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Louis Corneil Gulley was a civil servant and avid collector whose efforts helped the Arkansas History Commission (now the Arkansas State Archives) amass significant collections of territorial and early state documents, as well as artifacts of World War I.
Born in Jacksonport (Jackson County) on April 1, 1871, Louis C. Gulley was the eldest of eleven children of Ransom and Louanna Gulley. Gulley’s father was a prominent public figure in late nineteenth-century Arkansas.
In 1898, he graduated with a law degree from Arkansas Industrial University in Fayetteville (Washington County), now the University of Arkansas (UA). He served briefly as boys’ supervisor at the Arkansas School for the Blind in 1899. That same year, Gulley opened a bookstore with a partner at 709 Main Street in Little Rock (Pulaski County), but the partnership dissolved after only a short while.
Gulley’s 1901 appointment to a clerk position at the Little Rock post office marked a turning point for him. Gulley worked for the postal service in Little Rock for sixteen years, advancing to the position of superintendent of the Argenta—now North Little Rock (Pulaski County)—branch for a time. He remained with the postal service for the rest of his career, traveling with the American Expeditionary Forces in England and in France during World War I, and later serving as postal superintendent at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu, Hawaii, from 1921 to 1927.
Gulley was an avid collector of documents, artifacts, minerals, and anything else that caught his interest. In 1920, he donated 50,000 geological specimens to the Arkansas Bureau of Mines and Agriculture, a collection the Smithsonian Institution described as “the finest in the country” at that time. The collection, which he amassed over a period of years, reportedly contained almost every variety of mineral in Arkansas. In 1910, Gulley saved a collection of valuable documents from destruction at the old state capitol (now the Old State House). From a rubbish pile slated for disposal, Gulley rescued over 800 early Arkansas documents dating from 1819 to 1898. These contained the signatures of all four territorial governors and thirteen early governors, and they referenced notable events in Arkansas’s early history. Gulley donated these papers to the Arkansas History Commission in 1911. During his time as a postal clerk in Europe, Gulley worked with commission director Dallas Herndon to acquire a large collection of war relics for a war museum, planned for space in the old state capitol building. In the two years he was overseas, Gulley sent Herndon over 1,000 artifacts for the state archives.
Following the war, Gulley never again resided in Arkansas, a choice perhaps influenced by reminders of his first wife, Kate Simpson Gulley (born 1877), who died unexpectedly after a short illness in 1908. In Europe, Gulley met a Red Cross nurse, Mary Welchants of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They married in 1921 and made their home in Honolulu until 1927. In summer of that year, Gulley was arrested on charges of using $3 of canceled stamps to mail packages. Although at trial he was acquitted of the charges, the Gulleys left Honolulu and took up residence in Los Angeles, California.
Mary Welchants Gulley died in 1931. Louis Gulley remained in California, and in 1941, he married Winnie Marie Lenea.
In the last years of his life, Gulley devoted time to acquiring materials for a hobby museum that he planned to open in Venice, California, making trips around the country to gather materials for display. In a 1938 book titled Romance in a Junkshop, author William Burtscher recounts visiting the collector at his home in California. Burtscher writes that the Gulley home was “really and truly full” with collectibles of every type. Gulley indicated to Burtscher that his intent was to donate his collection to the Arkansas State History Museum, as the Old State House was then known. However, what became of Gulley’s estate following his death is not known.
Gulley died on January 31, 1946, and is interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.
For additional information:
Burtscher, William J. Romance in a Junk Shop. Los Angeles: Wetzel Publishing Co., 1938.
“Museum Owner Searches E. P. for Material.” El Paso Herald-Post, June 7, 1938.
Obituary of Louis C. Gulley. Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1946.
Arkansas State Archives
Last Updated 11/14/2017
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