There are two purposes for Comments in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Comments can either add information to aid in the understanding of the entry or add information that provides an alternate interpretation of the historical record.


Information included in this section is not fact checked by the Encyclopedia staff. The author of the Comment is entirely responsible for its content.


Talk to the people who were actually there. Ask the Sebastian County Deputies who were assigned to patrol the perimeters of Chaffee and find the escapees. What did we do with them? Were there deaths? Hundreds. Why hide what actually happened? This was a planned and well-executed  event by the Cuban government to empty their prisons of some of the most vicious criminals they had...leave, you're free, return and die. What a screw up by the Carter administration.

Respectfully, Ron Thomas, Boone County Sheriff's Department, BN 55

[Editor’s note: This account conflicts with published reports of the incident, which state that no refugees were killed in the rioting.]


Ron Thomas
Harrison, AR


It's been close to 40 years ago that I stood with 41 other various law enforcement officers in front of Fort Chaffee while the Cubans burned the barracks and cars and fired shots at us as we were lined up in the middle of Highway 22 near the main gate. We watched as different groups of rioters got "fired up," and we noticed that there were instigators moving among the general group of Cubans. It should also be noted that there were a number of Haitians mixed in with the population and there seemed to be no love between the two groups.
Approximately 250 refugees set out on the road to Jenny Lind directly south of Chaffee. At that time, another Sebastian County deputy and myself were dispatched to that area in order to stop any refugees from leaving the base. Local armed citizens patrolled the back roads searching for any Cubans who left the base. We did not stop them from protecting their property.
There is so much information concerning all of this I could write a book--some of which I participated in and other information shared to me by my Brother Law Enforcement Officers. It was a complete governmental screw up.

Ron Thomas
Harrison, AR


Part 1: In 1980, my first assignment was with the 258th Military Police Company based at Fort Polk, LA. In May 1980, we received orders to deploy to Ft. Chaffee, AR. Upon arriving, we were immediately assigned to guard the containment area housing Cuban refugees. The only thing separating them from us were saw horses and rope. The intelligence obtained was that the refugees were getting disgruntled by the process and conditions. We were the only military unit providing security for the base and refugees. We were issued only riot gear and three-foot wood batons. On June 1, it seemed like all hell broke loose. I was on patrol with my supervisor (checking on the guard shacks) when we received a radio call of a military jeep that was on fire and heading for the main gate. We arrived at the north end east of the gate when the jeep drove up. The two MPs from my company were told to “get down” by the law enforcement (state troopers, county sheriffs, and some local officers) lined up on the other side of Highway 22. The two MPs were on the ground behind the three-foot rock wall when the jeep arrived with approximately fifty rioting refugees right behind it. I did not see or smell any tear gas fired by the state troopers, and there were no National Guard soldiers there either. When the jeep got within a few feet of the gate, the civilian law enforcement opened fire, hitting several Cubans. They turned the jeep around and dispersed the crowd. Dozens of refugees were killed and thrown into burning dining facilities. [Editor’s note: This account conflicts with published reports of the incident, which state that no refugees were killed in the rioting.]


Monte Huffman
Oklahoma City, OK


Part 2: After the rioting calmed down, they put up an eight-to-ten-foot fence with wire on top. They separated the population as far as a family area, female area, male area, etc. We still had contact with the refugees through the fence and found out that most of the refugees were excited and thankful to be there. But there was a group of refugees that didn't want to be there and was trying to get sent back to Cuba. During the riots, the refugees were trying to police themselves, and any “trouble makers” were being killed and tossed into the burning dining facilities. I know that this is hearsay from them to me, but they explained how they made weapons from the metal bunk bed adapters that were obtained before we (military) realized what they were doing. So, between those and knives they got from the dining facilities, they were well armed. We left around September and were replaced by another Military Police Company out of Ft. Riley, KS. We did hear stories about ranchers sponsoring out Cuban refugees and basically putting them in a bunkhouse using them as “cattle hands” to the point of almost slavery. It was said that you could get $500 per refugee. Other stories include that the refugees would get sponsored out and then run away to Miami to be with family. I remember how friendly the local civilians were, bringing baked desserts and food to the gates and thanking us for keep them safe. [Editor’s note: This account conflicts with published reports of the incident, which state that no refugees were killed in the rioting.]
Monte Huffman
Oklahoma City, OK