There have been several different unrelated Ratliff families live in the Eureka Springs area since the founding of the town in 1879. One such family consisted of John and Christena Ratliff and their two sons, Amos and Charlie. They arrived in Carroll County in the late 1890s from Lawrence County, Ohio. The marriage dissolved soon after and John Ratliff returned to Ohio, leaving Christena to raise the two boys.
At the age of 20, son Amos married Beulah Jones of Eureka Springs, but the union was not a happy one. They separated about the time that Amos was jailed for robbery, reputedly to raise money for gifts for his wife.
When he was released from jail on September 20, 1920, he found Beulah in a buggy with prominent local farmer John Berry. Amos shot them both in the back. Mr. Berry, age 25, died, but Beulah survived. John Berry was buried in Beulah Union Cemetery south of Eureka Springs in an unmarked grave. Records show that a veteran’s tombstone was later acquired for Mr. Berry, a WWI veteran, by Congressman Claude Fuller.
While awaiting trial for murder, Amos Ratliff was released on bail and had the idea he could regain his now ex-wife’s affections if he had money to yet again buy her gifts.
Winifred Frazier lived south of Eureka Springs on 40 acres she’d purchased after moving to Arkansas from Kansas. It is believed that Amos Ratliff thought that Miss Frazier was going to withdraw a large amount of money from the bank on the day he robbed and murdered her. She had been to the bank that day, but had only withdrawn enough money to cover her small farm’s expenses. I’m told by a local old-timer who remembers hearing about the murder that so much blood had soaked into the wooden floor of Winifred Frazier’s house it had to be chipped away with an axe.
Amos Ratliff eluded the law for a time, but the fugitive was finally captured and stood trial for the murder of Frazier. He was sentenced to death and electrocuted October 14, 1921 in Little Rock.
Many of the stories I grew up on featured Keels Creek as a recurring landmark. Obviously, this was because various branches of my family either lived on Keels Creek or not too far from it. I’ve always thought it interesting that Keels Creek was named for an early pioneer’s first name: Keel Williams.
I suppose many people only see Keels Creek from the bridge on Rockhouse Road, and much of the time there is no water to be seen because it runs under the surface gravel. Don’t let the lack of visible water fool you, though, because the Keels Creek watershed covers 19,211 acres of land south of Eureka Springs. That is 30 square miles of springs and creeks and rainfall to drain.
One of my favorite Keels Creek stories involves my wife’s great-great grandfather, Murrell Nelson. He had a big place on Keels Creek on the Madison County line (southeast of the present day Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge). He had bought the land in pieces from Claude Fuller and others in 1916 when he returned home from California where he had worked for the railroads.
Late in life, Murrell had to move fifty head of cattle from his farm to Berryville. The cattle drive followed Keels Creek eight miles, before fording both the Kings River and the Osage. The destination farm was located behind the present day Maverick Supply. One just doesn’t hear of long cattle drives in Carroll County anymore. It would be a logistical nightmare.
A whole book could be written about M.D. Nelson and overcoming adversity. When he was 7 years old his father (who had returned from the Civil War in one piece) was murdered by a horse thief on his Carroll County farm. After that, Murrell bounced around living and working for various people. He married Nancy Johnson in 1890 and farmed south of Eureka Springs after homesteading 160 acres in the Buck Mountain area. He then sold out and went to California to make his fortune.
Murrell Dixon Nelson died in the Eureka Springs Hospital in 1953 and is buried in the Eureka Springs Cemetery.
I was around Joe Parkhill a few times as a teenager. He was an older man then and he’d usually be reading the newspaper. On one visit to his home, I recall that he’d just returned from a trip to Dallas to visit Tom Landry, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys football team. I asked his step-daughter Linda recently if my recollection was correct. She said it was and that because of Joe’s relationship with Coach Landry, the players on the Cowboys team each ate a honey stick before games for a burst of energy.
Joe Parkhill was born in Eureka Springs in 1911, but grew up in Chicago. His grandfather was a barber whose parents had emigrated from Ireland. His grandmother was a sister to Claude Fuller.
When my father was Station Keeper at the Naval Reserve on Spring Street in the early 1960s, Joe Parkhill was also a member of the unit. I’ve heard the story that if something was needed that couldn’t be acquired through official channels, Joe might work his magic. After a trip somewhere, he’d show up bearing gifts. Joe Parkhill could wheel and deal with the best of them.
At some point, Joe Parkhill fell in love with honey bees. He was appointed director of the Arkansas Apiary (Bee) Board by Governor Faubus and he ran with it. He crisscrossed the state promoting honey bees and it is said that during his tenure, Arkansas went from last place in the nation in honey production to eighth place. He pushed through the honey bee becoming the state insect of Arkansas. A natural at marketing, Joe had a radio show and appeared on television. He compiled several honey cookbooks and served as President of the American Beekeeping Federation. He lectured in Japan and travelled to the Soviet Union to represent the United States bee industry.
I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve left out his rumored link to Al Capone and the slot machines at the Basin Park Hotel, and his friendships with characters ranging from Jim Bakker to Bill Clinton. And, of course, he played the drums.
During his teenage years, my father worked at the Basin Park Hotel as a bellhop. The Eureka Springs’ landmark was then owned by prominent banker and attorney Claude Fuller. My father had many stories about the hotel and the various characters who would hang around, including some about Mr. Fuller.
He told the story of mopping the hotel lobby before school one morning while Claude Fuller sat in a chair reading the newspaper. My father mopped around the chair and waited for Mr. Fuller to lift his feet so he could mop under them, as was their custom. When Claude didn’t lift his feet, my father dropped the mop and said, “If you won’t lift your feet, you can mop the floor yourself. I have to go to school,” and stormed out of the hotel. He said Claude looked up at him with wide eyes, but didn’t say a word. My father returned to work later and neither ever mentioned the incident.
Mr. Fuller must have liked my father, though, because he hired him to be his driver on certain occasions. For instance, my father chauffeured him to the 1960 Arkansas Democratic Convention in Little Rock. I take it for granted that Claude Fuller made an impression on my father. When my dad talked about Mr. Fuller, he could recall their conversations in detail.
I think about that long drive to Little Rock with just the two of them in the car and try to see it through my father’s eyes. He was a teenager at the time, so I can just imagine what it would be like for a kid to spend time with not only the boss, but a former Mayor and Congressman who many considered to be the richest and most powerful man in town.
I sometimes contribute photographs and information to the genealogy website www.findagrave.com. Claude Fuller is the only person that it rates as “famous” in the list of 3,292 internments in the Eureka Springs IOOF Cemetery.