PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO:
A SOCIO-CULTURAL ASSESSMENT OF INHOLDERS
ALONG THE BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
by Kent Anderson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
CHAPTER THREE: THE PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO RIVER
CHAPTER FOUR: CONCLUSIONS
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION INDEX
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THE PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO RIVER
Herb Van Deven (Photo 16)
Van Deven teaches U.S. history at the local high school in Harrison. He came to the region 14 years ago from Lockport, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. He took a 50% cut in salary for the opportunity of more tranquil living on the banks of the Buffalo. Van Deven has about 250 acres with a one mile river frontage. About 60 acres are devoted to hay farming, but most of the land contains timber. About three years ago he received a condemnation from the Park Service as part of their effort to control the entire shoreline of the Buffalo. Van Deven had never given permission for an appraisal which he thinks will be an important factor in his future trials against the government. He wants it indisputably clear that he was a totally "unwilling" seller because he maintains that, after an inholder agrees to an appraisal, he is listed as a potential willing seller by the Park Service and such a list of appraisal "requests" is used to garner more funds for land acquisition from Congress. The LAO denied this allegation, though.
Van Deven also confirmed much of what Paul Villines said about the initial harsh treatment of Clyde Villines by the Park Service. Van Deven said that the elderly Villines came over to the high school with his friends, Doy Edgmon and. Arvel Casey, and tearfully sought the advice of the high school teacher. Villines told Van Deven that the NPS said "the Army would be brought in" to take the elderly man off his land if he did not sell. Such threats and intimidation against the elderly have angered Van Deven. "There's nothing more vicious than to take advantage of the innocent. . . . They're no different than hit men."
After the trial which will determine the "just compensation" the Park Service will pay Van Deven for taking his home and land, the high school teacher intends to appeal his condemnation on constitutional grounds. He wants to test the limits of eminent domain. He can understand the government taking property in an emergency or for a badly needed highway, but he feels that if eminent domain can be used in such a huge volume for recreational purposes, there may be no end in sight for federal land expansion. 9
In July of 1930 Dewey Massey received his notice of condemnation from the Park Service. The agency wants approximately 420 acres of his 1300 acres although the exact amount desired by the NPS has fluctuated by tens of acres according to Massey. Most of the land is timber and much of that is ready to harvest, but the NPS has told Massey not to cut his trees. Dewey Massey intends to fight his condemnation in court and is amazed at the amount of money the Land Acquisition Office will spend on land. lie once asked a LAO official whether he thought too much money was being spent to acquire land, and the LAO official responded, "It's going to break the country. "10
Though not an inholder, Neil Wilkins is a local banker in the Newton County seat of Jasper and was able to offer some thoughts on what the Buffalo National River has meant economically to the area. Although the deposits in his bank have increased in the years since the formation of the BNR, Wilkins believes it was not due to the presence of the NPS. Wilkins also said that the BNR has not brought any increased job opportunities to the region as originally predicted. Very few local people have been hired by the Park Service. The now-defunct theme park, Dogpatch, was a much greater source of employment than the Buffalo National River. Dogpatch, said Wilkins, used to hire approximately 200 people per year. Since the BNR was formed, there have been no new motels in the area nor any new restaurants. Although he thinks tourism has increased, "floaters" normally do not spend much money and, as yet, their increase cannot be attributed to the "National" River, merely to the same Buffalo River which has always been there. Wilkins said, "I think we'd have as many tourists whether the Park existed or not." 11
