Home of the Hoo-Hoo

THIRTEENTH IN A SERIES

It was Jan. 21, 1892, when six men formed a fraternal organization of lumbermen with a unique name: The Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

The birthplace of the organization was Gurdon, which we pass through on our trip toward Texarkana on U.S. 67.

“The men saw a need for an organization to promote unity and fellowship among lumbermen and to combat a possible split brought on by the lumbermen’s broad range of pursuits,” Rachel Bridges writes for the Central Arkansas Library System’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “The six men — Bolling Arthur Johnson, a journalist for the publication Timberman in Chicago; George Washington Schwartz of the Vandalia Railroad in St. Louis; William Starr Mitchell of the Arkansas Democrat at Little Rock; William Eddy Barns of the publication St. Louis Lumberman; George Kimball Smith, secretary of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association; and Rudolph Strauss of the Malvern Lumber Co. — began discussing the idea of an organization for lumbermen.

“In Hotel Hall at Gurdon, the men set up the basic tenets of the order. Hoo-Hoo was to be an organization comprised of men with high ideals, and the order’s motto became Health, Happiness and Long Life. The group, led by Johnson, decided that the board of directors would be called the Supreme Nine.”

The directors were given these names:

— The president was the Snark of the Universe.

— The chaplain was the Bojum.

— The secretary was the Scrivenoter.

— The sergeant at arms was the Gurdon.

— At-large members were Senior Hoo-Hoo, Junior Hoo-Hoo, Custocacian, Arcanoper and Bandersnatch (later changed to Jabberwock).

“Some of the names were derived from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark,’ which one of the founders had recently read,” Bridges writes. “The name Hoo-Hoo also had a unique origin. In Kansas City, about a month before the founding of the order, Johnson had used the term to refer to an unusual tuft of hair on the head of Charles McCarer, who became the first Snark of the Universe and was given membership No. 1.

“Consistent with their unconventionality, the group chose as its mascot a black cat with its tail curved into the number nine. Membership in Hoo-Hoo was to be limited to 9,999 members. As the order increased in popularity, this number was changed to 99,999. Meetings were held on the ninth day of the ninth month at nine minutes after the ninth hour. Annual dues were $9.99, and the initiation fee was 99 cents.”

The organization would grow to include more than 13,000 members.

“The first club established outside the United States was founded in Canada in 1924, and other groups sprouted up in places as far away as Australia,” Bridges writes. “Though the Hoo-Hoo experienced a slump from 1929-38, when membership dropped to around 700, the order recovered and membership began to rise again. Two U.S. presidents have had membership. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reserved membership No. 999 for his work promoting the importance of forests. Warren Harding was No. 14,945 and was ‘concatenated’ in 1905.”

In 1981, the organization moved its headquarters from Boston back to Gurdon.

In the southeastern corner of the parking lot for Gurdon’s depot, there’s a granite-and-bronze Hoo-Hoo monument by artist George Zolnay. The monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1999.

“In 1891, there were many local and state associations of lumbermen but no national order had been established,” writes Arkansas historian Mark Christ. “In order to promote communications, foster cooperation and create a shared code of ethics for the lumber industry and its workers, Johnson aspired to create a fraternity of lumbermen.”

The men who formed the association had been in Camden for a meeting of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association. A delayed train stranded them in Gurdon for five hours.

“The organization borrowed some concepts from historical Egyptian lore for the titles, symbols and rituals of the fraternity,” Christ writes. “The theme of ‘nine’ came from the legendary number of a cat’s lives. In 1909, five of the founding members of the order — Johnson, Barns, Mitchell, Schwartz and Smith — gathered in Gurdon to dedicate the Hoo-Hoo monument. The plaque, cast from the copper in pennies donated by Hoo-Hoo members, was affixed to the building that stood on the site of Hotel Hall.

“In 1927, the building holding the Hoo-Hoo monument was scheduled for demolition, and the bronze plaque was moved across Main Street to its current location adjacent to the Missouri Pacific Railroad depot. There, it was affixed to a permanent barre granite base and dedicated for a second time. The bronze plaque inset on the northwestern side is divided into three horizontal levels and is decorated with Egyptian revival-influenced reliefs and engravings, as well as a small relief of Hotel Hall. The names of all Hoo-Hoo presidents — or Snarks of the Universe — were engraved on the opposite sides of the monument, and two statues of cats, as they appear on the Hoo-Hoo logo, were placed atop the new monument.”

