The Greek Connection

George Pappas at the counter of the Majestic Café, Dickson Street, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 1930s.

George Pappas at the counter of the Majestic Café, Dickson Street, Fayetteville, 1930s. Fran Deane Alexander Collection (S-2012-137-557)

The family joke is that when the first Greeks immigrated to the U.S. they had one of three occupations—restaurateur, confectioner, and cobbler. My paternal grandfather had a soda fountain and candy kitchen before switching to shoe shine and repair. In 1907 he immigrated from the Peloponnese (a peninsula in southern Greece) and settled in Chicago, home to a large Greek community. When I moved to Northwest Arkansas many years ago and began working in museums, I was surprised to find that several Greek men had made their home here in the early 1900s.

As I dug deeper into their stories I was able to see how their history, and that of my grandfather, mirrored the greater Greek migration. Around the turn of the 20th century nearly 90% of Greek immigrants were men. Many came with the intention of earning enough money to return home with capital for themselves and, more importantly, dowries for sisters and daughters. But continued conflict in Greece, loss of homeland, the forced return to Greece of a large number of Greeks from Asia Minor, and changing U.S. immigration policies left many stranded. While some married non-Greek women, many remained bachelors, just like the elderly honorary “uncles” in my family.

George Pappas (far right) at the Majestic Café, Dickson Street, Fayetteville, 1930s. With University of Arkansas students and Fayetteville patrolman, Theo Burms.

George Pappas (far right) at the Majestic Café, Dickson Street, Fayetteville, 1930s. With University of Arkansas students and Fayetteville patrolman, Theo Burns. Washington County Historical Society Collection (P-805)

The first Greek I heard about was George Stavrou Pappas [originally Papadapoulos] (1881-1966). He may have been born in Athens and from there moved to Egypt and then to New York and St. Louis before heading to Fort Smith, Arkansas. There he ran the Manhattan Café for twenty or so years, from the 1910s to the 1920s. In 1927 he opened the Majestic Café on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, not far from the campus of the University of Arkansas. The café was frequented by faculty, students, businessmen, Frisco workers, and tourists. George called in lunchtime customers by standing on the street and ringing a large metal triangle. The café was a bit of a convenience store, too, selling such things as candy, cigars, and soap. In 1938 a “summer garden” was built for outdoor dining, with beer served under a grapevine arbor. During World War II George burned the hot checks he held from students heading to war, saying “his boys” owed him nothing.

George’s brother John Pappas (1877-1953) was a sailor before he became chief cook at the café. He served a variety of dishes including steaks, sandwiches, chicken tamales with chili, squab, fish, omelets, split pea soup, fresh shrimp and oysters, and “mountain oysters” (bull testicles). According to journalism professor Walter J. Lemke, professor and future U.S. senator J. William Fulbright often had lunch at the café, but he “distrusted the highly seasoned Greek dishes and always ordered Campbell’s tomato soup, out of a can.” The rationing of meat supplies in 1945 hit the restaurant hard. Before World War II it sold an average of “400 high grade steaks every Saturday and Sunday.” The cut in supplies was projected to bring the number down to ten or fifteen steaks a weekend. John stayed connected with his homeland. In October 1950 he wrote an article for the Northwest Arkansas Times which advocated for the return of the island of Cyprus, then under British rule, back to Greece. The paper’s publisher and editor was Roberta Fulbright (J. William’s mother), who counted “Fayetteville’s Greeks” amongst her friends.

Majestic Café Summer Garden ad, Northwest Arkansas Times, July 25, 1938.

Majestic Café Summer Garden ad, Northwest Arkansas Times, July 25, 1938.

The Pappas brothers had two cousins who worked at the café for a time. Theodore “Theo” H. Kantas (born circa 1890) was the head waiter. He helped George with the Fort Smith café, too. Nick Kabouris [sometimes spelled Kambouris]  (circa 1896-1951) was born in Athens and came to the U.S. as a young man. In 1930 he may have worked in a sandwich shop in Seminole, Oklahoma (near Oklahoma City). Back then Seminole had sixteen restaurants owned by Greeks, and it was said that “the Greeks feed the oil fields.” He was living in Fayetteville at least by 1932, where he rented a room at the Washington Hotel and worked at the Peoples Café, both on the square. Following Italy’s attack on Greece in 1940 during World War II, several prominent Greek Americans created the national Greek War Relief Association. Nick served as a local division chairman, raising money to aid relief efforts.

Denny Malloy [originally Mallas] (1894-1973) was born on the Ionian island of Zakynthos. Before serving in the U.S. Army during World War I he worked as a street paver in Sioux City, Iowa. He married Anna Selby in 1928.  By 1942 the couple lived in Rogers where he was often away during the summer working as a highway concrete finisher. They did not have children.

Tom Mulos making chocolates, Rogers Candy Kitchen, 1953.

