Heaslets in Arkansas
In early 1998, a cousin-in-law called Donna for assistance in identifying Heaslet people in old photographs. Upon our arrival at her residence, she not only had old photographs but also a letter dated 1913 from Decatur, Arkansas written by J. G. Heaslet to Donna's grandfather, Francis Marion. With this information and a great assist from Internet resources, Donna found several of her relatives still living and possessing further information. She found Mark Heaslet in Arkansas who had a document written by J. G. Heaslet that pretty well told the family story back to before the Civil War. To make a long story short, she found there was a family cemetery near Decatur, Arkansas and the original log cabin that belonged to the Heaslets when they first arrived in the Decatur area had been reconstructed log for log at the Decatur Depot Museum.
Mark Heaslet, a cousin of Donna’s living in Conway, Arkansas agreed to meet us at Decatur in September of 1998 to assist us in getting around. We also needed assistance from the Peterson Farms people because the original property is part of the land now owned by Peterson Farms. The site where the original building was raised and where the family cemetery is nearby is all behind Peterson fences. The internet provided access to Peterson executive to arrange access and Mark and his family agreed to stay in the same hotel the night before our venture onto the Peterson property.
We traveled on to Siloam Springs, Arkansas to meet Mark and Jan Heaslet and their son, Paul. We traded a lot of stories over Sunday night dinner including the story of how we found them. Mark told us a lot about the area including the Peterson acquisition of the property. He explained that Mr. Peterson had fenced the cemetery and the original cabin site to preserve whatever was left there. Mr. Peterson had also financed the reconstruction of the Heaslet cabin at the Depot Museum.
Monday morning, we visited over breakfast and then traveled to Decatur to the museum where we met Arch Roller, a real gentleman, who took us around and four-wheeled us into the muddy fields to the cemetery and the original home site. Arch was a real fountain of knowledge about the area as well as the Heaslet history. We owe him much for his warm, conscientious hospitality. Our thanks to Mr. Peterson for making Mr. Roller available to us and for maintaining the Heaslet heritage. That level of accommodation gives the term "southern hospitality" a new standard to live up to.
Donna experienced the same feeling of deja vu at her family’s cemetery that I had the year before at the Old Brick Church in Polo, Illinois. Unfortunately, most of the information on the headstones is no longer decipherable or is deteriorating. We found a headstone for James and three headstones together that Arch thought were Francis, William and George, the three brothers killed in the Civil War.
The ages have taken their tolls on the headstones. It all reminded us that even our feeble attempts to lend some immortality to consecrated ground is in vain. We did locate the grave of William Rogers, a family friend who figured prominently in the epistle of the Heaslet family mentioned earlier. The story had mentioned that they brought his body home and buried him in the family cemetery. They had indeed. One grave that was explained by Arch was impossible to find. He said that off to one side, there used to be a headstone with but one word on it – "slave". Well, they were confederates, but nowhere else in any writings have we found any reference to slaves. This particular one rests forever with the family in their beautiful Ozark setting so he or she must have been well thought of.
Evidence was found that James was a Mason! That really pleased me.
The site of the original cabin and the building was equally informative. The second building had been upgraded to accommodate electrical wiring on the outside of the building. It also had wiring for telephone service. But, it was falling into itself and was unsafe to explore. We satisfied ourselves with photographs from the windows and doors.
Next, Arch drove us to town, to the Decatur Depot Museum where the original Heaslet cabin was reconstructed. You can still see the numbers etched into the logs by the workmen to assure that they were reconstructed in their original location. The cabin is approximately 12’ x 14’. One has to look at the interior and wonder how someone could raise 10 children in this building.
They were indeed hardy stock! One side of the cabin is sans windows. The opposite side has two. Is it possible that a father built his cabin with but one side to defend because that is all a man alone could do? The grounds are beautifully maintained. Decatur is obviously proud of this facility. How lucky is the Heaslet family to have been the ones to be immortalized by this monument! We then went to Bethel Cemetery with Mark, Jan and Paul and found headstones for J. G. Heaslet, his wife, Anis, Nick Heaslet and his wife Cora.
These are the modern Heaslets. They are sturdy stock too, but could they handle living like this?
We adjourned to dinner and then to the hotel where Donna copied all the information from the family bible. It had been purchased in 1904 at a cost of $8.00! How many weeks’ labor did it take to pay for that book? We haven’t begun to process the information thus acquired.