With the holidays approaching, I have been busy shopping for Christmas gifts.
For friends and family with an interest in our state's history, I search the online catalog of the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville for its new titles in Arkansas studies. This year marks the 40th year since the Press was established with the considerable leadership of UA history professor and chancellor Willard B. Gatewood and English professor/poet/translator Miller Williams, both now deceased.
Over the past four decades, the UA Press has published scores of books which deal with just about every aspect of Arkansas heritage both natural and cultural. Coupled with a growing interest in publishing Arkansas topics by out-of-state presses, readers have more choices than ever before.
One of the advantages of university presses is their practice of keeping titles in print years after a commercial publisher would have remaindered them. So a perusal of the UA Press website turns up titles released years ago, as well as some published within recent months.
Over the years the UA Press developed special interests and areas of emphasis. Along with publishing poetry, it offers the Miller Williams Poetry Prize, which provides a cash stipend of $5,000 plus publication of the winning manuscript. This sort of specialization allowed the UA Press to develop an international reputation in publishing English language poetry.
I reluctantly concede that it makes sense for the Press to also specialize in sports studies. These titles range from the to-be-expected volumes on Razorback teams, players and coaches, yet it also turns out that the Press is a major publisher of books on boxing.
Fans of professional boxing might know (I had no idea) that the Press has published numerous books by John Hauser, the nation's premier boxing journalist (who is also a lawyer, biographer, novelist and generally acclaimed writer).
In addition, the Press specializes in books on art and architecture, African-American studies, food studies and the regions surrounding our state.
From its very beginning, the Press sought out manuscripts which would shed light on the state. Early on, it started a "History of Arkansas" series, resulting in the publication of books dealing with specific eras of the state's story.
S. Charles Bolton, who recently retired after a long career as professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, authored the first volume in the series, "Arkansas, Remote and Restless," which covered 1800 to 1860.
The Civil War years are the subject of "With Fire and Sword" by Thomas A. DeBlack of Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Carl H. Moneyhon, a longtime professor of history at UALR, contributes a fine volume titled "Arkansas and the New South, 1874-1929."
The series concludes with "Arkansas in Modern America," an impressively comprehensive chronicle of the state since 1930 by Ben F. Johnson III of Southern Arkansas University.
All of these historians are now retired; Bolton has used his retirement to produce some outstanding research, including his 2019 book "Fugitivism: Escaping Slavery in the Lower Mississippi Valley."
The UA Press has published numerous titles that contribute to opening the previously neglected fields of the state's Black history and biography. Bolton's book is the first detailed analysis of how enslaved people in Arkansas and other nearby states tried to escape their bonds. He makes extensive use of newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves, a source which, in the hands of an inquiring historian, can tell many stories.
Many of the runaways did not try to make their way north to free states or Canada, but rather sought to return to earlier homes -- sometimes over great distances. For example, Bolton cites the case of a newspaper advertisement in which Martin Miller of Fayetteville offers a reward of $50 for "a Negro man" who was "brought [to Arkansas] from Georgia, and is probably making his way back to that state."
William E. Woodruff, famed as the founder of the Arkansas Gazette newspaper, ran numerous ads for four different runaways; perhaps his frequent advertising was due to not having to pay for those ads.
Henry, who fled in 1836, was described by Woodruff as "a shrewd, sensible fellow" who could "invent a plausible story" and should be immediately placed in chains. Two of Woodruff's runaways -- Moses and Tom -- were advertised as most likely "lurking around this vicinity."
The UA Press frequently publishes first-time books by scholars new to Arkansas history and sometimes outside the field altogether. Such a scholar is Kathleen Condray, an associate professor of German at the UA, who has produced a most interesting look into the lives of German-speaking immigrants in 1890s Arkansas.
"Das Arkansas Echo: A Year in the Life of Germans in the Nineteenth-Century South" is her detailed examination of German life as seen through the Germans' primary newspaper, the Arkansas Echo, during its first year.
At the time of its founding in 1892, the Echo was the third German newspaper in Arkansas. The Arkansas Volksblatt was briefly published in Fort Smith. Die Arkansas Staatszeitung was situated in Little Rock and had a circulation of 1,775, compared to 750 for the Volksblatt and 650 for the Echo, also headquartered in the capital city.
Given the state's small German-speaking population, it is not surprising that Philip Dietzgen, editor of the Staatszeitung, would view the Echo as a competitor. However, the fact that the competition was so intense is surprising.
The first issue of the Echo was sabotaged when someone broke into the newspaper's offices and destroyed the frames containing the already-laid-out first edition.
Echo editor Carl Meurer blamed Dietzgen for the vandalism, and as Condray has written, "the incident touched off a yearlong newspaper war, which devolved into lawsuits, threats of violence and a fistfight between the editors that made national news."
Ultimately the upstart Echo would survive for 40 years, finally going out of business on Oct. 5, 1932. The Staatszeitung ceased publication in 1917, and very few issues of that newspaper survive, but a full run of the Echo was preserved by the monks at Subiaco Abbey in Logan County.
I have no one on my Christmas list with an interest in Arkansas German history -- so I will give the Echo book to myself.
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose. Email him at [email protected]