Franklin Desha House

Franklin Desha HouseRestricted - Independence
Location Restricted
Listed in National Register of Historic Places on 10/9/86

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���Fox Hill,�۝ the Desha House in Independence County, has statewide historical importance because of its association with the Searcy and Desha families for each of whom a town and a county are named. It is also significant as the well-documented site of the winter encampment of Joseph O. Shelby�۪s Confederate cavalry regiment from January to March 1863.


The Desha family came to America as Huguenot refugees who settled in New York, gradually drifting into Pennsylvania and then Kentucky. There Joseph Desha served as governor from 1824-1828. Joseph Desha�۪s son, Robert M., was a Captain in the Marine Corps when he married Frances Ann Ferebee in Norfolk, Virginia. Hew as then stationed at Washington Navy Yard where his children were born. Robert Desha became paymaster of Marines on the Mississippi, alternating between New Orleans and newly founded Helena, Arkansas, where he developed extensive speculative interests in the Arkansas Territory. At his death in 1822, his young widow and two children returned to Kentucky. Joseph Desha�۪s brother, Benjamin, was appointed Receiver of Federal Monies in Arkansas that same year. He also speculated widely in Arkansas lands, finally settling in southeast Arkansas within the bounds of the county which was named in his honor in 1838.

Hartwell Boswell, Federal Land Receiver in Batesville after 1821, was married to a sister of Robert Desha. After the death of his first wife, Boswell went home to Kentucky and married Robert Desha�۪s widow and brought her two children, Franklin and Margaret, to Batesville.

Franklin W. Desha attended college in Kentucky at Transylvania University. In 1847 he married Elizabeth Searcy, niece of well-known lawyer and judge Richard Searcy. Searcy had come to Arkansas Territory at the age of seventeen and was among the settlers of Batesville in 1821. He was a commissioner of the town laid out on a preemption claim, and the Federal Patent was eventually issued to Search who personally owned some fifty lots in the new town. When he died childless in 1832 at the age of thirty-six his property descended to his nieces and nephews. In 1835 Searcy County in northeast Arkansas was named in honor of the impressive young judge, as was the White County seat of Searcy, just south of Batesville.

At the time of his marriage in 1847, Franklin Desha built the existing house at Fox Hill. During the Mexican War he enlisted in Company D, First Arkansas Mounted Infantry, of which he became Captain at Buena Vista. After returning to a hero�۪s welcome, Desha resumed his life as lawyer and farmer. Probably in this period the house was weatherboarded, given shutters, plastered and extended by the first ell room in order to make it conform to a suitable social ideal. During this period Desha prospered as a lawyer and became District Prosecutor, which allowed him to participate in the secession convention of 1861.

In 1861, F. W. Desha organized Desha�۪s Battalion, the 7th Arkansas, of which he was Lieutenant Colonel until after the Battle of Shiloh. After the first Federal occupation of Batesville in 1862 Desha resigned and returned home.

In addition to Desha�۪s involvement in the Civil War, ���Fox Hill�۝ itself has historical significance as a well-known campsite for General Joseph Shelby and his Missouri Confederate Cavalry from January to March 1863. Following the drawn Battle of Prairie Grove in western Arkansas on December 7, 1862, General John S. Marmaduke, commanding Shelby�۪s and Porter�۪s brigades of Missouri Cavalry, was ordered to invade Missouri to cut communication and supply lines from St. Louis to Federal troops in Arkansas. They captured Springfield but were turned back in a skirmish at Hartsville. Pursued by Federal Cavalry, they fell back toward Batesville in bitter weather, arriving in Batesville on January 18, 1863, in a ten-hour snowstorm.

Marmaduke went into winter quarters at the Thomas Cox house on Main Street while the division was placed south of the White River for security. The largest numbers were sent ten miles southeast to Oil Trough while Shelby�۪s brigade was sent to the Desha farm, which not only covered the road west to Clinton but afforded a clear view of Batesville and its approaches. Shelby occupied the southeast room of the Desha House as his headquarters. Weather conditions remained poor as Shelby�۪s men set camp on the grounds south of the house. Shelby and his remaining men were there until early March when they were ordered to move north of Batesville, establishing a new camp across the road to Missouri.

After the death of Franklin Desha in 1869 his four surviving children remained at Fox Hill. Robert and Benjamin Desha engaged in stock dealing, ginning, milling, and farming. Robert Desha served as sheriff from 1882 to 1886 and Ben Desha was said to be the country�۪s largest landowner prior to the Depression of 1929. The Desha gin, founded by Franklin and located one mile south of Fox Hill in the village of Desha was one of the largest in the country.

The entire family operation was inherited by the late Desha Lester who passed it to his daughter, Elizabeth Lester Stroud, the present owner.


Crowley, William J. Tennessee Cavalier in the Missouri Cavalry. Columbia, MO: Privately printed, 1978.

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