Little Rock Look Back: Robert F. Catterson, who united Little Rock and then divided Arkansas

It is interesting that the same man who brought an end to strife in Little Rock’s divided government in the post-Civil War era would then be active in a major rift in the Arkansas state government only a couple of years later. But that is just what Robert F. Catterson did.

On March 22, 1835, future Little Rock Mayor Robert Francis Catterson was born in Indiana, the son of Irish immigrants.  He studied medicine in Ohio and established a medical practice in Indiana upon completion of his studies.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army.  Throughout the war, he was promoted and was eventually mustered out as a brigadier general in 1866.  During his service, he participated in the siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Following his departure from the military, Catterson decided not to return to medical practice.  He moved to Arkansas and worked for a brief time in the cotton commodities field.  He later returned to military service commanding a militia fighting the Ku Klux Klan.  Catterson was appointed US Marshal.

In November 1871, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock. His election ended a tumultuous two-year period where the Little Rock City Council tried unsuccessfully to remove Mayor A. K. Hartman.  Mayor Catterson served a relatively quiet two year term in office until November 1873.

A few months after leaving office, Catterson would return to “military” service as he commanded the troops who were supporting Joseph Brooks as he wrested control for several weeks from Governor Elisha Baxter.

Sometime after order had been restored, along with the return of Governor Baxter to the statehouse, Catterson moved to Minnesota. He later moved to Texas where he died on March 30, 1914 at the age of 79.  He is buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery.