An Arkansas Planter by Opie Percival Read

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Lying along the Arkansas River, a few miles below Little Rock, there is a broad strip of country that was once the domain of a lordly race of men. They were not lordly in the sense of conquest; no rusting armor hung upon their walls; no ancient blood-stains blotched their stairways—there were no skeletons in dungeons deep beneath the banquet hall. But in their own opinion they were just as great as if they had possessed these gracious marks of medieval distinction. Their country was comparatively new, but their fathers came mostly from Virginia and their whisky came wholly from Kentucky. Their cotton brought a high price in the Liverpool market, their daughters were celebrated for beauty, and their sons could hold their own with the poker players that traveled up and down the Mississippi River. The slave trade had been abolished, and, therefore, what remained of slavery was right; and in proof of it the pulpit contributed its argument. Negro preachers with wives scattered throughout the community urged their fellow bondsmen to drop upon their knees and thank God for the privilege of following a mule in a Christian land. The merciless work of driving the negroes to their tasks was performed by men from the North. Many a son of New England, who, with emotion, had listened to Phillips and to Garrison, had afterward hired his harsh energies to the slave owner. And it was this hard driving that taught the negro vaguely to despise the abolitionist. But as a class the slaves were not unhappy. They were ignorant, but the happiest song is sometimes sung by ignorance. They believed the Bible as read to them by the preachers, and the Bible told them that God had made them slaves; so, at evening, they twanged rude strings and danced the "buck" under the boughs of the cottonwood tree. On the vine-shaded veranda the typical old planter was wont to sit, looking up and down the road, watching for a friend or a stranger—any one worthy to drink a gentleman's liquor, sir. His library was stocked with romances. He knew English history as handed down to him by the sentimentalist. He hated the name of king, but revered an aristocracy. No business was transacted under his roof; the affairs of his estate were administered in a small office, situated at the corner of the yard. His wife and daughters, arrayed in imported finery, drove about in a carriage. New Orleans was his social center, and he had been known to pay as much as a thousand dollars for a family ticket to a ball at the St. Charles hotel. His hospitality was known everywhere. He was slow to anger, except when his honor was touched upon, and then he demanded an apology or forced a fight. He was humorous, and yet the consciousness of his own dignity often restrained his enjoyment of the ludicrous. When the cotton was in bloom his possessions were beautiful. On a knoll he could stand and imagine that the world was a sea of purple. That was the Arkansas planter years ago, before the great sentimental storm swept down upon him, before an evening's tea-table talk in Massachusetts became a tornado of iron in Virginia. When ragged and heart-sore he returned from the army, from as brave a fight as man ever engaged in, he sat down to dream over his vanished greatness. But his dream was short. He went to work, not to re-establish his former condition of ease—for that hope was beyond him—but to make a living for his family. On a knoll overlooking the Arkansas River stood the Cranceford homestead. The site was settled in 1832, by Captain Luke Cranceford, who had distinguished himself in an Indian war. And here, not long afterward, was born John Cranceford, who years later won applause as commander of one of the most stubborn batteries of the Confederate Army. The house was originally built of cypress logs, but as time passed additions of boards and brick were made, resulting in a formless but comfortable habitation, with broad passage ways and odd lolling places set to entrap cool breezes. The plantation comprised about one thousand acres. The land for the most part was level, but here and there a hill arose, like a sudden jolt. From right to left the tract was divided by a bayou, slow and dark. The land was so valuable that most of it had been cleared years ago, but in the wooded stretches the timber was thick, and in places the tops of the trees were laced together with wild grape vines. Far away was a range of pine-covered hills, blue cones in the distance. And here lived the poorer class of people, farmers who could not hope to look to the production of cotton, but who for a mere existence raised thin hogs and nubbins of corn. In the lowlands the plantations were so large and the residences so far apart that the country would have appeared thinly settled but for the negro quarters here and there, log villages along the bayous

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Published May 12, 2012 by University of California Libraries. 141 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, History, Children's Books, Religion & Spirituality, Humor & Entertainment. Fiction

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