Little Rock Look Back: Benjamin Harrison is first current POTUS to visit LR

On April 17, 1891, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to visit Arkansas.  He was on a cross-country railroad trip having left DC on April 13.

The morning of the 17th he spoke in Memphis and then took the train to Little Rock.  Accompanying him from Memphis to Little Rock were a delegation which included Governor and Mrs. James P. Eagle, Mayor H. L. Fletcher and Col. Logan H. Roots.  Also in the party was Mrs. W. G. Whipple, a former first lady of Little Rock.

They arrived in Little Rock in the afternoon.  A parade took them from the train station to the State House (now the Old State House Museum) where the Governor formally welcomed the President and his party.

In his brief remarks, President Harrison spoke of the hospitality and the natural resources available in Arkansas.  He also touched on the Civil War, which at the time was less than 30 years in the past. He noted “The commonwealth rests upon the free suffrage of its citizens and their devotion to the Constitution and the flag is the bulwark of its life.  We have agreed, I am sure, that we will do no more fighting among ourselves.” These remarks were met enthusiastically by the crowd assembled.

The President concluded is brief remarks thanking the State officials and the citizenry.  He then took the train to Texarkana where he made his third set of remarks of the day.

Benjamin Harrison was on the Presidential ticket two times. The first time he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland. The second time he lost both the popular and electoral votes to Cleveland.  He did not carry Arkansas in either election. Though he was the first sitting president to visit Little Rock, there is nothing here named for him.  Since there was already a Harrison Street named after his grandfather, he is skipped between Cleveland and McKinley in the presidential streets.

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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.

Little Rock Look Back: Post-Civil War government resumes for Little Rock

One hundred and fifty three years ago today (on January 8, 1866), Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.  (It was supposed to have started earlier, but the local elections set for November 1865 were cancelled on the day they were originally set to take place.)

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and future LR mayor John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley

Little Rock Look Back: J. J. McAlmont (LR Mayor and UAMS founder)

Future Little Rock Mayor John Josephus McAlmont was born on this date in 1821 in New York state. (Various reports give his birth date as December 22 — but the family reports December 19 as the date.)

After studying medicine in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he arrived in Little Rock in March 1850 with his family.  After practicing medicine in nearby Benton, he returned to Little Rock in 1852.  In addition to being a physician, he was a pharmacist.

During the Civil War, he relocated his family out of Little Rock (to a spot where the present day community of McAlmont bears his name).  Following the war, he moved them back to the City.  In 1866 he was elected Mayor of Little Rock, the first elected Mayor since local government resumed following the Civil War.

In October 1879, he and seven other physicians founded the Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department in Little Rock. This institution has grown into the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  He served on the faculty of the medical school for several years.

Dr. McAlmont died in September 1896.  He is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  In addition to the McAlmont community bearing his name, there is a McAlmont street in downtown Little Rock which was named in his memory.

Little Rock Look Back: Gordon Neill Peay

Mayor PeayOn December 12, 1819, future Little Rock Mayor Gordon Neill Peay was born.  The Peay family arrived in Arkansas from Kentucky in 1825.  They quickly became one of Little Rock’s leading families.

Mayor Peay’s father, Nicholas Peay served on the Little Rock Board of Trustees (which existed before the town was incorporated) and later served on the City Council and was acting mayor. It is Nicholas Peay’s Egg Nog recipe which inspired the Historic Arkansas Museum Nog Off!

Godon N. Peay served as mayor of Little Rock from 1859 to 1861.  During the Civil War, Peay served as Captain and later Colonel of the Capital Guard.  He later received a pardon from the federal government.  In the days leading up to the Civil War and during it, Mayor Peay was one of a select group of civic leaders who corresponded with President Lincoln and other Union leaders. It has been said that this conciliatory tone is a reason that Little Rock fared better during Federal occupation and Reconstruction than did many other Confederate cities.

The Peay family owned the Peay Hotel, Little Rock’s first hotel, and were also co-founders of what became Worthen Bank.  They were also a founding family of Christ Episcopal Church. Mayor Peay later served as Pulaski County Chancery Clerk.

