Ken Smith’s Friendship with Evangeline Archer
Ken Smith interviewed by Lisa Orton
For those who don’t know local legend Ken Smith, I would like to give a summary of his life before looking at his friendship with Evangeline Archer. Kenneth L. Smith is a former civil engineer for the National Park Service, freelance writer, photographer, author, historian, naturalist, and environmentalist. Working with the Ozark Society, he was a key activist for the formation of the Buffalo National River. Ken then worked with the Buffalo River Foundation to continue exploring ways to benefit the park. He served over 30 years as trail development coordinator for the Buffalo River Trail, leading crews of mostly volunteers.
Ken was born in 1934 and grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He entered the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1952. While there, he joined a hiking group and became familiar with the Buffalo River area and northwest Arkansas. Ken earned a B.S. Mechanical Engineering degree in 1956. After college he worked as an engineer for a paper company in Crossett, Arkansas. During this time, he became involved with the Nature Conservancy in an effort to preserve the Lost Valley area near Ponca, Arkansas.
In 1961 Ken accepted a position with the National Park Service as civil engineer and park planner. During his twelve years with them, Ken took two leaves of absence. One was to earn an M.S. Natural Resources Administration degree from the University of Michigan. The other was from December 1964 to June 1965 to work on a book to promote preservation of the Buffalo River. Working with the Ozark Society, “The Buffalo River Country” was published in 1967. The book, the first about the area, was a key part of efforts underway to create the first national river.
Ken left the park service in 1974 and returned to northwest Arkansas to work as a freelance writer, photographer, and activist. His detailed “Buffalo River Handbook” was published in 2004 by the Ozark Society.
A quick review of Evangeline Pratt Waterman Archer’s life: Evangeline was born in 1898 in Springdale, Arkansas. She was the youngest child of Cassius and Maggie Pratt who settled on West Mountain (now called Markham Hill) in 1900 with their four sons and two daughters, Joy and Evangeline. Evangeline married Julian S. Waterman, founder and first dean of the UA Law School and vice president of the UA, in 1927. After his death, she married Laird Archer, foreign officer of the Near East Foundation, in 1947. Evangeline is best known as a founding member and first secretary of the Ozark Society that helped save the Buffalo River from being dammed in the 1960s and make it the U.S.’s first National River in 1972. She worked with Neil Compton and others to accomplish this much-appreciated feat. Her house on Markham Hill is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
My Interview with Ken Smith
I interviewed Ken Smith about his friendship with Evangeline Archer. They became close friends and he was like a son to her.
I asked, "How did you meet Evangeline Archer?"
Ken answered, "Around 1960 I went to the annual meeting of the Arkansas Audubon Society at Petit Jean State Park. I took a field trip with the attendees to Holla Bend wildlife refuge along the Arkansas River. I found myself in the back seat of an open jeep with a woman who turned out to be Evangeline Archer. We struck up a conversation. I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I told her I was interested in the Lost Valley preservation efforts, I was planning to leave Arkansas to go to graduate school, and I would like to buy a VW Bug someday. She said she was planning a trip to Europe with a friend and would also love to buy a VW Bug to drive around Europe, but she and her husband were retired and couldn’t afford one right now. We exchanged mailing addresses.”
Ken continued, “Later, I had an inspiration. I thought, ‘She’s a reliable, mature person.’ I mailed her a check for $1600, the cost of a new VW Bug, with a note that said, ‘When you go to Europe with your friend, will you buy me a VW Bug? You can use it to drive around Europe and then put it on a boat to New Orleans. I will pick it up there and pay the shipping expenses.’ She was very surprised and happy to do this. It all worked out. We were friends for the rest of her life.”
I asked, "When you moved back to Fayetteville in 1974, how did your friendship continue?"
Ken answered, “I was able to get a low paying job as the Conservation Director of the Ozark Society and I chose to live in Fayetteville. At first, I lived in a little house behind Evangeline and Laird Archer’s house rent-free except for the utilities. During this time, I built the house I still live in today. I also became familiar with the [Pratt, Waterman-Archer, Markham] property. I went to the Courthouse, obtained the information, and mapped out the entire property. In the 1930s, Evangeline and her husband Julian Waterman had bought adjoining acreage to the original Pratt family homestead whenever it became available. Her sister Joy Markham bought some acreage too, including the Ward Pennington property which she purchased from Ward’s sister after he died. Their property on Markham Hill grew to over 200 acres. Evangeline and Joy rode horses on their land and enjoyed having their friends ride there too. Joy had the summer camp during the 20s, 30s, and 40s which is now on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places. They both wanted their property preserved and remain undeveloped. Evangeline and Joy had similar political views but were very different people. I was close friends with Evangeline but had some acquaintance with Joy. Joy gave me daffodil bulbs from her front yard.”
Ken continued, “Evangeline was very intelligent and well-read. She read about serious things, like conservation and planning. She had contacts with the University. We were ‘simpatico’. We had the same interests and outlook. We would have interesting conversations.”
I asked, "Do you have any stories about Evangeline that stand out in your mind?"
Ken chuckled and then answered, “Evangeline offered to give me some dogwood saplings to plant in my yard. She drove me in her VB Bug across the pasture to the woods beyond, near the Pennington house. There was a young couple buck naked lying there in the grass just off to the left near a group of trees. I thought, ‘Boy, she didn’t see them!’ We headed up toward that back gate, the one closest to the Pennington place. All of a sudden, she stopped the car and said something. She turned that car around, went right around the group of trees, and pulled up right beside that couple. I thought, ‘Boy, she’s going to hit the fan now!’ She got out and said, ‘I’m sorry. This is private property. You will have to get dressed and leave.’ That was all. No screaming. No anything. Evangeline then drove us back to the gate. I remember we had to climb through some barbed wire to get to the seedling dogwoods. When we drove back across the pasture, the young couple was leaving. Evangeline said, ‘She was sort of chunky, wasn’t she?’”
Evangeline Archer thought so highly of Ken Smith that she asked him to be present at the reading of her sister Joy Markham's will. The reading was done in Evangeline and Laird Archer's living room and Hugh Kincaid was Joy's lawyer.