Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Minute: Howell Rayburn

Jan 16, 2020

A cross-dressing Confederate guerrilla pulled off a remarkable subterfuge to give his men a memorable Christmas present in 1864.

Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn, born in 1841, joined the Twelfth Texas Cavalry in October 1861, traveling to Des Arc the following March to board steamboats to cross the Mississippi.

Rayburn fell sick, though, and his regiment left without him. After recovering from a long illness, in 1863 he began recruiting local youths into a guerrilla band that attacked Union foraging and scouting parties. The band served as Colonel Thomas McCray’s bodyguard during Sterling Price’s 1864 Missouri Raid.

But Rayburn’s finest moment came in December 1864 when the small guerrilla with blue eyes and long blond hair borrowed a dress and snuck into a dance at the Union base at DeVall’s Bluff. Rayburn danced for hours before slipping away to the corral, mounting a horse, and stampeding enough others that each of his men received a new mount for Christmas.

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