|A Story of Bates as recounted by Earnest Harper. - The old town of Bates, on Arkansas 28 a short distance east of the Oklahoma border, has settled down into a pleasant, easy-going little community and a good place to live in, Harper said, but added that it wasn't always that way, not exactly.
"This was a son-of-a-gun of a town when she was on the boom," the old-timer said emphatically. "I always said it had more churches and more church-going people that any town in Arkansas of similar size, but there was another element in the boom days, and they were young men out for carousing and fun."
Harper sat on the porch of his home and pointed toward lower land along the railroad cut about three-quarters of a mile north of the Poteau River. "One of the biggest planing mills I ever saw once stood right there where that open field is," he said. "Golly-gosh, it roared away about all the time, two shifts a daily. The mountains were full of little sawmills. They were scattered everywhere a man rode or walked, there was so much timber, I've seen as many as 100 wagon loads of lumber out of the hills pulled up at that big planing mill when it was at its peak."
And in addition to the planing mill, Bates had three large deep pit coal mines and dozens of three-man "pigeon holes" Harper said. "Bates was flush on money in them days - as rip-roaring as any town east of the Indian Territory line."
"It couldn't be called the town it once was," Harper declared. Like a lot of other rural places, it has almost gone over the hill. But a lot of us still like to live here. People around these parts are still hard working, the salt of the earth, a man might say. They' get up before daylight of a morning and go to work 20 miles away at those poultry plants in Waldron. Twenty miles there and twenty back, a fair distance, but the work brings a pretty good payroll to Bates."
Earnest Harper in front of the old Methodist Church
|"It couldn't be called the town it once was," Harper declared. Like a lot of other rural places, it has almost gone over the hill. But a lot of us still like to live here. People around these parts are still hard working, the salt of the earth, a man might say. They' get up before daylight of a morning and go to work 20 miles away at those poultry plants in Waldron. Twenty miles there and twenty back, a fair distance, but the work brings a pretty good payroll to Bates."
Harper said Bates still has more churches than any other town its size. "We have about 150 people around here, and what other town of that size could you find with four churches? We've got the old Methodist church yonder, and the Baptist, Pentecost and the Christian. (Note: The Methodist church is no longer there and there is a newer Baptist church)
Bates has three stores now, he said, but once the Main Street was almost full lined with them. In addition, there were the big company stores of the mill and the mines. (Note: There is only one store presently in Bates, Darla's Bates Store.)
"The Arkansas Western Railroad still runs trains through here," he said. He grinned. "The line was built in 1901 while I was out in Indian Territory. I always tell folks they wouldn't build no railroad through here until they found me gone!"
Bates was once an incorporated town, with its own police force
and court and jail,he said.
"And there was a whole lot of farming done around in the valleys," he added, "But a man couldn't raise an ear of corn in these mountains now, no matter how hard he tried."
The Bates region was once a great center of apple and peach growing, Harper said, and at least one man took advantage of the abundance of fruit.
"His name was Pleas Sliger. He was already running a big cotton gin and sawmill, but when he noticed how so much fruit was being grown, he went across the mountains in ox wagons and brought back logs of a big brandy distillery. He put the log building up just like he had torn it down, and got a government license for a distillery. That was a-many a-year ago, but he operated that brandy distillery for a mighty long time."
Bates, is a serene little community, nestled along the highway, with Poteau Mountain rising on the north and the pine-tufted summit of Walker Mountain lifting up of the south.
The above is an excerpt from a newspaper article written by Eric Allen in about 1968 as told to him by Earnest Harper who was 84 years old at the time. The newspaper it came from is not known.