150 years ago, Arkansas’ state fair came and went. To the reader unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Civil War in Arkansas, one may overlook the significance of the chosen primary sources for this week’s column.

As tensions were mounting in the political arena of 1860, as noted in previous columns, the State Militia began drilling regularly. One of these men who had served the 13th Arkansas Militia in Pulaski County was Col. Rust.

As Arkansans took to the 1860 state fair, Col. Rust, among others, including Col. B.B. Allen, whose horse was named for the 1860 presidential candidate John Bell, both took the opportunity to show off their “stock”. Col. Rust will eventually go on to organize the 3rd Arkansas Infantry, whose first combat assignment included the “Battle of Cheat Mountain”.

The state fair concluded with an interesting tournament in which one would expect to see in Medieval Europe: “we saw a ring about two inches in diameter, hung some eight feet from the ground, and a lot of gay equestrians trying to pick it off with the point of a wooden lance—the one taking the ring oftenest in five trials to be the victor.” This “homemade” tournament left a lot to be desired by the spectators, who note that the fair was a success, but were disappointed by the tournament.

[DES ARC, ARK.] THE CONSTITUTIONAL UNION, November 23, 1860
State Fair.
The Little Rock State Gazette, of the 17th inst., thus speaks of the State Fair which came off in that city week before last: Among the most deserving of the premiums was that awarded to Henry Byrd, Esq., of Union county, for the best article of native wine. The display of stock was fine. We think col. Rust’s horse one of the finest we have ever seen; yet the judges were not able to decide as between him and Mr. Vaughan’s fine horse—one evidence that “doctors disagree.” The fine saddle horse, John Bell, owned by Col. B. B. Allen, of Prairie county, was universally admired—no premium was more worthily bestowed than his. The closing of the Fair with a tournament was looked forward to with great interest. Though we have a slight conception of the hostile squadrons in deadly conflict, we had never witnessed a home-made tournament. In our imagination we had pictured a contest between grim knights in armor, with visors down and lances poised, ready to disarm or unhorse an opponent. Instead, we saw a ring about two inches in diameter, hung some eight feet from the ground, and a lot of gay equestrians trying to pick it off with the point of a wooden lance—the one taking the ring oftenest in five trials to be the victor. Though the Fair was a success, we confess to disappointment at the tournament. It reminded us more of Longstreet’s description of a “gander pulling” than anything we have ever seen—though, from the description, we are of opinion that there is infinitely more fun in a “pulling.” Suppose at the next meeting of these Knights of the Wooden Lance, a gander be swung for them—his head will be as fit a trophy as an iron ring.

As Arkansans took to the fair this week 150 years ago, England was taking to the sky. The below article was also found in an 1860 Arkansas newspaper noting that a heavier-than-air “flying machine” had been patented in London, England. The first heavier-than-air flying apparatus in the United States will not come to fruition until the 1870’s when Arkansas’ Charles McDermott invents his “apparatus for navigating the air”.

[DES ARC, ARK.] THE CONSTITUTIONAL UNION, November 23, 1860
A Flying Machine Patented.—A flying machine has just been patented in London, consisting of a very light steam engine, which is to operate a huge pair of wings. Oil is to be used for fuel instead of wood or coal, that greater heat may be obtained with the same weight.