The story behind the stone

Curtis Varnell, PhD.
Western Arkansas Educational Service Cooperative
The headstone of Capt. Elisha Turner, a resident of Greenwood and member of the Arkansas militia.

The ceremony at Clark’s Chapel was coming to a conclusion. I wandered up the hill, the historian part of me always looking for the unusual. Several old, moss-encrusted tombstones stood at the top of the hill and attracted me like a magnet.

Scraping away the accumulated debris revealed the affiliation with the Civil War, the name "Captain Elisha Turner," and the startling word: "Assassinated." I was hooked – I had to find out the story behind the stone.

Capt. Turner was a respected father of two children; he and his wife lived in the Greenwood area. Turner was also a member of the Arkansas militia. Somewhat similar to the National Guard of today, these men were locals that could be called up to war if needed but were primarily given the duty of maintaining order and assisting as guard in their home territory. Fort Smith and the surrounding area was controlled by the Union but numerous people sympathetic to the southern cause still lived in the area.

The April 1864 edition of the Fort Smith New Era warned readers about the danger of bushwhackers, people who inhabited the county and made war on anyone thought to oppose them. “Before ever the leaves are out and spring has fairly set in, the bloody, hellish mode of warfare, bushwhacking, has commenced in good earnest. No sooner was the Army of the Frontier well on its way southward – and the country between it and the Arkansas River swarms with bushwhackers. Many murders have already been committed within the last few days, and not a single loyal man is safe for a moment outside of garrisoned towns. It is useless to disguise the fact, that unless the proper and necessary steps are speedily taken, the Union men in the country will be exterminated or driven from their homes.”

On the night of June 18, 1864, Turner and five men were near Greenwood when hailed by a group of men in Union uniforms who professed to be a part of the federal 4th Arkansas Cavalry. Thrown off guard, Turner and his men welcomed the bushwhackers. The story becomes somewhat muddled at this point but apparently Turner and his men discovered the truth and put up a fight during which three of his men were wounded but escaped. Turner and two others were taken to a barn near Dayton where they were executed by the bushwhackers. According to family history, the barn still stands and the floor is still bloodstained from the execution.

Unfortunately, tragedy affected everyone within the family. According to the New Era, bushwhackers continued to operate freely in the area and threatened those known to have Union sympathies. Embittered and frightened, Turner’s father, S.M. Turner decided to flee to the safety of Fort Smith and thence to Kansas. Turner’s wife, Lucinda and her two children, Susan Emaline and S.D. Turner accompanied him. They were later listed in the 1865 Kansas state census and their decedents still live in Kansas. In May 1882, Lucinda filed for benefits for her husband’s service and death for the Union cause. She likely received the average of about $8 a month for her loss.

Some stories are best left untold; others are just tragedies that are hard to tell.