as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Thursday, September 10, 2015
Have you heard the story about the Chickasaw Chief, an eccentric Blytheville Doctor with a beard that touched the ground, and a few hundred German Prisoners of War?
History can be fascinating, but it can also be lost. When it is lost, it is FOREVER lost.
There is no such thing as a “history hard drive recovery disk”. So, let me ask you three simple questions about Blytheville history. If you know the answers, then it is your responsibility to pass on our history. If you do not, then here are three facts from our history that you might find interesting
Do you know what the word Chickasawba comes from? What caused Blytheville physician Dr. Benjamin A. Bugg to shave off his six and one half foot long beard? What did German prisoners of war in Blytheville produce and sell to local residents for spending money?
By 1828, early settlers began to arrive in Mississippi County and settlements began to rise in the Huffman and Barfield areas along the Mississippi River. As more families arrived in the early 1830s, they began to settle farther away from the River. Those early settlers lived peaceably among the remaining Chickasaw and their Chief, named Chickasawba. Chief Chickasawba lived and eventually died in a hut atop one of the mounds just west of Blytheville going toward Gosnell.
Blytheville has produced quite a few characters over the years. One of the most colorful citizens ever was Dr. Benjamin A. Bugg. The physician and planter was known for his extremely long beard, and when I say extremely long. . . I mean extremely long. His beard measured six and one half feet in length!
Bugg had a reputation as an honest, refined, educated and respectable pillar of society. He was born near Nashville in 1835. He was the fourth of eight children and worshiped with the Methodist Episcopal Church-South. Dr. Bugg married Miss Martha A. Johnson of Tennessee and moved to Osceola for a few days, then to Clear Lake for about three years before moving to Chickasawba Township. He practiced medicine and raised stock on a forty acre farm he owned in the township. He later sold that farm and purchased an even larger eighty acre farm in North Chickasawba Township. Two years later he purchased an interest in Judge Daniel’s estate, in Cooktown, and resided there until his wife died in 1877. Her death left him with four children to rear. He eventually owned over 600 acres of productive land, 400 acres of which were in a “high state of cultivation”.
He refused to take sides during the American Civil War until the autumn of 1864, when he joined Confederate General Sterling Price in his raids into Missouri and Kansas.
After the war he became very interested in commercial pursuits and owned a mercantile establishment in Cooktown. He became involved in political affairs and in 1884 was Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of Mississippi County.
He also took particular interest in the school, serving as its director for a number of years.
Bugg allowed his beard to grow for twenty years until it had reached the length of six and one half feet. He sincerely believed his beard was the longest in the entire world until in 1893, while visiting the Colombian Exposition in Chicago, he met a man whose beard was one inch longer than his own. Disappointed and heartbroken over his discovery, Bugg returned home and shaved off his beard.
Now to answer the final question. The Blytheville area hosted a few hundred German and Italian prisoners of war during World War II. It is very reasonable to say that, at least to some degree, German labor stabilized the agriculture industry in Mississippi County at the time. The absence of enlisted male soldiers meant that local farms had to rely on older people and women to supply most of the labor, until the Germans POWs arrived.
Many POWs chopped cotton, but others worked in shops, gins and feed mills. They are said to have been educated and skilled workers. German POWS also spent time making many fine leather works such as wallets and belts, which they were allowed to sell to the locals for spending money.
See, history is not always about memorizing boring dates and speeches. Sometimes it is as common as a man’s name, his beard or the fruit of his handiwork.