An Observation of DeWitt

May 29, 2024

This is a reprint of an article in the DeWitt Era-Enterprise in 1925.

~Author Unknown

I cannot say if my readers will enjoy this story I am going to write about my visit to the capital city of one of the oldest counties in Arkansas, a county that dates its existence six years beyond the date of the organization Arkansas Territory. I do know, however, that if my readers enjoy reading this story half as much as I enjoyed my visit to DeWitt to assemble it, I will have been more than repaid for any work I entailed in the writing of it.

I will not say that DeWitt is charmingly delightful. That sentence would mean nothing as applied to this unique county town of Arkansas, buried far down at the southern end of the matchless Grand Prairie. To say that DeWitt is delightful would not transmit to my readers the exquisite charm of sitting at its old courthouse door-historic old building that shelters records that antedate any other existence in Arkansas-and listening to the musical monotone of the ticking of its old village clock, perched high, like an alert sentinel on guard, in the dome of the stately old edifice.

I could not thereby impress upon my readers’ minds the witchery of its tantalizing, original courthouse square, where friendly merchants stand at the entrances to their establishments and welcome in genuine Arkansas County fashion visitors to their places of business, where idlers from the countryside journey to town for no other purpose, it appears, than to sit nonchalantly upon the rude board seats thoughtfully prepared for their comfort by DeWitt’s affable citizens and talk of the weather, conditions of the rice crop, the probability of an early frost – although it was yet August – and to evince that delightfully reserve spirit of friendliness which since the days of its birth has characterize the rural inhabitant of Arkansas.

No; any phrase, however I might conjure the lethargic recesses of my brain to awake it, would never convey to my readers all the charm of the public square at piquant old DeWitt, the capital of Arkansas County. That spirit of unusual charm may be seen and felt, but never expressed in words. Like the cheerful medley of the meadow lark, it cannot be described nor imitated.

DeWitt might, in every sense, be said to be the direct descendant – the amiable daughter – of historic Arkansas Post, one of the earliest settled communities in this part of America. Settled by the French many years before the settlement was made by people of that race at Biloxi, Arkansas Post continued as the most important place in Arkansas until after American occupation. The first territorial capital of the territory, conspicuous in the early annals of the territory and state, intimately connected with the bloody Civil War period, Arkansas Post surrendered the honor of being the county seat of Arkansas’ oldest county in 1855, with the records of that Arkansas which flourished before county organizations were popular, were removed to DeWitt, which, then no town at all, has blossomed through the years into one of the typical county towns of the United States –an environment which is sure to captivate even the most exacting connoisseur for things original.

When I arrived at DeWitt, I was overwhelmed. I was completely at a loss how to begin to assemble data for this story. Accustomed as I am to assembling data, having done that identical thing almost daily for several years, I sat in a quandary upon the wide porch of DeWitt’s unique holstery – everything is unique at DeWitt – with my notebook in my hand and stared at the buildings across the way, simple two-story buildings of brick, which seem to whisper to me in some half audible language.

Over the door of one of these buildings I read a sign “U.S. Post Office, DeWitt, Ark.” Yes, I was not dreaming. This was a real town – now visionary dream which, by and by, would burst and leave me with a void in my heart. The DeWitt folks, weary with their Utopian existence, sometimes send telegrams to the world informing less fortunate persons how happy they would be if they would only come to DeWitt.

I took a walk. I entered a merchant’s store. He was glad to see me, although he not before in all his life had he ever met me. It matters not one iota at DeWitt if a man be a stranger. Its people welcome all alike. There are no strangers at DeWitt. Q.D. LaFarge was that merchant’s name. Not the French name. His sires came to Arkansas before it was Arkansas. They lived in old French Louisiana. Frequently in Arkansas County one encounters names like that, names of French origin. They are descendants of the men who, first of all, discovered the beauty and riches of Arkansas. But the descendants of these first pioneers are now good Americans, just like you and I. This man, LaFarge, is so modern and up-to-date that he sells his patrons The Commercial Appeal every day.

