PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO:
A SOCIO-CULTURAL ASSESSMENT OF INHOLDERS
ALONG THE BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
by Kent Anderson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER TWO: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
CHAPTER THREE: THE PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO RIVER
CHAPTER FOUR: CONCLUSIONS
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION INDEX
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THE PEOPLE OF THE BUFFALO RIVER
The ancestors of Waymon Villines were among the first in the area of the Buffalo River, having settled in the region in the 1830's. Since 1965, Waymon has been the postmaster in Jasper, the county seat for Newton County. Prior to that, he was a government poultry inspector. As a long-time federal employee, Villines is distressed by the negative image of the federal government being fostered by the National Park Service in the area, or as he said, "It creates a bad image on the government as a whole."
The Buffalo River, said Villines, is only suitable for the "floating" tourists two or three months out of a year and the pictures of the River sent out by the NPS are "deceiving" to people because they fail to mention this fact. He cannot understand why the Park Service feels it must destroy pasture land which has been in the families of inholders for generations. Nor can he fathom the thinking of so-called conservationists such as Ozark Society m embers who have "a playground mentality" when it comes to using the Buffalo River valley. Villines stated, "we think we're conservationists ourselves because of the limitations we've placed on ourselves to protect what we look at."
In some ways Waymon Villines feels that his personal experience with the NPS has been more fortunate than some of the other inholders in the area such as his neighbors, the Keetons, (who will be discussed in a separate profile). Presently he has nearly 500 acres of farmland (Photo 4) on the north shore of the Buffalo River near Boxley. About three years ago the Park Service threatened to take his land by condemnation if he did not sell his property to them. At that time, in addition to cattle farming and hay production, Villines had spent about $10,000 on the near-completion of a "pig brooder" house in an expansion of his hog operations. Even though this was strictly for agricultural purposes and thereby fully legal, the Park authorities interpreted the action as a threat to the River and sought Villines' land. As a person familiar with the machinations of the federal government, Waymon Villines was able to negotiate a lease-back arrangement or "use-occupancy" arrangement with the Park Service, a relatively uncommon agreement as it is not always explained or offered by the NPS as an alternative form of land management. A lease-back occurs when an inholder sells title to his land to the government and then leases back the same property for a specified number of years, or life, usually ranging from ten to 25 years, at a fairly low price. The land may have some restrictions and, at the end of the allotted time, the inholder must vacate the land as the government assumes full control. Villines felt the need to negotiate with the Park Service in order to salvage some of his land and his home (Photo 5). Thus, he has a 25-year leaseback although it had not been fully signed and finalized as of this writing. Saddened that he and his wife must someday leave their land, Waymon said, "at least we have 25 years to adjust our mind." 1
Conard Villines is one of two sons of Waymon and Norma Lee Villines. The 29-year old Villines is now in the construction business, having been forced to leave his family's farm due to the policies of the Buffalo River Park Service. "I always dreamt or hoped of raising our children the way we were raised," he said, but added, "we don't have that to look forward to." As mentioned in the previous profile, the pig-feeder formerly being constructed by the Villineses was being geared up for a 120-sow operation. At a certain point in time, though, prior to completion of the feeder house, the NPS threatened condemnation if further building continued. At that point, Conard had to quit his part of the family farm because without further expansion he and his family could not continue as financially viable participants. During initial negotiations with the NPS, he inquired whether a scenic easement plan they offered might allow for such a house for hog farming. The local Land Acquisition Officer said that he was not sure and would check with the regional office in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The word back from Santa Fe to Conard Villines specifically forbade "feed lot" type operations in an easement essential to his farming future. Villines regretted his request for further clarification. He was also told by the Park Service that the agency would build a fence to help keep cattle from going into the River, but the following day the same Park official who had told Conard this called and said that the NPS had changed its mind on the matter. Villines summed up his feelings about the Park Service by saying, "they've ruined our futures." 2
Tommy Martin is the County Solicitor for Newton County and has fought for the rights of inholders along the Buffalo River. He has faced the state Highway Department and other agencies in court over eminent domain proceedings, but never, he said, has he encountered any group which carries the legal adversary relationship to the extreme as the Land Acquisition Office of the BNR Park Service. Martin said once the LAO went so far as to attempt to suppress evidence by "hiding" a 1972 appraisal which they had contracted. He said most landowners run the risk of running up against the "siege mentality" of the Park Service if they choose to fight in court. With court costs ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 and attorney's fees approximately the same (usually on contingency) the smaller inholders who have 100 acres of land or less normally cannot afford to litigate. They are forced to "negotiate" with the Park Service, said Martin. The County Solicitor especially resents the misinformation given out by the Park Service regarding the people of the Buffalo River valley. For example, the regional office in Santa Fe accused local residents of vandalism and arson in the BNR region. Martin pointed out that this year, which had one of the longest droughts in Arkansas history, there was not one set fire in the entire Buffalo valley. Other misinformation include the often-perpetuated fallacy that "nobody" lives around the Buffalo when, in fact, the rest of Newton County is so rural that the Buffalo River valley is actually the most heavily populated area of the entire county. 3
Bill and Charlene Clark
The Clarks have nearly 400 acres of land near Boxley and the Park Service wants about 112 acres of their best lower land. None of the land even touches the Buffalo River. Bill Clark does not want to divide his land. The back acreage does not have great farming potential and, if he can agree to a price, he would insist that the NPS purchase his entire tract of land or nothing His troubles with the Park Service began approximately two and one-half years ago when the agency approached him with an offer to buy his land. Clark did not want to sell, but he did accept the free appraisal contracted by the NPS in accordance with their normal policy of land acquisition. One year later the NPS, in an unusual move, offered another free appraisal. Clark inquired what became of the first one and the reply given to him was that it was "not turned in." This raised his suspicions about Park Service intentions. Later, the Park officials threatened Clark's farm with condemnation if he cut any more timber on his own land.
