They Sought a Land

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A Settlement in the Arkansas River Valley, 1840–1870
William Oates Ragsdale
978-1-68226-165-1 (paper)
July 1997
New in Paper, August 2020


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They Sought a Land, originally published in 1997, is the study of the rise and decline of a group of pioneers from the Carolinas who came to the Arkansas River Valley in the mid nineteenth century. Pisgah, as their settlement came to be known, drew five hundred pioneers from 1840 to 1870, forming a community bound by blood, friendship, and a strong Calvinist heritage.

Pisgah grew and prospered, developing increasingly successful farming practices, landholding patterns, and trading strategies. But the Civil War took a heavy toll, taking workers away from farms, subjecting those left on the home front to deprivation and violence, and creating division in the community. By 1870, the people of Pisgah had dispersed into Arkansas’s larger developing society.

Absorbing to read and rich with colorful detail, They Sought a Land is an important story of the westward expansion of the United States and the settling of the American South during the nineteenth century.

William Oats Ragsdale (1915–2005) was a resident of Russellville, Arkansas, and a descendant of members of the Pisgah community. He was a scholarly minister for forty years.

“A worthwhile contribution to local history and a useful addition to the story of nineteenth-century settlement in Arkansas.”
—Frances M. Ross, Journal of Southern History

“Illustrates why local histories can be so useful in understanding Arkansas’s past.”
—Mary Suter, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

“Seeking a good book in social and religious Southern history? Look at They Sought a Land. Ragsdale has made a significant and charming contribution.”
—Irvin M. May, Jr., Southwestern Historical Quarterly