’ll go." Our baby boy was about a year and a half old. He got lost that day for about an hour. Daddy came around at this Blowin’ Spring they call it. It’s not on the highway. It’s off a piece. He said "Pa"... he called him Pa all the time ... "Pa hung bear meat in that cave." It is a blowin’ cave; it shakes the leaves out here quite a ways from the entrance to it. And there’s water ... a spring ... comin’ through there. And he said "Let’s walk right around here and see if we can see where the old house sat." We walked around there and there was one corner of the log building taperin’ this way. The logs was still up there but they tapered down. He said "That’s where we lived." He was born at Old Grand Glaise. Possum Grape they call it now. But he was born at Old Grand Glaise. I guess that was in Jackson County.
(JDW:) It is. Yeah.
Well, anyway, my great grandfather -- my mother’s grandpa -- his name was Stephens. I want to say Robert but I think that was her daddy’s name. McKinney. Robert McKinney.
(JDW:) McKinneys was a little kin to us somewhere.
He married a part Indian that belonged to the Powhatan tribe -- one Pocahontas belonged to. I’m not sure how much she was. Momma said she was a quarter. I know I have a lot of Indian feelings sometimes. I’ve got a little in me, I guess...
...Now my grandpa he said "You’re from Searcy, yes ... What does that Spring Park look like now?" Well, at that time, 10 years old, I said "It’s got a metal fence, all the way around..."
(JDW:) Used to have. Yeah.
... "And it’s got this big sphire-shaped shed over the main spring" ... and I said "there’s some BIG oak trees" ... there were at that time, when I was 10 years old.
(JDW:) There was at that time. Sure was.
There’s one or two still down there. He looked down at me and grinned. He said "them was saplings when I was there." Said, "we camped in that Spring Park a week." He was in this Whitney Crossin’ skirmish over here. He said "I got shot in the leg and broke a leg." Said "we camped in that Spring Park in Searcy for a week." Well, a 10-year-old kid ... and back at that time I was real bashful. I don’t know if I’ve outgrown it or what. If I had questioned him more I would have known more.
If he was in that action, we could probably get his record.
I think so. I’d like to have it. Of course, I don’t have much time now to wait. Had a birthday the other day. I was born in 1909... July 22. My wife was born July 30. She’ll have one in a few days. I’m two years older than she is. But years ago ... and they still have it ... people don’t know what it’s about... they have an Old Soldiers Reunion at Heber Springs -- every August. I don’t know how old I was, this that I remember particularly about. I was probably 7 -- might have been 8. But we rode the train from Letona to Heber. Stayed ‘til the train came back and caught it that evening to come home to Letona. But they had some big old trees in that park. I go up there now to get my water out of that black sulphur spring. Half gallon ... gallon jug. But what impressed me: these old men ... I didn’t see any Gray uniforms. They were all Blue. There were 15 or 20 at least. Old men. They had some benches. I guess they got ‘em out of the church houses somewhere. And they were lined up there. And I was so bashful, I didn’t go down there. But I know now what was happenin’. They was fightin’ the war over. And some of ‘em had white beards to their belts. They were old men.
Now what year was this?
I’d say 1915 ... 1916. I don’t know when they quit comin’. But they were Union soldiers. I didn’t get to talk to ‘em.
(JDW:) I can recollect that myself.
Were there no Confederate soldiers there?
If they were, they had on Blue uniforms. I didn’t see a Gray. Not one Gray uniform. And there was 15 or 20 anyhow ... kinda in a semicircle there. Talkin’. Some whittlin’, some spittin’, and tellin’ lies. You know they were tellin’ lies. Well, I’ve seen that. Of course, I grew up ... I say I grew up ... We left Letona when I was 13 years old -- in August. Moved to Searcy. Moved in wagons. Had sideboards. All the paraphernalia you had. Old metal springs hangin’ on the side of ‘em. Two or three coops of chickens and geese on the backend. I drove a Jersey cow. At that time this country was grown up. You didn’t see any fences because they had open range. Some guy had a corn patch, he’d put a fence around it.
So, what was the road like?
(JDW:) Just dirt road.
It was dirt road just like it had been used...and there was some rocks in the roads as big as that rug. And you’d drop off ... fall down. It took all day to drive a wagon from Letona to Searcy. And you were talking about World War I ... I had a friend at least 20 years. He’s passed away. About 102 years old.
What was his name?
His full name was Thomas Gregory West. He was the oldest son of Leck West. I didn’t know his name until I went to the cemetery. Leck West was John Alexander -- J.A. West. He and my daddy were partners in a cotton gin. They finished it in 1911. I have a copy of a picture of it. There was a spur track in there to the seed house. World War I, seed got up to $90 a ton and my daddy said years ago they didn’t even save seed. They’d just blow ‘em out and the cows would come around and eat ‘em. But that’s where I grew up -- around a cotton gin, a saw mill and a grist mill. He’d grind whatever they brought -- corn or wheat -- every Saturday. That was grinding day.