I visited other stores. It was always the same. DeWitt’s citizens were glad to see me. It mattered not if I were a stranger. None of them knew me. I sat upon those quaint, if not quaintly comfortable, seats made of boards along the side walks. I talked to some of the rural folks who live out in the beautiful prairie stretches that surround DeWitt’s portals like a billowy expanse of green ocean. They talked to me. They told me about their crops and were delightfully entertaining and likable.

There were apparently no grouches among them. They all spoke in the highest praise for their great county where they dig and honest living from the virgin and alluvial soil, growing rice, corn, vegetables, and other crops such as will grow in this beautiful and alluvial section.

So enamored did I become with the environment into which I had plunged that for the time I forgot that I was at DeWitt for work and not to loll in an atmosphere of bliss with its affable and likable inhabitants. What did I care for assembling data for a story about DeWitt? Why write a story anyhow? Why not make it a poem – a rythmical effusion which might in a manner do justice to this quaint old town far down in the wide expanse of its beautiful prairie?

Bethinking myself of the check I would covet on some forthcoming pay day and which might not be in evidence if I did not somehow manage to untangle myself from this maze of charming environment and make some effort to assemble data for a story, I reluctantly hied myself back to the old hotel, went inside its spacious lobby to better exclude all possible views of the tantalizing surroundings and sat down to think about the kind of story I would like to write about DeWitt.

After some study, it seemed to me that much of the early history of Arkansas County is the history of one man – Col. William H. Halliburton, who was involved with the city from the start in 1853. He not only helped to plan that courthouse, but he planned the two later courthouses which have since been constructed. His name appears upon the corner-stone of the stately old building which is now the temple of justice of Arkansas County.

Col. Halliburton moved from Arkansas Post to DeWitt in 1857 and stayed here until 1861, when his state called him to Little Rock to assume important work for the Confederacy. When Little Rock fell in 1863, Col. Halliburton loaded his family upon a barge and floated down the Arkansas River to Jefferson County, where he lived the remainder of his life, sleeping now in a sod-covered grave in the village cemetery. He died on Nov. 18, 1912, at the advanced age of 96.

If you go to the Cossitt Library in Memphis or the Public Library in Little Rock and ask the librarian for authentic data on the early history of Arkansas, the chances are that the librarian will produce for you a small, compact cloth-covered book, entitled, “A History of Arkansas County by W.H. Halliburton.” (Note: The Name is not hyphenated by the “B” in the middle of the name is written with a capital letter. That is no error. It is the way Colonel HalliBurton wrote it, and thereby hangs a tale which will unfold later).

The history of his home county, written by Colonel HalliBurton in the later years of his life is an authority on Arkansas history. Eloquently written, undisputed facts, concise and complete, it is probably the best history of any section of Arkansas ever written. However, do not go to your book seller to buy a copy. I have ransacked all Arkansas for a copy of the book and they are not obtainable. It is now rare and valuable.

Desiring to obtain even more information on the subject of Colonel HallBurton, distinguished Arkansas citizen of whom may readers might like to know more, I made inquiry at the courthouse if I might be able to locate any of his relatives.

“Locate any of colonel Halliburton’s relatives?” queried the affable lady county clerk of Arkansas County in reply to my question. “Of course you can. Have you not heard of Miss Lou-dear Miss Lou? Surely everybody knows Miss Lou.”

Miss Lou, I learned, is the only remaining daughter of the colonel, who lives in the old ancestral homestead in the residence section of DeWitt.

A brief telephone talk and I made an engagement to see Miss Lou in her own home within a few hours. I knew when I heard her gentle, refined voice speaking to me over the telephone that I would like Miss Lou HalliBurton.

The HalliBurton Home – and everybody in DeWitt calls it that – sits in a grove of oaks far back from the street. It is a modest residence built with all the earmarks of that period.

After my visit with Miss Lou, I left DeWitt – left it with regret because, after all, the finest things of life are those delightful nooks where men can loiter and dream-keep aloof from the maddening world’s noble strife and dream beautiful dreams about ideals toward which we all aspire.

Such a place is DeWitt, delightful old capital of Arkansas County.