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Paraclifta (Sevier County)

Paraclifta was the first county seat of Sevier County. An 1850 plat shows fifteen families living in Paraclifta. At this time, however, only the historic Gilliam-Norwood house remains.

Sevier County was formed on October 22, 1828, eight years before Arkansas became a state. The county was, at that time, a vast area comprising what is now Sevier, Polk, Little River, and Howard counties. A board of commissioners consisting of George T. Boring, Joseph Ladd, James Holman, David Clark, and Levi Davis was assigned the duty of permanently locating the county seat. They established the county seat at a site that later became Paraclifta.

The first courthouse was built of logs at a cost of $150. The second, however, was built in 1841 with lumber. The only sketch of it was later drawn by E. S. Byington from verbal descriptions.

Paraclifta was named for a Choctaw Indian chief because, as the story goes, he rescued a group of settlers who were being held prisoner by Indians who accused them of horse-stealing. Chief Paraclifta intervened, and the settlers agreed to pay for the horse, thus settling the matter.

A term of court was held in Paraclifta in 1829, and a post office was established in 1830. Four newspapers were fostered there in the 1850s. The Paraclifta Seminary trained young women to become elegant Southern ladies.

In the fall of 1863, “a company of old men and boys” was recruited in Paraclifta. Robert C. Gilliam, age forty-four, was one of the officers of this company, which became a part of the Arkansas Battalion of State Troops. He was killed in the Action at Mark’s Mills on April 25, 1864. A small collection of letters sent between him and his wife and children are preserved at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

Between the years 1844 and 1873, land for new counties—Polk, Howard, and Little River—was cut from Sevier County. This placed Paraclifta within five miles of the Sevier County line, and demand arose for a county seat that was more centrally located. The site of Lockesburg was chosen in 1867.

The new brick courthouse at Lockesburg was completed in 1871, and the records were removed in 1872. The people moved almost in a group to Lockesburg. After the death of Gilliam in the Civil War, his widow, Frances, married Captain Lewis H. Norwood, and they and the Gilliam and the Norwood children lived in the Gilliam house in Paraclifta. Norwood also purchased the various businesses and homes left behind in Paraclifta. In 1885, however, they also moved to Lockesburg.

Today, the mansion once occupied by Gilliam and his wife and children still stands; it is the oldest house in Sevier County. The “dogtrot” house, with its original floors and fireplaces, is now owned by Jack and Janie Williams of San Antonio, Texas. Although only one original piece, a small wooden table, remains from the Gilliam-Norwood family Janie Williams has filled the mansion with antiques, such as hand-pieced quilts, glassware, and artifacts original to the period. An old sidesaddle discovered in the attic of the house is on display at the Sevier County Museum in De Queen (Sevier County), as are copies of twenty-two love letters written between Frances and Robert Gilliam while he was at Camp Flanagan, near Paraclifta, as well as the letter informing her of his death.

For additional information:
Hudson, James J., ed. “From Paraclifta to Marks’ Mill: The Civil War Correspondence of Robert C. Gilliam.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 17 (Autumn 1958): 272–302.

Mabry, Harold. Profiles of the Past. De Queen, AR: De Queen Bee, n.d.

Paraclifta Papers. Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas.

Robert C. Gilliam Civil War Letters. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.digital.butlercenter.org/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/findingaids&CISOPTR=361&filename=362.xml (accessed November 29, 2011).

June D. King
Sevier County Museum

Last Updated 11/29/2011

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