As a boy, Tulsa, Okla., native H. Glenn Mosenthin loved to visit his Arkansas relatives and learn about the places and people that make up Arkansas’ famed Grand Prairie region.

Since moving to Arkansas more than 20 years ago, he’s carried on that family tradition, being heavily involved with the Grand Prairie Historical Society, for which he currently serves on the board.

“My grandfather, Dr. H.V. Glenn, was one of the charter members and founders,” Mosenthin said. “I just kind of grew up with it and had an interest in it early on.”

The historical society Glenn and eight others launched in 1953 is still going strong as a 501(c)(3), tax exempt organization. It chronicles the names, places and events that make up the story of Arkansas’ duck hunting and rice growing epicenter.

Conceived in Arkansas County, the society has maintained a consistent focus on this unique region that also touches Prairie, Lonoke and Monroe counties and their respective communities, past and present.

“We’re basically there to preserve the heritage of the Grand Prairie in any way that we can,” Mosenthin said. “We are active in helping with the restoration of some of the oldest county record books west of the Mississippi in our county. We have placed markers on sites of great historical interest over the years. We’ve also contributed to cemetery restoration efforts.”

“We’re basically there to preserve the heritage of the Grand Prairie in any way that we can,” Mosenthin said. “We are active in helping with the restoration of some of the oldest county record books west of the Mississippi in our county. We have placed markers on sites of great historical interest over the years. We’ve also contributed to cemetery restoration efforts.”

Preserving The Post
Over the years the society has been instrumental in preserving historical sites on the Grand Prairie that might have otherwise been lost to time and memory. Take for instance the Arkansas Post, arguably the most significant and definitely the oldest landmark in Arkansas.

French explorer Henri de Tonti, a lieutenant of Sieur de LaSalle, founded the trading post “Poste de Arkansea” in 1686, the first semi-permanent French settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley. Relocated several times because of flooding of the Arkansas River, the Post was the site of the Colbert Raid in 1783, the only Revolutionary War battle to unfold in what would become Arkansas.

Annexed into the United State via the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Arkansas Post was a thriving river port by 1819 and the first capital of the Arkansas territory. During the Civil War, Confederate forces constructed a massive earthen fortification dubbed Fort Hindman in an attempt to hold the Post and control the waterways, only to be overrun by Union forces and the earthen embankments destroyed.

Despite all of this significance, the fragile site has also gone through various periods of decay and neglect in its history. After finally being named an Arkansas state park in the 1920s, the Arkansas Post earned designation as a national memorial in 1960 thanks in large part to work by the Grand Prairie Historical Society. That same year, the group also founded the Arkansas Post County Museum and has since conducted Civil War centennial observances there and, in 2011, placed a sesquicentennial plaque commemorating the Battle of Arkansas Post.

(Also see: Under One Roof: Hunters, History Come Together In Stuttgart.)

Rice And Ducks
The society has been equally diligent in rescuing records from the ravages of time, preserving fragile documents and a vast collection of photographs to film and digital formats. Its collection includes documents that rank among the earliest existing county records west of the Mississippi and its tradition of placing historical markers helps highlight landmarks on the Grand Prairie.

“We’re currently working on marking a Fairbanks Morse irrigation pump engine in Arkansas County which is the last of its kind in that area,” Mosenthin said. “It’s about 100 years old and it’s one of the old pumps they used universally back in the early stages of the rice industry.”

And with the history of the rice industry comes the intertwined history of duck hunting in Arkansas. The agricultural fields and wetlands, ideal for waterfowling, have made Stuttgart — located in the heart of the Grand Prairie and the Mississippi Flyway — the “Rice and Duck Hunting Capital of the World.”

Though it is hardly the only bountiful duck hunting location in the state, Stuttgart is the site of the Wings Over the Prairie festival each November, a celebration of the duck hunting tradition with a nod to the days when settlers seeking land to farm arrived on the Grand Prairie to find a sea of natural grasses.

Dyan Bohnert, the society’s current president, said illuminating the history of the region’s hunting grounds has contributed to better conservation attitudes over time.

“The old cliché – if you don’t remember history then it will happen again, and it will be worse — certainly applies to habitat,” she said. “Hunting provided a food source way back when and then it got to be more of a sport. Then it got ridiculous.”

Bohnert said the sad tales of wholesale slaughter of species such as the bison and the black bear and the wanton destruction of habitat in the past were an important mooring point for change and continues to inspire activism that’s yielded a more hopeful view for the future.

“It was the individual landowners, actually, who were the ones that started taking care of the waterfowl and habitats,” she said. “Some of the farmers saw that they didn’t have swans in the area anymore, they didn’t have certain types of geese that they’d had in the past. They started saying, ‘Hey, our kids aren’t going to see these things if we don’t cool it and do better.’

“They started laying property aside for habitat and conservation and then Ducks Unlimited got started and it went from there. And that’s been a very good thing.”

For The Record
The historical society has stayed in the public eye through its Grand Prairie Historical Bulletin, which began printing in 1958 as one of the first county historical periodicals in the state. Over time the bulletin, now edited by Mosenthin himself, would be recognized 16 times for individual articles and overall presentation by the Arkansas Historical Association. A quarterly e-newsletter was introduced in 2015, and the publications draw attention to the work of the society from a variety of outside audiences.

Sales of back issues of the Historical Bulletin also provide a means of support for the society, along with charitable contributions and especially dues. Currently, there are nearly 300 members of the society from across Arkansas (Mosenthin resides in Searcy; Bohnert lives in Dumas) and a healthy number of out-of-state members as well.

Attracting young patrons is a challenge, but one that’s being addressed head-on by the current slate of directors.

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” Mosenthin said. “But we are encouraged and have quite a few younger members who are active and quite a few members that may not even live around here. A lot of our membership is from out of the area but have roots to the area.”

Mosenthin said the vitality of the group is one thing that’s kept him active for more than two decades, but overall there’s nothing really complicated about his continued participation.

“I just enjoy history, especially as it pertains to my home area,” he said.