One particular incident caused serious doubts about the rationality of the Park Service. A neighbor of Clark's, Harold Hedges, who also happened to be an Ozark Society member, apparently attempted to have the local Walnut Grove cemetery (Photo 6) appraised so that the Park Service might be able to grant a "use permit" for it, a highly questionable act. Bill Clark prevented his neighbor from carrying out this appraisal.
The Clarks really do not want to leave the cattle farm which they have owned since 1955, but the NPS actions of recent years have left their plans in disarray. Said Charlene Clark, "we don't know what we're going to do." 4
Howard Villines related the following account of his recently deceased and beloved grandmother. His grandmother was Eva Barnes Henderson, or "Granny" Henderson to all who knew her, one of the most legendary and beloved residents of the Ozarks.
Granny Henderson was born near the Buffalo River and had lived continuously on her 166 acres near Compton since 1912. She spent the last 23 years of her time on the land alone after her husband had passed away. She lived without the comforts of electricity, telephone, and plumbing, but she loved her home and welcomed countless "floaters" and tourists whom she let camp on her property through the years. Granny Henderson befriended so many people that she corresponded with people from as far away as Canada and England. She was once featured in National Geographic as exemplifying the finest attributes of the Ozark woman.
About 1976 two or three Land Acquisition Officers from the Park Service approached Granny Henderson on her land and said, "We've come to appraise your place." Villines said his grandmother replied, "Appraise my place! What for? I wouldn't sell it for anything." To which the Park Service replied, "You'll sell it or we'll condemn it and take it." This shocking statement made the elderly woman physically ill and she was bedridden for several days after initial contact with the NPS. At first, the Harrison office of the BNR denied such rude treatment of Granny Henderson, but they did send someone out to apologize.
Although there is some dispute on this matter, the Park Service may have failed to realize that Granny Henderson was not even the sole owner of her land. Her husband's will left her grandson, Howard, as co-owner. Howard Villines to this day remains bitter that the NPS probably did not even check the available records to determine correct ownership. He feels that his grandmother should not have been approached first by the LAO personnel. After the initial contact, he insisted that the Park Service deal directly with him and cease harassing his grandmother, a request with which the NPS complied.
Then began what Villines called three or four years of "badgering" by the Park Service for him to sell the property. Time and again the Harrison NPS office would call Howard Villines to say that they had raised their purchase offer. After twice driving his grandmother on the tortuous road from her farmhouse (Photos 7 & 8) all the way to Harrison only to discover that the LAO had not changed perceptibly its previous offer, Villines began to realize that the Park Service would probably eventually resort to condemnation. Therefore he asked for what he considered was a fair price and after an 18 month wait, the NPS agreed. In the subsequent negotiations the Park Service offered Granny Henderson a life estate on the land, but forbade her from keeping her few livestock (although the NPS has denied that it told her this). Her livestock were very important to her according to Howard Villines. She wanted her cattle where she could watch them and carry water to them daily. Granny Henderson was very distressed by this latest stipulation dictated by the Park Service. The thought of leaving her home of 65 years was too much for her to think about. As she had told National Geographic, "I hope to stay just as long as the Lord and those Government folks allow. Moving out o' here would mean givin' up all I've got, all I've ever had." Sadly, Granny Henderson decided that if she could not have her treasured livestock she would just as soon move.
After the sale was consummated, Howard began to build a new house (Photo 9) for his grandmother near his own. It was wintertime, however, and he asked the Park Service if they would allow his grandmother to remain on her land longer than the three months stipulated in the sale contract. The agency agreed, but only if Eva Barnes Henderson paid rent on the land she had lived so long upon. After Howard told his grandmother this latest development, "she just sat by the stove and wrung her hands. Time after time, I went down there and she would be doing that."
When the day of the move came, late February of 1979, Howard Villines recalled, "We wanted her to come out to the new house with the first load, but she said, 'Just let me stay till the last load,' so that's what we did. She sat on a stool by the stove and cried the whole day." Granny Henderson spent only two days in the new house. She was then hospitalized for tests for cancer. She had borne "a small red pimple" on her forehead for 40 years, but at this stage of her life it had begun to grow into a malignant tumor. After Granny Henderson left the hospital she stayed at her grandson's home that night. The following morning revealed a heavy night's snowfall and Granny Henderson said, "Oh goody, its-a snowing. Now we won't have to go to that house." Granny Henderson always referred to her new house as "that house." Howard Villines then asked his grandmother to stay in his home. Five months later, Granny Henderson died, never having returned to "that house" forced upon her by the Park Service.