Tom Mulos making chocolates, Rogers Candy Kitchen, 1953. Courtesy Rogers Historical Museum

Anastacious Thomas “Tom” Mulos [originally Mullos], (1890-1965) was born in Kithira, an island off of the southern tip of the Peloponnese. In 2005 his daughter-in-law shared the family’s history with the Rogers Historical Museum. According to Clara Lee Mulos, Tom came to the U.S. in 1905 to seek a better life, not telling his mother that he was leaving Greece until the morning his ship sailed. He traveled to St. Louis to stay with a relative and it was there where he learned to make candy. In 1914 he moved to Rogers and opened the Rogers Candy Kitchen on Walnut Street (later moving the business to Second Street, across from the Victory Theatre).  He served in the army during World War I. In 1921 he married Eunice Phillips, one of his employees. They had one child and, as a family, attended a Baptist church.  While they didn’t follow Greek traditions, they did eat some Greek food. The store had homemade candy, a soda fountain, and an ice cream bar featuring such flavors as vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Clara’s favorite was the pineapple sherbet. For a time Tom supplied ice cream to the Sunset Hotel at the Linebarger brothers’ summer resort in Bella Vista. The store closed after forty-four years in business, after Tom’s heart attack in 1958.

Ted Logus, as depicted in the January 1928 edition of the Rotarian.

Ted Logus, as depicted in the January 1928 edition of the Rotarian.

Theodore “Ted” Logus [originally Logothetis] (1882-1966) was born in the Ionian Islands on the western side of Greece. He came to the U.S. around 1904 and went to St. Louis to learn candy-making from an uncle. While there he ran a marathon in his street clothes (rather than athletic gear); he came in fifth place. By 1911 he was co-owner of the Neosho Candy Kitchen in Missouri. That’s where he married Maunte Caughron in 1913. A year later the couple lived in Rogers, where Ted co-owned the Rogers Candy Kitchen with Tom Mulos. During World War I he worked on behalf of the War Industries Board to secure “data as to all the available walnut timber” around Rogers for use in airplane construction. After the war he was one of several businessmen who helped organize a town band. He was a Mason and a charter member of the Rogers Rotary Club. For a short time he co-owned the U.A. Candy Kitchen in Fayetteville with Steve Georgenis. In 1930 he had a soda fountain, coffee shop, and confectionary at the lakeside pavilion in Bella Vista. Realizing there wasn’t enough business in Rogers during the Great Depression, he gave his share of the Rogers store to Tom, who had a wife and young son to support. As a divorcee with an adult daughter, Ted figured he could earn a living elsewhere. The Mulos’ repaid this kindness in Ted’s later years, making sure he had home-cooked food and medical care.

Private Steve Georgenis behind the soda fountain of his candy kitchen, Fayetteville, mid-late 1910s.

Private Steve Georgenis behind the soda fountain of his candy kitchen, Fayetteville, mid-late 1910s. Ann Wiggans Sugg Collection (S-2018-75)

Stamatis “Steve” G. Georgenis (about 1885-1934) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor (then heavily settled by Greeks, now part of Turkey). He came to the U.S. in 1912 and settled in Fayetteville two years later. Over the years he owned or co-owned candy kitchens on Block Avenue and Dickson Street, under the names of Palace of Sweets, “A.E.F.” Confectionary, U. of A. Candy Kitchen, and Steve’s Place. He sold homemade ice cream, sherbet, and candy along with salted peanuts, soda-fountain drinks, coconut brittle, taffy, banana splits, and cantaloupe sundaes.

Steve Georgenis' candy kitchen, third storefront from the left, North Block Avenue, Fayetteville, about 1934.

Steve Georgenis’ candy kitchen, third storefront from the left, North Block Avenue, Fayetteville, about 1934. Ann Wiggans Sugg Collection (S-2018-75)

Ann Wiggans Sugg, whose family owned the Block Avenue storefront, remembers that “Uncle Steve” gave her candy whenever she went to the store. During the holidays he often treated children to Easter eggs and candy canes. In 1927 he received word that he and his eleven brothers were heir to 1.5 million dollars from their grandfather’s estate in Constantinople, Turkey. He traveled there to collect his share but as to the outcome, no information could be found. He was a member of the local unit of the Arkansas National Guard, serving on the Mexican border in 1916 and later as a cook during World War I. When asked about his service he said, “A country that’s good enough to live in is good enough to fight for.” A founding member of the Lynn Shelton Post of the American Legion, Steve was buried in Fayetteville’s National Cemetery with full honors, including a firing squad of eight uniformed Guardsmen and a bugler sounding “Taps.” Following Steve’s death, Ted Logus ran his shop on Block Avenue until the summer of 1937.

