Halley was originally named Bowie Station after John J. Bowie, Jim Bowie’s oldest brother, who owned land there. The site was originally a stop on the railroad line from Eunice to Monticello. It was later renamed after the Halley family, pioneers in the region. Below is a reprint from the 1974 programs of the Desha County, Arkansas Historical Society concerning the history of the Bowies in the area. The text is included for genealogical research only and may not be used for reprint or presentation purposes without the express written consent of the website coordinator and the Desha County, Arkansas Historical Society. (Contact info: coordinator)
(Reprinted with permission from the 1974 programs of the Desha County, Arkansas Historical Society.)
George P. Kelley
I have long been interested in the history of John J. Bowie, the eldest brother of Jim Bowie of Bowie knife and Alamo fame of whom so much has been written that it has made him a legendary hero and familiar to practically everyone. My interest in John is aroused chiefly because he at one time lived at what is known now as the town of Halley, Arkansas, and I am firmly convinced, is buried in what was formerly known as “Old Bowie” and is presently known as the Halley Cemetery. Both his home site and the cemetery are within two hundred yards of my home.
There was a rather large family of the Bowies but it seems that only John, Rezin and Jim, who were born in that order were important enough in business and other matters to have received any widespread recognition.
In going thru records of both Chicot and Phillips counties, I find records of other Bowies who are probably of that same family but I have no knowledge of the connection.
For much of the information concerning the Bowies in Helena and Phillips County, I am indebted to several members of the Phillips County Historical Society who have been most courteous and helpful and especially to Mrs. C.M.T. Kirkman of that organization who has furnished me with considerable data that I would have probably not gotten otherwise.
According to Dr. John L. Ferguson, Director of the Arkansas History Commission, John J. Bowie was the eldest son of Rezin and Elvira Jones Bowie and was born in Burke County, Georgia about 1787. The family moved to Tennessee where Rezin P. Bowie was born and then to Kentucky which was the birthplace of the famous Jim. There were ten children in all. In 1800 the elder Rezin Bowie moved the family to Missouri. They stayed there two years then moved again to Rapides Parish in Louisiana.
In 1819 John, Rezin and Jim, the three brothers engaged in slave smuggling business with Jean LaFitte the famous pirate. They managed to either deal with or evade the law enforcement officers for a period of time and when risk started becoming too great, they quit. John made the statement later that they made a profit of over sixty-five thousand dollars out of that business.
The earliest record that I have found of any Bowies in Chicot County is a deal whereby John J. Bowie of Catahoula Parish, State of Louisiana is selling to James Bowie of Rapides Parish in Louisiana, three Negro slaves, designated as to name, age and sex for a consideration of two thousand arpens of land. No description or location is given for this land except “to be conveyed to me this day.” This bill of sale was notarized in the Parish of Catahoula by Jos. J. Williams, not. pub. on Dec. 8th, 1825. This bill of sale was later recorded in Chicot County.
The first records that I have been able to find of John Bowie’s dealings in Arkansas are nine land transactions both to and from John J. Bowie, all recorded “at Villemont, Territory of Arkansas on March 22nd, 1828.” These are followed by two more on March 26th, 1828 and one on March 27th, 1828. On March 28th, 1828 there is recorded a mortgage whereby John J. Bowie of Catahoula Parish in Louisiana is lending three thousand dollars to Thomas James of Chicot County, payable in three annual installments of one thousand dollars each. Evidently, this mortgage was foreclosed although I found no record of the foreclosure but on May 5th, 1830 there is a record of John J. Bowie selling this same piece of property and identifying it as “the place where I now reside.” (This property was in the vicinity of Lakeport on the Mississippi River.) The 1830 census records list John J. Bowie as a resident of Chicot County. On April 22nd, 1828, an interest in 560 arpens of land conveyed by Louis Lacostte to John Bowie – by John Bowie to Hugh White and now by Hugh White back to John Bowie.
After 1830, I find no records of any land transactions in the name of John J. Bowie in Chicot County although thru 1834 I find several sales to Rezin P. Bowie recorded in which John J. Bowie is a witness. Also on Nov. 16th, 1833 there is recorded the sale of “a slave named Daniel, about twenty five years old” from John J. Bowie, acting as agent for Thomas Barnard of Natchez, Miss. to Leaner Hoskins, (female) for four hundred and twenty dollars.
It would seem, that I am making this assumption from court records, that about this time, both John and Rezin removed to Helena as in 1835, Rezin P. Bowie and Moses Burnett, (I have found transactions between these two persons recorded in Chicot County, prior to this date) bought 640 acres of land which lies adjacent to both Helena and West Helena city limits at this time. A map of Helena drawn in 1836 shows the house of John J. Bowie to be situated at the foot of Phillips Street and at the river’s edge. Also, in 1836, issues of the Constitution Journal, a Helena newspaper, there were large advertisements by John J. Bowie and B.H. Lurty, General Land Agents, offering to furnish services to non-resident land owners such as payment of taxes, furnishing adequate land descriptions and to sell lands for others as well as lands that they had already listed for sale. The tax rolls of Phillips County for the year 1835 and 1837 show both Rezin and John J. Bowie as taxpayers of the county. In 1837, Rezin Bowie and Theodore C. Hornor were listed as one of the largest stores (general mdse.) in Helena with a capital of fifteen thousand dollars.
On Jan. 13th, 1837, there was recorded in Phillips County a grant of Power of Attorney by Bowie and Hornor to John J. Bowie empowering him to “make contracts, sign notes, draw or accept drafts for their business.
