George Thornburgh (January 25, 1847--March 9, 1923) was a politician, soldier, educator, and resident of Powhatan.

 Early Life

George Thornburgh was born in Havana, Illinois. His family moved to Smithville, Arkansas in 1855, where he spent much of his youth.[1] In September 1862, he was listed as a witness against John M. Ponder, who was indicted for treason against the state of Arkansas for allegedly reporting "certain loyal citizens" to Union soldiers. The outcome of this case is unknown, and there are no witness statements. 1b

Military Rank

Thornburgh was often called “Colonel” by his friends and admirers. He received this commission from Elisha Baxter in 1874 during the Brooks-Baxter War. His only known contribution was a telegram he sent to Baxter from Walnut Ridge, assuring him Lawrence County supported his bid for Governor.[2] It is unknown if he commanded troops during the crisis. He was again commissioned by Governor Augustus Garland.[3]


Law and Business Career

In 1867, he began studying law under the guidance of Colonel M.D. Baber, which led to a formal education at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. In 1868, he was licensed to practice law by future governor Elisha Baxter, who was serving as judge on the Third Circuit Court. Thornburgh moved to Powhatan in 1873, where he established a law firm of his own in co-partnership with Baber. The business thrived until 1886, when Thornburgh left to found a newspaper in Walnut Ridge; the Telephone.[4]  Thornburgh sold the paper in 1890 to a Mr. Coy from Clay County for $1500.[v] He also founded the Masonic Trowel in 1887, a freemason paper that once boasted 12,000 subscribers.[6] He worked as editor-in-chief of the paper until 1919.[7] In addition, he wrote a monitor for the Masons.[8] In 1887, Thornburgh proposed that the county rent the Balfour storehouse for use as a meeting place of the Circuit Court, which would cost $100. This proposal was accepted by Judge D.C. Smith.8a


Political Career

Thornburgh was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives three times: 1873-74, 1881-82, 1885-86. During his 1881 term, he served as Speaker of the House.[9] While in the legislature he introduced a bill that helped established the Powhatan Male and Female Academy.[10] In 1886, he chaired the Democratic Party Committee.[11]



Thornburgh was president of the Arkansas Anti-Saloon League beginning in 1900, the Arkansas Press Association, and three-time president of the State Sunday School Association.[12][13] His first major charitable endeavor began in 1899, when he became one of the trustees on the board for the Methodist Orphanage of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.[14] He succeeded Rev. J.E. Godbey as president of the institution in 1906, as the trustees were looking to finance a new building.[15] By 1912, $30,000 had been raised for the cause in a year that the newspapers called “…more satisfactory than at any time previously. Up to the present time 190 children have been received into the institution and 158 have been placed in homes where they have been adopted.”[16]

One of Thornburgh’s most widely-publicized endeavors was his tenure at the Arkansas School for the Blind. It began in 1918, when he was elected its superintendent after John H. Hinemon resigned to accept a position with North Little Rock public schools. A strange detail mentioned in contemporary reports is that he wasn’t even a candidate for the position, though they do not elaborate further.[17]

In April 1921, the House Visiting Committee launched an official investigation into Thornburgh’s administration after they’d received complaints about the school. The complaints were made by C.C. Tipton, a Pulaski County labor organizer and state representative, who submitted a report which he claimed contained several statements from the school’s faculty. The complaints can be summarized thusly: 1.) That the school lacked “a properly qualified head.” 2.) That the school’s attendance had dropped thirty percent in two years, which contradicted the school’s own reports to the government despite the allocation of $250,000. 3.) That many teachers had come to him stating they longed for a change in administration.[18]

Thornburgh isn’t named in this report, which was never circulated to the public, but everyone could read between the lines. Tipton’s accusations were met with fierce outrage. A.L. Smith, Commander of the Omer Weaver Camp, U.C.V., wrote a scathing reply, saying that his camp had read the news “with unmeasured disgust,” and expressed confidence Thornburgh would be vindicated.[19] Thornburgh himself denied the charges in a lengthy article saying that Tipton had given no indication that anything was amiss during his last inspection.[20] The school’s faculty released a separate statement saying that, in short, Tipton had lied about everything; they never made the alleged statements about a change of administration, nor had they appeared before the House Committee.[21]

By May, the investigation was over. The State Control Board found none of the charges against the school were substantiated, and reelected Thornburgh as superintendent. It was then revealed that Tipton had once been a student at the Blind School twenty years prior.[22] His motivation for attacking the school’s reputation remains unclear.