“A.E.F.” Confectionary ad, Fayetteville Daily Democrat, July 28, 1919. The name refers to the American Expeditionary Forces, a unit of the U.S. Army formed to fight on the Western Front (largely in France) during World War I. At the time of this ad, proprietor Steve Georgenis had just returned from serving overseas.

One of the pallbearers at Steve’s funeral was Louis J. Lagos (circa 1896-1958). Possibly born in Sparta in the southern Peloponnese, he was a small boy when he came to America, first living in Ohio and then Chicago. In Oklahoma he operated a candy store in Oklahoma City and had cafes in Seminole and Tulsa. He served in World War I and was a member of the American Legion and the Masons. While the 1940 census shows him a resident of Tulsa, his “inferred residence in 1935” is Fayetteville.

James Vafakos, Indiana Harbor, Indiana, 1910s.

James Vafakos, Indiana Harbor, Indiana, 1910s. J. F. Atlas, photographer. Courtesy William N. Vafakos

Dimitrios “James” Nick Vafakos (1885-1975) was born in Arna, a village in the southern Peloponnese. He arrived in New York in 1903. He served during World War I and, prior to that, was said to have helped chase Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. For a time he homestead land in Crawford County, where he married Hazel Cranley in 1922. The couple had two sons, one of which is William, who recently shared his father’s history with the museum. Because James was disabled due to a gas attack during the war, he was unable to work. The family moved to a farm near Prairie Grove where they lived on home-grown vegetables, livestock, and James’ military pension.  He also had a vineyard of Concord grapes. Although Washington County was “dry” for a time (no alcohol could be purchased), James received a permit to make wine at home, as long as he didn’t sell it. William doesn’t remember the family eating Greek food or celebrating that county’s traditions. The only times his dad spoke Greek was to the cows when he got mad, or to his friend, Jimmy Anagnost, when the two didn’t want their wives to hear what they were talking about.

Gust James “Jimmy” Anagnost [originally Anagnostopoulos] (1888-1959) was born in Trikala, in mainland Greece. He arrived in the U.S. in 1905. After coastal-defense service in World War I he homesteaded in Crawford County, later moving to Washington County with his friend, James Vafakos. It’s possible that the two of them hunted gold and silver in the Prairie Grove area, as James’ son, William, found old assayer reports stating that the minerals were detected, but not in enough quantity to make extraction profitable. Jimmy married Dora Hart in 1926 and together they had four children. An electrician, he worked several odd jobs including hauling goods in his truck and working on local Works Progress Administration projects during the Great Depression. During World War II he worked in the steel industry in Chicago, eventually earning enough money to move his family out of their old dog-trot log cabin and into a brand-new house near Strickler.

Frisco route map from the tourist booklet, Summer Days in the Ozarks, 1915.

Frisco route map from the tourist booklet, Summer Days in the Ozarks, 1915.

It’s clear that these men contributed to Benton and Washington counties in ways large and small.  But why did they come to Northwest Arkansas? Here’s my guess. . . Connect the dots between St. Louis, Neosho, Rogers, Fayetteville, and Fort Smith and you have a section of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad line. It would be so easy to move from one town to the next, looking for opportunities.  Once here, the Greeks connected with one another, as friends and as businessmen. Ted partnered with Tom and Steve in candy kitchens and James regularly came to Fayetteville to visit the Pappas brothers. When Steve died, nearly all of the Greeks were active or honorary pallbearers at his funeral.

James Vafakos with the 1st Aero Observation Squadron, just back from France, August 1919.  Courtesy William N. Vafakos

James Vafakos with the 1st Aero Observation Squadron, just back from France, August 1919. Courtesy William N. Vafakos

Most of the men connected to their newly adopted country by serving in some capacity during World War I. They established community connections as well, through friendships with town leaders and as members of fraternal, business, and military organizations. The Majestic Café even played a role in local government, serving as a polling place for Fayetteville’s Ward 4 voters. Although a few of the men maintained some connection to their homeland, either through food or political engagement, most adapted to their new country. Some even married American women. For the most part their children grew up American—they didn’t learn the language, eat the food, or follow the traditions of Greece.

Illustration from a chocolate and candy recipe booklet distributed by Walter Baker & Co., 1922.

Illustration from a chocolate and candy recipe booklet distributed by Walter Baker and Company, 1922. Courtesy Carolyn Reno

And the candy connection? Turns out it was a real phenomenon, not just a Demeroukas-family joke. In her 2014 dissertation, Greek Immigration To, and Settlement In, Central Illinois, 1880-1930, Ann Flesor Beck recounts that many Greek immigrants came from the Peloponnese, where they had had enough of regional conflict and hard-scrabble farming. In America they gravitated to urban areas, especially those with large Greek populations. As unskilled workers they joined railroad crews, like the Greeks who in 1902 worked on building the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railroad in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) from Westville to Tahlequah, just east of Washington County. They also pursued entrepreneurial endeavors with minimal start-up costs such as shining shoes or pedaling fruit. Some worked in or started their own restaurants, soda fountains, and candy kitchens. A 1904 article in the Greek Star newspaper declared Chicago “the Mecca of the candy business” and said that “practically every busy corner in Chicago is occupied by a Greek candy store.” Newly arrived Greek immigrants learned the business from their Greek employers before striking out on their own. Many found their way to St. Louis, where the town’s Greek population grew from roughly 1,300 in 1910 to an estimated 5,000 five years later. In 1915 one Greek newspaper estimated that there were about fifty thousand Greeks working in the confectionary business.

Rogers Candy Kitchen, owned by Tom Mulos, South Second Street, Rogers, 1950s.

Rogers Candy Kitchen, owned by Tom Mulos, South Second Street, Rogers, 1950s. Courtesy Rogers Historical Museum

I wish I could go back in time and visit the candy kitchens to sample the treats made by Tom, Ted, and Steve. And after? I’d dine with the Pappas brothers at the Majestic Café. (Yeah, dessert first.) The closest I’ve come to spending time with George and John was in the early 1980s, when I hung out with my fellow anthropology students in the beer garden at George’s Majestic Lounge, a bar and music venue. I didn’t know it at the time, but in some way I was connecting with my Greek heritage. Opa!

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist and research librarian.

Taste of Tontitown

Nova Jean Fiori Watson flouring a rolled-out sheet of pasta, May 2018.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson flouring a rolled-out sheet of pasta, May 2018.

Ravioli was on my mind during a phone conversation with Nova Jean Fiori Watson. That’s not why I called her, but as we finished our business I had to ask, “Did your mother make ravioli?” I was curious because I have a circle of friends who love to cook and our next project together was ravioli.

Nova Jean has a life-long love of the Italian food she grew up with. Her paternal grandparents were Maria “Mary” Cortiana and Pietro “Pete” Fiori. Born in Italy, they came to Northwest Arkansas as young children in 1898 with their families and other Italian settlers, under the leadership of Father Pietro Bandini. Together these immigrants founded the farming community of Tontitown, west of Springdale.

Maria "Mary" Cortiana Fiori and Pietro "Pete" Fiori, 1912.

Maria “Mary” Cortiana Fiori and Pietro “Pete” Fiori, 1912. Elsie Mae Fiori Pianalto Collection (S-2003-2-736)

When she was a child, Nova Jean lived with Nona Mary and Nono Pete during the school year. In an article she wrote for the Tontitown Storia (Spring 2007), Nova Jean said that she “looked forward to the day Nona baked bread, because we would have fried bread and [home-canned] peaches for lunch.  It was sooo good.”  When Nona’s grandsons had free time, she had them kill the sparrows roosting in her brooder houses with their BB guns. “She called them ‘Chee Chee Birds.’ She would skin them, clean them and cut off just the beaks, leaving the heads. She prepared hers in the oven with oil, sage, and garlic. They were delicious. How sad that none of us bothered to learn the recipe.” In a recent email, Nova Jean recalled another specialty of Nona’s—homemade soup, which she “always started with salt pork grease from a crock in the cellar, which was replenished each time the family butchered a hog.”

Fern Haney Fiori adjusting the cake she's cutting slices from at the wedding reception for Luellen Penzo and James "Jim" Weiss, Venesian Inn, Tontitown, March 10, 1955.

Fern Haney Fiori adjusting the cake she’s cutting slices from at the wedding reception for Luellen Penzo and James “Jim” Weiss, Venesian Inn, Tontitown, March 10, 1955. Luellen Penzo Weiss Collection (S-2011-100-1)

Years later, after Nova Jean and her husband Danny Ray Watson retired and moved back to Tontitown, Nova Jean’s mother Fern came to live with them. Fern Haney Fiori grew up in an Irish family in nearby Elm Springs where, according to Nova Jean, “the teenagers and young adults mixed with the same from Tontitown.  They would mostly dance at someone’s home or any place large enough to accommodate the crowd, any place within walking distance for both communities.” In 1934 Fern married Pete & Mary’s son, Bill Fiori. Over the years Fern learned to cook a few Italian dishes from the ladies in the community.  Fern and Nova Jean had many conversations about food. In 1992 she asked her mother about the chicken filling she made for ravioli.  In a shaky hand Fern wrote, “Boil chickens pick off bone…”

I think Nova Jean and I are kindred spirits in the kitchen. Not just the joy of cooking, but exploring and cherishing the memories and histories behind the recipes.  One of the other Italian foods she’s researched is a sweet bread made at Easter, locally known as fugase. In the early 1990s she collected recipes from several Tontitown ladies including her paternal aunt, Elsie Mae Fiori Pianalto. Maybe Nova Jean and I can get together to make bread someday. Until then, I’ll enjoy making chicken ravioli. Here’s the recipe, so you can taste a bit of history, too.  Buon appetito!