What was the typical meal in those days?
(JDW:) Mostly bread and butter and stuff like that. I can tell you that.
You had what they raised in the garden. You didn’t go to the store and buy anything.
(JDW:) Naw. You raised your chickens.
You’d go to the store and buy sugar, coffee -- coffee beans. Momma had one of them hand grinders.
(JDW:) We had two of ‘em -- a big ‘un and a little ‘un.
You’d buy sody, salt, sugar. During World War I, now -- no sugar. There was a damaged 100-pound sack in the depot. Had been bursted open. Some gone out of it. My daddy asked the agent ... see, they’d called it ‘railroad salvage’-- he said "how much you want for that sack of sugar back there." He said "the invoice on it is three dollars." Daddy said "I’ll take it." Now that’s the only sugar we had in World War I. We didn’t have any white sugar. We had brown sugar.
(JDW:) And old sorghum molasses. Plenty of that. We made that. My Daddy made sorghum molasses.
(At this point, J.D. Wheetley was obviously beginning to tire, so I interrupted the interview so that he could be returned to his room. Mr. Hickman volunteered to take him back. I invited him to return to conclude his interview. He did this a few minutes later as per the following.)
Mr. Hickman, earlier when we were talking [prior to the interview], you said you were familiar with the Muncy book and that you have a copy yourself. Do you recall reading anything in the book that maybe you might want to expand on?
Well, I made the changes in our copy. See, I played football in Searcy. They have a picture of our football team and they said it was 1929. I graduated in the spring of ‘28. [Later, I learned that Paul Hickman was president of the Searcy High Class of 1928.] This picture they have in there is the football team in 1926, when J.L. Taylor was coach.
Can you remember anything else?
Yes, now Dr. Muncy took a bunch of us ... I think it was Garden Club ... we left from the hospital and walked down to Little Red River close to where the big oaks are. There’s two big oaks down there and I guess that’s the reason they call that addition River Oaks. The Yanceys own it all. Elmer Dale and his daddy. Maybe a corporation, I don’t know. He took us down there. He said "Now we don’t know where Whitney Crossing actually is." They had a skirmish from there and some of it as far down as West Point included in there ... the skirmish. That’s the reason I went. I wanted to know where Whitney Crossing was. I believe it’s what we called, later on, Searcy Landing. [Muncy, p20: named Searcy Landing in 1849]. See, steamboats used to come up the river. I’ve seen ‘em. I was on the bridge one day when we turned the bridge ... I guess that was 1923 or ‘24. They had to come up when the river was up. Couldn’t get over them shoals. They had big barges. They’d sink ‘em ... oh I’m sure they sunk ‘em six feet deep in the water when they loaded ‘em with what they called riprap. They was haulin’ it down the Mississippi River to riprap a levee, keeping ‘em from washin’ see. That’s what they did at that quarry. And back then the cliff was nearly to the river. Now go out there and look at it. That much rock has been quarried out of Bee Rock, they call it. But I saw it then when they had men ... they had oh several men. They had barracks out there for ‘em to sleep in. They had what you call dining room, kitchen. They had cooks. They fed them men and they worked, loadin’ those rocks. Lot of it was done by hand, see. They drilled and they used black powder to blow that bluff off. And they’d stack those rocks about head high around the edge and then they’d haul rock in there ... chunk rock ... and fill this thing up until they’d sink the barge down maybe a foot out of the water. So a little steamboat, they’d hook up three or four of them together and they’d head off down the river, pushin’ ‘em. They wasn’t pulling ‘em ... they was pushin’ ‘em -- ahead of ‘em. And this bridge out here, if the water was up, they’d have to turn it for that boat to get up there. Well, I saw that for several years. Then when the college came in here, they bought this out there ... or it was given to them ... and they got what they called a summer camp ... Wyldewood ... and they built a big building kind of like a chalet. It burned. Shriners used to go out there and have their Christmas party out there on Wyldewood Lake.
You see, I worked on the railroad for over 25 years. My daddy 33 years.
You mean which railroad?
Oh, he did. He worked on St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern. That was before the Missouri Pacific. He worked on it.
What time period would that have been?
Well, he went to work on a section when he was 16 years old and he was born in 1871. He went to work on a section when he was 16 years old ... 12-hour day, one dollar. Twelve: 6 to 6. He said later on, a dollar and a quarter. Well, he quit. I’ve got the picture of the last locomotive ... steam locomotive that he operated ... run. We call it run.
Where was that?
