ARKANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY, Volume 17 (Spring 1958), p. 68
TULIP IN HER GLORY
by Hershel Kennon Smith, Jr.
Most Arkansans have long forgotten or have never known the glory of
antebellum Tulip, once called 'the "Athens of Arkansas." It is the
purpose of this article to record some interesting events of its history.
Tulip is situated in Dallas county, its chief enterprise being that of farming. After Arkansas
became a state in the Union (1836) this area was the center of much settlement. About 1841, Tyre (Tarry) Brown from
Tennessee, settled and built his cabin on the site. A short time later Moses Overton built
a store on Tulip Creek, three miles west of present-day Tulip. It was here that
the mail was left and settlers for many miles around came to get their mail.
Tulip was not a village, but rather the name of a mail-stop. The name had
been chosen for the settlement because of the beautiful Tulip trees that
abounded there. The scene was soon to change for in the summer of 1843, Colonel
Maurice Smith, of Fayette County, Tennessee, had sent an overseer and
sufficient slaves to the site of Tulip to make a corn crop, for the Colonel was
planning to bring his family to the settlement. In October Colonel Smith, his
son-in-law and daughter, Dr. W. B. Langley and Cornelia (Smith) Langley, their
overseers and slaves started from Tennessee for Dallas county. It was a hard
journey to make across the Mississippi River, through the Saint Francis bottoms, while it rained and
snowed upon the little caravan of wagons as they made their way westward.
After arriving in Tulip Colonel Smith had his slaves build a comfortable
dwelling, and he returned to Tennessee
before Christmas. The following year, 1844, was spent in disposing of his lands
and preparing his family for the movement to Arkansas.
In October of that year they started out and got to Tulip before harsh winter
came. People generally traveled in the spring and fall seasons of the year to
escape the fatigue that they would stuffer from the hot summer and the
bitterness of winter. This is what the Smiths did.
Colonel Maurice Smith encouraged his kin to come to Tulip and many did.
For generations the Smiths had been wealthy planters in North Carolina. Colonel Smith had served in the North
Carolina Senate in the years 1828-29, as his father had done twenty-five years
before. The Smiths were cultured people, accustomed to the niceties of life,
and with their stubborn will had accomplished much good for themselves and
others. Several of the kin came to look Dallas county over and found, as Reverend J. E. Caldwell wrote in 1907:
"I hesitate not to say that Tulip Ridge . . . healthfulness of
climate, beauty of forest . . . was second to no place in this or any other
In 1845, Samuel Webb Smith, of Granville County, North Carolina, and Dr.
Lewis Downey Cooper, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, first
cousins to the Colonel, came to Tulip and decided to make their permanent homes
there. Samuel W. Smith went back to North Carolina
and when he returned to Arkansas
he had to pay toll tax on a bridge that his own slaves had built on the
previous trip. In 1848, Judge Willis L. Somervell and General Nathaniel G.
Smith (no kin to Colonel Smith) came from Hardeman County, Tennessee, and were
followed by their brother-in-law, Samuel Harrison Smith (brother of Col.
Smith), in 1849. In July, 1854, Major Thomas Reid (brother-in-law of Colonel
Smith) completed the emigration of the family to Tulip. These people, combining
their fortunes, were soon to come into prominence in Arkansas.
Reverend John Rayor, a Methodist minister, had opened a little school for
Tulip children in the 1840 's. In the winter of 1850 several interested
citizens of Tulip chartered the Arkansas Military Institute and the Tulip
Female Seminary. The names of those incorporators were: Colonel Maurice Smith,
General Nathaniel G. Smith, Judge W. L. Somervell, Major George C. Eaton, J. J.
Samuel, Dr. William Bethel, Samuel H. Smith, Major B. J. Borden, and Hector
At one of the early meetings of these men, the "Board of
Guardians," a visitor was present who recorded his impression of the event
in the August 30, 1850 issue of the Arkansas Gazette:
"It is true, I have seen finer dressed gentlemen, greater display of
pendantry and ostentation, more ceremony, etc.; but I have not met any where a
set of men of more practical and comprehensive morality, more devotion to the
cause of literature, or who seemed to entertain a more enlightened conception
of their duty to the rising generations."
General Nathaniel G. Smith was chosen president of the schools; Thomas O.
Benton and George D. Alexander headed the Institute; Ben Watson and J. S.
McAlister headed the Seminary. With the new institutions of learning in Tulip its
Golden Age was ushered in, for students came from all over Arkansas.
