Excerpt from my original review. Recent work on the history of northeast Arkansas has shown that a handful of men emerged as pioneers of the region’s swamplands. One of these was Paul Pfeiffer, an ambitious but generous native of Iowa. In 1901, a trip through northeast Arkansas took him into the backwoods of Clay County. Realizing the area’s agricultural potential, he spent the next several decades buying, draining, clearing, planting, renting, and selling real estate. In the process he transformed Clay County and bucked prevailing patterns of landlord-tenant relationships that typified cotton agriculture in the early twentieth century. Rather than keep them mired in cycles of debt and maximizing his own profits, Pfeiffer constructed houses and supplied full amenities to renters and tenants without burdening them with crop liens, and eventually negotiated flexible plans for many to own the land they cultivated.
While Pfeiffer Country is ostensibly about Paul Pfeiffer, Laymon does well to place his actions within historical context, demonstrating his impact on Clay County. By doing so, readers rarely lose sight of how Pfeiffer differed from planters in other regions of the South, particularly from those in the Arkansas Delta. Readers are also afforded the opportunity to see how Pfeiffer protected his tenants against the direst of circumstances, from drought to the Great Depression.