Every place with history has to have some darkness hiding in it; that’s certainly true for even the loveliest, homiest of places. Below you’ll find nine horrifying true stories that did not occur in some distant land, but all happened right here in the Natural State. Chances are you didn’t hear these stories in history class.
1. The Elaine Massacre
In the course of three days in 1919, African Americans were slaughtered in the streets of the small town of Elaine. Though the Elaine Massacre is sometimes falsely called a “race riot,” the truth of the matter is that this is a tragedy no matter what you call it. Five white men died and hundreds of African American men, women, and children were shot down in the streets in the span of those three days. History does not look kindly on those who arrived in Elaine from other counties to put down what they thought was an “insurrection,” but then again history doesn’t spend much time looking at the events of those days at all. That may be why you’ve never heard the story before.
2. The Great Flood of 1927
In 1927, the Mississippi flooded to a degree that hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t been surpassed since. The flood impacted many states, but Arkansas was the hardest hit both in terms of money and loss of life. During that flood, thirty six of Arkansas’s seventy five counties were under water—some of them under up to thirty feet of water. Approximately 246 people died in the states that experienced the flood and nearly 750,000 found themselves without shelter. The rebuilding was slow and farmland was especially hard hit, but Arkansas’s agricultural community recovered to become one of the most productive agricultural centers in the United States.
3. Rohwer War Relocation Center
From September 18, 1942 until November 30, 1945, a small area in Desha County was home to nearly 9,000 Japaneses Americans forced to leave their lives in California to live under government supervision in an internment camp. Today, a few miles from where the Rohwer War Relocation Center was located, in the town of McGehee, you’ll find the Japanese American Internment Museum. The actual location of the camp is now a heritage site run by Arkansas State University.
4. Jerome War Relocation Center
Did you know that there were two internment camps in Arkansas? The last internment camp to open in the United States and the first to close was located in Jerome, just 30 miles from the Rohwer camp. From October 6, 1942 until June 30, 1944 this internment camp was also home to nearly 8,497 Japanese American people, most of whom came from California, but some of whom were brought from as far away as Hawaii. After the camp closed, the Jerome facility was converted into a German prisoner of war camp.
5. Murder on the Floor of the Arkansas General Assembly
If you think politics are bad now, you should be glad you weren’t around in 1837. That’s the year when two Arkansas politicians got into such a heated argument about wolf pelts that one of them wound up dead on the floor of the Arkansas General Assembly. The wolf pelt argument turned into a duel in which Speaker of the House John Wilson actually killed Representative Joseph J. Anthony. Can you imagine?
6. The New Madrid Earthquakes
Of all the historic tragedies on this list, the one you’re most likely to have heard about is the set of earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and 1812. The largest U.S. earthquake east of the Rockies in recorded history had its epicenter in northeastern Arkansas. Though the area was far less populated then than it is now, the earthquake still had consequences for early settlers, as it was felt strongly over 50,000 square miles.
7. The Tornado Outbreak of 1952
On March 21 of 1952, the ninth deadliest tornado outbreak in United States history began in Arkansas's Howard County. There were fifteen tornadoes reported on that day across the American South, and in the end Arkansas was the hardest state hit. More than 100 Arkansans lost their lives in that one day, and the devastation to property numbered millions of dollars.
8. Texarkana Moonlight Murders
In the spring of 1946, Texarkana was being hunted by a killer who remains at large to this day. Several sets of double murders took place, leaving the populace in fear of what would happen after darkness fell every night. The totally understandable panic of having a murderer running around led to the residents of Texarkana arming themselves and locking themselves indoors every day at dusk during the summer months of 1946. Though hundreds of people were interrogated, the murderer was never found.
9. The Ronald Gene Simmons Murders
Though this set of murders is more in recent memory, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a horrifying piece of Arkansas history. In 1987, a man named Ronald Gene Simmons decided to eliminate every man, woman, and child in his family. He did so right around Christmas, when his children and grandchildren arrived for the holiday. A few days later, Simmons drove to a few places of business in Russellville and shot even more people, mostly people with whom he had feuded. When the police arrived to arrest him, Simmons handed over his gun without resistance. Simmons was executed by lethal injection in 1990, but the memory of his actions still haunts the Arkansans who know his monstrous story.