by Steven Teske

A man squanders his family fortune until he is penniless, loses every time he runs for public office, and yet is so admired by the people of Arkansas that the General Assembly names a county in his honor.

A reknown writer makes her home in the basement of a museum until she is sued by some of the most prominent women of the state regarding the use of the rooms upstairs.

A brilliant inventor who nearly built the first airplane is also vilified for being eccentric and maybe even crazy.

Historian Steven Teske has rummaged through Arkansas’s colorful past to find some of the state’s most controversial figures for his new book, Unvarnished Arkansas: The Naked Truth About Nine Famous Arkansans, just published by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System.

The nine people featured in this collection of lives are not the most famous products of Arkansas. More than half of them were not even born in Arkansas, although all of them lived in Arkansas and contributed to its history and culture. Each of them has achieved a certain stature in local folklore, if not in the story of the state as a whole.

From the pioneer who created the story of the Arkansas Traveler to the drifter who was almost a living legend -- arriving unexpectedly to testify at the trial of his alleged murderers -- each of these people is, in a sense, Arkansas. Each is a small part of what makes Arkansas the place that it is today.

One character, J. N. Smithee, was "generous to a fault, as brave as a lion, possessing strong convictions, and much native ability...a good newspaperman, who did much for Arkansas." His enemies, however, were so angered by his strong convictions and by his writing that they insulted him publicly and even tried to shoot him to death.

Was Senator Solan Borland really a hot-tempered brawler who could never resist a fight? Was attorney Scipio A. Jones really a civil rights hero in the midst of the worst era of segregation and prejudice? For that matter, was he truly an "Uncle Tom" who learned how to "play the white man’s game" so he could enrich himself, even at the expense of his fellow African-Americans?

Readers must decide these questions for themselves and Teske, an editor for the Butler Center’s Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, has created an interesting and compelling window into Arkansas’s past. Unvarnished Arkansas is available in book stores, through the distributer -- the University of Arkansas Press (800) 626-0090, and on-line through major book retailers.

6 x 9, 160 pages
$19.95 paper
ISBN 978-1-935106-35-7