Fern Haney Fiori's recipe for chicken ravioli, with Nova Jean Fiori Watson's notations, 1992.

Fern Haney Fiori’s recipe for chicken ravioli, with Nova Jean Fiori Watson’s notations, 1992. Courtesy Nova Jean Fiori Watson.

Fern Haney Fiori’s Chicken Ravioli
This is Nova Jean’s version of her mother’s recipe, scaled down from the three chickens it originally called for. Serve the cooked ravioli with a bit of red sauce (marinara) or en brodo (in broth).  Makes about 56 ravioli or four meal-sized servings.

Filling (makes 4 cups of filling)

4 cups cooked, boneless chicken meat, broken into pieces

4 tablespoons (one-half stick) of salted butter

1 celery rib, chopped into small chunks (about 1/2 cup)

1 small onion, chopped into small chunks (about 1/2 cup)

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

2 saltine-type crackers

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt & pepper

1 large egg

1-2 tablespoons chicken broth or water

Pasta Dough (makes 1 3/4 pound of dough)

3 large eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

To make the filling, melt two tablespoons butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Lightly brown half of the chicken and remove.  Repeat with the remaining chicken and butter. (If the chicken is browned too deeply, it will make the filling gritty.)  Once the meat is cool, grind it in a meat grinder, alternating with the celery, onion, garlic, and parsley.  Add the crackers last, to clear out the grinder.  (If using a food processor, pulse the meat and vegetables separately until chopped fine; do not puree.)

Add the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to the ground mixture and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed. Add the egg and one tablespoon or two of broth or water to make a loose, but not wet, mix.

To make the pasta dough, place the eggs into a large bowl and whisk with a fork. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together into a shaggy ball. Squeeze some of the dough in your hand to see if it holds together. If so, knead the dough on the counter for a few minutes until smooth. If not, for a crumbly dough, add a little chicken broth or water. For a sticky dough, add a bit of flour. The proportion of egg to flour is 1:2 (one part egg by weight, two parts flour by weight).

Roll out the pasta dough into sheets and form the ravioli, using a tablespoon of chicken filling per raviolo (the singular form of ravioli). Cook the ravioli in simmering chicken broth for 3-7 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Serve the ravioli with broth or with a red sauce.  Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson's Atlas pasta maker, bought in 1960, and the well-worn dough bowl that belonged to her paternal grandmother Maria "Mary" Cortiana Fiori.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson’s Atlas pasta maker, bought in 1960, and the well-worn dough bowl that belonged to her paternal grandmother Maria “Mary” Cortiana Fiori.

NOTE:  There are plenty of recipes and videos on the Internet for making chicken broth and red sauce (marinara), rolling out pasta dough, and forming ravioli.

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist/research librarian.


Priscilla, Queen of the Vacuum

Priscilla the Fastidious Pig, probably at a Quality Feed Store in Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, Arkansas, circa 1950.

Priscilla the Fastidious Pig, probably at a Quality Feed Store in Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, circa 1950. LeAnn Ritter Underwood Collection (S-2012-31-74)

It’s always fun to look through photo donations because you never know what you’ll find—and learn. In looking through a batch of images donated by LeAnn Ritter Underwood I came across a photo which made me laugh out loud. A pig nosing a vacuum cleaner!

Quality Feed Store, Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, Arkansas, 1950s.

Quality Feed Store, Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, 1950s. Hubert L. Musteen, photographer. LeAnn Ritter Underwood Collection (S-2012-31-61)

The collection belonged to Mrs. Underwood’s father, Roy C. Ritter (1908-2001), who was born in the Wheeler community of Washington County. Ritter began raising turkeys and broilers in Springdale in the 1930s, just as the poultry industry was getting started in Northwest Arkansas. The broilers raised at his Arkansas Quality Farm were served at his A. Q. Chicken House restaurant, founded in 1947. He also opened Quality Feed stores and hatcheries in Springdale, Rogers, and Harrison. Ritter was a leader in the poultry industry, both statewide and nationally, serving as president of such organizations as the Arkansas Poultry Federation, the National Turkey Federation, and the National Broiler Council. Ritter was also a community leader, serving as Springdale mayor in the 1970s.

So why the pig photo? It took a few Google searches before I came across a reference in C. James Goodwin’s 1999 book, A History of Modern Psychology. In it he wrote about the work of Keller and Marian Breland, who, as graduate students during World War II, worked with noted psychologist B.F. Skinner to train pigeons to guide missiles.  After graduate school the Brelands opened Applied Behavior Enterprises in Minnesota, training animals for entertainment and commercial purposes. Their first contract was with General Mills, teaching hens to tap dance as a way to advertise the company’s Larro Farm Feed.

Animal trainers Keller and Marian Breland, from the booklet Animal Wonderland: The Story of the Keller Breland Educated Animals, 1962.

