The Sindle Brothers of Calhoun and Bradley Counties, Arkansas
When the Civil War started, in 1861, Martha J. Spry was fourteen. She lived with her parents and several brothers and sisters in deep south Arkansas. She didn’t understand all the fuss and bother, but she understood that all the young men were disappearing from Calhoun County. Most of them joined up with something they called the Arkansas Rifles. She had four brothers, but they were all too young to go, and she was glad.
At the age of 17, Martha married an old man of 53. His name was Enoch Sindle. He had been born somewhere in the Carolinas around 1811, and had moved to Arkansas as a young man and raised a family. He lived somewhere between Stuttgart and DeWitt, a hundred miles away, and we don’t know how he met young Martha or her family.
In any case, the wedding was in February 1864, at the home of the bride’s father in Calhoun County. The war dragged on for another year, but no baby Sindle appeared nine months after the ceremony. At least not one that survived infancy. It wasn’t until the end of 1865, in December to be exact, that George Washington Sindle made his appearance into the world, presumably in Calhoun County, Arkansas.
We need to back up. Apparently this May-October marriage didn’t work out too well, because by the time the census-taker came around five years later, in 1870, Mr. and Mrs. Spry (who are now in their 50s) have moved out of Calhoun County, taking all their children with them. Our Martha was at home with her parents, listed under her maiden name, and without children. Surprisingly, their new home was two doors down from Enoch Sindle in Mount Adams, Arkansas – more than a hundred miles from Calhoun County. Huh? And to add to the mystery, little George is not to be found anywhere on the census. He wasn’t with the Sheltons, the Sindles/Swindles, the Sprys, or anybody else. He vanished.
Ten years went by. Courthouses burned, records were lost, and newspapers did not survive. Records for 1870-1880 are scarce. Families kept their important papers in the family Bible in those days, and if the Sindles or Sheltons or Sprys ever had one, it has eluded us for more than 40 years.
When the 1880 census-taker came around, he found Martha Sindle living in Calhoun County again. Her parents are nowhere to be found, and she’s living with Thomas and Louisa Moore Grisham. And that’s not all; she now has two sons: a teenager named George W. and an 11-year old named Robert C. Sindle. Well… even though Enoch disappeared, her legal name is still Sindle and she had two sons, right? Birth certificates didn’t exist, and we will probably never know who fathered these boys.
Robert C. Sindle only made that one appearance in any public record known to mankind. George W. Sindle had a brother named William R. Sindle, not found in any census, who grew up and lived just across the county line in Bradley County. But Robert, if he ever existed, was never heard from again.
Their mother Martha died in 1889, and for the rest of their lives, George and William lived within a few miles of each other. George had three wives, William had two. They each named their firstborn son after the other. George’s first son was William, and William’s first son was George. They both ‘settled down’ for a few years, and seemed to be ordinary hard-working farmers. But that was all to change in 1905.
We could say it was caused by a mid-life crisis (brought on by unresolved issues about their parentage), or the political tensions of the times, or the social culture of southern Arkansas, or whatever. George apparently turned to alcohol, and William most likely joined a certain ‘private club’ that engaged in certain night-time raids in certain areas of the county.
For whatever reasons, on October 26th, 1905, a Federal Grand Jury of the Eastern District of Arkansas filed the following indictment against William R. Sindle and six other men we won’t name:
“… on the 15th day of February 1905, in the county of Bradley, in said district, and within the jurisdiction of this court, did then and there knowingly, willfully and unlawfully conspire to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate various and sundry negro citizens of the State of Arkansas, because they were negroes … said negroes had heretofore entered into a contract with the Arkansas Lumber Company to work and labor for said corporation in and about their lumber plant and upon their logging and paving roads, by which each of them were to receive wages and other compensation for their labor.
At said time and place the said negroes were engaged in carrying out said contract … when the defendants posted up written warnings … forbidding them to continue therein; and by then and there carrying loaded guns, and by then and there discharging said guns for the purpose and with the intent to intimidate said negroes.”
All the defendants were convicted and served their time in Federal prison in Atlanta. William’s sentence must have been completed by 1910, because he was back home in time for the census, with a two-year old daughter added to his family. He had seven children, starting in 1896, but none born between 1904 and 1908.
And so it goes. Every family has its secrets, and the Sindles of Calhoun County are no different. George died in 1934, and is buried next to his mother in an unmarked grave in Jones Cemetery. William died in 1938 in Little Rock, a resident of the State Hospital. We don’t know the extent of his mental illness at the time of his death. He is buried in McFarland Cemetery near Banks, Arkansas.
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