Narratives are personal stories that help enrich the reader’s understanding of a time period, person, place, or event. These are first-person views of history taken from personal recollections, memoirs, diaries, and oral histories.


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


Editor’s note: The Bylander narratives are oral history narratives told by Edgar Gerhardt Bylander and transcribed by his grand-niece Lisa Bylander. They were submitted by Jerry Bylander--nephew to Edgar G. Bylander--on behalf of the Bylander family. Jerry’s grandfather, Ernest G. Bylander, came to Little Rock from Sedalia, Missouri, to be secretary of the Arkansas State Fair at Fair Park (later War Memorial Park) in the 1920s. The Little Rock Zoo emerged on the site in the late 1920s. In essence, the zoo started “in the Bylanders’ backyard.”


EOA
Little Rock, AR


Little Rock mayor Ben D. Brickhouse gave Dad [Ernest G. Bylander] a pet wolf. We kept it in the backyard with our other animals. That started the zoo. Mr. Gray, our night watchman and maintenance man, had been a farmer so they made him the first zookeeper. The stone zoo building was built by the WPA during the Depression. They also built a bear pit. It had stone sides with curved steel bars protruding about three feet above the wall. The pit had a fence down the middle with a gate—one side for brown bears and one for black bears.

One bear was donated by Johnny Harding. His father was superintendent of Little Rock schools. He had raised it from a cub, but it had grown up and had clawed up the leather upholstery in the backseat of his Stutz touring car. A plumbing company donated five rhesus monkeys. A lot of people brought in snakes, owls, and other animals.

One of the first of the larger animals that I remember being given to the zoo was Herman Heiden’s wolf, which he had given to Mayor Brickhouse. The mayor, having no place to keep it, sent it out for Dad to keep for him, so the wolf was put in the Poultry Exhibit Building.

The American Express Company once found some Mexican doves in a boxcar they were unloading, and they brought them out to the zoo.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


Sharp Dunaway from Conway contributed a cinnamon bear cub, and every injured animal found in the state was brought to the zoo. People would bring in possums, coons, and foxes. We had an eagle with a broken wing and red-tailed hawks and, at home, we had been raising guinea pigs for the State Hospital laboratory, which adjoined Fair Park on the east. We started by buying the guinea pigs for 25 cents each from the laboratory, raising large litters and then selling them back to the laboratory. We had so many guinea pigs in cages behind the house that Mother told us to get rid of them, so we took them to the zoo. Also, we had white rats, and I had gathered up some snakes that became part of the zoo population.

During the early days until sometime during Bill Sprott’s administration, signs on the fronts of cages in the poultry exhibit building stated the name of the animal and who had donated it or furnished the money to purchase it. Among the ones I remember are Karchel Candy, Muswick Beverage, Blass, Schneider’s, Grobmeyer Lumber, Pettit Plumbing, and, of course, the names of many individuals. After the zoo became established, many of the animals were born and raised at the zoo and, later, trading animals with other zoos became an important means of obtaining new exhibits.

The zoo was financed in part by a donation box placed at the front entrance to the zoo building and by a percentage of the concession stand, which came into being at the time the long building was built, replacing the first building, the poultry exhibit building. A small concession building was built about 20 yards west of this building, using material from other Arkansas State Fair buildings being torn down.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


In phase I of the zoo, we had a bear pen in the swine building that was located across the street from the poultry building. We had put fencing over the top of one of the pens, and the bear would lie on a bed of hay during the cold weather. We had a big iron stew pot that we used to cook stew for him. While there were other bears at the zoo later, I remember this one because of the gosh-awful smell of the stew we were cooking for him. The main entrance to the zoo was on the road separating the poultry building and the swine buildings and is still the only paved road running through the zoo. Just outside the entrance to the zoo and about 200 yards to the south was the State Fair display building called the Women’s Building. Then immediately to the south of this was the main entrance to Fair Park, and west from that was the south entrance to the zoo. This was just west of the Negro Exhibit Building. Going west along the 8th Street fence was a long warehouse building with a truck dock. Around the warehouse and to the west was the material yard. Under the warehouse were several Civil War cannons that were never mounted in Fair Park although that was what they were brought to the fairgrounds for. To raise interest in the zoo, the Firemen’s Band would play on Sunday afternoons in the bear pit area. We’d give the bears a barrel with molasses in it and the bung out. They’d fight over the barrel, stick their tongues in the bung hole when the molasses was about gone, and dance on their hind legs to the music of the Firemen’s Band.


Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


There was very little money to run the zoo, and the only way the animals got fed was by the zoo buying or being given leftovers at the Farmer’s Market, which was at 14th and Scott at that time. To feed the big cats, they put up a small building in back of the zoo in which they butchered any mules, horses, and cows the City had to dispose of because of being hit by cars, etc. By keeping expenses down in this manner, they got by on what money the City could furnish and the Fair Park Zoological Society could raise during the year. There was also a Junior Zoological Society that raised money for the zoo. My sister Ruth has the No.1 membership card in the Junior Zoological Society.

At one time, it got really hard to keep track of what was at the zoo because they didn’t have money enough to keep workers at the zoo all the time. City prisoners were utilized from time to time to help the staff with the animals.