Animal trainers Keller and Marian Breland, from the booklet Animal Wonderland: The Story of the Keller Breland Educated Animals, 1962. Ernie Deane Collection (“Hot Springs IQ Zoo”), Manuscript #167, S-2012-136-63)

Their success led to “Priscilla the Fastidious Pig.” According to an article about the Breland’s training methods, not only could Priscilla push a vacuum, she could turn on the radio, put clothes in a hamper, eat breakfast at a table, answer quiz questions, and select her favorite food—Larro, of course—from that of competitors. From 1948 to 1950 Priscilla performed her act at feed-stores, county fairs, and on television. Except it wasn’t the same Priscilla. Every few months, as Priscilla grew in size, she was replaced by a new trained pig, one that was smaller and easier to ship.

Comparison of the stage and fencing in the Ritter photo with similar photos on the Internet help ID this pig as Priscilla, along with the feed box with its Larro decal. A notation on the back of the photo reads, “Frame and send to Quality Springdale,” suggesting that the photo might have been taken by a Larro representative at one of Ritter’s Quality Feed stores.

There’s another Arkansas connection to this story, as I discovered by looking in newspaperman Ernie Deane’s extensive research files, donated to the Shiloh Museum by his daughter Fran Deane Alexander. In the early 1950s the Brelands moved their company to Hot Springs and opened the I. Q. Zoo in 1955. Visitors could watch such animal acts as piano-playing cats, drumming ducks, high-wire hens, and basketball-dunking raccoons. The critters were trained through “operant conditioning,” a type of animal psychology which encouraged specific, desirable behaviors with food rewards.

So as a result of one funny photo I learned about Priscilla, the Brelands, and I. Q. Zoo. Who knew?

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist/research librarian.


Chasing Wild Geese

My curiosity has been piqued lately. Want to chase a few wild geese with me?

J. C. Hawkins’ 1925 panoramic photos recently brought in by Rev. John E. King on behalf of the Administrative Commission for Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church.

J. C. Hawkins’ 1925 panoramic photos recently brought in by Rev. John E. King on behalf of the Administrative Commission for Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church.

Wild Goose #1. Rev. John E. King brought in two wonderful panoramic photos of a church and congregation on behalf of the Administrative Commission for Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church (near the Washington County town of Farmington). Sadly, the church recently disbanded. The images were taken in 1925 by J.C. Hawkins of Newton, Iowa. Hawkins’ name seemed familiar so I checked our photo database. Sure enough, we now have ten of his panoramic images in the collection, all taken in Washington and Madison counties within the span of a few weeks:

  • April 22—Fayetteville High School students
  • April 22—Fayetteville Public School eighth-grade students
  • April 24—Washington School students (Fayetteville)
  • May 3—Walnut Grove Presbyterian Church congregants and environs (near Farmington)
  • May 4—Westside School students (Fayetteville)
  • May 11—Sligo Wagon Wood Factory workers (Fayetteville)
  • May 29—Aftermath of the fire on the Huntsville square
  • May 30—Decoration Day participants (Witter)
  • May 31—Church congregants at Jones School (near Wharton)

Who was John C. Hawkins? Through an Internet search I learned that in 1909 he founded the Clipless Paper Fastener Company in Newton. While he’s listed as a manufacturer of paper fasteners in the 1920 census, by 1930 he’s a hotel manager. The executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum in Newton kindly sent a scan from A Century of Industrial Progress in Newton, Iowa, which notes that Hawkins’ company went into receivership and was purchased in 1925. So perhaps he picked up a camera as a way to earn a bit of money. Neither the director nor a county historian knew of Hawkins’ photographic activities, but now they’re intrigued as well. Perhaps they’ll chase that wild goose for me.

Grape basket, 1920s.

Grape basket, 1920s. Shiloh Museum purchase (S-2012-114)

Wild Goose #2. A researcher working on a project about the grape industry in Springdale needed two things from me—a scan of a label found on a grape basket in the collection and information about the Ozark Grape Festivals of the 1920s. As part of my research I read that during the first festival in 1925 the Springdale Community Club sent out nearly 4,000 complimentary baskets of grapes “to practically every State in the Union and to Canada.”

According to an article in the April 29, 1937, edition of the Springdale News, “The baskets provided for mailing were filled with choice Concords and bore the label of the grape associations. . . .” Even more grape baskets were sent in 1926. So I got to thinking, what if our grape basket is one of the festival baskets? The label from the Springdale Grape and Fruit Growers Union has a 1920s vibe about it. Most of the grapes grown in the Springdale area were sent by truck or rail to the Welch Grape Juice plant in bushel baskets or crates. The history of this basket will remain a mystery until a grape festival basket with its shipping label appears one day or we find an image showing the baskets prepared for mailing.

