The Seed and the Story: Bullfrog Valley Gang.

New York Times article about Bullfrog Valley Gang.

The Seed and the Story is a weekly column published in the Post Dispatch, and syndicated in the Courier, exploring folklife, sustainability, oral history, storytelling, human rights,and community in Yell County (and surrounding areas), Arkansas.

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I’m excited to announce that beginning with today’s column, the Seed and the Story will be partnering with the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, an online resource affiliated with the Central Arkansas Libraries, to feature information found in the Encyclopedia pertaining to Pope and Yell Counties.  This series will run once a month and cover a variety of topics ranging from local history to living traditions.  This first installment was suggested by Guy Lancaster, editor of the Encyclopedia.  Written by Ernest Dumas, the entry entitled “Bullfrog Valley Gang,” sheds light on Pope County’s more rural and lawless past.

The Bullfrog Valley, an unincorporated community not typically recognized on current Arkansas state maps, is located along the Big Piney Creek near the community of Silex.  According to Dumas, historically the valley followed the Big Piney, running from Long Pool to Booger Hollow. Within this secluded valley operated one of the nation’s most notorious counterfeiting rings.  The secret service listed George Rozelle as the gang’s ringleader, claiming he moved to Pope County from Nebraska in the late 1800s and soon thereafter shipped in counterfeiting supplies from Chicago. He then retreated to the isolated valley where he set up a mint and began making five and ten dollar bank notes.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the gang is the vast nature of the operation, which employed agents in both Canada and Mexico.  While much of the activity of the gang remains a mystery, on June 28, 1897 the Bullfrog Valley made the front page of the New York Times when the paper ran an article on the capture of three of the gang’s men.  In the end, 15 men were arrested, tried and convicted in federal courts in both Fort Smith and Little Rock.  Rozelle, however, was not one of them.

Even though federal agents were long aware of the gang’s activity, Dumas explains, the gang was able to avoid capture for some time by moving back and forth between Pope and Johnson Counties.  It appears the ringleader, Rozelle, was especially adept at this and often escaped with his press. Eventually, however, he buried his equipment in the valley and fled the region.  Secret service later found three of the men who helped Rozelle hide the equipment and discovered the supposed area where the machine was buried.  Dumas suspects that the secret service may have elaborated just a bit when it claimed the agent lived there for three years waiting to uncover the mint: “One of the three men weakened under pressure and was about to turn in the other two when he was slain by a load of buckshot fired through his front window.” Dumas continues, “Feeling safe then, one of the men dug up the equipment one night and the agent arrested him.”  The ringleader, however, was never found alive.  The agent later discovered Rozelle’s grave in Cleburne County.

Are you familiar with the Bullfrog Valley?  Have you heard stories of the Bullfrog Valley gang? One of the wonderful things about the Encyclopedia is its interactive nature.  You can add your own information regarding this, and many other stories, in the comments section below the article, thus engaging in conversation with others interested in this topic.   To learn more about the Bullfrog Valley gang and why counterfeiting was such a large problem in the late 1800s, read the original entry here.    Thanks so much for reading!