The Historic Washington State Park chief interpreter has shared with me some information the park is working on for a possible reenactment. The pages of the Arkansas Gazette for the month of April in 1872 they showed me reveal that there were serious factions amongst those in high position during Reconstruction in Washington, Ark. For example, Judge Page and his son, attorney Tom Page, belonged to a radical faction called the Brindle Tails, while Sheriff Vance belonged to another called the Minstrel Faction.
A serious conflict arose concerning the escape of a criminal: Tom Page alleged that Sheriff Vance had put it out that he, Tom Page, had helped the criminal escape. The disagreement became so heated that the black militia was assembled with abundant guns and ammunition and placed under the command of Sheriff Vance. The problem culminated at the 1836 courthouse on April 19, 1872. Sheriff Vance, having been sworn in, sat in the witness chair, being questioned by Tom Page. Tom’s father, Judge Page, was at the bench. Tom Page began by asking, “Sheriff Vance, did you ever say that I had helped the prisoner escape and that you had made me admit to it? For that is what people are saying.” Vance replied sullenly, “I have no recollection of saying anything of the kind.” Tom Page countered, “Sheriff, you are under oath; are you certain your answer is the truth, the whole truth in this matter?” Vance replied, “Do not doubt my veracity, sir. Everyone in this courtroom, nay, everyone in this town is aware that you Brindle Tails are out to disrupt my authority as sheriff at every opportunity.”
“That is a ridiculous statement, Vance,” Tom Page argued. “It is also irrelevant to the present inquiry. Your mindless association with the soon-to-be extinct Minstrels is for you to remain in office. Your Honor, I wish to dismiss this witness and call the prisoner himself to the stand.” The Judge allowed it and the prisoner was sworn in and seated as Sheriff Vance stood threateningly nearby. Tom Page asked the prisoner if anyone had told him that he had admitted to helping in the escape. The prisoner looked fearful as Vance leaned towards him and, at length, said softly, “Sheriff Vance said that to me.” Tom Page asked him to say it louder and he did so. Tom Page pointed at Vance and asked, “Is this the man who said that about me?”
Vance stepped towards Tom Page and said, “Yes! I am the man and, by thunder, whatever I have said, I will stand up to.” Tom Page drew a pistol and fired at Vance, missing him. Vance pulled his pistol as he retreated towards his office nearby, firing as he went. The elder Judge Page went to the courthouse door, shooting two pistols repeatedly towards Vance’s office, while Tom Page went upstairs in the courthouse and returned with a double-barreled shotgun and fired it towards the Sheriff’s office. A dozen shots were fired and no one was wounded or killed. A score of black militia arrived and backed up to Vance’s office, weapons on the ready.
Such were some of the local fruits of Reconstruction. One of the correspondents on this matter from Washington to the Gazette signed himself as Know Knothen. I have taken only a minimum of liberties for the sake of readability, for I know much less than the original correspondent about this event the Historic Washington State Park folks are researching.