History Of The Opposition-Ravenden Area
By Ted Dail
The Opposition-Ravenden area is located in Northeast Arkansas. lt is about ten miles up in the foothills of the Ozarks near Spring River, in what hecame known as Lawrence County. Little is known about the prehistoric era of the Opposition-Ravenden area. However, Indians did live in this area, and archeologist believe that they were from the Osage and Quapaw tribes.
(1) The Osage Indians are believed to have come north in search of buffalo and some remained in this area. The Osage lived in houses that were round and mat covered. They hunted game when not tending their crops (mainly corn). They also held dignified ceremonies that they believed would make their corn grow and their warriors brave. The Quapaw, also known as Arkansas Indians or Downstream People, built homes that were rectangular, with poles for frame work and cypress bark for covering. Like most other Indians the Quapaw worshipped the sun and other gods, and believed in spirits. The Osage and Quapaw Indians were here when the first white men arrived, but left shortly after the Louisiana Purchase which was in 1803.
Today if you travel through Opposition along the winding gravel road you see thick underbrush and thickets of vegatation along the road. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to imagine the happenings of ninety or a hundred years ago. "Only a ghost town remains of that splendid era." Of that tale of long ago only the tranquil hills and fertile valleys of Spring River remain, and the memory of that courageous man who was one of Arkansas' greatest pioneers, William J. Ball. Yes, it was he who chose as his fate to whittle a vast empire out of this wilderness of Northeast Arkansas.
It was he who knew what progress was, that age when old things gave way to the new. Today one wonders if people are really as happy as they were in the day when prestige, fame, and "Keeping up with the Jones" were not so important. It was the time when one cared for his fellow man and God. Yes, it is the future that leads to change, and so it must have been for Mr. Ball. Mr. William J. Ball was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, September 13, 1825. He was the son of W. T. Ball an Englishman and a native of Worchester. W. T. Ball was a soldier in Wellington's army, and he fought against Napoleon. He was in the British army at the battle of New Orleans, but he deserted his army to join the young nation in its fight against the mother country. Afterward he settled in Tennessee, married,
and raised his family. W. T. Ball died in 1873.
William J. Ball lived with his father until he was eighteen. Then he received a job carrying mail by stage until 1858. He first came to Arkansas on a cattle drive in 1849 or early 1850. After returning to Tennessee he returned accompanied by his family and three Negro slaves. They carried their possessions in covered wagons. Once there he
settled in Lawrence. County, and bought large sums of land in Spring River Township.
When William J. Ball first saw Spring River and the beautiful valley he must have known he had reached the end of his journey. And why not? For truly it was sight to behold, the river with its fresh, clear water, the valley with its tall forrest and wild game. Mr. Ball probably did not know that Spring River flowed from one of the largest springs in the world, Mammoth Spring. The river then flows by Many Islands, Hardy, Williford, and then passes by the Opposition- Ravenden area and Imboden before dumping into the Black River at Black Rock, almost seventy-five miles from its source. The fish were plentiful in Spring River then; there were even the Rainbow Trout in the
upper part, which can not survive in temperatures over seventy-five degrees. For a while it was as if no outside world existed, so they made do as best they could. There was wood for buildings and fires; rock for fireplaces
and chimneys. There was hardly any money comng in but they did notneed any, for theirs was a life of simple pleasures, a "square dance," a visit to the neighbors, a "barn raisin." There was work such as clearing fields, pulling up stumps, breaking ground, planting crops, and fencing the fields. There were also the usual births, marriages and funerals, and other personal happenings which made the world go around for them. Mr. Ball was the most important man in this community. He built the first church, school, store, and he also erected a saw mill that supplied
not only this community but also the outside world. There was also a blacksmith shop, a huge cotton gin, and an ice house. Ice was cut in blocks from the creeks and rivers in the winter, and was stored for the long hot summer months that were always ahead. William J. Ball entered into business at Powhatan until war broke out between the states. During the war he had charge of a distillery on "Martin's Creek", in Randolph County, for the government.
In 1866 he moved back to Tennessee, for the purpose of giving his children a good education. While there Mr. Ball engaged in a large merchandise business. However, after a year he returned to Lawrence County.
When Mr. Ball returned he named this still triving community "Opposition". According to Mr. Ball the nearest town was Smithville and his town was in direct opposition to Smithville. After a long expensive fight, Mr. Ball managed to acquire a United States Post Office, thus putting Opposition on the map.
There were no roads in those days as we know them today, so transportation was entirely by foot, horse or mule, buggy or wagon. However, there was also another means of transportation which was water. It was used to transport necessary commodities and produce to and from Powhatan, the county seat of Lawrence County. This little city was very important to the people of Opposition, for it was virtually the only link to the outside world.
Yet as bad as the roads were there were wagons coming and going almost constantly. These wagons not only carried supplies to Opposition and area, but also for the people of Randolph and Sharp Counties. People came in all directions to the Ball settlement, where they could trade for anything from coffins and horse collars to whiskey.. Yes, for whiskey was sold just as anything else, over the counter. In spite of this, little trouble ever took place in or around this community. When questioned about the exact location of the first Ball home and buildings, the late Mrs. Lillian Manning of Ravenden, daughter of the late Sam Ball, and granddaughter of William J. Ball, answered. V "The house was a huge double log building quite large, and I do remember that it stood at the top of the hill where the Morris home is now located.It was a beautiful place, and as a small child I used to play between the house and store, which was built down at the foot of the hill. There were so many shade trees and it was always nice and cool Oh, yes, and my grandmother's name was Polly."
It was noted that probably as many as seventy-five children attended the school at Opposition at one time. They came from all directions on foot, horseback, and even in wagons, for this was the only school within many miles. A large company in Memphis that Mr. Ball dealt with for years, presented him with a gigantic bell for the school building. It had the clearest and best carrying sound that anyone had ever heard, and why not? For that huge bell was the best of bells, and they sure knew how to make bells back then. It contained pure silver, silver equivalent to sixty
A number of doctors practiced around the Opposition community from time to time. They were Dr. George Ball and Dr. Austin just to name a few. Some of the early pioneer names of the Opposition area were Sloans, Reeds, Caldwells, and later the Hathocoat, Lawrences, Holders, Ratliffs, Picketts, Stuarts, Halsteads, Watts, Millers, Braggs, Jines, Andersons, Janes, Smiths, Browns, and several more. Most of these pioneers were from Tennessee. Most promient of them was "Uncle" Jack Hayes, born April 10, 1842, died October 23, 1929. His wife was a sister of William J. Ball's wife. Another pioneer who came here in 1877 was "Uncle" Joe Bottoms.
In the Civil War Mr. Hayes served under General Stonewall Jackson. Mr. Hayes was present when General Jackson was shot and killed, but soon afterward was captured and held in prison until after the war. On his way home he stopped in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and married Miss Elizabeth Crouse in 1881. In 1882 they moved to Opposition, which at that time was a booming little town. Mr. Hayes purchased land and built his home one mile from the town. He took an active part in the affairs of the town. It was written of him by L. H. Walker, another well known
resident of the community. "He is not the only one who came to Opposition when that town had great hopes of being a city of renown and lost. . . . ."
Jeff Hathcoat's father came here soon after the Civil War was over, too. However, first he stopped at Memphis and got married. They purchased land near Opposition and two years later, in 1885, Jeff was born.
Henry Holder came to Opposition from Tennessee about a year after the Ball family. Mr. Holder purchased land on what is known now as Ravenden Mail Route Number One, here he established a large farm. Today it is known as the George Holder place. George M. D. Holder was the son of Henry Holder and the father of Sam, Layton, Cleo, and Vera.
George Holder maintained a large store as well as his farm. His store was not located directly in Opposition it was several miles from there. It served the residents of that section in supplying the necessities such as candles and oil for the lanterns. There was no electricity in those days so candles, lanterns, and coal oil lamps were used for light.
