So a saber is found in Little Rock 

What else might have been?

click to enlarge arkansas_reporter1-1.jpg

The news that a 19th century — maybe even 18th century — saber was uncovered on a construction site downtown made TV and print news last week. The saber, found near the site of the Chester Ashley mansion, whose remains lie under the Heritage Building West at Markham and Scott streets, could be Ashley's, Historic Arkansas Museum Deputy Director and Chief Curator Swannee Bennett said.

What does the saber tell us about Arkansas's territorial history? Nothing that we don't already know, other than the fact that perhaps Ashley owned such a saber, since the written record tells us he was a colonel in the Arkansas militia.

But what if the saber, at the time of its discovery, had been allowed to stay in the ground, and archeologists allowed a short time to record its exact location and take photographs of it where it lay and the features of architecture — such as the brick walls also exposed by digging at the site — or artifacts associated with it?

In the 1990s, the city had a historic preservation officer, a position held by Anne Guthrie. It might again. "We actually had a conversation with the State recently about funding a similar position in the future," City Manager Bruce Moore said in an email to the Times.

"Every hole dug along the riverfront is likely to hit undisturbed 200-year-old deposits, and it doesn't take a lot of time or effort to record what is there," State Archeologist Ann Early, of the Arkansas Archeological Survey of the University of Arkansas, said last week.

"I would have wished that when this sword was first found someone would have asked any archeologist if the place where it was found was any interest to us or could tell us something about early Arkansas," Early said. "Because we don't know the circumstances of its discovery, we can't really understand why it came to be there."

The saber might not have been recovered at all if not for the sharp eye and good will of the excavator — Casey Findley, working for Gary Carpenter construction — and the fact that Bennett had asked the crew to let him know if anything important was uncovered. Bennett said he has been going by the site often, looking at pottery he believes dated to the Ashley Mansion's 1900s incarnation as a hotel. He did not ask to study the site where the sword came from, he said; he said the museum has enough on its plate preserving the recorded history of the state.

Bennett noted that HAM once owned the property — now being developed into a parking garage — and co-sponsored a dig in the 1980s with the Archeological Survey in the eastern part of the mansion basement, the western part having been blown away by construction of the warehouse that is now Heritage West. The work turned up huge sections of the mansion's columns, a basement fireplace and artifacts likely from the house's hotel days. Developers (Allison Moses and Redden, now AMR) and Robert East Construction Co. provided site security and other assistance to the dig.

Owners of private property are not required to give access to archeologists or others interested in history. Federal property is a different story; archeological assessments of work there is required. In a "discovery situation," state Department of Arkansas Heritage spokesman Mark Christ noted, only federal entities are required to notify the State Historic Preservation Officer.

The owners of the parking lot consented to turning the saber over to HAM.

Findley was operating a trackhoe on the southwest corner of the site when he came across what appeared to be old railroad rail. A cross-tie was under the rail, and the saber under the crosstie. It is a place, apparently, where many eras collide; the city dug a sewer line parallel to the track, and excavators guess the sewer line work removed one of the rails. Findley said he's worked on several downtown sites before, and found bottles and such — but never a 19th century saber. He put it in the superintendent's office.

Kyle Carpenter, Gary Carpenter's son, took the saber to Bennett, who said it appears to have been made by the first American swordmaker, Nathan Starr. Starr started making sabers and cutlasses in the late 18th century. If it did belong to Ashley, it would have been lost after 1820 when he came to Arkansas.

The saber now lies in distilled water at HAM, which will handle its conservation in-house.

"I'm very appreciative of Kyle Carpenter ... for thinking of us," Bennett said. "We're happy to have the sword. Out of context it may be but we're tickled to death to have it."

Bennett said he hoped HAM's excitement about the object will show people that such things are worthy of care and conservation.

Ashley looms large in Arkansas history, being one of the first lawyers in Little Rock, which, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, was the site of just a few log houses when he arrived. He was the lawyer for the losing side in a dispute over land claims to the city (the parties later split the claims), practiced law with Robert Crittenden, secretary and acting governor of the Arkansas territory, and went on to be a U.S. senator.


From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Up and running

    It was 12 years in coming, the Little Rock Technology Park.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Stopping the bleeding: police, EMS coordination at Power Ultra

    Twenty-eight were injured in the mass shooting; none killed.
    • Jul 5, 2017
  • Two suits challenge new abortion laws

    Arkansas legislators "matched cruelty with creativity" this year with the passage of new laws to block women from getting legal abortions, the deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project said Tuesday in announcing the filing of two suits in federal court challenging new laws.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

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

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel

    • I'm only 31, still quite a young lesbian by some standards. Born in 1986, I…

    • on July 24, 2017
  • Re: Up and running

    • INTERESTING - However the idea isn't new.........a Major Technology Park was planned for the old…

    • on July 24, 2017
  • Re: A week at Midtown

    • Yes indeed, it is so wonderful to finally be back home. This is my 10th…

    • on July 24, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation