150 years ago, there was much uncertainty in Arkansas. Would the state leave the Union? Would it remain in the country that had been imposing unfair tariffs for decades? Would Arkansas follow her sister states into the formation of a new country? Would each of the states that had seceded around her become separate countries? And what would the repercussions be of transporting crops from Arkansas to a foreign port in New Orleans? These were issues facing the people of Arkansas 150 years ago this week.
As the new government of the Confederate States of America was being formed in Montgomery, Alabama, Arkansas began to split along two distinct modes of thought: those that would support Arkansas leaving the Union and those that would not support Arkansas leaving the country that it had been a part of for only less than a quarter of a century.
Those Arkansans in North Arkansas, in general, had more of a pro-Union sentiment and did not wish to be part of a State that was being backed into a corner over the issue of secession. This week 150 years ago, about twenty families from Fayetteville, Arkansas have contemplated escaping the whole ordeal of secession in their attempt to gain support for a mass migration to Oregon. An excerpt from the February 22, 1861 “The Arkansian” North West Arkansas newspaper noted that forty-three people had “enrolled for the journey across the plains.”
Meanwhile on the opposite end of the State, the ladies of Phillips County in Helena, Arkansas, presented a flag to the local militia, “The Phillips Guards”. Though Arkansas had not officially cast her lot with the seceding states around her, according to author Glenn Dedmondt, “This flag, a states’ rights banner of the finest order, displays as its dramatic focal point the seal of the State of Arkansas.” The flag was presented on February 22, 1861 by Miss Emma Rightor to Captain J.C. Barlow of “The Phillips Guards”. This militia unit will officially enlist into Confederate service on April 26, 1861.