The cadets at the military institute were sturdy young men, wearing the same
style of suits as the West Point cadets, differing only
in the buttons of their uniforms. It was a busy life they led. Among their
studies were ancient languages, surveying, military tactics, mathematics,
chemistry, and philosophy. The most exciting time at the Institute was parade
day. Tulip citizens were proud of their marching grounds and its one hundred and
fifty foot flagpole.
The churches of Tulip played a major part in its development. The
strongest of which was that of the Methodist faith. Reverend William Mason
helped establish the first Methodist church in Tulip, 1848. The Baptists and
Presbyterians had fewer members, but there was co-operation between the
The houses of Tulip were generally very attractive and sat back from the
main thoroughfares and were embraced by tall oaks and mimosa trees. These
dwellings had large rooms, wide hallways, deep verandas and luxurious
furnishings. Every room had a large fireplace. On long winter evenings families
sat contented around the family circle before the great fires that blazed in
The children of Tulip were usually very happy little people. Every
few days the great stage coach bearing mail and news from elsewhere came
tumbling down the dusty roads to Tulip.
The riders would blow their great trumpets and people ran out to wave to
the rider and passengers. Then, too, there was May Day. It was the duty of
children to make little speeches before the people gathered for the May Day
ceremony. Of course, noted lawyers and locally prominent men spoke on these
occasions, also. Governor John Selden Roane spoke there in May, 1854.
Revival time was always an active time for people from around Tulip, for
they came miles to hear the preaching of the enthusiastic ministers. During one
such meeting William Hargrove Smith, one of S. W. Smith's sons, was returning
from a horse race, saw that a revival service was being held at the church and
he went in. He sat at the back row and listened very intently to the sermon and
was greatly moved by it, so much that when the call for the
"mourners" was made to come to the front where "repenters"
would kneel down and pray for forgiveness, he went with the rest. When he did
go, a man who had a personal grudge against him made a show of his having come
to the front and Smith just took the spurs from the heel of his shoe and jabbed
them into the old brother, walked out of the church never to re-enter it.
By 1860, Tulip was a well known place, and its wealth was tremendous. It
had come a long way since the earlier years when only the Indians had traversed
back and forth over the site.
On May 6, 1861, Arkansas seceded
from the Union. The War Between the States had started
the previous April. Early in '61 Captain Albert Pike came to Tulip to instruct
its young men in the art of war. On June 25, 1861, a company was raised at Tulip under the leadership of
Captain George D. Alexander, a leader of the military institute at Tulip which
was then closed. This was Company One of the Third Arkansas Infantry. The Smith
clan was represented in this company by: Bill Nat Smith, John M. Smith, W. H.
Reid, Richard Ivey Smith, John M. Somervell, Willis Somervell, Lemuel P. Smith,
and Samuel W. Smith, Jr. These young dandies rode off to Lynchburg,
Virginia, where they were mustered into
Confederate service on July 5, 1861.
This little company suffered much during the course of the war, serving
in the state of Virginia.
Dallas Countians had war brought very close to them in 1863. On April 30
of that year the Battle of Saline River was fought a short distance from Tulip.
The federals afterwards went through Tulip on their way to Little
Rock. The little town was burned and ravaged. Major
Tom Reid was almost hanged for "cursing" the soldiers as they ravaged
his home, and was saved only by the entreating cries from his wife to the
Federal officer for his life. Samuel W. Smith, Sr., was marched with his young
son, Bob Smith, to Little Rock and
being exposed to the elements contacted pneumonia, returning home by order of
the governor, dying soon afterwards. Dwellings were burned and wounded soldiers
were brought to several homes to be cared for; many died and were buried in the
Tulip cemetery. Corn, meal, and cattle were taken, while the slaves were freed,
roaming about at will. During the battle, Colonel Maurice Smith had knelt in
sincere prayer asking that God be with Tulip. His home was not ravaged as it
was out of the marching path of the soldiers.
Finally, after four long years of bitter conflict, the war came to an
end. Tulip was no more a place of great glory. Its buildings lay in ruin or
were in bad need of repair and the fields were barren. Most of all, many of its
citizens had died during and soon after those terrible years. Judge Somervell
had died a refugee in Texas,
1864; General Nathaniel G. Smith died in 1867; Fanny Smith died in 1862;
Gallatin Smith in 1863.
In the following years the old Tulip citizens moved away to other places,
at Camden, Pine Bluff, Malvern, and Little Rock.
The last of the founders of Tulip, Colonel Maurice Smith, died in 1871.
The present-day visitor to the site of Tulip sees rolling fields and
forests. The old Tulip cemetery is occasionally visited, and it is here that
one can afford to dream of the glory of Tulip when it was the "Athens of