Saturday, July 25, 2020



By 2000 B.C. the Mississippi River had moved to the east side of Crowley’s Ridge and well east of the Monette area. The Ohio River was then in the vicinity of the present Mississippi River. During the next 1000 years the Mississippi channel moved gradually eastward until it was flowing close to the Ohio River and roughly parallel to it, merging in the vicinity of Helena, Arkansas. By the beginning of the Christian era, the two rivers had joined near Cairo, Illinois and so began the modern alluvial valley pattern (Fisk, 1944).

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Elaine Native Makes Her Mark


Toward the back of Oak Grove Cemetery in Conway, in the first plot of the cemetery’s 54th section, sat a grayish-white gravestone covered in fresh grass clippings from the recent morning mow.

At the top, a name could be faintly seen through the grass. I wiped off the top and saw in capitalized letters the name “CONE.” At that point, I knew I had found who I had spent almost an hour searching for.

The person who rested in this plot was just one of the many buried on Oak Grove’s 24 acres. But her impact is still being felt today.

Sallie Hildreth Cone was born on Jan. 17, 1892, in Elaine, Arkansas. Cone earned her bachelor’s degree from Central College (now known as Central Baptist College) in Conway and obtained her licensed instructor degree from the nearby Arkansas State Normal School (now known as UCA).

After spending several years teaching in Helena and Montrose, Arkansas, and marrying her husband Jesse Grafton Cone, Sallie returned to Conway and was hired by the Conway School District. Cone went on to teach for the district for almost 40 years, retiring in 1960. In 1961, the then Fairside Elementary School, located on South Boulevard in Conway, was renamed in her honor as Sallie Cone Elementary School.

Built in 1955 and opened in 1956, Sallie Cone Elementary School has served the city of Conway for 65 years. The school has had multiple expansions in its history, including the addition of a media center in 1972 and the building of 14 classrooms and offices in 1991.

The school has also served multiple purposes. Until 2012, Sallie Cone Elementary taught school-aged children for 36 years. However, in 2012, Carolyn Lewis Elementary School was built on Old Military Road in Conway, taking Sallie Cone Elementary’s staff and students with its opening. Conway Public Schools then repurposed Sallie Cone Elementary and its buildings as a preschool and adult education center.

Sallie Cone Preschool’s hallways are narrow with a low-hanging ceiling. On my tour of the building, I was struck by the fact that my tour guide, Conway Public Schools Director of Support Services Jason Lawrence, and I couldn’t walk side-by-side through the school’s passageways, having to alternate between walking ahead and behind each other. The building’s classrooms are small, a relic of an era in which school building standards were minimal and almost non-existent, Lawrence said. Interior hallways make for fewer windows and dark shadows through the original 1955 building’s central corridor. Some classrooms have doors that lead outside, which while helpful for preschool parents picking up their children, are problematic for ensuring facility security, Lawrence said.

Despite the district’s best efforts, maintaining Sallie Cone Preschool at an optimal level for students and staff has been difficult, Lawrence said.

“We keep pretty good maintenance on it,” Lawrence said. “Our maintenance crew is phenomenal. [There’s just] so many band aids.”

On June 9, the Conway Board of Education approved a renovation of Sallie Cone Preschool to improve its current facilities and replace the original 1955 structure.

The renovation will happen in parts. First, the school’s 1991 addition will be renovated and turned into the new preschool area. Sallie Cone’s Adult Education Center is being moved to another facility in Conway.

“Each preschool class has to have a restroom,” Lawrence said. “So, we’re putting restrooms all 14 of [the school’s] classes.

In addition to renovation work on the 1991 addition, the building’s 1972 addition will also be renovated with new paint, floors and ceiling tiles.
Renovation work is expected to be completed by mid-December.

The work won’t stop with renovating the existing structure. Conway Public Schools is building a new safe room and cafeteria that will join Sallie Cone’s 1991 addition.

Following completion of the renovation and addition, Sallie Cone’s original 1955 structure will be torn down.

“Our kids deserve a better environment,” Lawrence said.

Despite the history behind the original 1995 building, Lawrence said the school hasn’t received any community pushback from the plans to renovate the facility and tear down the original structure.

“When we get the new facility, [the public] will see what we can do,” Lawrence said.

In Sallie Cone Preschool’s lobby, a picture hangs on the wall of its namesake, Sallie Hildreth Cone. While the school’s facilities might be upgraded and replaced, one constant is certain. Sallie Cone’s impact on the city of Conway and Conway Public Schools will remain, no matter the building her picture resides in.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Howe Lumber Company


Helena's Namesake Railroad


The railroad of the Helena Southwestern Railroad Company, hereinafter called the carrier, was a single-track, standard-gage, steam railroad, located in eastern Arkansas.

The main line extended southwesterly from West Helena to Helena Southwestern Junction, a distance of 2.321 miles. The carrier also owned 3.249 miles of yard tracks and sidings. Its road thus embraces 5.570 miles of all tracks owned and used.

The carrier had trackage rights over 57.80 miles of track owned by the Missouri and North Arkansas Railway Company from West Helena, Ark., to McClelland, Ark.; over 219.75 miles of track owned by the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company from Helena Southwestern Junction, Ark., to DeGruy, La., and Barton, Ark., to Chimile, La.; and over 2.88 miles of track owned by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, from Alsatia, La., to West Alsatia, La., and DeGruy, La., to West Somerset, La.

This is an industrial railroad operated in the interest of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, owner of a large sawmill at West Helena, Ark., and extensive timber holdings in that region.

The carrier was incorporated November 7, 1913, under the general laws of Arkansas to construct a railroad from West Helena in a southwesterly direction to a point in Phillips County, Ark. It was organized November 29, 1913.

