While I was young, I had the pleasure of attending two of the Old Soldier Reunions at the Elkhorn Tavern. The first was in 1927 and the second was in 1932.
In 1927, the Pitts family was living on the old Benjamin Ruddick place in a house that bordered on the Liberty School ground. This house was about a half mile from the Elkhorn Tavern. I went the last day of the reunion of which was March 8, 1927. I was with my mother. I can remember that there was a big dinner put on by the neighbors for the old soldiers, and it was held under the large walnut tree south of the tavern. It was the same walnut tree that had the top shot out of it during the Battle of Pea Ridge.
Then, the procession moved over to the monument section of the Elkhorn grounds. There was a huge bonfire lit and the veterans of the Pea Ridge battle gave speeches. I can remember vividly three speeches. The first speaker said that he had joined the Union Army when he was only 15 years old and had lied about his age to do so. He related that he was a drummer boy in the Union Army and had beat the cadence on the Union March from Cross Hollows to the Sugar Creek. The next soldier said that he had got a good firing position in the log smoke house at the Elkhorn Tavern until some fool set fire to the smoke house. The next speaker got up and said that he was the fool that had set fire to the smoke house. My mother said that she thought that the last two speakers had fabricated their stories or at least the last speaker had grabbed the occasion to make a joke. It sure left a lasting impression on this 7-year-old boy.
In 1932, you could say that I worked all three days of the reunion. Ramsey Scott, the husband of Lydia Cox Scott, was the owner of the Elkhorn Tavern and the large farm that it was situated on. He owned a very large St. Bernard dog. He had fixed a water keg on the dog's collar and had hired three neighborhood boys to lead the dog from 4 p.m. until the bonfire was set afire just before dark.
The three boys were Byron Pratt, J.P. Wilhite and myself. For this job the three boys got a quarter a day for the three days. We would lead the dog around the tavern and then out and around the monuments.
After the bonfire was lit, there were speeches from the old soldiers, and as I remember there were only two speakers. It being 70 years since the battle, the old soldiers were about died off. After the speakers, there was a fiddlers' contest, and as I remember, Ward Bond, one of northwest Arkansas' best fiddlers, won the contest. After the fiddlers' contest they turned loose the fox hounds, and all of the old timers sat around the campfire and listened to the hounds chase the fox.
There was no Old Soldiers Reunion held at the Elkhorn Tavern in 1933 nor has there been one since. I would guess that they had finally run out of old Civil War veterans.
Dick Rice was born and raised on the Winton Springs farm. His mother was a Winton, and I don't know which Rice was his father. Dick had become a lawyer and had a practice in Bartlesville, Okla. He had bought the Winton Springs farm and was making a showplace out of it. His mother and other Winton sisters still lived in the big house near the large spring.
Up on the new highway that was opened in 1931, there was a wooded area and Dick had made a park out of it. He had bought the old Lasater log house located about two miles east of Pea Ridge and had it dismantled and moved to his park and rebuilt. His uncle Solly Rice was the caretaker of the park. He had placed several Civil War relics in the log house.
He had bought an old sorghum mill and in the fall Solly would make sorghum to display to the tourists how sorghum was made in the Ozarks. Dick had bought two young oxen in hopes that they could be trained to pull the pole that powered the press that squeezed the juice from the sorghum cane. The two oxen were named Tom and Jerry.
For the better part of two years the hired help on the Winton Spring farm trained Tom and Jerry to work. It always amazed me to see three grown men, two leading and one driving, Tom and Jerry up and down the road pulling an oxcart. They finally had Tom and Jerry trained to do about any kind of work except pull the pole at the sorghum mill. Tom and Jerry simply refused to go round and round pulling the pole.
So now Dick had to change his plan and he bought a cane press that was run by a gasoline engine for Solly to press the cane with.
The Centennial for Benton County and the state of Arkansas was in 1936. Dick Rice asked his cousin Radus Rice to prepare a skit of some sort for the Centennial Day observation at the log cabin and sorghum mill. Radus and five other men grew long beards and dressed like old soldiers that they knew and put on their skit at the park and other places. The only other man in the six that I knew was E.J. Taylor of Garfield. The other men were from Rogers and Bentonville. I am sure that the pictures of the six men is in one of the papers in the area. I was at the Rice park for that observation.
When I was very young I can remember two of the old Civil War veterans that had fought in the battle of Pea Ridge. One was the Rev. J. Wade Sikes who lived southwest of Rogers in the Fairview district. The other was named Morgan and was the husband of Lucy Morgan of whom they had named Lucy's Corner. When I saw the Rev. Sikes, he was visiting his old friend and fellow soldier Mr. Morgan. Morgan was very sick at the time and died soon after.
I was surprised to find out that my father knew the Rev. Sikes. Sikes had been a neighbor to my father's grandfather for many years in the Fairview neighborhood southwest of Rogers, and they belonged to the Pleasant View Baptist Church, in which both were considered as leaders.
In 1973, I was researching in the Benton County Historical Society Library. I had found a marriage license book that ran up to 1900 that the county had given to the Historical Library. I was looking up all of the Pitts' marriages and making copies of them.
I found that in any marriage that the wedding was held outside of the courthouse, by the justices of the peace or preachers, the marriage agent had to write a letter to the County Clerk verifying the wedding and the letters had been put in the book loose next to the license. Most of the letters had been removed by the people searching the book.
The lady running the library told me that if I found a letter that was written for one of my kinfolk, I was welcome to take it because it had no further purpose in the marriage book. When I found the marriage of my great uncle Benjamin Franklin Pitts and Margaret Mc-Daniel, the letter was still in the book and it had been written by Sikes. It stated that in the bride's home, on Nov. 16, 1876, he had held the wedding of Benjamin Franklin Pitts and Margaret Elizabeth McDaniel and they were duly married.
I have the letter and will put it in the Pea Ridge Historical Society Museum when we have it opened. It was written on a yellow page of a nickel school tablet.
Editor's note: This column was originally published Sept. 13, 2006. Joe Pitts (1920-2008) was a native of Pea Ridge and regular columnist for the newspaper. He began writing a column for The Times in 2000 initially entitled "Things Happen" by Joe "Pea Patch" Pitts.