Zolnay had been born in Hungary in July 1863. He moved to the United States in 1892 after having studied at the Imperial Academy in Vienna and the National Academy in Bucharest. He was a member of artists’ unions in Europe and the United States.

“Zolnay specialized in large memorial sculptures and architectural sculptures,” Christ writes. “In addition to the Hoo-Hoo monument, he’s known to have executed other small-scale bronze works, including the relief panel on the monument for Gen. Richard L. Hoxie and his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Zolnay died on May 1, 1949, in New York City. The identities of the sculptor of the cats and the fabricator of the granite monument on which the Zolnay plaque is set are unknown. However, these elements have been a part of the monument since its 1927 relocation and contribute to the overall integrity of the Hoo-Hoo monument.

“After its move to the current location, the monument remained a center point of the group’s identity. The names of succeeding generations of Rameses — the title given to Snarks of the Universe after their tenure as president of the organization ended — were engraved on its reverse side, providing additional historic and traditional importance to the monument in its 1927 location and manifestation. In fact, the monument was utilized by the organization continually until 1988, when there was no additional space to inscribe the names of Snarks. Two smaller granite monuments were purchased to carry the names of future Snarks. Those monuments flank the original monument.”

The first white settlers had arrived in the Gurdon area shortly before 1820.

“Capt. Robert Tate, his siblings and other family members were the first group to travel up the Ouachita River and arrive in the area,” writes historian David Sesser of Henderson State University. “Each purchased several hundred acres of land from the government land office at Washington in southwest Arkansas. This initial purchase included the land where Gurdon now stands. The population grew slowly. In 1836, Meriwether Lewis Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, arrived in the area. He bought several thousand acres near the present-day location of Gurdon but died of malaria in 1837 before much work was completed on his holdings.

“Settlers continued to slowly enter the area in small numbers during the next several decades. The area next experienced a large influx of settlers in 1874 when the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was constructed. On July 12, 1875, a post office was opened but closed that same year on Oct. 18. On March 15, 1876, the post office at Tate was renamed Gurdon. A small depot was constructed, and by 1880 the town had been laid out. That year, 33 citizens petitioned the court to incorporate the city of Gurdon, which was approved.”

Gurdon appears to have been named for Gurdon Cunningham, who surveyed the right of way for the railroad in the area. Gurdon became an important center of both the railroad and timber industries.

“The number of mills operating in the area reached a peak of 10 in the late 19th century,” Sesser writes. “The combination of people passing through town on the railroad and the rough nature of the timber business brought many unsavory characters to Gurdon. When the first minister arrived in 1881, he found a community of 500 people with three saloons and no churches. The situation changed by 1887 when all saloons were banned. Several churches were founded during this period.

“The first newspaper was founded at Gurdon in 1886 and was called the Gurdon Advocate. After several changes in both name and ownership, it became the Gurdon Times. In 1892, an African American known only by his surname of Bowles was lynched for the alleged rape of a young white woman, Nellie Wilkes. In 1903, an African American man named Alex Thompson was lynched for allegedly attacking a local doctor.”

Gurdon has always been an interesting place. Not only do you have those cats curled atop the Hoo-Hoo monument, its high school athletic teams are known as the Go-Devils (which is actually a type of equipment used to drag heavy logs).

And then there’s the Gurdon Light.

Staci Morrow writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: “The Gurdon Light is a mysterious floating light near Gurdon. It was first sighted during the 1930s. Many theories exist to explain the light, including one which connects it to the 1931 murder of William McClain, a railroad worker. The popular local legend drew national attention in December 1994 when NBC’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ documented the phenomenon.

“The light is said to appear along a stretch of former railroad tracks outside of town. Some people believe the light originates from the reflection of headlights of cars off Interstate 30. However, the site is more than two miles from the interstate, and people began seeing the light decades before Interstate 30 was built in the 1970s. Others believe that swamp gas creates the light, though the light appears in all kinds of weather. A somewhat popular story is that a railroad worker was working outside of town one night when he accidentally fell into the path of a train and was killed. Since his head was severed from his body, many locals say the light is the lantern his ghost uses while looking for his head.”