The road owned, 2.321 miles, extending from West Helena to Helena Southwestern Junction, Ark., was acquired by purchase from the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, by deeds dated December 30, 1913, and May 1, 1914.

The property had been constructed by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company in 1913 and construction work completed about the time it was acquired by the carrier. During 1916, the carrier acquired certain railroad property in Prairie and Woodruff Counties, Ark., from the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. The extent of such property is not indicated by the records obtained. It was retired
in 1920.

Lexa Railroad Stop


A photograph of the modest facility in Lexa serving as the railroad stop, barbershop and beverage purveyor. A man in shirtsleeves stands at the door of that establishment. Another man, in a suit and hat carrying a substantial valise, walks away from the camera towards a partially visible apparently commercial building.

The introduction of the railroad in Phillips County transformed industry and made lumber a leading industry. For the residents of Southland, it provided convenient transportation. The Missouri Pacific Railroad stopped in Lexa, Arkansas, only 3 1/2 miles away. Trains from the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad could disembark at the stop in Southland, Arkansas.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Top Boxer From Helena



By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart
A 36 fight veteran at heavyweight with some highly significant fights under his belt was this week’s assignment from “Bad” Brad. It was a name that I did not instantly recognize but once you start looking, you simply cannot look away.
Leotis Martin, 31-5, 19 KO’s was born in Helena, Arkansas, months before the beginning of the Second World War and he made his debut in the professionals 23 years later. By that point he had moved to Philadelphia and was being trained by Yank Durham.

Durham was best known for being the trainer for a Philly native – Smokin’ Joe Frazier. It was a training relationship some felt was significant later in Martin’s career.

If martin is known for anything then he is known for one particular fight, but more of that later. His career was of course far more than just one scrap. Thirty six fights with only five losses Martin found himself was in 2003 named by the Ring as one of the top 100 greatest punchers of all time – he was a noticeable man on the scene.

He was also the very first NABF champion – a title he won in 1969, in THAT fight. His success began though, in the amateurs when he became the 1960 Chicago and Intercity Golden Gloves champion and twice the National AAU 165 pound champion in 1960 and 1961.

By that point, it was clear that a move to the pros was not only on the cards but also an obvious next step. On the 26th January 1962 he made that debut in Canada as he beat Bobby Wharthen by split decision in Sarnia.

He went on for 15 fights and he never lost. Tinged with some sadness, this winning streak included a 1965 win, just 4 days after I was born, in Philadelphia, against Sonny Banks, after which Banks never recovered from the injuries sustained and died.

This bittersweet success lead to the WBA entering him into a championship elimination series – imagine that happening now… The circumstances around this was Muhammad Ali being stripped of his world title because of his stance on Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was matched in his first fight against Jimmy Ellis. Martin was to suffer his first loss. The fight was stopped in the 9th round as he was cut in the inside of the mouth and the referee, Ernie Taylor, called a halt. At the time he was matching Ellis on the score cards.

On his travels to get back into contention he went across to Germany to recover and knocked out the European champion in seven rounds. Martin had set his sights next on Joe Frazier but that never happened after he suffered another loss, to Oscar Bonavena in Buenos Aires on the 7th September 1968. Rumors were suffering however that his old trainer Durham was not keen on allowing Martin anywhere near Frazier. In 1967, journalist Mark Kram was to write, “Martin, out of the violent, devouring pits of Philadelphia, had been ducked by everyone, including Frazier, who would not fight him with a shotgun.”

We did get to gaze upon him in the UK as he came across the beat Thad Spencer by stoppage in the 9th round at the Royal Albert Hall. On the same bill was Joe Bugner but not many others of note.

In 1969 he was ready for THAT fight to happen.

It happened on the 6th December 1969 at the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas and televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”. The winner was to become the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation (NABF). Leotis Martin went in against the great Sonny Liston.

Liston was back. After losing to Muhammad Ali twice he had come back and won 14 fights, with thirteen by way of knockout. but had really not fought anyone of note but he was still one of the hardest hitting punchers ever. He was announcing his return and Martin was in his way – would he wilt?

Martin knew Liston well enough as he had been his sparring partner but when he got into a competitive ring with Liston he managed to record his biggest ever win. Martin was unfancied because he was a small heavyweight, Liston, was 21 pounds heavier. Martin also was part time as he was still a full-time machinist for the Budd Company.

The doom sayers were wrong as Martin did not trade but he outfoxed the older Liston. Managing to weather a storm in the 4th round he then, in the 9th, caught Liston with a combination that halted the older fighter’s winning streak. Sonny Liston fell forward, landing on the canvas, out cold. The referee counted 10 over him but according to journalist Jimmy Cox who was ringside, “He could have counted to 300.”

Now surely a world title fight?

Martin thought so and immediately after the fight called out Frazier.


A detached retina crushed that hope and he was forced to retire. Cruelty never knew a bigger victim.

His signature win would now be the final fight of his career.

That cruelty followed him into his retirement. He lived quietly but after 31 years working as a machinist he retired early, but months later suffered a stroke and died en route to hospital.

He was 56 years old.

That fight with Liston is folklore. People talk openly and warmly about it, but he was much more than that. He was a champion without a recognized world title belt but a real boxer of means in his fists. If only he had found better luck his legacy would have been greater, but his presence in the sport was nonetheless noticeable and strong.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Steamship Sultana

Helena is closely linked to the SS Sultana because the last known photograph of her was taken by a Helena photographer.  This is the steamship's story.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Post-War Travel In Helena

The 1950s Brings
Modern Day
To Phillips County

MAR. 2, 1953 

But the air service
did not last too long

Courier News
Blytheville, AR
Dec. 2, 1958