He died on December 14, 1876, and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery along with many members of his family.  A nephew of his, Ashley Peay, served on the City Council in the 1920s.  Mayor Peay’s great-grandson Joseph Barber Hurst, Sr. served on the Little Rock City Board of Directors from 1967-1971. One of Mr. Hurst’s sons, Howard, was born on Mayor Peay’s birthday.

Little Rock Look Back: C. P. Bertrand

On November 23, 1808, future Mayor Charles P. Bertrand was born in New York.  He was the son of Pierre and Eliza Wilson Bertrand; his father died in 1809 in an uprising in Haiti and his mother eventually remarried.  With her new husband, Dr. Matthew Cunningham, she and the family moved to Little Rock in 1820.

After apprenticing with family friend William Woodruff at the Arkansas Gazette, Bertrand opened the Arkansas Advocate newspaper.  He later studied law under Robert Crittenden and entered the legal profession.

In 1835-1836, he served as State Treasurer for the Arkansas Territory, and in 1836 as secretary for the first constitutional convention. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1840-1841 and 1844-1849.

Bertrand followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became Mayor of Little Rock.  (Dr. Cunningham had been the first Little Rock Mayor in 1831.)  He was in office from January 1855 through January 1857, serving two one-year terms.  He later served on the City Council and filled in as acting mayor. (Another influence on his upbringing was studying under future Mayor Jesse Brown who taught at the first school in Little Rock.)

Bertrand, as acting mayor, was involved in the negotiations of the surrender of Little Rock to federal troops in 1863.  He also later corresponded with President Lincoln on behalf of Little Rock citizens

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Though a staunch Confederate, his good will toward the Union soldiers and federal officials is credited with helping to save Little Rock from the destruction which befell many other Southern cities.  He is also credited with delaying the start of the Civil War.

Prior to the attack on Fort Sumner, members of the Arkansas Militia were planning to attack the Federal Arsenal at Little Rock during the absence of Governor Rector.  This would have been viewed as an act of war.  Bertrand was able to dissuade them from the attack.  Had he been unsuccessful, the Civil War would have likely started in Arkansas instead of South Carolina.

He had put his considerable fortune into Confederate money during the war. At the Civil War’s conclusion, the family was financially ruined. Though they had vast land holdings, those would be sold off in parcels to pay for taxes.

Bertrand died August 27, 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.  He, like his mother, step-father, and several other relatives, is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Election of 1871

For the two years leading up to the November 1871 election for Little Rock mayor, the political scene had been chaotic. A. K. Hartman, who represented one faction of the Republican Party, was so disliked by the LR City Council that they repeatedly tried to have him removed from office.

After being rebuffed by the courts, the aldermen proceeded to simply appoint another mayor of Little Rock.  Thus from January 1871 to November 1871, Little Rock had two mayors: A. K. Hartman, and J. G. Botsford.

After having been elected first in January 1869 and re-elected, Hartman (whom the Gazette disliked and derogatorily nicknamed “Count Von Bismark” on account of his Germanic heritage and his corpulence) was seeking another term in November 1871. Thomas C Scott announced, in October 1871, that he would seek the office as an independent, but withdrew a few weeks later.  The only person who stood between Hartman and re-election was Dr. Robert Francis Catterson.

Dr. Catterson as a physician from Indiana who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He moved to Arkansas in 1866 first to work in cotton commodities, and then to serve in the militia fighting the Ku Klux Klan. He became affiliated with Joseph Brooks and his Brindletail faction of the Republican Party, which stood in opposition to the Minstrels faction, with which Hartman was associated. (This rivalry would play out in 1873 with the Brooks-Baxter War, in which Catterson was Brook’s chief lieutenant.)

A few nights before the election, approximately 500 of Catterson’s supporters paraded through Little Rock with signs bearing anti-Hartman slogans and caricatures.  They stopped off to hear an address by Mr. Brooks.

On election day, Catterson and his allies swept most of the City offices.  He bested Hartman by a vote of 710 to 374 and carried three of the city’s four wards.  He served in office until November 1873.