Lack of sewage facilities caused us to build a slush-pit in what we kids called the Indian mounds. The Indian mounds were a pine thicket where 8th Street intersects Hayes street and at about the No. 3, 4, and 5 holes on the Municipal Golf Course. I don’t know whether these mounds were actually Indian mounds or not, but it was where we kids had camped out in the summer time. We hauled the garbage from the zoo over to the slush-pit in the Model T dump truck operated by Cricket Gresham. If we had young buzzards donated to the zoo, we would take them and leave them at the pit and they would grow up healthy and strong.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


During the building of the long building that replaced the poultry exhibit building, the builders, who were using material from other Arkansas State Fair buildings, made a bad mistake. In order to have a level floor in the building, they hauled many loads of rock for a fill and didn’t soak dirt down among the rocks. From then on, until the building was torn down, rats made their nests in this foundation and could be seen scurrying all over the zoo, scavenging food from the cages and, in some cases, fighting the animals for food.
They were so big and bad that house cats and rat terrier dogs fled at the sight of them. Poison bait seemed to have no effect on them, either. The building had a wall about chest-high around the lower part and, when the circus people enclosed one of the buildings for their elephants, they just nailed vertical boards from the wall to the roof, leaving a four-inch “runway” at the top of the wall on three sides of the room. The rats, getting fat on grain spilled around the cages, used this runway to get from one end of the building to the other. We kept having to nail the vertical boards back on at the bottom and figured that the elephants were pushing them loose until the park night watchman, on hearing some loud banging coming from the elephant room one night, went inside to find the elephants picking up rocks in their trunks and slinging them at rats running up and down the runway.

Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


The stone zoo building was built by the WPA during the Depression. They also built a bear pit. Stone sides with curved steel bars protruding about three feet above the wall. The pit had a fence down the middle with a gate: one side for brown bears and one for black bears.
 
One afternoon, a boy straddling one of the steel bars was kicking down at a standing bear. The bear bit his foot off and crawled out over the boy. Someone came for me. I put all the bears in one side of the pit and left the back door open. I kept the bear going around the pit, but he wouldn’t go in the door. A car drove up and several people got out. I told them to get back in, but they didn’t understand. One man started to get in the back seat but fell flat on his face. The bear had climbed on the man. I put my pistol to his head, but he backed out. Every time he turned on me, I would hit him on the nose with a stick. The only way to hurt a bear is to hit his nose. I finally got him into the pit. Since he had tasted human blood, we were afraid to keep him. We killed him and ate him.

Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


As part of Phase 2 of the zoo, large fenced enclosures were built around the hillside south of the State Fair Office and east of the extension of Oak Forrest Boulevard. The buffalo were then moved to these pens and put in with some elk. That was a mistake. During rutting season for the elk, a big bull elk picked up a buffalo on his antlers and tossed the buffalo back over his head and over a twelve-foot wire fence. The buffalo landed on his back, and it killed him. More meat on the table. Dad [Ernest G. Bylander] had the buffalo’s head mounted, and we kept it until a Parks commissioner told us that the City wanted it for exhibit in the City Hall. I saw it several years later in a Parks commissioner’s home.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


We had an old lion in the Phase 2 building that had been given to the zoo because he was too old to go on the road with the circus and he was vile tempered, wanting only to eat and sleep. In fact, he would look at the meat thrown in to him for a long time before he would condescend to get up and eat it. He just didn’t like to be disturbed in the daytime. At night, though, he would start the long-winded roaring common to lions, and then the coyotes and other animals would join in. I’ve gone to sleep many nights listening to roaring, even though our house was about a half mile from the zoo. This old lion was in the first cage when you come in the front door of the zoo; it had one-inch steel bars about four inches apart in the front. As long as a crowd was present, he would lie with his magnificent head raised, balefully glaring at the crowd. As soon as the crowd thinned out, he would lay his head down. Late in the evenings when just a few people were in the building, some man would throw paper, matchbooks, or anything he had to make the lion get up. The lion would take this just so long, then he would get up, yawn, stroll to the front of the cage, cock his leg up like a dog, and urinate all over his tormentor. Talk about screaming! They would run out of the building shouting that they were going to get a gun and kill that damn lion, or sue the zoo, or fist-fight anyone they thought was to blame. The peculiar thing about this stunt was that it never happened to a woman or child. Men only.
Bylander Family
Little Rock, AR


It was hard to keep ducks and geese in the early days—people would bring their Easter egg–dyed chicks to the zoo when they had become too large to keep in their homes and turn them loose on the zoo duck pond. But, every winter, the carnival that came to Fair Park to stay for the winter would leave some of the carnival roustabouts to care for their animals, and some of the roustabouts who had no money to get out of town would sleep in with the animals and get food wherever they could. Eventually they would drift off somewhere else, then show up again in the spring to go out with the carnival. Every once in a while we would find ducks and geese missing, so the zoo personnel would search the brush in the creek bottom until they saw the smoke of a campfire and they would find one or more of the roustabouts roasting a goose or duck over their campfire. Having the sheriff give them 24 hours to be over the county line took care of the situation.


Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


I remember an unusual way we once obtained some Canada geese for the zoo. One year, we had a very early fall, and the amusement rides section of the park, which was owned by Keenan, Hemphill and McQuilken of Oklahoma City, had yet to shut down when the fall rains and fog started coming in. One night during this early fall, the weather had turned chilly and fog started rolling in just after sundown. By ten o’clock it was so thick that the ride operators—Barney Conley, Heinie Reager, Fats Boosey, Howard Simpson, Archie Gray, Little Howard Scoggins, myself—and the concessionaires (Fred, Skinny, and Bert Miller) were ready to close down for the night. While we were wandering around talking among ourselves due to lack of customers, a flight of Canadian honkers, apparently trapped in the fog and looking for a place to let down, became confused by the lights on the roller coaster. We could hear the geese circling around somewhere above the lights, calling loudly to each other. We drifted in groups over to the area between the merry-go-round and the roller coaster. Almost as if a signal were given, the geese began coming in lower. As they did, the inevitable happened—some of them hit the uprights and braces of the roller coaster and were either injured or killed. We took the injured geese to the zoo to be nursed back to health and ate the rest. I think this was probably against the Fish and Game Department regulations, but I don’t think it bothered anyone much.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


There was a cougar, panther, or mountain lion, or whatever you want to call it, that was donated to the zoo by a woman from a small town in south Arkansas. She had raised the cat from when it was cub and it was a wonderful pet, always knowing to pull its claws back into its toes when playing with a human. However, as it got bigger, it scared people in the small town where this woman lived, and she reluctantly brought it to the zoo. She would come to see the cat from time to time, always arriving after zoo closing hours, and Bill Sprott would go with her into the walkway behind the big cats’ cages and let her into the cougar’s cage. She would get in the cage and the cougar would rest its head in her lap while she petted it, or they would wrestle and roughhouse together.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


During the worst part of the Depression, probably in 1931 or 1932, we received word that a small circus had gone broke somewhere in Texas and that they had a performing elephant and other animals that could be bought. Plans were made to raise funds for the purchase, and the schoolchildren brought their pennies to school for the collection. The elephant’s name was Ruth, and contrary to many reports, the name was not changed to Ruth after she was brought to the zoo. Bill Sprott and Bill Beckett went to Texas to get the elephant and came back with Ruth, a camel, and a truckload of gear, including something for people to ride in on Ruth’s back. Ruth was chained in a fenced enclosure in the center of the cat house for about a year, then the WPA-built concession stand was remodeled into an elephant house. Bill Beckett worked Ruth on Sunday afternoons; she had learned her circus tricks from the former owners before she was brought from Texas. Ruth wasn’t worked then from the time Bill Beckett quit the zoo until some years later when Raymond Squires started working her again, doing the same tricks she had done in the circus.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


Harvey Couch, president of Arkansas Power and Light, had a home on large acreage on Lake Catherine, near Hot Springs. He had deer and several wild animals, but he wanted a pair of buffalo. He bought three buffalo in Oklahoma. He gave some of these animals to the zoo, and they got the Arkansas State Highway Dept. to send a truck for them. The zoo kept the buffalo in a pen with a goat. Mr. Adams (whom the Little Rock Airport is named for) owned a wholesale produce company, and he, along with other wholesale firms, would give us old vegetables and fruit, and I would haul it in the state fair’s Model T Ford touring car. I would feed the old peaches to the goat. One time we got a load of peaches that had gotten over-ripe, and we threw them in the buffalo-elk-goat pen for the goats to eat. One of the buffaloes ate some of the spoiled peaches and died—when he was cut open for an autopsy, his stomach was full of peach pits. They had the head mounted and gave it to Dad [Ernest G. Bylander]. I don’t know where it ended up.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR


When they started the excavation for the Travelers Field footings, my brother Ed was working for Ray Winder, who was the manager, and Roy Thompson of the Democrat P&L, who was president of the association. Ed drove one of the two track-laying tractors they used to dig in the heavy red clay, and I don’t remember if it was him who stuck the big Monarch in the gummy clay or someone else. The Monarch was a tremendous machine, but it wouldn’t pull the hat off your head. They got a couple of Holt Caterpillars and with all three tractors pulling, finally managed to get the Monarch out of the hole. As Travelers Field was put on the southwest corner of the State Hospital grounds, the patients got in free. I remember seeing them lined up after most of the paying customers had gone in and then the attendants led the patients to their seats. Another thing I remember was when one of the older Hinkson boys climbed on to the first limb of a tall pine tree just outside the ball park to watch the game, but slipped and fell out of the tree. Didn’t hurt him much, but it broke the collarbone of the fellow he fell on.
Jerry Bylander, on behalf of Ernest E. Bylander
Little Rock, AR


It is interesting to note that when the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team tried to find a razorback mascot, they had to go to the swamps of Louisiana to find Tusker. The Little Rock Zoo never had a real razorback tusker, even though the Finkbinder brothers gave the zoo several young shoats from time to time which were supposed to grow up to be tuskers.
Bylander family
Little Rock, AR