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Dr. Ken Bridges | Cross key in building Arkansas

A man of insight, drive, and integrity, Edward Cross looked to serve and build the young state of Arkansas, as a lawyer, judge, and businessman. Cross became one of the most respected minds that Arkansas leaders looked to in its early, chaotic years.

Edward Cross was born in Hawkins County, Tenn., in 1798, in a remote area tucked along the Virginia border and perched in the Appalachian Mountains. He attended local schools as a youth and eventually studied law. At that time, law students in frontier areas would study the law under practicing lawyers as apprentices. Cross was admitted to the Tennessee bar but was determined to move on and find more opportunities and adventure than was available in the region.

By 1826, he came to the Arkansas Territory to establish a law practice. Cross impressed many, in a region already brimming with ambitious men. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson appointed him as federal judge for the whole territory. In 1836, he was appointed to the position of US Surveyor General for Arkansas, a position responsible for helping settlers with land claims and resolving property disputes, strongly recommended by Arkansas leaders. Cross made few waves and won praise for his skill. In 1838, the state’s lone congressional seat became open, and Cross jumped at the opportunity. After campaigning across the state, he easily won with 63% of the vote. His Democratic allies in Congress quickly gave him the chairmanship of the Private Land Claims Committee, similar to the work he had done as surveyor general. Cross would easily win re-election in 1840 and 1842 with nearly three-quarters of the vote each time.

In 1844, however, he decided to return to the law and won a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, one of three on the court at that time. He would serve ten years on the court.

The newly formed Cairo and Fulton Railroad hired him as president of the company in 1855. Cross was eager to lead the company in an attempt to develop Arkansas. The railroad’s main objective was completing a line from southeastern Missouri across central Arkansas to eastern Texas. Along the way, the company made attempts to complete a rail line from what is now North Little Rock to Fort Smith. With the eruption of the Civil War, hopes of completing the railroad soon crumbled as the war steadily pulled more resources from the railroad. Available investors poured everything into Confederate bonds while available laborers enlisted in the army. Frustrated by mounting bills and faltering progress with the project, Cross resigned his position in 1862 to resume his law practice in Washington in southwestern Arkansas.

After the Reconstruction government collapsed in 1874, Arkansas found itself in the grips of financial paralysis and political anarchy as rival Reconstruction factions fought themselves into electoral oblivion. Eager to form a government more responsive to the people and as free from the chaos and corruption of the postwar years as possible, a new constitution was ratified that year. The new governor, Augustus H. Garland, appointed who many in the state saw as one of the best and most respected legal minds in the state as attorney general, Edward Cross. Now in his mid-seventies, Cross accepted the position, determined to once again serve his adopted home.

He retired some time afterward, dying quietly at Washington in 1887.

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