Established in 1885 by James Franklin Milam, the Pine Holler Cattle Farm south of Cecil in Franklin County is one of three farms in the region to be named as an Arkansas Century Farm this year.
Having been in the same family for over 100 years and continuing to support the family financially, the 490-acre farm is now owned by James Thomas King, the great-grandson of the founder. Ownership has passed down to the founder’s son, Thomas Isaac Milam, his daughter Ethel Milam King in 1930, and finally to the her son in 1962.
Ethel Milam, who married William L. King, had three sisters: Lemma Valentine, Jewel Andrews and Eunice Andrews. Jewel and Eunice married brothers. In all, James Thomas King has 14 cousins on his mother’s side of the family.
A Korean War veteran, who served in the Navy on the USS Northhampton as the captain’s communications specialist, James Thomas King was born on the farm in 1932. He served in the Navy from 1951-1955. Also raised on the farm were his two sisters, Jean Flannagan of Charleston, and Mary Jane Rayburn of Van Buren, and his brother William K. “Tuffy” King, who joined the Marines in 1953.
After serving his country, “Tuffy” King moved back to the farm temporarily and then on to Dallas, where he became a police officer. He married a woman named Betty from Jackson, Miss., that James introduced him to after a chance meeting while hitchhiking through Mississippi from Florida. Having kept in contact with her, James knew Betty had moved to Dallas and gave his brother her address. The two eventually married, and “Tuffy” served on the Dallas police force many years, including the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“He heard the shots,” King said of his brother, who was stationed at a bridge overpass ahead of Kennedy’s motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963. “He was on guard duty at the next underpass. He heard the shots but never could locate the direction they came from.”
Upon his return from the Korean War, James Thomas King helped his father on the farm and worked at First National Bank in Fort Smith, starting out in the mail room and eventually “chasing hot checks” for the bookkeeping department. After his father died in 1956, he moved back to the farm and continued to raise beef and dairy cattle.
James Thomas King had two sons, James Trent and Blane King, with his first wife Jane. After an injury that disabled him, and a divorce from Jane, he married Mary Ellen King in 1977 and they have been together since.
James Trent King has taken care of the farm for many years following the elder King’s disability. He and his wife Sheri live on a couple acres at Pine Holler near a bluff. Blane King lives in Richmond, Va., and is a financial analyst for a power company. He his five children, and all but one were able to make it to Pine Holler for Thanksgiving.
With Franklin County located in the Arkoma Basin, the land around Pine Holler is the site of at least 10 natural gas and oil fields. The gas fields were an important part of the economy in the 1940s and continue to support the Kings. There are three producing gas wells on the farm, as well as three good-sized ponds with healthy large mouth bass. About 200 acres of the farm is forested, and the other half is grazing land.
James Franklin Milam moved to Arkansas from Tennessee before the Civil War, but during the war he was on an outing with one of his brothers and was conscripted by the Union army.
“It was somewhere between here and Fort Smith. They gave them a choice,” King said. “Join the Union or hang.”
The brothers chose to join the Union. There were several skirmishes in Franklin County which they may have taken part in from 1863 and 1864, at Mulberry Springs, Ozark, Moffat’s Station, and Charleston. After starting the farm and growing cotton for many years, James Franklin Milam eventually moved to Moore, Texas. After he died, the citizens of Moore would not allow Milam to be buried inside the cemetery because he had been a Union soldier, King said.
A King family cemetery is located about eight miles south of the farm in the Peter Pender community. The cemetery is cared for by Allen King of Charleston.
A tornado that swept through the area in the early 1900s destroyed the original house built by Milam, but the house place can still be located surrounded by crape myrtle. Lowe’s Creek, which runs through the farmland to the Arkansas River, is a sort of rain gauge for the Kings who know it has rained at least four inches when it can be heard rushing from the house.