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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Gub’ment program helps young Boone farmer

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on December 10, 2020

In 1933, Onis Smith was just a couple of years out of high school and newly married. He and his young bride rented a small farm near Olvey and hoped to make a living.

An inventory of the young couple’s worldly goods consisted of a small cook stove, a table, two chairs, one bed and a change of clothing. Smith also had two cows which he had “worked out” before he got married.

Smith borrowed a team of horses and some tools from relatives and set about putting out a crop. That first summer, the 20 acres produced a fair crop. The ongoing Great Depression didn’t make things any easier to make a living.

In 1934, though, a deadly drought ruined the crops of thousands of American farmers, including Smith’s. Like so many others, he was forced to rely on some of the programs introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Smith was forced to apply for a $17 in drought relief from the Federal Emergency Relief Association (FERA). He repaid the loan by working road construction.

An executive order on May 1, 1935, created the Resettlement Administration (RA).

According to, the RA engaged in a variety of activities during its brief two-year existence. One was financial aid, with emergency loans and grants for farm families in dire straits and debt reduction for others. Another group of RA programs dealt with conservation work: planting trees on 87,000 acres; creating 1,900 miles of firebreaks; improving 261 miles of streams; educating farmers in best practices for land-use; and purchasing 9 million acres of land, “unsuitable for crop cultivation,” for “forestry, grazing, wildlife conservation, and recreation.” A third type of activity was aimed at building physical and social infrastructure in the countryside: over 500 vehicle, horse, and pedestrian bridges; 65 blacksmith shops; 1,800 miles of telephone lines, and enhanced medical and dental services.

In 1935, Smith applied for a rehabilitation loan and was advanced $28. Through the Smiths hard work, assistance was soon not needed. In a story that appeared in the Harrison Daily Times on December 4, 1935, Smith explained that he was selling cream and eggs and could get along without aid.

“No, young Farmer Smith will not need a loan from the Resettlement Administration next year, thank you,” the Daily Times story reported.

With assistance from the RA, Smith’s harvest in 1935 included 90 bushels of corn, 20 bushels of wheat, 43 bushels of oats, 50 shocks of sorghum cane, one load of cowpea hay, 13 bushels of potatoes and 5 bushels of sweet potatoes.

Violet Smith was busy that year, also, the Daily Times reporting that she had canned 300 quarts of fruit and vegetables.

The Smith’s livestock consisted of “three good cows, three heifers, a horse, two hogs, 25 hens, 40 young chickens, two turkeys, seven ducks and three bee hives.”

“They couldn’t make it on their own,” the Daily Times said, “but with the aid of the Resettlement Administration, they are pulling through and expect to be independent next year.”

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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Former movie star takes on role as teacher

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on October 29, 2020

There were things that, as a teacher, Percy Knighton could not abide.

Students who wasted time. Students who chewed gum in class. Students who talked or whispered in class.

“Students who would rather dig a ditch 100 feet long and 10 feet deep in freezing weather than THINK or STUDY – both are hard work.”

When it came to digging ditches in cold weather, Knighton probably knew what he was thinking about. There was a good chance that he had done it at some point in his life.

Born in 1898 in Virginia, Knighton had worked at many jobs. He was a veteran of both world wars. He had been a day laborer, a gang foreman, a reporter, an investigator, a door-to-door peddler and a public relations man. He had written and sold many features to national magazines, and had written for both the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette.

In the fall of 1957, Knighton added another occupation to his life’s resume. He was hired as a social science teacher at Harrison High School.

It’s sometimes said that to be a good teacher, one has to be a good entertainer. Knighton had experience in that area. He was a former movie actor, writer and director during the silent-film era and the early talkies. He was never a major star, but he had bit roles in about 50 films, including Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Volga Boatman” and MGM’s “Ben Hur.” In 1934, he appeared in “We Live Again” starring Frederic March. He also had roles in the very popular “Mickey McGuire” comedy series that starred Mickey Rooney. Knighton later directed several comedies and worked for Educational Pictures.

In 1952, Knighton earned a degree from Arkansas State Teachers College.

“My experience in life and my background will greatly assist me in helping my students and better prepare them for their future lives,” Knighton said in a Daily Times story on Aug. 27, 1957.

The Daily Times also seemed excited about the new teacher. In its Times Topics column, the newspaper said, “It looks like we have gained a newspaper contributor on the high school teaching staff in the person of Mr. Percy Knighton.”

Knighton did, indeed, contribute an occasional column that dealt with issues affecting students and teachers.

On Oct. 28, 1957, he discussed the question “Are Our Teenagers Really Bad?”

“Personally, I believe our teenagers are remarkable to have withstood the phases of life through which they have lived,” he wrote.

In listing some of the influences on teens of the day, Knighton was particularly critical of his old profession.

“The motion pictures today leave little to any sort of imagination,” he said, “and TV shows frequently become too realistic.”

Knighton was very optimistic about the younger generation.

“In my humble opinion,” he said, “this is – and will be – the most wonderful generation to make future history and government for their children to come.”

“Do teachers lose their tempers?” Knighton asked in another column. Despite the gum chewing, time wasting and classroom talking, there were moments that made teaching worth it all.

“When students pass the desk and say ‘Gosh, it seems like we have been in class only 10 minutes,'” Knighton wrote. “Such a statement is the big pay-off.”

Knighton called Harrison “one of the finest and ‘bestest’ towns on the grand old map of the USA.”

Knighton’s tenure at Harrison was brief. In January 1958, he resigned and was replaced by James Penney of Hot Springs.

Knighton died at the age of 73 in 1971. He was buried at Little Rock National Cemetery.