I am assuming again that sometime in the later 1850s John Bowie moved back to Chicot County. On June 21st, 1857, John J. Bowie purchased from Ransom H. Byrne of the State of Mississippi a considerable amount of land which included the present site of the town of Halley and extending eastward across both Crooked Bayou and Bayou Mason, a distance of approximately two miles. He made a partial payment on this land and the bill of sale was first recorded in Phillips County by a Justice of the Peace. John J. Bowie died on June 22nd, 1859 and on July 7th, 1859 his widow, America A. Bowie, paid Ransom H. Byrne the remaining balance and received a deed as Executrix of the estate of John J. Bowie.
John J. Bowie’s last will and testament was dated September 29th, 1853. In it he mentions four daughters by a former marriage all evidently grown and married along with a minor son of Rezin P. Bowie (deceased). Also three children by his present wife, America A. Bowie namely, John R. Bowie, James W. Bowie and a daughter, Martha, married to Zachariah Letherman. A peculiar request is included in his will as follows, “I wish to be buried in a plain way and never to have any toom or other marks of respect placed over or about my grave and further, I am in hopes that none of my family or friends will ever wear moerning over me.”
When the will was probabed in Chicot County on August 8th, 1859 the court speaks of him as John J. Bowie, deceased and late a citizen of this county.
To digress from this story for a moment, it is the opinion of this writer that John J. Bowie, being the astute business man that he apparently was, had a good reason for buying this particular piece of property.
On Jan. 8th, 1851, the Mississippi, Ouachita and Red River Railroad was incorporated. The charter was approved by the legislature on January 22nd, 1854. (This was the first railroad charter issued in Arkansas.) Another act of the legislature on January 11th, 1857 approved a change in route for the railroad. This was only a part of an ambitious project to build a railroad from the Atlantic coast thru this section of the country and on much farther westward. The Mississippi, Ouachita and Red River, Inc., had visions of becoming a part of that system. This last change in route would begin the railroad on the west bank of the Mississippi river at a small settlement, called Eunice (long ago caved into the river) and traveling practically due west thru the now existing towns of Dermott, Collins, Monticello and on westward. The right-of-way would pass thru the lands bought by John J. Bowie for a distance of about two miles. This track was eventually completed but it was several years after the Civil War. The stop at what was later called Halley was first called Bowie Station.
On January 1st, 1859 there is recorded in Chicot County, the sale of two Negro slaves aged fourteen and nineteen, by John J. Bowie to James W. Bowie for a consideration of ten dollars and other consideration such as natural love and attachment.
On November 5th, 1860, James W. Bowie appears in court to claim title to several pieces of land that were bought by his brother, John R. Bowie on March 31st, 1958. Stating that said John R. Bowie had died prior to the death of his father, John J. Bowie which would make John J. Bowie the only legal heir of John R. Bowie and that because of their father, John J. Bowie had since passed away, the title should now be confirmed in him. The court agreed and confirmed the title.
On the 19th day of November 1866, and indenture was made and recorded in Chicot County between America A. Bowie, widow of John J. Bowie and her daughter, Martha B. Letherman and her son-in-law, Zachariah Letherman, stating that America A. Bowie had been appointed Administratrix of the estate of John J. Bowie which estate had been willed to herself and their two sons, John R. Bowie and James Bowie in equal thirds, her part to continue during her lifetime and at her death, her part to be equally divided between John R. Bowie, James W. Bowie and their daughter, Martha B. Letherman and that since John R. and James W. Bowie had both died before the administration had been completed, and the estate divided, this left her as the sole heir and that as she wished to retire from the management of the estate that she hereby quit-claims forever to Zachariah Letherman and his wife, Martha B. Letherman all of her claim or interest in the estate of John J. Bowie with the provision that she be allowed to take certain specified items for her own use and that her daughter and son-in-law furnish her a good and comfortable home for the rest of her natural life and beginning on January 1st next, pay her the sum of four hundred dollars annually. These payments to be made in advance in semi-annual payments. That if the Lethermans should decide to sell their present home and move and the move not be agreeable to her, they would be required to raise the four hundred dollar annual payment to six hundred dollars annually. America A. Bowie retains a lien on all property, both real and personal to insure the performance of the contract.
This seems to be about as far as I have been able to trace the family of John J. Bowie. There is a record of a suit in chancery court on October 19th, 1882 in which three separate individuals are ordered by the court to pay America A. Bowie a total of three hundred dollars but there is not enough in the record to give the reason for or any details of the suit.
The writer does have a faint recollection of Martha B. Letherman coming back to Halley to get an aged negro, Uncle Dick Hurd, to sign some sort of an affidavit but, as must have been not later than 1910, I have no memory of any details, even if I ever knew any, which is doubtful. The only memory I have is a slender, white haired, lady clad in a long black dress with a white lace collar that came up under her throat.
I began this research with the idea of proving that John J. Bowie is buried in “Old Bowie,” a small iron fenced plot with no markers whatever, nor has there ever been any within my memory. This plot is just off the edge of Old Highway 65 at Halley and is included in what is now commonly known as the Halley Cemetery. I have never found any proof as to where he was buried but all of the circumstantial evidence: his home was within two hundred yards of the burial plot which, so far as I can ascertain, was the first use of this location as a burial ground, points to the likelihood of it. (Site coordinator’s note: I believe this site has since been recognized by the National Historical Society as the burial site. I will confirm this and post a picture of the site at a later date.) At that time all of this was a part of Chicot County, where his will was probated and after his death, other papers of his immediate family were recorded in Chicot County. All of this, in my opinion, points to this being the place of his burial. The request in his will for no marker to be placed at his grave would account for nothing but the iron fence on the brick foundation and the name “Old Bowie” going far back before the time of my birth.