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Yell's Repay 169 Year Old Debt
May 2006

Harrison Daily Times

In Archibald Yell's family, a debt is a debt until it's paid. It doesn't run out after 50 years, or 100 years or 170 years.

David Yell from Lapeer, Mich., and William "Sonny" Yell from Monticello, Ga., came to Yellville this week to pay a debt left by their illustrious kinsman.

Archibald Yell was one of the most significant figures in the early history of Arkansas. He served as Arkansas' first delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and was later the state's second governor.

The story recounted in many histories of Yellville is that when Marion County was formed in 1836, the people who lived around Shawnee Town petitioned for a post office. Judge Yell offered the town $50 to name it after him. According to the legend, Yell never did send the money.

In a brief ceremony Thursday morning, David and Sonny Yell presented a check for $50 to Yellville Mayor Janell Kirkwood.

"It was just about a year ago that we discovered General Yell was a brother to our great-great-great-grandfather," David Yell explained. "Naturally, we wanted to find out all we could about him. We learned that he was a man of amazing energy and an important historical figure."

"At the same time, we learned about the $50. We read about that on the Yellville Web site and found it in the official history of Marion County."

"People have asked me if it's a true story. I can only tell you what I read in the history books."

The Yells came to town Tuesday and have been sightseeing all over the area.

"We went to the White River, and we visited the old mining town at Rush," said David.

"We bought up every souvenir we could find that had the name Yellville on it," said Sonny.

Mayor Kirkwood was thrilled.

"When David called about three weeks ago, I thought it was a hoax," she said. "I thought, 'who would actually do something like this?' Then about three days later, he called back to talk about his plans to visit, and I began to realize this was a real thing."

This is the eighth and last year of Kirkwood's tenure.

"January first I'll be unemployed," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, this is the high point of my term in office. A thing like this doesn't happen every day."

The Yellville-Summit High School band played, and the mayor gave a little speech.

"This is a very special day, and I'm proud to be part of it," she said. She praised the Yells for coming here to fulfill a promise made 169 years ago.

There was a little banter about the interest on the $50. The mayor had gone to the trouble of calculating all $803,000 of it.

"To be a good neighbor, we decided to waive the interest," she said.

David Yell defended his famous forebear.

"I'm sure he wasn't a deadbeat," he said. "When you look at all accomplishments of his brief life it's clear that he meant to send the money, but he just got too busy." Archibald Yell was a judge, a legislator, a governor and a general before he was killed at age 49 in the Mexican War.

David said the Yell family was deeply grateful for the reception the community gave them.

Then Sonny presented the check.

Mayor Kirkwood responded by presenting the men with the key to the city and armloads of souvenirs, including ball caps and t-shirts with "Yellville" printed large on them.

The band played an elaborate fanfare, and the official part of the celebration was over.

"We just intended to stop and say hello," said David Yell, but he thinks his family and the town that bears its name have made a lasting connection.

"This is such a beautiful place, and everyone has been so good to us. I have two sons who will be thrilled to see this place when I bring them here. My daughter, who helped me do the genealogical research, will enjoy it too."

"I'm sure we'll be back."

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