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Legends, Legacies and Leaders: The Auburn Community, Chaffee and Orby McDaniel at 100!

Readers say they enjoyed the stories about the people, businesses and entire communities that were displaced when the federal government took lands that now comprise the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation. The Auburn community was among those areas taken so that the army could train for the war that was coming and would eventually impact two out of three American families.

In July of 2013, the South Sebastian County Historical Society re-presented “You Can never Go Home Again,” a History Day Awarding winning program originally presented in 1984. The original cast, all Greenwood High School Alumni Jeff Turner, Dr. Aaron White, Cliff James and Brant Warrick returned to the stage in July for the live presentation. The evening included stories about life on Chaffee lands by Mrs. Betty Moore Mayo and retired journalist Jerry McConnell who related stories of life in the Chaffee area in the days before World War II.

Rumor floated about for months that there might be a need for an army camp/training center that would require thousands of acres in Sebastian and Franklin Counties. Area farmers feared that the taking of their land, even for its actual value, would wipe them out as they could not replace the land elsewhere in the area for the same amounts of money. It was true. There weren’t many farms for sale and prices had risen to the point that what the government would pay would not replace a parcel that was the livelihood for the displaced people. Merchants, craftsmen and blacksmiths would all have to go too and face the same fate.

The day came. Imagine the United States government knocking on the door and saying, “Everyone and everything in sight must go. Take what you want with you…barns, houses, fences and stores…the government has no use for any of that…just move it out.” It actually happened just about that way for the first on and only time in our state’s history. The Army needed the land. War was at hand and the landscape and the lives would all be changed forever. A giant U.S. Army Camp would sprout and be named for General Adna E. Chaffee-the “Father of Modern Armaments.” Training ground, POW Camp and center for ground operations during the War, Fort Chaffee would play an important role in the War and as an economic engine before, during and after the war. It would become a major employer for the entire region.

Bell from the Auburn Baptist Church and foundation stones from the Orby McDaniel home in the Auburn community.

Bell from the Auburn Baptist Church and foundation stones from the Orby McDaniel home in the Auburn community.

When the government returned a portion of Fort Chaffee to the state and local governments over half a century later, one of the best things that happened was the creation of a museum on site that recounts the days when farmers and their families were removed. It’s open now at Chaffee Crossing. It’s ironic that the creation of Chaffee meant financial ruin for many of those displaced families and today, Chaffee Crossing represents the largest economic development project in Arkansas. Manufacturing facilities, homes, businesses and apartments are being built on the site of the Army camp and on the sites that were family farms before that.

Some survivors still carry bitter memories of the loss of land, home and fortune. They can now take a certain amount of pride in the fact that their homesteads may soon be the sight of a badly needed medical college that will serve to drive a prospering economy in the area.

Now, an area centenarian whose family was removed from the Auburn community has celebrated a milestone in his life with friends and family. At age 100, Orby McDaniel may be the oldest living survivor of the relocation requirement.

February 27, 1914 Orby McDaniel became the thirteenth child born to James Wesley McDaniel and Sarah Ellen Hudspeth McDaniel in Logan County, Arkansas. His father owned a saw mill on the Scott-Logan county line and was killed in a sawmill accident in March 1916. Orby’s mother had to share crop to make a living for her children. They lived in Logan county most of Orby’s growing up years, moving to the Auburn Community in Sebastian County (now Chaffee) when Orby was about fourteen years old. That is where he met Ruth Carson. They married September 24, 1932. This union produced five children: Marilyn, Carolyn, Janelle, Glenn and Randy. Randy was killed in a hunting accident in November 1983. Orby McDaniel has 14 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great-grandchildren.

Orby went to work for the Sebastian County Road department in January 1953 and retired from the County in 1976. He built his first broiler chicken house in 1965 and raised broilers until 1996. He also raised beef cattle for several years. In his early years he farmed cotton, corn, strawberries, boysenberries, and peanuts. Orby was an avid raccoon hunter into his late 80’s. He rode a horse until he was 86 years old and drove his truck until he was about age 97. He has been a strong person physically and a strong leader of his family and community.

Well into his 90’s, Orby took his children and grandchildren on a tour of the Chaffee lands that were the site of his home and the Auburn community. Though nothing of the terrain remained the same, he pointed to directly where their home had stood. Grandson Daniel McDaniel walked to the spot and gathered stones from the site. “You couldn’t see anything but brush and weeds and sure enough there were the stones and brick that been the foundation of his home right where he said they would be.” Orby McDaniel’s brother-in-law Ralph Carson saved from loss and destruction the Auburn Baptist Church bell when the church was razed. The bell survives today along with the stones gathered from the homestead foundation.

A celebration of Orby McDaniel’s 100th birthday was held at the Dayton Church of Christ on Saturday February 15, 2014.

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