(16) The old church house in Opposition was practically built by George Holder. Members of the congregation were asked to help, but later Mr. Holder took off a year from his farming and finished it. Mr. Holder also took an active part in the building of the Opposition School.
(17) Many times progress for some means the end of a way of life for others, and so it must have been for the residences of Opposition, when it was learned that the Frisco Railroad (as it was later called) would locate in this part of lawrence County. Hopes were high that it would run through Opposition, and add to the progress and prosperity of this community. However, when the railroad finally was located through Lawrence County, it was discovered that it would miss Opposition entirely, and locate just a few miles away in what later became the town of Ravenden. As Opposition died, the new town of Ravenden took on form. Ravenden at that time was a plantation. It was owned by Alfred Oaks, who came here from Smithville in about 1885.(18) Mr. Oaks' home was built overlooking Spring River, which was just a short distance away. His home, built in the Southern Colonial style, was one of the finest in this part of Arkansas. When the railroad came through it served as a dividing line between the upper and lower lands of the plantation. The railroad came near the large, beautiful plantation house, and just north of the tracks, opposite the house, was a large community cemetery, where many of the early, prominent, settlers were buried, among those were the Chlider and Sloan families. This was where the store of Frank Gee's was located, also many homes today are built on what was once the cemetery. Just up the tracks, about a hundred yards west of the cemetery, was a very large fruit or- chard, where the first town lots were located.
The Oaks plantation, like other plantations, had Negro slaves before the war. Mr. Oaks' slaves enjoyed their homes'which were located near his own. They celebrated Saturday afternoons, and Saturday nights, and Sunday when work was finished. All over the country side the Negro songs, yells, and laughter could be heard. Several Negroes today bear the Oaks name, for they took the names of their masters when they were freed. Alfred Oaks deeded his land here to Doctor Thacker, the husband of his only living child. This is where the Thacker Township got its name.
Ravenden Springs at that time was quite famous as a health resort, for its springs were drawing guest from many states. The railroad company planned to build a branch line from Ravenden, which is on the main line, to Ravenden Springs, seven miles away. They planned to name this town Ravenden Junction; however, the branch line was never built so theJunction was dropped entirely, and the town became known as Ravenden.
The City of Ravenden was filed for record, July 17, 1883. Also the depot and section house were built the same year.
(22) Being like his father before him, Sam Ball, William J. Ball's son, saw his opportunity and immediately seized his chance and started building a large store in 1883, in the new town that was rising up around the railroad tracks. Shortly before Trick Ball, Sam's brother, opened the first drugstore in Ravenden in 1879.
(23) Sam Ball's store was two stories in height.
The upper story was devoted to furniture, undertakers goods, clothing,
and so forth. The lower storyhad dry goods, boots and shoes, groceries,
and general merchandise. He
handled both cotton and stock to a large degree. He owned two large farms on Spring River, one in Lawrence County, the other in Randolph County. All together he did a businss of $35,000.00 to $40,000.00 annually. He also invested in a large cotton gin in Ravenden.
The Sam Ball residence, in Ravenden, was known far and wide as one of the finest homes, or maybe the finest, on the railroad line from Memphis to Springfield. People came from all around to see this show place, which was known as the Historical Ball mansion. It stood on ahill over looking the town, Spring River, the railroad racks the new
depot, and far off in the distance the road to opposition. Truly it was a sight to see, as it could be observed from the railroad tracks by the crew and passengers. The home, built in 1898, was of native pine and cypress lumber of the very best grade, timber which can not be found in this country today. It is estimated that 65,000 feet of lumber went in the construction of this building, which had twelve giant rooms all 20 feet X 20 feet that were divided by sixty feet hallways both upstairs and down. A bath house was built just a few feet from the main house, where an old-fashioned cast iron stove with a boiler, was used for heating the bath water.
