The Law of Word Coincidence is the fact that whenever you learn a new word or fact that new word or fact begins to pop up everywhere in conversation, television and books. So one day you hear for the first time the word “nugatory” and the next day a character on television is using it.

The law befell The Observer’s house over the Thanksgiving holiday. In-laws from east and west who are fans of Johnny Cash were interested to discover he was from Arkansas, and wanted to know where he was raised. That town is Dyess, of course.

All The Observer knew about Dyess was that it was in the Delta, which has raised a good crop of musicians.

That was Wednesday. Friday we decided to make a driving tour and headed in the direction of the Delta, to familiarize the Arizona relative with its terrain of field and swamp. Mid-day, while trying to find a place to stop for a picnic, we stopped at the newish Central Delta Museum and Visitors Center, a refurbished train station on West Cypress Street in Brinkley.

Inside were exhibits on Brinkley’s claims to fame: The 1909 “cyclone” that left 23 dead, the life of Louis Jordan, record old growth cypress trees in the Dagmar Wildlife Management Area. There were also family histories and some sadly mangy stuffed ducks, minks and other critters.

A front page of the Arkansas Gazette was devoted to a 1930s crash of a passenger plane near Goodwin (St. Francis County) in which all aboard perished. It was at the time the greatest passenger plane disaster in the country. Listed among the dead was a W.R. Dyess, who, it turns out, the town of Dyess, in Mississippi County, was named for. So there — we had Johnny Cash’s birthplace nailed down.

Then we learned more. An obituary on the same page as a story about the crash revealed Mr. Dyess’ address. At the time of his death, he lived in Little Rock. He lived four doors down from where The Observer lives now.

Those more familiar with the Tenant Farmers Union and the history of the Delta will know that Dyess was founded in 1934 as an agricultural project of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and business and public services in the town, made up of 500 individual farms, were jointly owned and operated. The experiment was meant to show how former tenant farmers and sharecroppers could become self-sufficient.

An article published in The Nation in 1937 observed that “sharecroppers and destitute farm workers” couldn’t succeed at running their own farms because of a lack of education and “their generally bad physical condition. In the South they have lived for generations in mosquito-infested and unsanitary surroundings, on an improper diet, and with totally inadequate medical care. A large proportion of them are afflicted with insidious, energy-sapping diseases. The prevalence of malaria, pellagra, hernia, bad teeth, and diseased tonsils is without question a major cause of the shiftlessness and indolence with which these people are so often reproached. At the clinic established by the government at the Dyess colony in Arkansas it was discovered that practically every family examined for admission to the colony had one or more of these afflictions.

“After a few months’ treatment the Dyess settlers were so improved in appearance and morale that they did not seem to be the same people. Their capacity and desire for work were noticeably increased. Their children, when sent to nearby public schools and placed in classes with children from local non-colony families, led their classes. It would be hard to find more convincing evidence both of the fundamentally worth-while stock of these people and of the deterrent effects of poor health.”

In one sense, it makes one feel like Arkansas has come a long way. But in another, one realizes, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. How far off is Utopia, anyway?

The Observer continues to be amused by the enormous air-filled nylon snowmen and Santas seen around town. Many are either in a state of deflation or they’re pulling at their tethers, trying to break free.

Yesterday, a snowman we saw appeared to have one too many. He was leaning over the rail at Club Coconuts, looking for all the world like a pale fratboy on spring break.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Thursday's open line and the daily video

    Here's the open line and the daily video.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • UPDATE: Ted Suhl gets seven years, $200,000 fine for bribery

    Ted Suhl was sentenced this morning by federal Judge Billy Roy Wilson on four counts of attempting to bribe a state official to help his mental health business supported by Medicaid money. He received 84 months and a $200,000 fine and is to report to prison in early January. He will appeal.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Question raised on Dallas Cowboy gift to NLR cops

    Blogger Russ Racop raises an interesting question, as he sometimes does, about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' gift of free tickets for North Little Rock cops to attend a Dallas Cowboy football game.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • More »

More by Arkansas Times Staff

Readers also liked…

  • Every secret thing

    The Observer came into the office on Tuesday morning, not quite bright-eyed or bushy tailed thanks to Daylight Savings Time jetlag, to find our colleague Benji Hardy conked out asleep in yet another colleague's office, Benji having pulled an all-nighter to bring you, Dear Reader, this week's cover story.
    • Mar 10, 2015
  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • Addendum

    he Observer has our regrets, just like everybody else. For example: last week, Yours Truly published a cover story on the increasingly ugly fight over Eureka Springs' Ordinance 2223, which is designed to protect a bunch of groups — including LGBTQ people — from discrimination in housing, employment, accommodations, cake buying, browsing, drinking, gut stuffery, knickknack purchasing, general cavorting, funny postcard mailing and all the other stuff one tends to get up to in the weirdest, friendliest, most magical little town in the Ozarks.
    • Apr 30, 2015

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in The Observer

  • Moving

    The Observer will be moving soon. Not out of The Observatory, thank God, as we're sure it will take the wagon from the 20 Mule Team Borax box to get us away from there after 14 years of accumulation, plus a team of seasoned Aussie wildlife wranglers to herd our pair of surly wildcats into a crate. No, just out of the office we've been in at the Fortress of Employment for going on five years, which is bad enough. We're moving to the other side of the building here in a few months.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Playing catch-up

    What with the big, clear-the-decks Road Trip issue last week — which we're sure you stuffed immediately in your motorcar's glove box, turtle hull or catchall, for when you get a hankerin' to gallivant — The Observer has had two glorious weeks to Observe since the last time we conversed.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Old Gray Lady rides again

    There was a reunion of Arkansas Gazette employees last Saturday night, nearly 25 years to the day it was shut down.
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Leslie Rutledge, the absent attorney general

    Arkansas loses out to Trump love, Obama hate.
  • Thanks!

    In less than two weeks, We the People are about to roll the dice and elect our next president. Just enough time left to dash off a few well-deserved thank you notes ... .
  • 'Living legend'

    Union Pacific's No. 844 steam locomotive made its way through the North Little Rock train yard on Oct. 24. The 907,980 pound train was the last steam locomotive made for Union Pacific and is amid a 1,200 mile journey that will end in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Oct. 31. This is the first multi-state excursion for the locomotive since completion of a three yearlong restoration.
  • Left and right against Issue 3

    Also, Huck spinning on Trump, not in our backyard and more.

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation