She Was of The River, Part II

May 26, 2019

Spence's mug shot for the shooting of Jack Worls.
Credit Photo courtesy of Eugene Lawson

The True Tale of "Arkansas Gun Girl," Helen Spence

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we continue our discussion with Denise Parkinson about the mysterious and infamous life of 1930s "outlaw" Helen Ruth Spence.

Parkinson's book, Daughter of the White River: Depression-Era Treachery & Vengeance in the Arkansas Delta is a true-life tale about a depression-era tragedy.

Published by the History Press

Through archival research, newly discovered prison records, community stories, and interviews with Spence's childhood friend, LC Brown, Parkinson provides an in-depth account of a complicated woman whose legend lives on today.

Part I of this story told of the communities along the banks of the White River where Helen grew up, her early life and short marriage, the death of her father and step-mother at the hands of Jack Worls, Worls' trial, the infamous shooting at the Dewitt Courthouse, and a mysterious second murder. 

In Part II, Parkinson exposes the exploitation and abuse that could be found in the 1930s criminal justice system for poor rural women like Helen. Yet, through Helen's prison writings and testimonies from fellow prisoners, this injustice did not break Helen's spirit.

Newswire photo of Helen Spence's so-called confession to LRPD Detective Major J.A. Pitcock
Credit From the photo collection of Johnny Carver
Example of the pulp fiction coverage of Helen's story.
Credit Parkinson Reseach

During her lifetime, Helen received unprecedented national media coverage and Parkison's research publicly reveals the 50-year secret of where Spence is buried.

Thank you to Denise White Parkinson for sharing the archival research and photos.  Currently, Parkinson and her team are shooting a documentary about Spence. Visit The Helen Spence Project for more information.

Thank you to the family of LC Brown and to Grace Norton for her reading of Spence's poem.  A very special thanks to Larry Rhodes, whose tech savvy helped to make this website possible.

Music in the show was generously provided by Iris Dement, Bonnie BishopClaire Holley, Mandy McBryde, Still On The Hill, and Amyjo Savannah.  

Musician Bonnie Bishop

  

Musician Claire Holley

  

Musician Amyjo Savannah

  

Musician Mandy McBryde

An extra special thank you to the remarkable S.J. Tucker for her haunting ballad, "Girl from the River," featured in both Part I and Part II.

 

Thank you to Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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