Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Michael C. Pierce

Committee Member

Patrick G. Williams

Second Committee Member

Jeannie Whayne


1862 Homestead Act, American South, Arkansas, Illicit distilling, Ouachita Mountains, Upland South


Community was key to successful subsistence agriculture in Arkansas, especially in the Ouachita foothills in southwest Arkansas (including Polk, Howard, Montgomery, Pike, Garland Counties) and Oklahoma (McCurtain, Pittsburgh, LeFlore Counties) until the 1940s. Nearly a quarter of Arkansas’s land remained in the federal government’s name twenty years after statehood, and even more of the land in the western Ouachita foothills. Much remains unknown about how farming communities were formed in this area from the end of the Civil War until approximately World War II. As seen in the Duckett community in northern Howard County, while family connections were important to supporting farming communities, these communities also needed people who were not related to each other, in part, so that marriages and family growth could occur. Studying white women homesteaders in north Howard and south Polk Counties shows that Ouachita women homesteaded in community because subsistence farming was family-labor based. Some women used homesteading as an alternative to family building. In the late nineteenth century, distillers were a part of every rural Ouachita community, providing access to cash and to local alcohol. An 1894 campaign by the Democratic administration to “exterminate” distillers focused on so-called Populist strongholds in an effort to increase federal revenue from distilling while cutting tariffs. Once a dozen distillers were sent to prison in New York, the revenuers began cutting deals with other distillers. By 1896, the Kansas City Southern Railroad’s arrival opened other ways to access cash and alcohol. The apparent disappearance of Black people in parts of the Ouachitas (like Polk County) was a pragmatic response by Black people to their communities’ lack of size. Black people, like white people, moved to places where they could marry, send their kids to school, and go to church. When Black people could choose where to live, most chose to live in communities where they could grow their families and farm together. When they disappeared from an area, white people might use their disappearance as evidence of modernity. The relatively successful response of the Black community to horrifying white violence in Buckville on the edge of Montgomery and Garland Counties in 1919 shows the advantages of living in community. After two white men were convicted, a nearby Black community in Caddo Gap grew in number and percentage in 1920 versus 1910. That said, many Buckville residents continued moving (already begun before 1919) to other nearby Black farming communities in Yell County, Peno (Le Flore County), Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Finally, I return to Duckett community, where connections formed in Duckett persist for decades. Current residents of the Duckett area have to make decisions about whether the advantages of staying are outweighed by the disadvantages, just as was true a hundred years ago. Decoration, burials, and family reunions continue even though many families no longer live in the Ouachitas. Through all of these chapters, we see a common thread of community, of mutual assistance, and reliance on each other.