Albert Pike is a name well-known in Arkansas history as both a Civil War general of Native American troops and a newspaper editor.But his feelings on Arkansas' secession and slavery as a "necessary evil" become clearer with a closer look at his personal letters and writings, which include his part in a group that called for expelling Blacks from the state after the Civil War.
Although Pike was known nationally after the Civil War for his involvement with the Freemasons, he gained national attention again on June 19, 2020, when a statue dedicated to him in Washington, D.C., was toppled by a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The monument to Pike was the only one of a Confederate Civil War general in the District of Columbia.
Pike was a Boston transplant to Arkansas who initially resisted secession, but followed the lead of his fellow Arkansans in fully supporting the Confederacy and even served as an appointed brigadier general in at least one battle in Arkansas.
By the end of his life, Pike had risen among the highest ranks of the Freemasons.
Before the Civil War he had moved from the Fort Smith area to Little Rock to pursue a career as a journalist. He eventually became editor and owner of The Advocate where he reported on the Supreme Court of Arkansas.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Pike was called up to be a brigadier general over a troop made up of several Native American Tribes. He was cited as being an advocate for Native Americans and the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the white man.
When it came to African Americans, however, Pike’s view of slavery was one that claimed it was a "necessary evil." He claimed that slaves would not be able to hold any other job and that they were treated well by their masters. He even admitted to having his own slave for "necessary" work.
Pike was initially hesitant to secede, but changed his mind when Arkansas leaders voted for secession. At that point, Pike became a full-fledged Confederate supporter. One author, Fred W. Allsopp, stated, "He [Pike] never did anything by halves." Pike himself said of Arkansas, "You must go out voluntarily, or be kicked out or dragged out."
The one battle Pike was known to have participated in during the Civil War was at Pea Ridge, also called Elkhorn because of a nearby tavern, and it ended in chaos. Pike’s Native American troops scattered and were uncontrollable. The battle saw two generals killed and another captured while Pike was not informed the battle was lost until three hours after it had ended.
At Pea Ridge, Pike led his battalion into the fight, but some of the Native Americans scalped Union soldiers while they were still alive. As a result, Pike was relieved of his post.
In a letter to the Native American tribes, of which a copy was sent to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Pike cited treaties he had made with the Native Americans that the Confederacy allegedly broke. Pike retired from the army but not before there were calls for his arrest from fellow generals for not controlling his troops.
Later, Pike sold his newspaper and pursued a career as a lawyer. He worked his way up to covering the U.S. Supreme Court. He also fought for the rights of various Native American tribes.
Pike’s interest in various ancient languages eventually led him to discover the order of the Freemasons, which he joined in 1840 and eventually gained the status of Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite's Southern Jurisdiction as a 33rd level Freemason.
In joining the Freemasons, Pike revealed his affinity for secret rites and rituals which led to rumors of him joining the Ku Klux Klan. While there is no definitive evidence of Pike being part of the KKK, one scholar, John Gould Fletcher, believes that Pike wrote the Klan poem "The Wolf Is On the Desert."
As part of the Committee of the Citizens of Little Rock and Pulaski County in 1858, Pike joined 11 other men in signing a circular that encouraged the people of Arkansas to expel free Blacks from the state.
The circular stated "The evil is the existence among us of a class of free colored persons" and went on to explain why their very existence threatened the hold slave owners had on their slaves.
In addition to his connections to the Indian Territory, there are several things dedicated to Pike in Fort Smith, Arkansas: an elementary school, a Mason’s youth group, and a road. In Van Buren, Arkansas, there is also an antebellum schoolhouse on the Crawford County Courthouse lawn in which Pike is said to have taught school when he first arrived in west Arkansas.
The personal letter to Pike's friend John Peay was viewed in a collection of letters at the Roberts Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. Other material on Pike was gathered at the Fort Smith Public Library.
A. Drew Smith, a reporter at the Times Record, can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Confederate monuments: General Albert Pike joined an effort to expel free Blacks from Arkansas