Ozark Grape Festival, Emma Avenue (Springdale), August 1926.

Ozark Grape Festival, Emma Avenue (Springdale), August 1926. Gene Thompson Collection (S-96-56-5)

Wild Goose #3. According to the 1937 article, during the 1926 grape festival “Special containers of grapes were sent to President Coolidge and to Premier Mussolini. The containers were small refrigerators consisting of veneered pine boxes 24 inches square, inside of which were copper containers holding eight four-quart baskets of grapes with a net weight of five pounds each. Ice was packed around the copper container to preserve the grapes.”

Curious to know if there was a record of the president receiving this gift, I contacted the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum in Massachusetts. The archivist there graciously checked the photos and scrapbooks in their collection, but nothing turned up. A check with a manuscript reference librarian at the Library of Congress, which has a Coolidge Papers collection, was also negative as Coolidge destroyed most of his personal papers before his death. I think the fate of the grape box and the president’s thoughts about it will remain mysteries. But there’s no mystery as to why a box was sent to Premier Mussolini of Italy. The Italian immigrant community of Tontitown supplied tons of grapes to the Welch plant over the years.

“Brightwater” apple history card, created in 1903 and featuring an excerpt from George F. Kennan’s 1892 letter.

“Brightwater” apple history card, created in 1903 and featuring an excerpt from George F. Kennan’s 1892 letter. Courtesy USDA Fruit Laboratory Card Catalog Collection (MS 365). Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library

Wild Goose #4. When I attended a recent event at Brightwater, Northwest Arkansas Community College’s new culinary school in Bentonville, I heard one of the staff members say that the apple for which the school is named is extinct. Curious to learn more, I contacted Guy Ames of Ames Orchard & Nursery in Fayetteville. Guy’s a passionate plantsman who’s been growing fruits and fruit plants adapted to Ozark conditions since 1983, including several Arkansas heirloom apples. He put me in touch with Scott Gothard in Amorel (Mississippi County). Equally passionate, Scott’s hobby is collecting and growing every Arkansas apple he can find. Both men searched their reference books and contacted friends in the field in an effort to find Brightwater.

I also heard from Sara Lee, archivist at the National Agricultural Library (NAL) in Maryland. She generously spent quite a bit of time digging for Brightwater info in NAL’s early fruit books and records. Her efforts turned up several interesting tidbits, including the June 1884 edition of  Gardener’s Monthly and Horticulturalist which included a note from J.B.G. [probably nurseryman John B. Gill] of Springdale, who had mailed two apples to the periodical for review. The editor pronounced Brightwater as “excellent” and a “very desirable apple for that far down section of the country.”

Artist Bertha Heiges’ depiction of a Brightwater apple from Logan, Utah, 1900.

Artist Bertha Heiges’ depiction of a Brightwater apple from Logan, Utah, 1900. Courtesy USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

Sara also sent a scan of an index card with an excerpt from an 1892 letter by George F. Kennan of Rogers. Kennan is said to have established the first nursery in the area. He grew and promoted Brightwater. He writes, “I believe [the apple] originated at Brightwater Benton Co., Ark and the tree was set by Enoch Groot [Trott, the first settler of Brightwater] in a very early day. Mr. A. [Albert] Peel bought the farm soon after the [Civil] war and some 13 or 14 years ago he called my attention to the apple. I top grafted a few trees and fruited them and believed it would be a valuable addition to our list. I give this statement at length because it is in the nurseries and is cataloged in a great many states and will doubtlessly be of interest to a great many planters as well as nursery men.”

At this point finding Brightwater, if it’s still out there, will take a concentrated effort from apple hunters who know what they’re looking for, heirloom growers throughout the nation who may have Brightwater in their collection, and contact with folks in Brightwater and nearby Avoca who perhaps have old apple trees growing on their property. A daunting task but I take heart with what Scott wrote: “If we can find it, we can save it.”

So, four questions, zero answers. That’s the problem with a wild goose chase—sometimes you run into a dead-end or the search is greater than what you have time for. But the interesting bits of history that you learn and the generous, helpful people you meet along the way sure are fun. My grateful thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my questions.

There are a number of marvelous turn-of-the-20th-century images of Arkansas fruit in the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection. The National Agricultural Library is in the process of digitizing their American catalogs in the Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection.  As of February 2017 they had over 26,000 catalogs digitized!

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist and research librarian.


Back to the Land

Back-to-the-landers Gary and Cindy Davidson with their homegrown turnips and cabbage, 1974. Courtesy Nancy Marshall

Living off the land was a necessity for the settlers who moved to Northwest Arkansas in the 1800s. They had to build shelter and farm in order to survive. But over the years there have been individuals and groups for whom self-sufficiency was a deliberate choice brought on by economic, political, or ideological reasons. Today urban and rural homesteading is in vogue, especially with a younger generation who want to live a DIY lifestyle.

