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early logging, famous author
Dee Brown gained fame as author after leaving native sawmill town in Bienville Parish
Mary K. Hamner
Dorris Alexander (Dee) Brown, American novelist and historian wrote numerous books during his life, the first published work being Wave High the Banner, (1942), a fictionalized account of the life of Davy Crockett. He later published over a dozen books, including several for children.
When his award winning Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, was published in 1970, it changed the way the world thinks about America's westward expansion. This work, detailing the violent relationship between Native Americans and American expansionism, led to further appreciation of Native American culture and caused a new look at the history of the American West. Many readers assumed that Brown was of Indian heritage, but in fact he was not. He was born in 1908 in the sawmill town of Alberta, Louisiana (1898-1915) where his father Daniel Alexander Brown worked as a salesman.
Alberta was located a mile south of Castor, Louisiana on the former L&A Railroad. E.M. Werkheiser of Arcadia had moved his sawmill from Arcadia to this new location and he named the settlement that developed there for his daughter. As time moved on, Bienville Lumber Company took over the operation and the company eventually thrived and employed an estimated 300 workers. The small town supported a United States Post Office, a Methodist Church, a Community School, and three grocery and dry goods stores. Bienville Lumber Company's store and office building was the site of a telegraph and train ticket office and the train made routine stops there every day.
The United States Census records of 1910 slot Brown and his family into the Alberta location when he was age two. He lived with his father, mother, ( Loula), two sisters, and a brother. His pioneer parents had migrated from Arkansas when the railroad built its north-south line through the area. When Dee was five years old, his father died at age forty-two. Loula Brown took her four young children, ages ten, eight, two, and one years of age, and moved to Stephens, Arkansas to live with her mother there.
Dee Brown grew up at his grandmother's knee in Arkansas, listening to stories. His great-grandfather had known Davy Crockett and he learned from her about the famous frontiersman. She shared with him how her own family had survived the Civil War in Arkansas. Brown's mother worked to support the family as Postmaster of Stephens.
In 1924, the family moved to Little Rock where Brown attended high school. As a student there, he and some friends published a neighborhood tabloid. After graduating from high school, he got a job as a printer for the Harrison Daily Times in Boone County and became a fledging journalist. "I always did my best in writing to Santy Claus", Dee Brown once said, "but I never thought of writing as something you did for a profession."
In 1928, realizing that he did not know enough to be a reporter, he enrolled in Arkansas Teachers College. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Education Degree with a major in history, he began working in the college library, where he was thrilled to be able "to get hold of almost any book he wanted". "Until I quit writing," Brown said, "and I don't know when that will be, I will always be reading something that has to do with what I'm working on".
Brown married Sally Stroud of Wilson County, Mississippi, and they had two children. During the Depression, they traveled to Washington D.C. to find a job and he found work in the United States Department of Agriculture Library. Through the years, he continued to educate himself and earned degrees from several universities. He was drafted into the Army during World War II but did not go overseas. During most of his tour of duty he had access to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
In 1996, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was selected as one of the "most significant works of the past 100 years" by The New York Public Library's Books of the Century.
Brown was a prolific writer and wrote many westerns, histories, a humorous novel, and many books for young adults. He spent twenty-seven productive years after his retirement writing such books as Creek Mary's Blood (1980), and others. His last book, Way To Bright Star, (1998), written when he was 90, was the last of the 11 novels he wrote.
"You just don't give up," he once said. "There have been times when everything seemed to conspire against getting a book done or printed, and I would feel like turning my back on the whole thing. But I came back and persisted."
Brown died in 2002 at the age of 94 at his home in Little Rock. A memorial service was held at the main library of the Central Arkansas Library system, which has a branch library in Little Rock named for Brown. His remains are interred in Urbana, Illinois where he worked as librarian at the College of Agriculture and received his Master of Library Science degree at the University of Illinois.
He was once described as a writer who learned to view history as stories-woven around incisive biographies-little dashes of scandal-with everything authenticated from available sources. His work lives on--as do the memories of the town where he was born. Alberta 'folded its tents' when the virgin pine timber was cut out but old photographs and memories linger on. A Historical Marker erected by history-minded people commemorate the former town, and, Dee Brown, famous writer who began as a babe in the Piney Woods of Bienville Parish, Louisiana.