Personal Life and Death

Thornburgh married M.C. Self in 1868.[23] They had one daughter, Dot, who married a Mr. R.P. Ramsey at the Thornburgh’s home in Little Rock, 1624 Spring Street.[24] He died there on March 9, 1923.[25] Thornburgh was a Methodist, having served as president of the Lawrence County Bible Society at Powhatan.26


Miscellaneous Information



[1] Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Goodspeed Publishing Company. 1889. p.825.

1b. MSNE 0070. LCHS Court Records. Box 29 Folder 33. Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, Arkansas State Archives, Powhatan, Arkansas.

[2] Harrell, John. The Brooks-Baxter War: A History of the Reconstruction Period in Arkansas. 1893. p.224.

[3] Campbell, Charles F.F. Outlook for the Blind. Vol. XIV. No.1. 1920. p.23.

[4] Biographical & Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Goodspeed Publishing Company. 1889. p.825.

[5] “Walnut Ridge Telephone Sold.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. January 8, 1890. p.1. Walnut Ridge Telephone sold, 1-8-1890.pdf

[6] “Colonel Thornburgh Has Ended This Life.” Hot Springs New Era. March 9, 1923. p.1. Thornburgh_obituary__2_.pdf

[7] “Masonic Trowel has New Editor and Owner.” Arkansas Democrat. July 17, 1919. p.12. Thornburgh_retires_from_Mason_paper__7_17_1919.pdf

[8] A monitor, in this context, is an official rule book for the Freemasons. It details everything the Masons stand for and how they are to conduct their various rituals, similar to the catechisms of the Catholic Church. Thornburgh’s monitor was published in 1903 to great acclaim from his peers. It is available for free here.

8a MSNE.0070. Lawrence County Court Records. Box 87. Folder 6. Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives. Powhatan, Arkansas.

[9] “Speaker Archive.”

[10] Daily Arkansas Gazette. January 13, 1871. p.4.

[11] Daily Arkansas Gazette. September 28, 1886. p.4.

[12] Arkansas Democrat. January 3, 1900. p.6. Thornburgh_elected_president_of_the_Anti_Saloon_League__1_3_1900_.pdf

[13i] “Colonel Thornburgh Has Ended This Life.” Hot Springs New Era. March 9, 1923. p.1. Thornburgh_obituary__2_.pdf

[14] “Methodist Children’s Home.”

[15] “Methodist Orphanage Trustees Meeting.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. 10-25-1906. p.3.

[16] “Orphanage Work Told in Report.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. 10-26-1912. p.18. Thornburgh_raises_money_for_orphans__10_26_1912_.pdf

[17] “Geo. Thornburgh to Blind School.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. 12-28-1918. p.1. Thornburgh_elected_to_Blind_School__part_1__12_28_1918.pdf

[18] “Urge Changes at State Institutions.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. April 29, 1921. p.1. First_charges_against_Blind_School__though_Thornburgh_isn_t_mentioned__4_29_1921_.pdf

[19] “Strong Endorsement for Col. Thornburgh.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. May 11, 1921. p.7. Thornburgh's Friends Defend him, 5-11-1921.pdf

[20] “Thornburgh Denies Tipton’s Charges.” Daily Arkansas Gazette. April 30, 1921. p.3. Thornburgh answers accusations, 4-30-1921.pdf

[21] “Blind School Faculty Claims Grave Wrong.” Arkansas Democrat. April 30, 1921. p.2. Teachers_defend_Thornburgh__4_30_1921_.pdf

[22] “Col. Thornburgh Reelected Head of Blind School by Control Body.” Little Rock Daily News. May 10, 1921. p.1. Thornburgh_vindicated__cleared_of_any_wrongdoing__5_10_1921_.pdf

[23] Goodspeed, p.826.

[24] “Miss Thornburgh Mr. R.P. Ramsey.” Arkansas Democrat April 16, 1903. p.5. George_Thornburgh_s_daughter__Dot__married_to_R_P__Ramsey_.pdf

[25] “Colonel Thornburgh Has Ended This Life.” Hot Springs New Era. March 9, 1923. p.1. Thornburgh_obituary__2_.pdf

26. Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas) · 13 Dec 1876, Wed · Page 2 officers of the Bible Society.pdf