Hercules King Cannon White was a six-term Pine Bluff mayor and a prominent figure in the Brooks-Baxter War during the Reconstruction era.
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Hercules King Cannon White was born on April 4, 1845, in Louisville, Kentucky, to James M. White and Dorcas Trimble White. He was the fifth of their nine children. In March 1861, White ran away from home to fight in the American Civil War. He joined Company E of the Second Kentucky Infantry, but his father soon tracked him down and secured his release from service because he was only fifteen years old. Undeterred, White soon joined Company C of the First (Helm’s) Kentucky Cavalry. He was captured at Louisville on November 26, 1862, and taken to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was exchanged.
White later joined John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry. He survived the cavalry’s raid into southern Indiana but joined a guerrilla band upon his return to Kentucky. On December 23, 1864, the band raided the steamer Morning Star. White was later charged with three felonies and served two years in prison for his part in the raid. After his release from prison, he moved to Pine Bluff where his uncle Reverend R. W. Trimble, brother N. T. White, and sister Florence lived. To earn a living, White tutored the children of prominent citizens while he studied law under Colonel M.L. Bell.
On January 15, 1868, White married Julia Dorriss at the Presbyterian Church at West Fourth and Chestnut Street in a service performed by his uncle Reverend Trimble. They went on to have four children together. Later that year, he received his license to practice law.
On April 20, 1871, acting governor Ozro A. Hadley appointed White as prosecuting attorney for the Tenth Judicial District. He served in that role until Act 53 of 1873 formed the Eleventh Judicial District, and Governor Elisha Baxter appointed a new prosecuting attorney. White was considered an excellent attorney, but his real passion was politics. In 1871, he became a Pine Bluff city alderman and was reelected in 1873.
In 1874, gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Brooks, contested Baxter’s 1872 election as governor, resulting in the Brooks-Baxter War. On April 18, 1874, White showed his support for Baxter by bringing three companies of three hundred African-American troops to Little Rock by steamboat. White recruits from Pope and Johnson counties also joined his troop. White rounded up a brass band and led his combined troops in a parade to the Anthony House, Baxter’s headquarters. Brooks held the State House just two blocks west of the Anthony House. White reportedly shouted to Baxter, “Furnish us, simply, with the means—give us the authority—pronounce the order and I will guarantee to you sir, that in twenty-five minutes from the time the order is written, Joseph Brooks will either be in hell or the archives.” Later, a scuffle resulted in the accidental killing of a bystander, and Baxter asked White to return to Pine Bluff with his troops.
On April 30, 1874, White was informed that Brooks’ supporter, Captain J. M. Murphy had formed a company of two hundred African-American recruits at New Gascony, about sixteen miles west of Pine Bluff. White gathered about the same number of his troops. He sailed downriver on the steamboat Belle of Texas. Once there, his troops attacked Murphy’s company, killing seven to nine men and wounding twenty to thirty. Baxter soon returned to the office and appointed White as general of the State Militia. White held this rank for the rest of his life.
White later returned to Pine Bluff to his law practice and political career. In 1878, he was elected to the Arkansas Senate but made an unsuccessful bid to serve as a Democratic candidate for the Second District. In 1885, he won Pine Bluff’s mayoral election, beating his three opponents by a small margin. He was reelected in 1886 and 1887, winning a two-year term following a change in state law. He defeated merchant John H. Dellmon, 763 to 469. In 1889, White stepped aside to let Joseph W. Bocage run for mayor unopposed. In 1891, White was elected mayor, beating R. G. Atkinson, 1,573 to 642. In 1901, he again ran for mayor, but Douglas Claiborne Bell defeated him by thirty votes. In 1903 and 1905, White again became mayor, running unopposed.
White became seriously ill during his final term as mayor. White died on January 16, 1907. Anticipating his death, he left the acting chairman of the city council detailed instructions for burial. Two days later, Pine Bluff’s businesses closed for an hour so that everyone could attend his funeral. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Bellwood Cemetery, but in 1908 funds were raised to purchase a grave marker. In January 1914, a nine-foot-tall marker was placed at his grave.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard