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Happy 177th birthday, Arkansas

By: 19 June 2013 2 Comments

Arkansas!It’s hard to believe we let this one slip past our watchful eyes — Arkansas turned 177-years-old on June 15. It’s hard to believe — the old gal doesn’t look a day over 150.

Yes, Arkansas was admitted to the Union way on back in 1836. To commemorate the Natural State, it’s time for a few fun facts about our beloved Arkansas. Ready? Here we go.

* Politics have always been more than a bit divisive, combative and odd here in Arkansas and there’s good precedent for that — the Speaker of the House John Wilson killed State Representative Major J.J. Anthony in a knife fight on the House floor during the first session of the Arkansas General Assembly in 1837. That’s right — Wilson and Anthony attempted to settle an argument with Bowie knives and Anthony died right on the House floor. Yes, that’s back when political fights were actual fights rather than contests between lobbyists trying to outspend each other (I’m still not sure which is worse). You know, there’s an idea — perhaps lobbyists should be required to engage in knife fights at the Capitol and only the victors would be allowed bribe our representatives. At any rate, Wilson got booted out of the House, was acquitted at trial by using the “excusable homicide” defense and was again elected as a state representative. He moved to Texas and died in 1865.

* The Arkansas flag is simply dripping with symbolism. The Natural State didn’t have a flag until 1913 and the one we rally around today was one of 65 designs submitted by Willie Kavanaugh Hocker of Wabbaseka (Jefferson County). The diamond in the center indicates that Arkansas was the only state in the Union that produced diamonds. The star over the word “Arkansas” represents the fact that the Natural State was once part of the Confederacy, while the three stars beneath the state name symbolize the three other nations to which Arkansas has belonged — France, Spain and the United States. The three stars also represent the year 1803 as that was when the Louisiana Purchase — which brought Arkansas into the U.S. — was signed. The three stars also represent that Arkansas was the third state — after Louisiana and Missouri — to be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase.

* Arkansas was not allowed to join the Union until another state entered around the same time. Arkansas was to be admitted as a “slave” state and Pres. Abraham Lincoln wanted to balance it out with another “free” state. So, Arkansas’ sister state is Michigan, which gained statehood in 1837.

* Seen that Red State Socialism graphic that’s been floating around the Internet ad nauseum since 2008? That’s the graphic that suggests, seemingly, that people in “red states” and “blue states” tend to vote against their best interests as government-hating Republican states typically receive more federal tax dollars than they pay in while kindhearted Democrats support the poor slobs on the right with their tax revenue. Arkansas, on that oft-repeated graphic, is depicted as having received $1.41 in 2005 for every dollar paid in taxes. It turns out that graphic doesn’t hold up as far as Arkansas is concerned. According to both Mother Jones and The Economist, that old chart is in need of an update — Arkansas has paid in more than it has received in recent history. Mother Jones used 2010 tax data while The Economist tracked data from 1990 to 2009 and found that heavily-Republican Arkansas contributed $333.3 billion in federal taxes and received $316.3 billion in federal expenditures — a “surplus” of $17 billion. So there.

* According to Fortune, four of the 500 largest companies in the nation last year are located in Arkansas — Wal-Mart Stores (2nd largest, Bentonville), Tyson Foods (96th, Springdale), Murphy Oil (98th, El Dorado) and Dillard’s (383rd, Little Rock).

* The official state nickname from 1947 to 1995 was “The Land of Opportunity.” The state Legislature changed the nickname in 1995 to “The Natural State,” although that slogan had been in use since 1987. The “opportunity” slogan was a lot to live up to, of course, and perhaps that’s what prompted the Legislature to stop talking about opportunity and start promoting trees, rivers, mountains and the like. You’ll find a full list of official and unofficial nicknames here. My personal favorite is “The Razorback State.” We can all agree on that one, at least.

* Charles Hillman Brough (“Brough” rhymes with “rough,” by the way), Arkansas’ 25th governor (1917-1921), got fed up with the state’s negative image and did something about it after he left office. He led the organization of the Arkansas Advancement Association in 1923 and went around claiming the state was self-sufficient. The state’s resources were so diverse, he claimed, that one could build a fence around the Natural State and we’d manage just fine. Brough’s idea was to promote a positive image of Arkansas and encourage investment from businesses in Arkansas. Alas, that effort was undermined on many fronts, and our own state Legislature was involved in one of the most damaging assaults on what Brough was trying to achieve. Baltimore Journalist H.L. Mencken wrote a seven-page article about the South and briefly mentioned Arkansas which included his observation that the people of the Natural State were “too stupid to see what was the matter with them.” The Arkansas Legislature made matters worse by passing a resolution demanding that Mencken apologize for that comment, but managed to misspell the writer’s name. Instead of an apology, Mencken issued more articles ridiculing Arkansans. Had the Legislature let the whole issue go, then perhaps the very Eastern businessmen Brough was trying to impress wouldn’t have read article after article claiming that Arkansas was full of idiot hillbillies. Ouch. Alas, that wasn’t the last time Arkansans wew embarrassed by the questionable antics of its legislators.

So, there you go — a few fun facts you can use to impress your friends. Happy 177th, Arkansas.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


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  • Kelley Zornes said:

    Arkansas was admitted in 1836. So how could President Abraham Lincoln have any say on Arkansas becoming a state when he was President 1861-1865? Congress in 1819 passed the Missouri compromise, which stated two states must come in at the same time, one a slave state and one a free state. Abraham Lincoln had nothing to do with Arkansas becoming a state. Please correct this. I’m sure many have read your article and have been misinformed.

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