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People of Van Buren County

The Thompson family has been in Van Buren County for more than 150 years.

Benjamin Hunter Thompson, born in 1825 in Tennessee, brought his family to Clinton, Ark., in the fall of 1863. It was probably about 1847 when he moved to Ouachita Parish, La. He married Susan Sellers on Oct. 5, 1848, in Louisiana. They are listed on the 1850 Census for Ouachita Parish. Then, in 1860, the family was listed in the Census for Berryville, Ark., in Carroll County.

Most of the children were listed as born in Louisiana, so evidently they moved to Berryville sometime in 1859; the two youngest children were shown as born in Arkansas on the 1870 Census for Van Buren County, Ark.

Benjamin served as a captain in the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was attached to Company C, 3rd Reg’t CS Cavalry Arkansas. He died in Clinton on June 17, 1864. Susan and three children were listed on the 1870 Census and her profession was listed as farmer. She applied for a pension and received it. She was not listed on the 1880 Census.

Their burial place is not known for sure. Both may be buried on the old Peel place in the Shake Rag area; that cemetery has no tombstones. Or they may be buried in unmarked graves in Bradley Cemetery.

Their children were James Allen, born in 1850; Mary E., born in 1852; Robert, born in 1855; Benjamin Harrison, born in 1856; Jacob, born in 1859; Sarah, born in 1861; and Matilda, born in 1864.

Benjamin Harrison Thompson, son of Benjamin Hunter Thompson, was born in Louisiana on Nov. 25, 1856. He married Catherine Elvira Stuart, who was born in Georgia on Aug. 5, 1866, and came to Arkansas with her father, Benjamin Othed Stuart whose family was listed on the 1870 Van Buren County Census. Ben and Cate’s children were James A., born in 1891; Sallie (Sarah J.), born in 1893; William L., born in 1895; and Mary Susan, born in 1899.

Ben was Van Buren County treasurer from 1896-1898. He died in 1906 and Cate managed the Thompson Hotel after his death with the help of her daughter, Mary. It was said that Mary got really upset with her mother because after working all day at the hotel, Cate would leave by the back door and not return until all hours of the morning. Mary accused her of misconduct, but then discovered that her mother was sitting up with sick children in the area so that the parents could get some rest.

After Mary married Roy Lefler, the following article was in the Van Buren County Democrat on Dec. 17, 1920:

“The Thompson Hotel for the past few years owned and operated by Mrs. Kate Thompson became the property through purchase Friday morning last of Mrs. Thompson’s son-in-law and daughter, Roy Lefler and wife, the consideration being $3,000. The transaction included, in addition to the hotel building and all furnishings, the feed stable and lot west of Dr. McMahan’s office and the office building at rear of the harness shop. While passing to different ownership but little if any change will be noted in the management of the hotel, much credit for its past success being due to the assistance rendered Mrs. Thompson by her daughter, Mary.”

Cate died in Campbell, Texas, in 1935 while visiting her sister Louisa. She was brought back and buried in Bradley Cemetery alongside her husband Benjamin Harrison Thompson.

Mary’s only sibling that was a big part of the Clinton community was her brother James Allen Thompson, known by most as “Tank.” He married Betty D. Williams and their children were James Benny Thompson who died on Luzon during World War II, and Roy Dale Thompson who married Mildred Morton. Their son was Tommy Dale who is deceased. Roy Dale was a POW for 10 months during the war.

James Allen’s draft registration for World War I shows him to be a timber buyer and estimator for Western Tree and Timber Co. in Alberg, Ark. In 1930 he entered the automobile business and continued that business until 1957. He operated the Thompson Motor Co. in Clinton and another in Marshall, Ark. His company sold Pontiac cars and GMC trucks. An article in the Van Buren County Democrat dated Sept. 12, 1945, was titled “Blind Auto Dealer at Little Rock for Showing.”

Following is the article about how he coped with his blindness:

“J.A. Thompson of Clinton, dealer for Kaiser & Frazer automobiles, was in Little Rock yesterday for the showing of the new model cars at High Bros. Motor Company. He has been operating his own automobile agency for 17 years although he has been blind for the last 15 years. Refusing to permit the handicap to stop him, Mr. Thompson has traded in new and used cars during that time. He places valuations of cars through keenly developed senses and hearing and touch plus a seventh sense he calls the ‘sense of comfort.’ To appraise an automobile, Mr. Thompson feels over every inch of the exterior and interior. His sensitive fingers and hands help him determine the condition of finish and upholstery. Next, he takes a ‘round the block ride over my own chosen test course’ where he notes the condition of springs, body and motor through his sensitive ability to hear mechanical sounds. His favorite test driver is his son, Roy D. Thompson, who recently returned to enter business with his father after spending 10 months in a German prisoner of war camp. The son is an ex-air force B-24 navigator. — Arkansas Gazette

With his cane, J.A. was able to walk anywhere in Clinton without anyone. He could tell by feel the denomination of paper money. His granddaughter Mary Frances tried to trick him many times when she would bring back his change. She never could because he could feel the difference in bills, which must have been his second sense.

His son Roy Dale continued in the automobile business when Tank moved to Marshall. Tank’s grandchildren that he raised after the death of their father Benny were Mary Frances Thompson Joyner and Betty Jean Thompson Davis, who are both deceased.

Roy Dale is also deceased, but Mildred still makes her home in Clinton and recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

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