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John E. Martineau

John Martineu
Courtesy of U. of A. Libraries, Special Collections

Though born in a log cabin in Clay County, Missouri, John Martineau was raised in Concord, Arkansas, where he was a childhood friend of Joe T. Robinson. After graduating from the University of Arkansas in 1896, he served for a year as the head of the Chickasaw Male Academy at Tishomingo in the Indian Territory. The following year he moved to Little Rock to pursue his law degree while at the same time serving as principal of the North Little Rock schools. Martineau received his degree and was admitted to the bar in 1899. After three years in private practice, he was elected to the legislature in 1902, and reelected two years later.

In 1907 acting-governor X.O. Pindall appointed Martineau as chancellor of the First Chancery Court where he gained a reputation for fairness and integrity. One of his most courageous and controversial acts was the granting a writ of habeas corpus preventing the execution of twelve blacks convicted of murder in the Elaine riots of 1919. All twelve would eventually be freed by the United States Supreme Court.

Martineau married Ann H. Mitchell of Pine Bluff in 1909. She died six years later. In 1919, he married Mabel Irwin Thomas of Des Arc.

Martineau made an unsuccessful bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 1924. Two years later, he defeated the incumbent Thomas Terral in a stunning political upset. It was almost unheard of for an incumbent governor not to be returned for a second term.

Martineau's biggest challenge as governor was the spectacular 1927 flood which inundated nearly a third of Arkansas. Martineau's handling of the crisis profoundly impressed Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who had been delegated by President Calvin Coolidge to head the flood relief efforts.

His most lasting accomplishment was what was known as the "Martineau Road Plan," actually a series of legislative enactments which initiated Arkansas commitment to modern highway transportation by addressing the issues of construction, funding and taxation.

Martineau never finished his term as governor, for in March of 1928, Calvin Coolidge appointed Martineau federal judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The appointment, recommended by Secretary Hoover, stood in sharp contrast to the partisanship usually evident in the selection of federal judges.

Martineau died of influenza in 1937.

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