A Batesville resident is trying to get recognition for a colorful character from the area’s past. Paul Draper appeared before the Batesville City Council earlier this month to request a resolution acknowledging the writer Charles Fenton “Fent” Mercer Noland, and his story-telling perona Pete Whetstone, as part of the history of Batesville and Independence County.
“He was Mark Twain before Mark Twain,” Draper said.
While much has been written about Noland, his writings as the character Pete Whetstone, really captures the flavor of early life in the Ozarks,like Twain’s characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
George E. Lankford is an emeritus professor of folklore at Lyon College wrote the foreword for “Cavorting on the Devil’s Fork,” which is a compilation of Noland’s writings published by Leonard Williams published through Memphis State University Press in 1979.
In the Encyclopedia of Arkansas from the Central Arkansas Library System, Lankford wrote Noland “became a national figure as one of the leading “Southwestern humorists” with the regular publication of his letters in the New York Spirit of the Times, the leading national sports and humor newspaper. Noland was Arkansas’s representative in the literary movement named for the “old Southwest” (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas), which delighted the nation with an array of bucolic frontier/agrarian writings.”
Noland was from Virginia, born in 1810, and ended up in Arkansas after flunking out of West Point Military Academy. He studied law with the man Batesville is named after: attorney, judge, and Congressman James Woodson Bates.
Besides his failed military career, he killed Gov. James Pope’s nephew in a duel. After leaving the territory for a time after the fatal duel, Noland returned and became involved in Arkansas politics. When Arkansas finally became a state, he carried the constitution to Washington.
Lankford writes in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas that four years later Noland “married Lucretia Ringgold, daughter of Batesville merchant and Whig politician John Ringgold. They lived in the Ringgold house until 1855, when they moved to Little Rock for him to pursue other vocational paths, including swamp commissioner and newspaper editor.”
Noland’s first letter was published in the Spirit of the Times in 1836. He began as a reporter of horse races and other sporting events, and those themes became focused in his fictional character “Pete Whetstone,” who spun yarns about Arkansas hunting, politics, and life in general. His national audience grew, and Noland found himself a national celebrity.”
Although Noland died at age 48, Draper hopes to keep the Noland/Whetstone legacy alive. He’s been writing historical monologues based on the Pete Whetstone character. Draper said he’d like to have the Fent Noland/Pete Whetstone legacy be a featured part of Batesville’s Bicentennial celebrations next year.