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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Wild Man of the Mountain

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By Dr. Curtis Varnell

My former student, Bobby Mackey, best describes the Civil War in Arkansas in his book title; The Uncivil War. This region was torn between North and South and it was often a no-holds bared battle of survival.

The inhabitants of the Arkansas River Valley were much divided in loyalty as the war began. Many were members of the home guard, a group similar to the National Guard of today, and were called into duty for the Confederacy. After Pea Ridge, many of these men returned home and determined they would never again fight for the Confederacy. A group of several hundred of these men organized under a former confederate, William Heffington. Heffington was raised around Belleville and knew Magazine Mountain well. He organized a large contingent of men of similar interest and began raiding confederate sympathizers throughout the region. At Indian Springs near Danville, he raided a union camp of 220 men, killing many of the men without mercy. He raided within miles of Dardanelle and terrorized the region. As the result of his actions, he was given the name of “Wild Bill.”

In February of 1863, he led over one hundred local men into Fayetteville and joined the Union Army as the 1st Arkansas Infantry. A list of the recruits read like a roll book from Franklin, Logan, and Yell counties. Familiar names included the Whites, Rogers, Massongill, Adams, Parker, Finks, Lipe, and others. The locals got their first initiation in battle in April at the Battle of Fayetteville and were able to hold their own against the southern forces.

Fayetteville-first-light-artillery
Fayetteville First Light Artillery

Wild Bill and some of his men returned to Magazine Mountain to recruit additional men. A group of the men hid out on snake knob right off the peak of the mountain and lived in the many caves that riddled the mountain. From the flat-top of the ridge, they could see their homes. Wives would hang out colored clothing to let them know it was safe to come home for short visits. Continuing to raid the region and attack wagon trains of confederate supplies, the commander of the Southern forces at Dardanelle sent some 125 men to capture the wild man. Heffington and his men ambushed the Confederates as they came up the gap at Snake gap and defeated them in the ensuing battle.

Running low on supplies, Wild Bill, now with a $1,500 price on his head, determined he would seek out the regular Union army and get assistance. Traveling secretly, he decided to hide his favorite rifle, Silversides, in the cleft of a rock cliff. Caleb McBride, a relative, supposedly knew of Bills plans and informed the enemy. Bill was caught and, according to which story you prefer, hung, shot, or drowned by the confederates as he tried to cross the Mulberry River.

So ended the life of one of the notorious men of the Civil War era. After the war, the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s post was named the Heffington Post. Several years later, families living in Cox valley located a civil war rifle in a cleft of rock. The rifle was sold to a museum collector in Kansas. Later, a civil war pistol was found in a nearby pasture and is still owned by Elda Bynum. Recently, a hideout was discovered on the south side of Magazine. Remnants of the Civil War and “Wild Bill?” Sometimes history leaves much to be answered!!

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Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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