Patterson is an attorney and former district attorney in Marshall, the county seat of Searcy County. Although his county did not have as many homes on the Buffalo River as neighboring Newton County, he offered several comments on the NPS policy as it affected his area. Patterson particularly resents the fact that the Park Service did not put its BNR headquarters in any of the counties through which the River runs. Instead, the agency placed its office in Harrison, the county seat of Boone County, the wealthiest county in North Central Arkansas. Newton and Searcy Counties are the two poorest in the state, but the Park Service did nothing to alleviate the situation even when presented with an opportunity. Not only that, said Patterson, the loss of tax revenues produced by the NPS driving landowners from their homes has further weakened an already suffering school system. Patterson has known the Buffalo River all of his life and recalled in the early and mid-1960's, as a college student, the cry "Save the Buffalo" was, indeed, widespread. Most people in the area did not want dams, but neither did they want the River to be "saved" by the National Park Service. The people of the region "just want to be left alone," said the lawyer. Recently Patterson has been involved with representing the interests of the canoe rental operators and johnboat operators along the River in their grievance against the Park administration. The NPS has recently attempted to limit the number of operators, some of whom have been in business for over 20 years. 12
Howard and Vivian Marshall
The Marshalls received their condemnation notice in September of 1979 after the NPS "tried to scare me into selling," according to Howard Marshall. They resent the fact that so little negotiating had been initiated by the Park Service for their approximately 145 acres in Searcy County. The agency came to their land only twice in 1978 and the second offer was only $5,000 more than the first. This had occurred after Howard and his brother, Hobart, as co-owners of another different parcel of land, had already sold to the agency. Their price received was $1,250 per acre for what the Park Service called 10.9 acres even though the tax rolls to which the two brothers had paid for years said the parcel was 13 acres. When the NPS wanted the rest of his land, though, which Marshall said was no different (as it had surrounded the smaller parcel on three sides), the LAO only offered $500-$600 per acre, a price the Marshalls do not think as fair or comparable to their previous experience of selling to the Park Service.
Howard Marshall is one of the 20 or so canoe rental operators along the BNR, but most of the Marshall's income derives from their cattle farming, or as Vivian Marshall proudly said, "we were able to send our children to college on the cattle we raised." As canoe operators, though, the Marshalls have always had friendly and helpful relationships with the many "floaters" of the River. This past spring and summer, even though it meant a loss of revenue for him, Howard Marshall advised potential customers not to rent canoes because the drought produced so many shallow areas in the River and that would entail considerable carrying of canoes by tourists and walking over hot and dry river portions. Marshall related stories of the good-natured bantering and kidding which takes place between "floaters" and the "'hillbilly" image of the inholders. Marshall wondered, though, if the National Park Service eventually clears the River of all its residents, where will the "floaters" and other tourists be able to see and talk to the "hillbillies." 13
Roy Keeton, Jr.
Roy Keeton, Jr. and his parents were evicted from their land in February of 1978 by means of a Declaration of Taking, the most severe form of condemnation. The site of the former Keeton home (Photo 17) was near the farm of the aforementioned Paul Villines and the reason the Keetons were condemned by such drastic action was the near completion of a machine shop (Photo 18) by the younger Keeton on his family's land. Roy Keeton, Jr. is an experienced machinist as well as being a farmer like his father, Roy Keeton, Sr., and needed the shop for his operations. Even though the small building was 200 feet from the road and relatively invisible to passers-by, the Park Service called it a violation of the "development" zone in which existed the Keeton farm of nearly 160 acres. Keeton did not view his machine shop as a "development" in the sense of a fast-food franchise or a condominium and he was particularly distressed that the "development" zone concept and restrictions were never explained to him. Keeton said he was never warned about the severity of his construction nor did the Park Service make much of an effort to purchase the property other than a single telephone call offering the outrageously low price of only $13,000 within a time span of two or three years. At the time of the DT, the Park Service deposited $116,000 as the value of the Keeton land. Legally the money is available to the person served the DT for use without affecting the eventual "just compensation" trial, but Roy Keeton, Jr. was not allowed to obtain any of it until over six months of wrangling with the LAO. The trial, which occurred about one year later, awarded the Keetons over $206,000 as "just compensation" for the taking of their farm.
