Pearson in Cleburne
County was known for its excommunications
Written by: Tracy L. Crain
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Sunday, August 27, 2000
Evalena Berry's book, Time and the River: A History of
Cleburne County, describes the town of Pearson as a place
not in any way typical of the rural plantation South.
Perhaps it's because Pearson wasn't the typical cotton farming
community. It was a bustling cattle farming, lumber, and
Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad town, where religious rule
Although still religious, the town of Pearson, located along the
curve of Arkansas 16, eight miles from Rosebud in Cleburne
County, is not the same today.
There are only a few houses and a couple of churches, and
commerce is conducted in neighboring towns.
It's quiet, uninhibited and peaceful--so much so that it doesn't
seem befitting of the historical tales that have emerged from
Berry says in her book that from 1865 to the early 1900s,
Pearson had a much larger population where folks lived, worked
and worshipped in the shadow of the church.
Although the religious base was strong, Berry said there were
times when town residents where known to get a little too "wild
The church rule was so concentrated that many were
excommunicated from the church for too much frolicking and
Records from the Little Red River Association show that there
were three churches in Cleburne County in 1882, whose members
congregated on the second, third, and fourth Sundays of each
Perhaps the best example of the religious rule in Pearson during
the late 1800s is Berry's tale of Sister Sarah Jane, who was
charged with contempt of church for leaving the county with a
man without marrying him first.
Because of her act, she was excluded from attending the church
again. Interestingly enough, the person who brought charges
against her was later charged with drinking too much and was
also removed from the church.
"Of all the churches, the Palestine church, located in Pearson,
is the most famous for its historical roots. They used to
baptize people down in Cadron Creek. People still attend the
church today," said Roy Herring, a resident of Pearson.
"Many of the religious upheavals in Pearson resulted from what
was known as the Peace of the Church. That was sort of an order
that gave the church authority to exercise discipline on those
who strayed from the rules," he said.
According to Berry, the Peace of the Church came about in
January 1869 when Brother H. Blankenship asked the church if
they should tolerate "frolican and dancing among members. They
decided they would not, resulting in charges against a large
number of town members throughout ensuing years.
As far as the land was concerned, Berry notes that the entire
Cleburne County area was made up of only half a dozen farms that
had more than 100 acres of land. Of those, there were only two
that raised cotton. She attributes Jesse Pearson, who had a
place in Cadron Township, as the only local cotton producer.
Although it had ample land, resources and historical ties,
Pearson is mostly remembered as the town where blacks could
reside. Culturally, that was a lot different than the
neighboring communities where, according to Berry, "one is seven
families (in Cleburne County) were slave holders."
Most of the farms and the remnants of that lifestyle are gone
now. They seem to have faded with the railroad and lumber
industry. And, when they were gone, so were most of the
residents. Pearson has roughly 20 people living in the community
"Some of those residents still farm cattle. There isn't much
about this town that interests anyone anymore. All I know is
that there is a lot of hard work to do," said Vila Lovin, a
resident of Pearson since 1950.
"When we first moved here, there was a post office, but that's
gone now. Everything's gone. It's just the same ole thing," she
Although the town does suffer from a declining population,
existing residents still support their three churches immensely
and also participate in an annual spaghetti fund-raiser to
support the Pearson Volunteer Fire Department.
"I love going to those events. There is always a good turnout.
They usually have three fund-raiser dinners a year," Herring
said. "The next one is in September and it only costs around $5
a plate. You couldn't ask for more. It's the only annual get
together that we have."
He continued, "There are not many people who live in our town
anymore, but that's why I like it here. It's very quiet and just
the other day, I had three deer at my back door. That's what I
really treasure about this place."
He went on to say, "I think subdivided neighborhoods bring in a
lot of crime. We don't have that problem here."
(Pearson is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of
small towns in Arkansas written by Tracy Crain and published by
the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.)