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Peter "Old Pete" Mankins (1813–1899)

Peter “Old Pete” Mankins Jr. was an early settler and county official in Washington County, as well as a Confederate guerrilla leader whose command operated in northwestern Arkansas during the Civil War.

Peter Mankins Jr. was born in Floyd County, Kentucky, on August 1, 1813, the third of five children of Peter Mankins and Rachel Bracken Mankins. In 1833, he migrated to Sulphur City (Washington County), where his father owned property. A short, stocky man, Mankins (or “Uncle Pete” as his relatives and friends called him) developed a local reputation for considerable physical strength, which he displayed during threshing season by single-handedly lifting two-hundred-pound sacks of wheat.

Mankins married Amanda Narcissus Mills in 1836, and they had ten children (one of whom died in infancy). Amanda Mankins died on December 17, 1863. Mankins married Esther Hanna Gilliland on January 14, 1866; they had a daughter.

In 1849, Mankins journeyed to the California gold fields with a group of prospectors. He returned after two years with a small fortune reputedly valued at $4,000. Afterward, he invested in cattle and hogs for sale in the Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana, markets.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Mankins did not enlist in the armed forces but financed the recruitment and organization of a company-sized group of Washington County men that served with the Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry. Later, Mankins organized and led a mounted command known as “Mankins’ Gang,” which operated as an independent or guerrilla force in northwestern Arkansas for the remainder of the war and earned a reputation as an elusive and perpetual nuisance against the operations of Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison and the First Arkansas Cavalry (Union). In a likely exaggerated account, Mankins is reported to have escaped capture on one occasion by swimming across the Arkansas River with a force of 300 Federal soldiers in pursuit.

Harrison did, in fact, order a force of eighty-one troopers from Company E of the First Arkansas to pursue and eliminate Mankins and his gang at Therikyl’s Ferry near Vine Prairie (Crawford County). By the time they encountered Mankins, however, the Federal force had been reduced by an engagement with another Confederate force on February 2, 1863, as well as the return to Fayetteville (Washington County) of the majority of Company E. On February 3, seven troopers and one officer of Company M made an unsupported attack against Mankins and thirty men who were sheltered in a log house near the mouth of the Mulberry River (a major tributary of the Arkansas River). Although outnumbered, the small Federal detachment killed two of Mankins’s men, wounded one, captured another, and forced the rebels to withdraw and scatter.

Nonetheless, Mankins’s activities continued thereafter, seemingly unabated. Harrison listed Mankins in his April 19, 1863, report to Major General Samuel R. Curtis on the Action at Fayetteville as the leader of one of “four companies of bushwhackers” attached to the Confederate command of Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell. Mankins may also have briefly attached his command to operations near Batesville (Independence County). On February 20, 1864, an officer identified only as “Captain Mankin” conveyed a flag of truce on behalf of Captain George W. Rutherford of Colonel Archibald Dobbins’s First Arkansas Cavalry to the headquarters for the Union army’s District of Northeastern Arkansas to effect an exchange of prisoners and burial details. If this individual was indeed Peter Mankins, his participation in such a formal process of exchange and military courtesy may indicate that Federal authorities perceived him and his command as legitimate partisan rangers rather than guerrillas. Indeed, no reference to or charge of atrocity seems to be associated with Mankins or his command. There is no record of surrender, parole, or pardon for Mankins at the conclusion of the Civil War, but he returned to the family’s Washington County property and remained in northwestern Arkansas for the rest of his life.

After the war, Mankins reestablished his investments in livestock, served as coroner for Washington County between 1866 and 1868, and owned mining claims in Polk County. He died at the age of eighty-five on March 4, 1899, and is buried in the family plot at Reece Cemetery in Hicks (Washington County) near the Middle Fork River.

For additional information:
Bishop, Albert Webb. Loyalty on the Frontier, Or, Sketches of Union Men of the South-west: With Incidents and Adventures in Rebellion on the Border. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 2003.

History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.

Sutherland, Daniel E. American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell

Last Updated 10/25/2017

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