The Brooks-Baxter War and the Battle at Palarm
by Robert W. Meriwether


Following the devastating Civil War, Arkansas experienced a hectic ten-year (1865-1874) period of great social, political, and economic change known as Reconstruction. A highlight of the Reconstruction period was the so-called Brooks-Baxter War in April-May 1874. The article below emphasizes a battle fought near Palarm at the southern tip of Faulkner County.

 
The Arkansas gubernatorial election of 1872 must have been confusing to the voters. Joseph Brooks, a former Methodist minister and a "carpetbagger" from Missouri, was the candidate of the "Brindletail" Republicans with support of some "scalawags" and Democrats. Elisha Baxter, a "scalawag" from Batesville and a former slaveholder who had opposed Arkansas's secession from the Union in 1861, was the candidate of the "Minstrel" Republicans and most of the "carpetbaggers." (1) The Democratic Party, which was primarily composed of disenfranchised ex-Confederates, nominated no candidate for governor, and many enfranchised Democrats refused to vote for either of the Republican candidates.
 
The election was conducted with fraud, violence, and intimidation on both sides, and no returns at all came from four counties. Joseph Brooks received 1,045 votes to Elisha Baxter's 680 in Conway County, which then included most of what became Faulkner County five months later. (2) The Minstrels claimed that Baxter won statewide by nearly 3,000 votes, and he took office in January 1873. Brooks filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging these actions.
 
The political alignments became even more confusing. Within a year, Governor Baxter's policies had alienated U. S. Senator (and former governor) Powell Clayton and many other Minstrel leaders. After striking a bargain with Joseph Brooks, the Minstrels got a Pulaski County circuit judge to declare Baxter's election void, and Brooks was sworn in as governor. On April 15, 1874, Brooks and several armed supporters forced Baxter to vacate his office in the state capitol (now the Old Statehouse on Markham Street in Little Rock). Many Democrats rallied to the support of the ousted chief executive, who had set up a new office in Little Rock's only hotel.
 
These efforts in 1874 to remove Elisha Baxter from his post as Governor of Arkansas and replace him with Joseph Brooks resulted in the so-called Brooks-Baxter War, "a fracus somewhat less serious than a war but more serious and bloody than a farce." Armed men engaged in conflict in Pulaski County, Jefferson County, and elsewhere. "Overall, some 200 persons were killed in scattered disturbances, including some innocent bystanders in Little Rock caught between the lines when gunfire erupted.” (3)
 
According to a news story, on May 6, 1874 the citizens of the town of Conway (who had been "thrown into considerable excitement") stopped and confiscated a south-bound railroad locomotive operated by "a colored man." The Conway people, who were "a unit on the Baxter side," assumed that the locomotive was going to pick up two empty boxcars and use them to convey armed men to Little Rock in support of Joseph Brooks. (4)
 
Armed Forces Converge at Palarm
 
The next day Elisha Baxter received word that a barge loaded with arms and recruits for the Brooks forces in Little Rock was coming down the Arkansas River from Fort Smith. (5) An armed group of some 25 to 30 men loyal to Baxter went to the Little Rock riverfront and took charge of the steamboat "Hallie." These men, known as the "Hallie Rifles," placed bales of cotton to protect the boat's machinery and to act as breastworks for the riflemen. The "Hallie" left Little Rock at 3 o'clock in the morning of Friday, May 8, and steamed up the river to intercept the barge.
 
In the meantime, a regiment of some 200 armed "colored" men who supported Brooks came on a special train (from either Fort Smith or Little Rock, depending on the source) and disembarked at Palarm Station, where the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad tracks ran near the river bank. Their purpose was to intercept the "Hallie" coming upriver. The forthcoming clash of arms would occur in an area which is today a part of Faulkner County. (6)
 
After stopping at Natural Steps to take on fuel wood, the "Hallie" was proceeding upstream. Suddenly a "terrific volley" of shots was fired at the steamer from behind rocks along the northern (eastern) bank of the river near Palarm. The Hallie Rifles returned the fire. The shooting continued for ten to fifteen minutes. One stray bullet pierced the supply pipe between the
 

Arkansas History Commission
An illustration by an unknown artist of "The Battle at Palarm,” May 8, 1874.
 
vessel's boiler and engine, thus cutting off its power, and the boat drifted downriver, out of gun range, and lodged on the southern (western) shore. (7) The boat's captain, a pilot, and one rifleman were killed; the other pilot and three or four riflemen were wounded. One source stated that the Brooks regiment suffered one man killed and three wounded; another report was that five men were killed and "quite a number" wounded.
 
The commander of the Hallie Rifles ran up a white flag on the grounded steamer, and all of the men except the wounded and an attending surgeon left the boat and "took to the land." The vessel was taken over and repaired by the Brooks forces, which then proceeded by boat and train to Little Rock.
 