The Ball home was furnished with antiques, many of them shipped from England by Ball ancestors many years before. There were ornate carved iron beds, gleaming wardrobes so high they almost touched the ceiling, marble topped dressers, tables of every kind, shape and size, carved rockers covered with the softest of velvet and faded silk brocades, China and silverware, crystal as clear and shining as a bell, woven blankets, handmade counterpanes linen towels carpets of velour texture on the floors, tapestries on the wall, pictures and mirrors and soft shaded lights. On November 1878 he married Margarit Willigard, of Randolph County, they had five children, Millard, well known banker and lawyer; Dr. Cleo, who practiced medicine in and around the Ravenden areas from 1905 until his death.. Dr. Ernest Ball and another brother Luke, who operated the large section of Ball property near Opposition, and Lillian who lived in Ravenden until just a short time ago.
Until not too long ago there was nothing along both sides of Spring River but Ball property and possessions. It was the work of one family, and caused by lhe actions of one man, William J. Ball, and the three slaves, who came here with him. Just as William J. Ball was instrumental in forming Opposition, Sam Ball was instrumental in the forming of Ravenden. Associated with Sam were James Washum, Frank Gee, and Frank Bragg. Also J. M. Miliner and W. F. Blackwell were among those who opened places of business. William Wilson was also a prominent citizen until he moved to Imboden in the 1890's.
The first railroad built in Arkansas was between Memphis and Little Rock, it was completed in 1871. However, it was not until 1883 that the railroad through Ravenden was completed. The first train on this line, to reach Memphis, went through, October 20, 1883; it carried a load of meat from Kansas City. However, the first train to go through Ravenden appeared around 1882. The reason for this was that the railroad tracks were laid in both directions. The Frisco was known at first as the Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis Railroad. Later it was changed to the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad Company. It was not until 1928 that it acquired the name Frisco.
A well was dug and walled with rock in 1883, by "Uncle"Jimmie Williams. It furnished thousands of barrels of water to the people of the town until it was no longer necessary.. It became dangerous just a few years ago, and the people filled it in. In 1970 a city water system was installed, and a huge water tank was built on the Odessa
Wyatt place. Jim Offerman was the first water commissioner. Since there were no radios around Ravenden until the later part of the twenties, people had little contact with the outside world except for the trains. Usually lhere were two passenger trains each day, one going north, and one going south. Each day every citizen, who was not engaged
in an activity which he could not leave, would go to the depot to meet the train. The crowd may not have been too large through the week, but on Sunday people from all the surrounding area would be there to meet the
train, to see who got on, and who got off. IT was one of the main centers of social life for many years. Each of the ladies would arrive at the station dressed in her very best dress. While waiting for the train to arrive much visiting took place, recipes were exchanged and horse swapping took place. Passenger trains ran continuously on this line until December 8, 1967. The passenger trains certainly have been missed, for when they were here, people were able to travel not only to far away places but they could visit people in nearby towns as well. They were also able to buy things they couldn't before, and this made the mail order catalogs quite popular. The Church of Christ had the first church house to be built in Ravenden, in 1905. The old building was later rebuilt. The present Methodist church building was built in 1951, and the present Baptist church building in 1958. Much of the social life was centered around the churchh If a boy wanted to date a girl, he would wait outside the church and ask the girl if he could "see her home," usually this meant walking. "Dinner on the ground" was also a popular past time during the summer months. Table clothes were spread on the ground, where the meal was eaten. Fried chicken and home cured ham were the principal meats, while fresh garden vegetables, molasses cake, and sweet potato pie rounded out the
menu. Since there were no refrigerators this all had to be prepared on Sunday morning, before the lady of the house went to church. Hotels were also important in the early years. Many of their customers were "drummers" (later called salesman), who would come in by train to drum-up business and leave the next day. There were two hotels in the early 1900's, one was run by Bama Darter, and the other run by Mrs. Sullins. The first lots for a public school building were bought from Ralph and Hannah WeIch in 1887. The two story building was completed the next
