See three previous entries for this story of a true Arkansas Folk Hero
In 1833, when Peter Mankins was 63 years of age, he accompanied his son, Peter Mankins, Jr., who was born in Floyd County, Kentucky, after 1809, to Arkansas. They settled along the Middle Fork of the White River in Washington County.
Young Peter was destined to become an Arkansas folk hero of some great stature. Known as Pete, Mankins owned a prosperous farm in the valley adjacent to one owned by Johnson Crawford. Between these two farms flowed the Sulphur Springs branch that emptied into the Middle Fork. At one time the settlement was known as Mankins.
Pete married Narcissus Mills-Mankins, the daughter of Isaac and Rachel Mills of Indiana. She is buried at Reese Cemetery (died 1863) along with their 15-year-old daughter Millie (sometimes spelled Milley) who passed away in 1861, and Esther Hanna, Pete’s second wife, who died in 1900. In the listing of graves located at Reese, compiled by McConnell, Peter Jr., is not found.
Pete gained his folklore reputation long before the Civil War, when he became a part of the Evans train that headed for California and the gold fields in April of 1849. The train was a joint financial effort of both white and Cherokee businessmen who wanted to go west, strike it rich and bring their gold back to Arkansas for the benefit of all. These brave souls made up a wagon train of about 40 wagons, most pulled by oxen. They not only set out for the gold fields, they also blazed a new trail that would later be used to drive cattle to the beef hungry western settlers. It became known as the Cherokee Trail.
This trail, its origin and route has been authenticated by Dr. Jack E. Fletcher of Sequim, Washington, who has done extensive research on the trail and written a book on it as well as documenting its history in Overland Trail (Vol. 13, No.2.) While it utilized parts of the Santa Fe and the Oregon and California Trails, much of it was blazed by these courageous men and women.
Pete Mankins served as lieutenant, along with Thomas Tyner, under Lewis Evans, the first sheriff of Washington County, Arkansas, and captain of the wagon train. A late snowfall dusted the shoulders of all who left out on that April morning, winding out of Fayetteville into the Prairie Grove Valley, the wagons stretching for miles through the lush grass, belly-deep on the oxen and horses.
There was no newspaper in Fayetteville to cover that momentous occasion, but J. H. VanHoose celebrated the 36th anniversary of their leaving by writing a story for the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat dated April 15, 1885. He wrote from his memory of the trip, for he went along. He mentioned others who did so as well, among them Judge Hiram Davis, Ed and Herman Freyschlag and their two unmarried sisters (later named as Barbara and Hermina,) and John VanHoose, who at the age of 57 walked all the way to Feather River, California, being on the road nearly six months. Oddly, the three men who died during the trip were all named Nathan. The three Nathans: Thorp was buried near where Denver City would rise, Cosby died at the journey’s end and Lewis died soon after. Everyone else lived to return to their homes in Arkansas. The two Freyschlag sisters decided to remain in California and did not return.
Pete Mankins was true to his word, though he was forced to remain in California after John VanHoose and Porter Dickerson returned to Arkansas. Mankins had earned his first sizeable fortune in the gold fields only to see it lost when spring floods washed out his dam in the Sacramento River bed. unlike many who came home with nothing to show for their efforts. Eventually he returned with $4,000, including one nugget so big it brought him $416. He chose to bring that particular nugget home with him when he returned by boat through the Isthmus of Panama, traveling to New Orleans and making his way overland back into the Ozarks.
Next Month: What Mankins did with his wealth