McClain was a foreman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in December 1931 when he got into a heated argument with employee Louis McBride regarding how many days McBride was being allowed to work.

“During the Great Depression, the company didn’t have the option of giving McBride more hours on the job,” Morrow writes. “McBride became angry, hit McClain on the head with a shovel and beat him to death with a railroad spike maul or a spike hammer. The Gurdon Light was first sighted shortly after this murder, and many have come to believe that the light is actually McClain’s ghostly lantern glowing.”

The site is a popular place for college students from Arkadelphia to visit, especially around Halloween.

We leave Gurdon and continue toward the southwest on U.S. 67 and soon find ourselves in the Little Missouri River bottoms. The river begins in the Ouachita Mountains of Polk County and flows to the southeast through Montgomery and Pike counties. Narrows Dam on the river was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and built in 1950 about six miles from Murfreesboro.

Below the dam, the river leaves the Ouachita foothills and enters the Gulf Coastal Plain. We cross it a bit to the west of where it empties into the Ouachita River.

We exit Clark County as we cross the river and enter Nevada County. The Legislature formed the county in 1871 from parts of Hempstead, Ouachita and Columbia counties.

“The reason for the selection of the county’s name has been lost,” Peggy Lloyd writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. “Sierra nevada, as in the Sierra Nevada in California, means ‘snowy range’ in Spanish. The county has no snowy mountains, but one theory holds that the shape of the county resembles that of the state of Nevada. Another perhaps more plausible theory is that the county was named for the silver-rich state of Nevada. The name may have been chosen in the hope that it would suggest riches comparable to those from Nevada’s famed Comstock mines. However, the county’s name isn’t pronounced like that of the state, featuring instead a long ‘a’ sound for the middle syllable.”

Stephen Vaughan and his wife Polly came up the Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers in about 1812, settling at a place on the Little Missouri later known as Janes Ferry.

“Vaughan was the first person in the county to be granted a federal land patent,” Lloyd writes. “He bought four tracts along the Little Missouri from the public domain. But he had been dead for two years by the time the patents were granted on Dec. 5, 1823. His widow established her claim to his estate and for years ran a ferry and an inn for travelers heading north to Hot Springs. Land patents in the county were few in the 1820s. Statehood in 1836 and the opening of the Red River to steamboat navigation spurred land sales in the late 1830s. Small farmers, larger planters with slaves and land speculators began to buy land out of the public domain. The flood of immigration in the 1850s accelerated the trend, which continued to the brink of the Civil War.

“Many settlers were Southerners and brought their slaves to establish cotton as a major cash crop. Larger slaveholders were especially prevalent in a band across southern Nevada County. Thomas Mendenhall of Jackson Township (then in Ouachita County) was a North Carolina native who spent years in Alabama before moving to Arkansas. With 99 slaves, he was the largest slaveholder in his township in 1860. Many African Americans in the region still bear the names of these early planters. In this mix were smaller farmers who owned few slaves, if any. Many of the planters and farmers moved to Prescott after the railroad arrived in 1873 to pursue careers as merchants, businessmen, professional men and public officials.”

The northern part of the county had fewer large farms and slaveholders. At the time of the Civil War, there were no towns of any size in what would become Nevada County.

“The first county court convened on May 8, 1871, at Mount Moriah, a country church that served as a temporary county seat since no incorporated cities or towns existed in the new county,” Lloyd writes. “Mount Moriah is still an active Methodist church between Prescott and Rosston. In 1872, a governor-appointed commission established Rosston as the county seat. On May 19, 1877, voters elected to move the government to the newly created railroad town of Prescott, where it has remained since July 2, 1877.

“The building of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad in 1873 shifted the focus to the new railroad towns of Boughton, Prescott and Emmet. By early 1874, the railroad was completed to Texarkana. In May 1874, it was reorganized as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern. The railroad attracted merchants from nearby counties such as Pike and Ouachita. Immigrants from other Southern and Midwestern states, as well as those from Canada and Europe, were in Nevada County by the 1880s.”

The population of the county grew from 12,959 in the 1880 census to 21,934 in the 1920 census. It has been falling ever since. There were just 8,997 Nevada County residents in the 2010 census.

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