That was on this short line ... DK&S. Doniphan, Kensett and Searcy. Doniphan Lumber Company came in here about 1900. The M&NA went through to Letona in 1907. At that time my daddy was in the cotton gin business and they had a branch line that run up Big Indian Creek. And I’ve heard that it crossed the creek either 43 or 46 times. I’ve been a wadin’ and fishin’ up there ... and if the water’s low you can still see mud seals where they had the bridge cross the creek. Of course, they had one place up there, it washed out every time the creek came up. So finally they didn’t build no bridge. They just built it down in there [creekbed]. When the water would come, they’d snake the track back up in there and line it up. And of course they couldn’t use it. It wouldn’t stay up long. It’d soon run off. But it was enough to wash the track out. Now I’ve been in a steam engine up there when they come in there and didn’t have time to get in. Of course, years ago they had what they called Hog Law. They’d work ‘em 16 hours and then they had to tie up 10 hours. If they tied up at 15 hours and 59 minutes, they could tie up and they could call ‘em out in 8 hours. Well, they had a call-boy to call the crew. They’d give you an hour and a half call before you were supposed to be on duty. Okay, by the time you get up and stir around and get the breakfast and stuff, you were lucky if you got 5 hours’ sleep out of your 8 hours off. Because when you come in, you had to take a bath and clean up. You’ve been workin’ on a steam engine ... cinders and coal and all that.
How did you get around in those days? Did you walk ... have a horse?
Didn’t have no horse. My daddy bought the first car in Letona .. I think it was 1915. I’ve got a picture of it. Old man Atkins ... he told me "your daddy bought the first car in Letona." Well this picture is made about 1915. I’ve just got a copy. I didn’t get the original.
I’d like to borrow a copy...
I’ve got some extra copies of that what you might say at that time was the one thoroughfare there. Letona today is different. There’s one building there still standing that was there when I was a kid. It was Lake West’s store. Later on years later, they put the Post Office in there. Then he died and his boy Bill West he run the store and had the Post Office. Of course, he passed away. I think they’re all gone, that bunch.
I’ve heard that in the early days music was very important to the community. Did they have concerts?
Oh, they’d get together. They’d have singin’. I went to two singin’ schools. Luther Presley taught ‘em. He wrote several songs. I’ve got one or two old song books. I watch out for ‘em. I picked up one the other day in an auction thing. Box of books. What you call the flyleaf, frontleaf or whatnot and everything is gone. I don’t know when it’s published but it’s got the old shaped notes in it. So I know it’s old. Oh, they’d have singin’. Course, they have singin’ now in some of these places. But there’s one kind of singin’ ... I forget what they call it. I want to say Christmas or something like that. They’re shaped notes. I made a tape on it ... came over Channel 3. And I like to play that tape on Sunday.
Could you sing shaped notes?
That’s all we had. I couldn’t learn music but I had an ear for the tones and if somebody’d lead off, I could follow. Then I messed around and went tryin’ to sing bass. And I like to sing when I’m by myself, some parts of the old songs. I can’t remember ‘em. But I do like to hear good singin’. And if you want to hear some good singin’, you won’t hear it now, probably. But I’ve gone to colored churches. Now, you talk about some music ... back then, 60 years ago ... 70 ... you talk about a choir that could sing ... everybody sung.
Did white people go to the black churches in those days?
Occasionally. The colored was glad to see ‘em. I’ve only been to two colored churches -- one at Kensett. And they got happy. They get happy and shout.
Did the blacks ever come to any of the white churches?
No. They do now. They wouldn’t then...
I lived through World War II and I didn’t go. I told ‘em if you want me, I’ll go. I’ve got a wife and two kids... But I’ll go when you call me. They called me and gave me a two-week card. I went up and asked ‘em ‘two weeks?’ They said "uh, huh." I said I can wind up this little ball of yarn I‘ve got in two weeks. Two days before I had to go, the war was over. Now that’s the way it happened with me.
When you think back of all the years ... all the time you’ve spent here in White County ... what do you remember mostly?
Well, I remember about everything that happened at different times. I’ve heard that when your time is about up, your life passes before you. Well, mine has passed before me. I know that. But here in the last few years I’ve thought of instances ... things that happened 50 ... 60 ... 70 years ago. Oh, I’ve lived a full life. And I give thanks to the Father of all for the lives that we have lived. And I just hope ... now I’m afraid of Him. Lots of time when I go to pray, I cut it short ... because He is the Supreme Being. We’ll never understand all His power, I don’t think, in this life. We can’t imagine the power of the Supreme Architect of the Universe. We may wonder why did He do this? Why did He do it? Why? We know that Christ died for all. Now he was a Jew and a Jew betrayed Him. And I think that everything that happens now and before now, and what will happen after now is in accordance with the Father ...
(At this point a nurse opened the door and interrupted his thought. We thanked Paul and terminated the interview.)
Postscript – From the Searcy Daily Citizen, January 24, 1998 – “Graveside services for Johnny Wheetley Sr. of Searcy were conducted January 23, 1998, at Gum Springs Cemetery …” Paul Hickman died four years later – August 26, 2002, at age 93.
White County Historical Society president Eddie Best, who conducted this interview, may be contacted at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145 or email@example.com
Paul Hickman dons goggles to drive a truck around his home at River & Cypert streets in Searcy 75 years ago.
Searcy chums Clell Hunnicutt, Dick Wasson and Paul Hickman (from left) head for Bee Rock to camp out in 1923.