From time to time, the office releases details of some of this history in a series it calls "Unclaimed Memories: Stories from the Vault."
The latest version copied in full below is titled "The Tale of the Shell."
His name is just a footnote in the history books, a state senator who entered Arkansas politics nearly 100 years ago. He is listed in the rosters alongside thousands of other men and women elected to office. His face is only one of thirty-five staring out at visitors from a composite photo hanging in the Senate gallery, next to dozens of other composites just like it. His life, like most of our lives, was both remarkable and ordinary at the same time.
In fact, State Senator W. A. Jackson, born in Randolph County, Arkansas in 1872, might have been forgotten if his unclaimed safe deposit box had not made its way to the Auditor of State last fall. The box had been in the custody of Iberia Bank in Pocahontas for the 69 years since Jackson's death when officials with Iberia finally reported the box as unclaimed.
Inside, officials with the Auditor's office found probate papers, bank documents, warrant posters, poll tax receipts, personal correspondence and records of Jackson's public service as Randolph County Sheriff and Collector. Other than a name and a 60 year-old address, the Auditor's office had little to go on in the search for living relatives, except for letters and newspaper articles pointing to his service in the Arkansas State Senate.
With that evidence in hand and by using a few historical research tools, employees were able to positively identify Jackson and track down a living relative in Texas, a grandson who met Jackson only once but remembers from family stories the legend of his grandfather. Grateful at the prospect of reclaiming a bit of his family history, Jackson's grandson, Dr. Robert Romack of Texas, shared newspaper clippings and personal stories with the Auditor's office for the purpose of this article.
W.A. Jackson made his first political appearance in Randolph County when he was elected sheriff in 1904 According to his obituary, he "made his first campaign on horseback, carrying food in a saddlebag." He studied law and was appointed deputy prosecuting attorney before his election to the legislature in 1910, where he served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives for Randolph County in the 38th and 39th General Assemblies. In 1919 he was appointed by Governor Charles Brough to succeed the late W.R.Russell as sheriff and collector of Randolph County, a post he had held 11 years earlier.
In 1920, Jackson was elected state senator for the 2nd District, representing Randolph, Lawrence, and Sharp Counties. According to an editorial penned in 1924 by A. W. Parke, who later served as Secretary of the Arkansas Centennial Commission, Jackson was "the fightingest [sic] thing the general assembly has produced in many a decade. Show me a man that relishes a clash with Jackson... and I'll show you a glutton for punishment." Parke recounts how early in the 1921 session Jackson was known by the press corps as "The Hornet." Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jackson possessed an "analytical mind far beyond average" and in many cases, fought for causes that did not affect his district but "contained elements for right, and it is only in matters that Senator Jackson considers right that you will find him interested."
From his days in the General Assembly, Jackson held onto a 1923 Senate resolution recognizing his son Lloyd, who was known as "Baby Page of the Senate." Report cards from his children, copies of two of his marriage licenses (he was married at least five times, according to his grandson), registration papers for some of his livestock, a 1922 YMCA membership card, and personal family letters are among the hundreds of papers Jackson collected and saved from this period of his life. In his safe deposit box he had saved common memorabilia of the time: St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Passes from 1922-23; a certificate of his registration as a notary public in 1925; a motor vehicle registration for a 1920, 20-horse power Ford; a 1923 political leaflet; a 1924 campaign palm card; and membership cards for the Randolph Masonic Lodge. Receipts found in the box indicate that a plow cost $18.25 in 1918 and that Mentholatum was only $.50.
After serving in the State Senate, Jackson came home to his family, serving as a deputy prosecuting attorney while his grown son Manley Jackson became a night marshal in Pocahontas. While on patrol the evening of November 8, 1931, Manley Jackson was forced into a car at gunpoint and shot four times in the back with a .45 caliber pistol. Implicated in the murder were former Pocahontas Police Chief John Slayton and local residents Earl Decker and Lige Dame. Dame, a bootlegger, actually confessed to the slaying and implicated Slayton, though he later recanted his confession. W. A. Jackson delivered an impassioned case on behalf of the state, no doubt believing he was bringing his son's killers to justice. Newspaper reports indicate the trials dragged on for several months, and courtroom seats sold out for as much as $2 each.
An Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry notes that nearly 30 years after W. A. Jackson's death, the autobiography of Alvin Karpis revealed that Manley's real killer was Fred Barker of the infamous Ma Barker gang. Manley Jackson had spotted the Barker gang's car while Barker was scouting the Pocahontas area for places to rob. As Manley made note of the license plate, Barker forced him into the car at gunpoint. W.A. Jackson never knew the wrong men had been implicated in his son's death.
Reading through Jackson's memorabilia, it was fairly easy to imagine what he might have been like in real life, but in trying to research Jackson's life and find his family, the Auditor's office learned about another of his little-known and unusual claims to fame in Arkansas history.
Act 688 of 1923 named Senator W. A. Jackson as one of a special, three member commission to travel to Lipan, Hood County, Texas. Their twofold purpose would be disinterring the remains of former Arkansas Governor Thomas Drew from Lipan's Old Baptist cemetery, and bringing those remains back to Pocahontas to be reinterred. Lawrence Dalton's History of Randolph County (1946) notes that Drew was the third governor of Arkansas and had married Cinderella Bettis, daughter of one of the founders of Pocahontas, Ransom Bettis.
Accounts differ as to why the Legislature sponsored the exhumation.
According to an article from the Hood County Genealogical Society, some members of the Lipan community contacted the Arkansas General Assembly about appropriating funds for the gravesite of Arkansas' third governor. Thomas Drew had died in 1879 and the site had been neglected for many years. Local residents thought a marker would be appropriate given Governor Drew's place in history. According to Dalton's research, though, it was Senator W. A. Jackson who was approached by members of the Pocahontas community about appropriating $1,000 for the governor's exhumation and re-interment.
Regardless of which state came up with the idea, the Arkansas General Assembly, recognizing Thomas Drew's service to the state and acknowledging that "nothing marks his grave but a rough stone... there being no epitaph giving the date of his birth and death," appropriated the sum of $1,000 to send W. A. Jackson and two other Randolph County citizens to Texas and bring the governor's remains back to Arkansas, "to rest by the side of his wife beneath the soil of Randolph County." Overseeing the exhumation, the commission directed Governor Drew's remain be placed in an "ornamented metal casket provided by the Arkansas Legislature," which, according to the accounts from Hood County, "was afterward loaded onto a wagon for transport to the railroad in Grandbury, Texas."
Governor Drew was laid to rest at the Pocahontas Masonic Cemetery Randolph County on May 30, 1923. Accounts of the re-interment indicate the presence of a "mile long parade and a crowd of thousands" that welcomed him home. W. A. Jackson spoke at the ceremony, but his words are not recorded anywhere.
When Jackson himself died in 1942, he was buried in the same cemetery where he had helped lay to rest Arkansas' only governor from Randolph County. Recalling that as a child, he knew his grandfather must have been an important man, Robert Romack wrote: "I remember his funeral...and seeing many large black [cars] lining both sides of that dirt road about as far as I could see...He was also a Mason so both the politicians and the Masons had a combined funeral." Romack has few other direct memories of his grandfather. His image of W. A. Jackson is mostly legend, from stories told to him by his family. He hopes to learn more when he claims the safe deposit box that has been waiting for him all these years.
Epilogue: At some point in his life, W. A. Jackson cut out a poem published in the local newspaper entitled "The Tale of a Shell." The poem is about a father whose little girl asks him to give her the conch shell he keeps in his sitting room. She and her brother want to break it open to "find the roar," but he refuses and tells her why.
You see why this shell is such company to me?
The tales it can tell, you would never believe,
Such as thing as a shell could ever conceive."
Unclaimed property: The tales it can tell, you would never believe.
About Unclaimed Property
Every year business and financial organizations send unclaimed or abandoned property to the Auditor of State, who holds the property in trust for the owner to claim. Too often the owner of the abandoned property cannot be easily located and items remain in the vault for years. As the state's largest lost and found, the Auditor's office holds a number of items that have personal or sentimental value to the original owners and their families, wherever they may be. Take a look inside the world of unclaimed property. Perhaps you can help reunite someone you know with a long-lost memory!