Our Arklahoma Heritage: Down a lonely Polk County Road, history lies in solemn slumber
By: Dennis McCaslin
At the junction of US Highway 71 and Polk County Road 70 approximately two miles northeast of Acorn, a turn east will take you back to another nondescript, shaded lane that turns south just beyond Chance's Creek.
That road dead ends after about a half mile at the entrance of the Rock Springs Cemetery, where at least 125 former residents of the area are taking their final rest.
Among those interred in this bucolic setting are several members of the Willis family, including the younger half of a father and son duo that fought side by side for the Confederate states during the Civil War.
In May, 1864 Colonel Edward T. Fristoe of Rappahannoch, Virginia found himself appointed commander of a band of Confederate soldiers that were to be known as Fristoe's Regiment.
The 35 year-old Colonel took command of a unit that had began organizing in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas in the late 1863 and early 1864.
It was during that time that the father and son duo of James William and James Calvin Willis mustered into the arm in northern Arkansas. The father would have been around 46-year-old and the son nineteen at the time.
The son, James Calvin, had been born in early 1945 in Jefferson City, Missouri to James William and Nancy Williams Willis in a family that could trace their lineage all the way back to Henry Willis Sr. in 1731 Goochland County, Virgina.
The family migrated to North Carolina sometime after the Revolutionary War before settling in Webster County, Missouri in the mid-1830's. James William Willis came to Missouri with his parents during that pioneering westward expansion.
James Calvin was born in 1845, an only child. Census records indicate the Willis family moved to northern Arkansas just prior to 1860 in Boone County near the border with Marion County.
it was there the father and son joined Fristoes's Regiment of the Missouri Calvary in early 1865.
Fristoes's Regiment of the was officially organized in July, 1864 with 830 officers and men. It served in the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy.
During the campaign known as General Sterling Prices's Missouri Expedition it was attached to Colonel Thomas R. Freeman's Brigade of Major General John S. Marmaduke's Division.
This unit, like most units that were organized during the Civil War, formed companies made up from the cities, towns, or counties in the area loyal to their respective cause. The age of the men ranged from 15 to 45 years of age.
The Regiment saw it's first action in Northern Arkansas in late February and early March of 1864.
The unit was commanded at that time by J. H. Tracy, who led the band of about 40 Confederate guerrillas against a party of Sixth Cavalry, Missouri Militia near the North Fork of White River.
It is thought as the war wound down in May of 1865, the father and son were part of a mass surrender to Union Army. Records indicated that both were in custody until their release in June of that year at Jacksonport, Arkansas.
After the war, the father and mother moved back Missouri but the son traveled south to Montgomery County in Arkansas.
In 1893 the then 48-year-old James Calvin married 23-year-old Lydia Jane Stow.
From that marriage three children were born, the ancestors of a number of Willis descendants that still call Mena, Acorn, Waldron and the Posey Holler community in Polk County home.
James Calvin died in 1928 and Lydia followed him to the grave ten years later.
They both lived just outside of Acorn at the time of their deaths and are buried at the Rock Springs Cemetery at the end of a lonely road in rural Polk County in unmarked graves.