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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Stone Gardens : Pete "Old Pete" Mankins Jr - 1913 - 1999

(Compile from various online and library research sources.)

Peter "Old Pete" Mankins

When you think of frontiersmen in the United States, names like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone are always first to come to mind but Northwest Arkansas had a similar settler and explorer whose real-life exploits rival those of his more famous counterparts.

Born as one of five children to Peter Mankins Sr. and Rachel Bracken Mankins, who made their way to Kentucky by way of Virginia and North Carolina, Peter "Old Pete" Mankins Jr., migrated to the hills and hollers of Washington County at the age of twenty. Mankins found Arkansas at the age of 20 when he settled on land owned by his father.

He moved to a farm at Sulpher City established by his father and for the remainder of his life, excluding his adventures during the California gold rush and participation as a Confederate officer of a guerrilla band during the Civil War, Mankins lived and operated within a few miles of the original family homestead,

Peter Mankins Sr. was the first settler to live in the valley., according to historical land records.

In 1836, Mankins married Amanda Narcissus Mills, a union that eventually produced ten children. and they had ten children (one of whom died in infancy).

A short, stocky man, Mankins (or “Uncle Pete” as his relatives and friends called him) developed a local reputation for considerable physical strength, which he displayed during the threshing season by single-handedly lifting two-hundred-pound sacks of wheat.

In 1849, Mankins journeyed to the California gold fields with a group of prospectors. He returned after two years with a small fortune reputedly valued at $4,000. Afterward, he invested in cattle and hogs for sale in the Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana, markets. It is said he personally supervised the drives to both markets to sell his stock.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Mankins did not enlist in the armed forces but financed the recruitment and organization of a company-sized group of Washington County men that served with the Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry.

Later, Mankins organized and led a mounted command known as “Mankins’ Gang,” which operated as an independent or guerrilla force in northwestern Arkansas for the remainder of the war and earned a reputation as an elusive and perpetual nuisance against the operations of Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison and the First Arkansas Cavalry (Union).

In a likely exaggerated account, Mankins is reported to have escaped capture on one occasion by swimming across the Arkansas River with a force of 300 Federal soldiers in pursuit.

Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison

Harrison did, in fact, order a force of eighty-one troopers from Company E of the First Arkansas to pursue and eliminate Mankins and his gang at Therikyl’s Ferry near Vine Prairie (Crawford County). By the time they encountered Mankins, however, the Federal force had been reduced by an engagement with another Confederate force on February 2, 1863, as well as the return to Fayetteville of the majority of Company E.

On February 3, seven troopers and one officer of Company M made an unsupported attack against Mankins and thirty men who were sheltered in a log house near the mouth of the Mulberry River (a major tributary of the Arkansas River). Although outnumbered, the small Federal detachment killed two of Mankins’s men, wounded one, captured another, and forced the rebels to withdraw and scatter.

Nonetheless, Mankins’s activities continued thereafter, seemingly unabated. Harrison listed Mankins in his April 19, 1863, report to Major General Samuel R. Curtis on the Action at Fayetteville as the leader of one of “four companies of bushwhackers” attached to the Confederate command of Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell. Mankins may also have briefly attached his command to operations near Batesville..

Colonel Archibald Dobbins

On February 20, 1864, an officer identified only as “Captain Mankin” conveyed a flag of truce on behalf of Captain George W. Rutherford of Colonel Archibald Dobbins’s First Arkansas Cavalry to the headquarters for the Union army’s District of Northeastern Arkansas to effect an exchange of prisoners and burial details.

If this individual was indeed Peter Mankins, his participation in such a formal process of exchange and military courtesy may indicate that Federal authorities perceived him and his command as legitimate partisan rangers rather than guerrillas. Indeed, no reference to or charge of atrocity seems to be associated with Mankins or his command.

There is no record of surrender, parole, or pardon for Mankins at the conclusion of the Civil War, but he returned to the family’s Washington County property and remained in northwestern Arkansas for the rest of his life.

Amanda Mankins had died on December 17, 1863 while Mankins was involved in the war effort. Mankins married Esther Hanna Gilliland on January 14, 1866 and they later had a daughter.

After the war, Mankins reestablished his investments in livestock, served as coroner for Washington County between 1866 and 1868, and owned mining claims in Polk County.

Generations of descendants have trickled forth from the Mankins bloodline and prodigy over the ensuing years. The majority of his children lived to adulthood, many of those having multiple children of their own, and it's said that literally thousands Americans living today carry the DNA of "Old Pete" in at least 43 states.

He died at the age of eighty-five on March 4, 1899, and is buried in the family plot at Reece Cemetery in the Hicks community near the Middle Fork River. This particular stone garden is thought to be the oldest cemetery in Washington County.

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