To some degree these modern homesteaders are revisiting the back-to-the-land movement that stemmed from the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. Whether because of disillusionment with government or society, a need to return to basics, or some other reason, in the early 1970s young people began moving to rural areas in large numbers. There they attempted to build their own homes, grow their own food, and live simply. While some found success, for others their idealism and energy couldn’t overcome the challenges they faced.

When I was an undergrad at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville I worked with another student on a small research project which recorded the oral histories of local back-to-the-landers. As I listened to their stories, I couldn’t imagine having the gumption to leave behind all that was familiar and comfortable for what would surely be a hardscrabble existence. Maybe that’s why I find back-to-the-land stories fascinating.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing artist and business entrepreneur Cindy Arsaga for several years and was surprised to learn that she, too, once lived off the land in Northwest Arkansas. Recently she recorded an oral history interview with museum outreach coordinator Susan Young. Cindy also shared photos from her friend and fellow homesteader, Nancy Sullivan Marshall.

Shortly after Cindy Cadwallader graduated from Central High School in Little Rock in 1972, she married Gary Davidson. They and a group of like-minded friends lived together in a house in North Little Rock. Most of them considered themselves born-again Christians.

Our idea was to buy some land and build a house on it and make a commune. . . . I was just 18 years old and everybody else was roughly the same age so we were…young and looking for what we wanted to do next. . . . We just didn’t want to live like everybody else did. We wanted to do something different.

That winter they made plans and gathered supplies. A friend told them about inexpensive land in Madison County, a place which was then attracting many back-to-the-landers. In the spring of 1973 Cindy and Gary loaded everything they owned into a 1954 Chevy truck and drove up the Pig Trail (Highway 23) to a 40-acre parcel of land just off of Slow Tom Mountain Road, near Witter.

Gary and Cindy Davidson's tent, Madison County, Arkansas, circa 1974

This was home sweet home for Gary and Cindy Davidson when they moved to Madison County, Arkansas, in 1973. Courtesy Nancy Marshall

Together with friends Dawn and Robbie Carder, Nancy and Tim Sullivan, and John Toliver they built platforms for tents, cooked over an open fire, and got to know their neighbors. While the men built a foundation for a house, the women traveled daily to Fayetteville to work at Brough Commons, the main dining hall on the University of Arkansas campus. And then fall came.

It was starting to get cold. I think about November [neighbor Glen Haught] came walking down the hill one day. . . . [H]e sat down and said, “You guys are going to freeze. You have to come live in my house with me.” We couldn’t believe that he would want all of us and the dogs and cats . . . but he did. So we eventually loaded all of our stuff up and moved into Glen’s house and spent the winter with him.

Now you might think that there would be a clash between young hippies and old-time rural farmers, but that wasn’t so in Cindy’s case.

Those people just took us under their wing. They loved it that we were there. . . . I’m sure they thought that we were crazy but they . . . were never mean to us. They were so sweet to us. They wanted to help, they wanted us to not freeze. They wanted to teach us their ways, ‘cause we were interested and their kids all moved away. . . . So I think they were just amazed that we were there and that we really cared about it. They embraced us, we embraced them. We loved them. They were great.

Glen Haught home, Madison County, Arkansas, circa 1973

From left: Glen Haught, John Toliver, and neighbor Lester Estep outside of Glen’s home, 1973-1974. Courtesy Nancy Marshall

Cindy appreciated her neighbors’ resourcefulness and open-heartedness. Generations earlier, Glen Haught’s kinfolk helped settle the area in the 1800s. In many ways Glen and his neighbors were already living the back-to-the-land lifestyle. Maybe that’s why the two groups didn’t clash.

They lived on next to nothing and they were just as happy with that as anybody could be. They didn’t need a lot; they got a lot from the land. They just connected with people in such an open, charming way. . . . They told us everything they could. They filled us up with all their information and taught us how to raise chickens and taught us how to have a garden and how to hunt ginseng.

In the spring they planted a garden at Glen’s house but the stress of their lifestyle was taking its toll. The group was breaking apart. In part it was because of their Christianity—some people were more into it than others. But relationships were strained, too. These young couples were living a hard life at the same time they were learning to live with each other. And the isolation of rural Madison County didn’t help. In the end their back-to-the-land commune wasn’t working. People started to leave. Cindy and Gary were the last to go, moving to a more conventional life in Fayetteville late in the summer of 1974.

It was just such a relief to be back among people. . . . I was ready to start my life. And it wasn’t going to be living in the woods in Madison County. But that had been such a formative experience that I felt enabled to go out into the world and do something. And I think it was just from having done that and accomplished it and lived through it. . . . I think it was all about growing up.

Cindy Arsaga, 2013

Cindy Arsaga tells her story to Shiloh Museum outreach coordinator Susan Young, July 2013.

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist and research librarian.