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James Phillip Eagle


Courtesy of the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
Born on August 10, 1837, in Maury County, Tennessee, Eagle moved with his family to Arkansas when he was only two years old. The Eagle family, descendants of German immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania in the colonial era, farmed first in Pulaski County and later outside Lonoke.

In 1859, Eagle was elected deputy sheriff of Prairie County, a position he held when he enlisted in the Fifth Arkansas Mounted Rifles in June 1861. Entering the Confederate ranks as a private, he rose to the rank of captain and saw action at Hominy Creek and Pea Ridge and was taken prisoner at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In May 1863, he returned to his unit as part of a prisoner exchange and fought in the battles at Jackson, Chickamauga, and Atlanta, where he was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Remarkably Eagle recovered and rejoined his troops after only two months.

It was said that men either found God or lost Him forever during the Civil War. Eagle was among the former. Following the war he studied for the ministry and was ordained as a Baptist preacher. At the same time he managed the family farm, turning it into one of the most prosperous in the state.

In 1872 friends placed Eagle's name in nomination for the state legislature and he was elected. He became actively involved in the Brooks-Baxter dispute in 1874, raising and commanding three companies in support of Elisha Baxter. Eagle married Mary Kavanaugh Oldham of Kentucky in 1882.

Eagle's reputation as a farmer and a minister served him well in politics and contributed to his nomination as the Democratic Party's gubernatorial candidate in 1888. That year the party faced a formidable challenge from a coalition of blacks, Republicans, the Knights of Labor, and agrarian reformers who belonged to the Agricultural Wheel. Eagle won what many regard as the most corrupt election in Arkansas history. His rival C.M. Norwood protested the election results but to no avail. Eagle was re-elected by a larger margin in 1890.

In Eagle's first term the legislature was little inclined to enact the more ambitious items in his agenda which included reforms in taxes, railroad regulation, education, roads, and prisons. His program fared a little better in his second term but the governor did manage over four years to restore a degree of harmony in the Democratic Party. In 1891 the legislature enacted a separate coach law requiring separate accommodations for blacks and whites traveling on public transportation. Eagle did not advocate such a measure, but allowed it to become law.

Next: William M. Fishback