year. The first floor was used for school and as a church for all denominations. The second floor was used by Masonic Lodge No. 451. The school outgrew the building, and a two story brick building was erected where the Municipal Building now stands in 1918. The first floor had a big hall and two large rooms. The second floor had one big room with a stage on one end· The building was destroyed by fire in the fifties, but Ravenden School had already consolidated with Sloan-Hendrix, at Imboden. The city used the site to build the Municipal Building. Products of Ravenden were cotton, corn, hay, cattle, and lumber. Cotton was the main source of cash for the farmers, because the corn and the hay were fed to the cattle and hogs. Before the days of trucks, cattle were driven many miles away to Ravenden. They were put in stock pens while they awaited a local train, which would take them to St.Louis. The country side was filled with virgin timber, so it was only natural that sawmills sprang up near the town, and many people were employed as timber cutters. Some of the lumber was used locally, but much of it was shipped by railroad to larger places. Blacksmith shops were a necessity when everything was done with horses and mules. At one time there were two blacksmith shops in Ravenden. One was run by Felex East and the other by Ode Griffing. L. W. Perry came here from Kentucky around 1909, and married Pearl Wells. When Sam Ball died in 1917, he left his store and land to his heirs. L. W. Perry acquired the store soon afterward. Under L. W.Perry, the store was a very interesting place, where horse collars, Vicks Salve, pickles, and spare parts for something could be sold. On Saturday afternoon neighbors for miles around would come to Perry's Store with their horse drawn wagons (only a few of the promient families had buggies), and later in cars and pickups trucks. Here eggs and butter were exchanged for coffee, and sugar, and other supplies. It was a time of visiting and relaxation. Most of the families would arrive about
one o'clock p.m., and spend the afternoon with the adults visiting, the children playing and young men and women getting acquainted. It was here many romances started. There were other stores but none quite as popular as that of L. W. Perry. After the slaves were freed most of the black people left and went to other places, however, several negro families stayed around until the early thirties. These people had their own church house, and their own
cemetery, which is located on the farm now owned by Allen Murphy.
There were no racial problems as most
of the black people were in the "share-crop" system. When there was
a revival or gospel meeting meeting.held in the late summer after the crops were put away. The Negroes ,
would come to the white man's church, and sit on the back rows. The depot had two big waiting rooms, one for the whites, and the other for the blacks. Ravenden always took care of its own sick and dead, until about thirty years ago. Many home remedies were used. Dr. Cleo Ball, son of Sam Ball, was the doctor here for many years. He kept his own medicine, and made house calls whenever he was needed, night or day. Usually he would diagnose the problem and give his own medicine. When he was ready to leave he would say, "You owe me a dollar; pay me when you can." He also pulled teeth when necessary. If someone was near death, friends and neighbors would meet at the home and take turns "setting up," with them. If someone died the friends would lay out the body and build a coffin.
Buying customs changed some when Higginbotham's Furneral Home was established around 1930 by Carson Higginbotham. Mr. Higginbotham was shot about ten years later, and there has not been a funeral home in Ravenden since that time. There are funeral homes in other towns where the people are now taken.
Ravenden countinues to bury at Opposition Cemetery, and also at the Dail Cemetery is located on the Edd Hill farm near Brown's Creek. This farm was owned by Luke Lee Dail, who came to this area about in 1857. Later he donated the land for the cemetery, and a school house, which was also used for church services on Sunday.
People worked hard, but there were times of recreation. About once each year there was a big picnic, located near Watoga Spring, and each family tried to get new clothes for the picnic. ln winter there were get togethers" for making molasses candy and pop corn balls, and an occasional square dance. On Sunday afternoons the men would meet at the
"marble ground" and play marbles, pitch silver dollars in holes, and play games of horseshoes. One of the marble grounds was located on the Joe Morris farm in the 1920's. Little trouble ever took place in Ravenden, however, a man was taken out of jail in Powhatan by a band of people fr`m the Ravenden area and hanged. The man was charged with mistreating a woman in the area.
The Bank off Ravenden was organized, December 15, 1905, with T. J. Sharum as president. The bank closed voluntarily March 15, 1930 when the Great Depression struck. Rex Moore was the president when it closed.
In 1891 a United States Post Office was established in Ravenden with Billy Wilson as the first post master. The first rail route was a "Star Route" that went to Ravenden Springs. Today Route One goes to Ravenden Springs, the Hamil Community, through the "flat woods" and Opposition. Route Two goes around Ravenden Springs, and within
a few miles of the Missouri State Line. Some of the post masters of Ravenden have been John R. Dail, Robert Dail, Paul Janes, and "Bob" Dail. The first telephone installed in Ravenden was L. W. Perry's Store. Mr. Perry was very generous with his telephone, andJ he was quick to get messages to his friends and neighbors. If a person was called to talk on the phone, sooner or later everyone, up and down the street, would drift in to listen to the conversation. Around 1960 private phones were installed and no one had to go to Perry's Store to use the telephone. There were a number of stores on Main Street, when in the early 1930's the store of Charlie Preston caught fire. All the stores on main street were destroyed except the one owned by L. W. Perry. ln 1947 the Sixty three Highway was changed and a bridge was built across what was formerly known as the Moore farm, thus the highway did not go through Main Street. However, Mr. Perry still did a good business on the street until he died around 1972. Due to the highway being relocated most of the businesses were built on the new highway. Today, in 1979, in Ravenden are two stores, a gas station, a beauty shop, a motel and cafe, a body shop, cement plant, and a dairy bar. The Mayor is Larry Gibbens; the Treasurer is Charles Roark; the alderman are Joe Rone, John Starnes, Danny Smith, Alvin Hedrick and Mack Ellis. The fire chief is Larry Dail, the water commissioner is Bob Clements.
Men who worked on the construction of the Railroad bridqe at Ravenden after a flood in 1917 are pictured here. Some of the men included in the picture are Diss Holland, Rube Church, Edd Hill and Homer Dail.
There also is a picture of a group of Ravenden young people enjoying an outing in about 1915. They are Mary Baird Hill, Emma Baird Holder, Rube Hill, Ida Pettyjohn, Eva Grey. Joe Pettyjohn, Annie Baird Morris, Will Kidwell.
Next Picture – Shown in front of Gill’s Cafe in Ravenden are Leah Dail Letha Gill and Mr. Gill.
End of Story
(1) Dalton F. Henderson,
of Northeast Arkansas, (Imboden, Arkansas.
(3) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 23,1969, p. 6.
(4)The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical
Memories of Northeast Arkansas,1937, pp. 797-799.
(5) Ibid p. 799
(6) The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical
Memories of Nor- theast Arkansas,1937, pp. 801-802.
(7) Ibid p. 803.
(8) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 30,1969, p. 4.
(10) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 30,1969, p. 4.
(I2) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 30,1969, p. 4.
(15) Frances Smith, "History of
Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 30, I969, p. 4.
(18) Velma Lowery, "History or Ravenden" (unpublished article, Ravenden, Arkansas, 1975), p. 1.
(19) Ibid. p. 3
(20) Velma Lowery, "History of Ravenden"
(unpublished article, Ravenden, Arkansas,1957), p. l.
(21) Ibid p. 3.
(22) Ibid p. 5.
(23) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition," Imboden Journal, January 30, 1969, p. 4.
(24) Walter McLeod, Centennial History of Lawrence County, 1936, p. 57.
(25) Frances Smith, "History of Oppositiorn," Imboden Journal February 6, p. 6.
(27) Walter McLeod, Centennial History of Lawrence County (Russellville, Arkansas, p. 57).
(28) Frances Smith, "History of Opposition , Imboden Journal, February 6, p. 6.
(29) Willie Helper, Interviewed by Ted
Dail, "Ravenden," (Ravenden, Arkansas, Marrh 11, 1979).
(30) Lola EIlis, "History of the Dail Family' (unpublished article, Ravenden, Arkansas, 1975), p. 12.
(3I ) Walter McLeod, Centennial History of Lawrence County Russellville, Arkansas, 1936, p. 89.
(3?) Ibid I>. 85.