Nearly a century of drivers have enjoyed Arkansas’ State Highway system for its lush fields, punctuated by the occasional rolling hill and outcropping of trees. But before the smooth pavement proved such a powerful draw, travelers crossed America’s south-central corridor via horse and rail – which could sometimes prove deadly.
Such was the case for a local entrepreneur from Walnut Ridge by the name of John A. Rhea. On February 15, 1893, the gentleman and his horse were trotting away, en route to somewhere or other, likely enjoying the same scenery that, unchanged, residents find so enchanting today, when Rhea and his steed were struck and killed by a train. No one is sure whether the collision was intentional (ie. suicide on horseback) or accidental, but the man and his horse never stood a chance against the locomotive.
At the scene of the collision, local records report that the township quickly decided Rhea and his horse should continue their journey together in the hereafter. A joint grave was erected near a young oak tree in the middle of a field, whereupon horse and rider were buried together.
Rhea was decorated politician whose legacy in life was inextricably linked with transportation and animals, thanks to a mule-drawn trolley system he’d masterminded that brought together the townships of Hoxie and his very own Walnut Ridge. Upon his passing at age 38, Rhea left behind a family, a hotel that still remains in operation in Walnut Ridge, and, somewhat fatefully, was most known for having united his township with nearby Hoxie via a mule-drawn trolley system.
Well over a century after his death, his ornately carved headstone can be found at the peak of a tall mound in Walnut Ridge. Disappointingly the grave does not mention of his steed, which is supposedly buried at his side.