The doctors who diagnosed her cancer said that a "trauma" had sparked the new growth. Howard Villines said, "We feel it was definitely the trauma and stress of the three years of dealing with the Park Service over property she would not willingly have sold at any price and the dread of leaving what had been her home for 67 years." 5
Arvel Casey (Photo 10)
Arvel Casey has owned and operated his general store near Ponca since 1943. In addition to that, on the same land, he ran one of the last steam-powered sawmills in the state. Faced with the threat of condemnation, Casey has recently signed a 15-year lease-back with the Park Service for his store and property. As part of the stipulations, he must close his store by late January 1931 and cannot rent it out afterwards. This store has served "floaters," campers, hikers, and the public for a generation, but the "master plan" for the Buffalo National River calls for its closing. Casey can.-Lot understand NPS thinking. He feels that the local residents maintain the River better than the tourists who float down it. Said Arvel of the Park Service, "They've ruined this country. 6
Hap and Rhonda Teter (Photo 11)
Though not an inholder, Hap Teter is an elected Justice of the Peace for Newton County (9 JP's constitute the legislative body of the County) and Chairman of the Committee for Landowners' Rights of the Newton County Quorum Court and, as such, has had a wide opportunity to listen to the complaints of virtually all inholders up and down the Buffalo River within his county. Hap is one of the few dairy farmers in the area with a herd of nearly 50 Holsteins on his land along the Little Buffalo River. What sparked his interest in the controversy was the discussion years ago of putting several dams on the tributaries of the Buffalo River which would have meant flooding his pastureland and driving him and his family from the farm. After this short-lived threat was averted, Teter was made aware of the larger problem facing inholders along the Buffalo, the loss of their land, farms, and homes to the National Park Service. Teter became appalled and angered the more he learned what had happened to the many generations and families represented along the Buffalo and has emerged somewhat as a spokesman for the BNR inholders, having given speeches on their plight before the National Association of Counties.
Teter said that most inholders who sold their properties were intimidated into doing so by the threat of condemnation from the Land Acquisition Officers of the Park Service. "If you don't sell, we'll condemn you and take it anyway," became a common statement attributed to the LAO. At a recent meeting attended by concerned county officials, including Teter, inholders, and Park Service officials, the chief Land Acquisition Officer for the BNR admitted that, in his entire tenure at the River, he had never really worked with more than a dozen truly "willing sellers." As a farmer, Hap Teter resents the frequent NPS contention that the cattle farms along the River have caused erosion of the river bank. He showed this researcher several former cattle ponds on land which had been taken over by the Park Service and which the agency had "cut" for drainage purposes (Photos 12 & 13), resulting in greater erosion than that caused by the previous owners of the land, namely ranchers. 7
Paul Villines is the other son of the aforementioned Waymon Villines. In 1979 he signed a 25-year lease-back, as his father will probably do, for his 150 acres. He achieved this arrangement only after what he described as an arduous three year "badgering" process by the NPS. Paul was listed in the "development" zone of the BNR Master Plan which meant, to the Park Service, that his land was absolutely essential for the growth and/or maintenance of the Buffalo National River. Yet if his land was so important to the NPS, Villines wonders, why is the agency willing to wait 25 years to assume control. He felt his own lease-*back proves that the UPS "development" zones within the Master Plan were purely capricious and not really-essential to anything. Paul Villines said that the first several years of the BNR saw a great increase in tourism (primarily "floaters"), but for the past several years "it just sits here," with waning tourism except for the two "floating" months per year.
Villines also related the situation of his grandfather, Clyde Villines, who, like Granny Henderson, is one of the most beloved and respected elderly residents of the Buffalo. The 82-year old Clyde Villines has an historic mill on his approximately 300 acres. Villines said that the mill is nearly 100 years old and listed in the Historic Register (Photos 14 & 15). The Park Service wants the mill and the elder Villines' land. Paul Villines said that initially the LAO "came on strong" in threatening Clyde Villines with condemnation if he did not sell, but that now the elder Villines was in the middle of negotiating a life lease-back. Clyde Villines would be "perfect" for explaining to tourists the intricacies of the mill operation he ran for so long, according to his grandson, but the NPS insists on starting their projects devoid of local people.
Paul Villines said he "felt over a barrel" when the Park Service descended upon his farm and said that they would eventually need the land for "development." Their plans were indefinite, though, and Villines managed to obtain a 25-year lease-back after years of haggling. lie resents the contention by the NPS that the cattle farms along the Buffalo have eroded the river bank. "Nobody knows soil erosion better than a farmer," Villines said, and nobody has maintained the land better than the local farmers whose livelihood depends on careful land upkeep. In 25 years Paul Villines will be in the prime of his life as will his cattle farm, but the Park Service will then rid the riverside of his farm and pastureland, which has been in the Villines family for well over 100 years, ostensibly all for the betterment of the Buffalo River. 8
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