With Brooks in the capitol building and Baxter less than three blocks away in the Anthony House on Markham between Main and Scott, widespread fighting in the capital city was prevented only by the presence of Federal troops on Markham Street between Main and Louisiana and on the corner of Second and Louisiana. State government was at a standstill, and both sides appealed to President Ulysses S. Grant for support.
 
On May 11 the Arkansas Gazette reported that about 200 men of "the Brooks mob" had crossed the Arkansas River from Little Rock to Argenta (now North Little Rock) by steamer and the railroad bridge "to intercept a company from Faulkner County, and another from Batesville, to reinforce Baxter." There was some shooting before Federal troops intervened, but it cannot be determined if any Faulkner County men were wounded or killed.
 
The Arkansas General Assembly convened on May 13 and passed a resolution declaring that Baxter was the legal chief executive of the State and calling on President Grant to protect the people of Arkansas from domestic violence. The President had become convinced that Baxter had the support of a majority of Arkansans. On May 15, President Grant ordered all "turbulent and disorderly persons to disperse and return peaceably to their respective abodes" and to "submit themselves to the lawful authority" of Elisha Baxter. (8)
 
The President's order effectively ended the "war," and celebrations were held in Little Rock and other Arkansas towns. It was reported from Conway that five hundred anvils were fired and a United States flag was raised bearing the inscription, "Hurrah for Baxter, the People's Governor!" (9) Joseph Brooks vacated the capitol building and ordered his forces disbanded; he was later rewarded with appointment as Little Rock postmaster. After 34 hectic days, the Brooks-Baxter War was over and "an uneasy peace once more reigned in Arkansas."
 
 
Footnotes:
 
(1) “Carbetbaggers" were Yankees who moved to the South after the Civil War. "Scalawags" were Arkansans who cooperated with the Reconstruction government. "Minstrels" were Republicans led by the carpetbagger Governor, Powell Clayton. and allied with the national Stalwart Republicans in support of President U. S. Grant. "Brindletails" were Republicans who opposed Governor Clayton and who allied themselves with the national Liberal Republicans in opposition to the allegedly corrupt and incompetent Grant administration.
 
(2) Arkansas Gazette (Jan. 23, 1873), p. 2.
 
(3) Michael B. Dougan, Arkansas Odyssey (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Co., 1994), pp. 258-263. For more detailed accounts of the Brooks-Baxter War, see Benjamin S. Johnson, "The Brooks-Baxter War," Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, Vol. 2 (1908), pp. 122-173; James H. Atkinson, "The Brooks-Baxter Contest," Arkansas Historical Quarterly, IV, 2 (Summer 1945), pp. 124-149; and Earl F. Woodward, "The Brooks and Baxter War in Arkansas, 1872-1874," Arkansas Historical Quarterly, XXX, 4 (Winter 1971), pp. 315-336.
 
(4) Arkansas Gazette (May 9, 1874).
 
(5) The arms allegedly consisted of 160 rifles belonging to Arkansas Industrial University at Fayetteville.
 
(6) When Faulkner County was created in April 1873 from portions of Conway and Pulaski counties, Palarm Station remained in Pulaski. In December 1875, the state legislature changed the boundary line so that the station and an area between Palarm Creek and the Arkansas River was transferred to Faulkner County. Since at that time the creek entered the river some three and a half miles south of its present mouth, there was created the almost inaccessible appendix extending to the south of the rest of Faulkner County. The 1875 act also transferred the Olmstead - Warsaw - Zion Hill area south of Otto from Faulkner back to Pulaski County. For the boundary provisions of the 1873 and 1875 statutes, see Brooks Green and Shelea McKenzie, "Establishment of the County," Faulkner County: Its Land and People (Conway: Faulkner County Historical Society, 1986), pp. 13-14.
 
(7) The Arkansas River generally runs from west to east, with a northern shore and a southern shore. However, since in the Palarm area the river flows from north to south, the northern shore appears as the eastern bank and the southern shore as the western bank.
 
(8) Johnson, pp. 161, 164-165.
 
(9) Arkansas Gazette (May 19, 1874), p. 4. For a description of how to "fire" an anvil, see page 84 of this issue of Facts and Fiddlings.
 
The Brooks-Baxter War and the Battle at Palarm (1874)
Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings
Fall and Winter, 1995
Volume XXXVII, Nos. 3-4
 
 
Here is the description...
 
The procedure for shooting anvils was to place one anvil bottom upward on the ground, good and solid. The depression in the center of the anvil held slightly less than one-half pint of gunpowder. This was placed in the depression with a little trail of the gunpowder going over to the side. Then the other anvil was placed upright over the bottom anvil holding the charge of gunpowder. The red hot end of the iron rod was then touched to the powder trail coming to the side. This detonated the charge and when it went off it blew the top anvil about two feet into the air and made a noise that jarred the whole town.