From Henry County, Virginia, he went to Alabama, then El Dorado, Arkansas. He was the first settler & built the first house.
By Rev. Phil Pinckard
Editor's Note: These following passages are dramatizations performed by members of the South Arkansas Historical Foundation in El Dorado's historic Presbyterian Cemetery south of downtown each October at Halloween as part of the "Historic Hauntings Cemetery Walk." Each re-enactor, dressed in period costume, tells something about the life of some of the early settlers of El Dorado now buried there. Compiled by Rev. Pinckard, these were performed on October 31, 2007.
Born March 3, 1800
Died September 5, 1853
Performed by Bill Odom
Greetings friends. Let me introduce myself and thank you for coming here to let me share a few words. My name is Matthew F. Rainey. Folks have referred to me as the first citizen of El Dorado. I don't know that I deserve such a title, but I am mighty proud of the role I did play in the beginnings of our beloved El Dorado. First, though, I ought to mention that I wasn't from Arkansas to begin with. No, you might say it was kind of a winding river that brought me here. I was born in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the year 1800. What a place it was, still fresh with all the flavor of our country's origins, home to so many giants of our founding fathers. Yet, as you know, a young man's feet grow restless. The western frontier was calling. They said the land was rich and the woods full. So at the age of 20, my young bride and I loaded the wagon and found our way to Green County, Alabama. Those proved to be good years for us, a good move that led to a small business of retail goods an d of course some farming. I loved working the land. Also loved folks. Spending hours at my little store, selling goods and helping folks. My, those were good days.
They say grow where you are planted! So the Lord allowed me to give to the community in different ways. Believe it or not, I was elected as Green County Sheriff for a time. I also served in the state legislature as a rep. and was President of Alabama's first Agricultural Society. A time of bounty and blessings? You bet it was. But … the tide of life changes. I failed to heed the wisdom of the Good Book. Several of my good friends had gotten themselves into a financial mess. Well, good ole Matthew put up security debts for them, and we wound up losing our money, our property, and our home. Talk about a whirlwind! Well, what do you do? I figured that maybe heading west again would be the thing to do. So, after 20 years in Alabama, we packed up what little we had left, including our pride, and made our way through thick forests down to the coast, and on to New Orleans. The Lord had blessed us with a son by then. Since I fancied myself a sort of adventurer in this new nation of ours, I named our boy Christopher Columbus Rainey.
Well friends, I'll tell you – New Orleans was a big place and whatever you can imagine it to be it probably was! But it was a good place to stay awhile and try to rebuild. I managed to set up a small store near the river and made a good bit of money – enough to pull together some goods and supplies for one more journey. Yep, I had heard about this territory north of us called Arkansas. They said it was full of nears, thick woods, and good black dirt. That sounded like an opportunity to me!
My dear wife had passed on, so son Christopher and I loaded up our goods on a boat, came up the Ouachita, and made out way to Scarborough's Landing, about 12 miles east of here (El Dorado) on the river.
This area was mostly a wilderness. But there were folks here, trying to farm and finding good land. I knew south Arkansas was going to grow. So we built a little pine pole cabin, just a dirt floor. I sold grocery goods, supplies, and whiskey. I had a big ole barrel of it on the front, along side a barrel of water. We kept a gourd there so folks could dip out. Some said I sold more whiskey than groceries. Well, times were hard and men tended to fortify themselves a bit!
The Lord must have smiled on me because things really took a good turn. In June of 1843 the citizens of Union County petitioned the County Court to move the county seat from Scarborough's Landing west to a more central location. The selected a place pretty near the middle of Union County, a nice area, up on a ridge. Those 160 acres just happened to belong to yours truly! We made a deal on the land and they gave me good terms, including 4 acres right next to the county seat acreage. So that's where I built a cabin and ran my store. I'll admit it was a good trade. The County Commissioners decided to name the new township El Dorado, the "gilded one". It sure worked out that way for me!
Time passed and I felt real settled in these parts. In 1852, I remarried – a lovely lady who brought me much happiness in the short time we had together. Rebecca Williams was her name.
I feel strongly about the adage of growing where you are planted. I was proud to preside over the Democratic State Convention in 1851, and was pleased to be elected to our Arkansas State Senate in 1853. Those were exciting days of building our future as a town and as a new state.
You know, in this life we just don't know how the rivers are going to run. In August of 1853, I pledged $5000.00 to help build a railroad from Camden, through El Dorado, and on down to the state line.
I was hoping to see how that project would come along, and help build up the town and the people of our beloved south Arkansas. But, the good Lord called me home on September 5, 1853. I was glad to have been called an exemplary member of the Methodist Church, and I did rely on the help of our Lord in the full and adventurous life he was so good to give me.
Alexis T. Rainey, moved to Anderson County, Texas
Frank Rainey, also moved to Anderson County, Texas