The Last Blacksmith

By WALTER E. WISDOM

President, White County Historical Society, 1974-75

There has been much said and written about the village blacksmith. Usually, there was at least one blacksmith in every village who did public work and his was a great service for the people.

R.E. "Bud" Gentry was one of this kind. He was raised on a farm but The Last Blacksmith Shop while he was a young man he put in a blacksmith shop on West Market Street in Searcy. After some years his shop and all contents burned to the ground. He then built a large new building on North Main Street where he worked the rest of his life.

He died in 1987 at the age of 92, 10 years after he closed his doors for retirement. As far as I know, he was the last public blacksmith and this was the last blacksmith shop in White County. He told the Searcy Daily Citizen in 1981 that he wasnít sure how long he had been in the business but he started the same year the Civilian Conservation Corps camps were begun in this country. "Iíve shod good horses and bad horses, big ones and little Ďuns," he recalled.

Soon after his death, thieves broke into his shop building and stole most of his tools and equipment that was of much value, leaving tons of rubbish and small items all piled together, covered with black anvil dust and cobwebs.

Mrs. Gentry had no one to see after the place for her, so she worried about what was left in the building and that fire might destroy the building and kill some valuable pecan trees nearby. She wanted to make a deal with someone to remove the building and contents from the grounds.

During the seven years since Peggy and I got married we had done some odd things but I still donít know how we wound up with that pile of junk. When I came to myself, I had made a deal with Mrs. Gentry to move everything.

The only time we had to move that junk out was after Peggy and I closed our store at 5:30. We worked until dark each evening, in weather that was 100 degrees plus.

Wilbur Mills

It was hot but we made a fun job of it. It was also a sad job Ė seeing all those thousands of pieces of scrap metal that had been cut by hand from furnace-heated metal. The old furnace was in a corner where many drops of sweat had fallen.

There were several badly worn old chairs and nail kegs where customers and storytellers had spent many hours. It was hard to find a place to start. There were truckloads of junk to be hauled to the city dump. We tried to get most of that out first, then the witch hunt.

There wasnít anything of much value but there were boxes, cans, kegs and piles of small items. Some not so small, of all descriptions and thatís where the fun began. There were surprises in every box, can, pile and everywhere we looked. I donít know how many pickup loads we hauled out of there but quite a few. We finally finished after about two weeks.

We werenít embarrassed to drive back and forth through town because we were so dirty and covered with black dust that no one would know who we were anyway.

The author died in 1988 at age 94. His book "White County Wisdom Ė 90 Years of Short Stories" is available for $10 postage paid from the White County Historical Society, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.

This article was written in the fall of 1987. In December 2000, Peggy Wisdom recalled they had found two pair of Bud Gentryís well-worn overalls hanging on a nail in his shop. "They reminded us of Bud so much, we just didnít have the heart to throw them away," she said. Some 13 years later, she located them stored away at her home and said she would place them in the Blacksmith Shop at Pioneer Village Museum on the White County Fair Grounds in Searcy Ė a visible symbol of our countyís last blacksmith.