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Joe Neal’s Memories of Ward Pennington on Markham Hill (by Joe Neal)

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

Back in the 1960s, I met an elderly gentleman named Ward Pennington, who lived alone in a traditional Ozark cabin in the woods atop Markham Hill near U of A campus. Recent interesting back-and-forth about various possible futures for Markham reminded me of Mr Pennington. I think his old cabin is still up there, though greatly deteriorated.

When I met him in the 1960s, Ward was the occasional handyman for Joy Markham and her sister Evangeline Archer. Born in 1890, Ward lived most of his years alone in the cabin built by his parents when he was 13 or 14. He died November 18, 1971. House cleaning after his death produced some interesting Fayetteville history. For example, in the attic there were pictures and a camera, both apparently part of the studio of early day local photographer B.E. Grabille.

Other relics in the attic included piles of the Fayetteville Democrat, forerunner of today’s Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. There was also a stack of papers from the People’s Progressive Party, a socialist party from the 1920s. Ward’s mother, Julia Ward Pennington, was listed in the paper as a member of the PPP’s national platform committee.

In 1908, a socialist ran for Washington County sheriff. There were well-attended socialist meetings on Dickson Street in 1915. Julia was secretary for the Arkansas branch of the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs fame. The 1928 state convention was held in Fayetteville. Among radical demands: an old age pension (Social Security), abolition of the death penalty, a $500 tax exemption on homes of the poor.

Up on the Markham Hill where Ward grew up, his family had a small commercial farm: “Pennington & Son, Growers of Ever Bearing Red Raspberries.” They also grew asparagus. From the time he was a boy, Ward worked in the family berry patch, walking behind a plow drawn by the black horse Barney, so named for its reluctance to leave the barn.

In his old age Ward received a small pension from service during WW 1. He had accompanied a shipment of mules bound for the battlefields of France. Other than this, as far as I can tell, Ward spent his life on Markham Hill. He was buried in the US National Cemetery in Fayetteville.

This is a little piece of our town’s history now hard to remember in our busy scramble to become Dallas in the Ozarks. I guess even 50 years ago, Ward could already see it coming. I remember a sign he put across the rough two-track road leading to his cabin: “Trespassers will be persecuted.” I don’t know if he meant this seriously. He didn’t persecute me anyway.

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