After Keeton's father was served the DT, the younger Keeton said that the health of his parents began to deteriorate. The Keetons were given 90 days to vacate and clear their property. Two weeks later Roy Keeton, Jr, suffered a broken leg in an accident and this obviously slowed the move. Keeton spent eight months on the property and had to pay $300 rent per month to the NPS after the 90 day period had elapsed. NBC's news documentary television program Prime Time Sunday came to the Buffalo National River area in 1979 to report on the controversy of the land acquisition methods of the Park Service. Reluctantly, Roy Keeton, Sr. re-lived the taking of his farm by the government for the TV camera. The night following the departure of the NBC personnel, the elder Keeton suffered a severe stroke. Roy Keeton, Jr. then asked the Park Service not to communicate directly with his father regarding the condemnation because he feared for his health. Despite this plea, last fall the NPS sent the elder Keeton a letter threatening to attach a lien to his property. A few days after, Roy Keeton, Sr. suffered a heart attack. 14
Marilyn Eaton and her husband purchased about 335 acres of land with a one mile river frontage along the Buffalo in 1968. They had come from Oklahoma looking for good farmland as Marilyn's husband had come from a long line of farmers. After their purchase, they moved immediately to California to earn money for the initial capital investment needed for their cattle farm. The Eatons returned in 1972 just as the government had created the BNR and, thus, they were unaware of the previous four years of controversy surrounding the river. In 1978 the Park Service began pressuring the Eatons to sell and they soon agreed if they were able to obtain a fair price. At this point, Marilyn Eaton said that the agency used perpetual "delaying tactics" to force a sale at a low price. Continually, after the Eatons would make a counter-offer, the Park Service would simply not even respond for months at a time which eventually drove the Eatons to great mental distraction. The NPS would never respond to their inquiries or counter-offers except with an occasional remark about the local LAO having to check with the regional headquarters in Santa Fe. Nor did Marilyn Eaton think that their appraisals were impartial. In fact, said Eaton, one appraiser confided to her that many appraisers gravitate toward Park Service wishes in order to be re-hired by the agency on a later contract. Finally, the Eatons did sell in the spring of 1979 and have since been relocated to a nice farm near Harrison. The Park Service approached them to take photos of their present home for purposes of a comparison display with their previous farm house on the Buffalo River. Marilyn did not want photos taken without comment, without what she called "the heartache and trauma between the two pictures." 15
In 1978 the NPS contacted Kenneth Villines, a Justice of the Peace in Newton County, with a proposal regarding historic Beechwood Cemetery. The agency suggested that Villines form a group of inholders who might claim title to the cemetery and then sell or donate it to the Park Service. Villines quickly discovered that very few people could see any value or benefit of turning their cemetery over to the NPS. About one year later, in July of 1979, Villines received a telephone call from the agency. The official asked Villines why he had not formed an organization of inholders to claim title over the cemetery, a move of very questionable legality. After the Justice of the Peace said that nothing had been done, the Park Service then said it would proceed to condemn Beechwood Cemetery and assume title for the agency as part of their "mandate to acquire all the lands." The NPS said that the historic graveyard which contained plots of some of the oldest settlers in the Buffalo River valley (Photo 19) would be maintained, but that no future burials would be allowed. This news greatly alarmed Ken Villines and he proceeded to call the local newspaper with the story. A flurry of political activity immediately began with U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers making several inquiries of the Park Service. To many of the local populace, the attempted take-over of Beechwood Cemetery exemplified the ferocious totality of Park Service land acquisition methods. Many people asked the question whether anything was sacred to the National Park Service when it came to dealing with inholders and other local indigenous citizens.
Eventually, the Park Service backed down from its somewhat ludicrous proposal. After political pressure from Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt and especially from Senator Bumpers, the Park Service agreed that the cemetery was county property and could not be taken over by the NPS. 16
Hamilton is the County Clerk for Newton County and was one of the few inholders who could afford to go to Washington, D.C. to testify in opposition to the land acquisition along the Buffalo River. Although he did not offer extensive comments, Hamilton said he felt "an injustice" had been done in creating the BNR. He could not understand such extensive use of the government's power of eminent domain for "recreational" usage.17
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