Ark. before 1540


Pre-European Exploration, Prehistory through 1540
The pre-European history of Arkansas begins 13,500 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch, when cold weather prevailed over most of North America. Our understanding of life in Arkansas since then will never be complete because many archaeological sites have been lost through erosion, human development, and vandalism, and most ancient fragile and perishable objects have decomposed over the centuries. It is possible, however, to describe the general characteristics of life in Arkansas over the last 12,000 years based on discoveries made here, similar finds made elsewhere in North America, and lifestyles of modern nonindustrial hunters who lived in remote areas of the earth in recent times. Archeologists divide this time into five periods, each having distinctive lifestyles, cultural practices, and artifacts that are found across most of eastern North America.

Paleoindian Period
People were in Arkansas during the Pleistocene epoch, but their arrival date and lifestyles are largely unknown. The oldest known artifacts are chipped stone Clovis dart or spear points, named for the discovery site in New Mexico, that are approximately 13,500 years old. Clovis point makers are called Paleoindians. These artifacts have been found in agricultural fields, in construction sites, and on gravel bars in large river valleys. No intact Clovis settlements are known yet in Arkansas, although many sites exist elsewhere. One question that archaeologists debate today is whether Clovis represents the first wave of humans into the New World or whether there were other migrations hundreds or thousands of years earlier. There have been no discoveries in Arkansas indicating that people were here before the Paleoindians.

Clovis sites show a hunting-and-foraging lifestyle. The cooler climate created a mixture of cool-loving and warmth-tolerant vegetation species unlike any vegetation communities seen today. Animal populations were also a mixture of modern species, such as deer, rabbits, and turtles, and large herbivores, such as mastodons, giant ground sloths, and Pleistocene bison that became extinct at about this time, as did some predators, such as cave bears.

Pleistocene animal bones are found in the Arkansas Delta, in Ozark caves, and in river valleys. So far the bones are from animals that died naturally. Elsewhere, Paleoindians killed Pleistocene animals, so future discoveries of butchered animal carcasses will probably be made.

Sites studied elsewhere offer evidence of Paleoindian lifestyles. Hunting tools included throwing sticks, snares, and nets. For some prey, hunters used spears propelled by a spear thrower known as an atlatl. The cooler environment made some food like nuts scarce, but both plants and animals were used for food, clothing, and other necessities. Paleoindians did not have any domesticated plants or animals, except perhaps the dog.

People lived in small groups and followed the natural cycles of abundance in plant and animal populations. Studies of modern hunters like the Eskimo, the South African San, and the Australian Aborigines show that groups were likely made up of families linked by marriage and friendship. A high value was placed on harmonious interpersonal relationships and on sharing work and supplies. The average life expectancy was probably between twenty-five and thirty-five years. There were no permanent dwellings, but temporary shelters and storage facilities were constructed for comfort and safety.

Archaeologists disagree about whether Paleoindians traveled long distances or remained in familiar territories without setting up permanent homes. Whichever is true, Arkansas was very thinly populated.

Dalton Period
Between about 11,000 and 13,000 years ago, the Arkansas climate moderated. Some animals became extinct, stream flow changed, and deciduous forests expanded. Human societies also changed as people developed new technologies and subsistence patterns. Dalton sites are marked by distinctively shaped spear points that are found across much of eastern North America. The point distribution shows that there was a widespread Dalton lifeway oriented toward streams and deciduous forests. Another distinctive artifact is a chipped stone adze, a tool probably used for woodworking tasks.

Dalton points are found at hundreds of sites in Arkansas. Dalton people occupied all parts of Arkansas, including Ozark bluff shelters and river-side camps. A few of these sites have been excavated, and they offer some information about Dalton lifeways.

In in the lowlands west of Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas, the Brand and Lace sites were Dalton campsites. Because the sites lacked sturdy dwellings and neither plant nor animal remains were preserved, there is no direct information of subsistence activities present. Many different kinds of stone tools were recovered, including chipped-stone spear points, cutting, scraping, and piercing implements made from flakes, and bifacially shaped blanks that are templates for the later manufacture of a variety of tools. These indicate that butchering meat, scraping bones, and making and repairing tools took place at these two sites. The spears were used with atlatls or as stabbing spears. The bow and arrow had not yet appeared in the New World.

These sites and others indicate that Dalton people were hunters and gatherers using a variety of wild animal and plant foods over the course of each year. Timber and nuts were important as raw materials and food, but it is unlikely that the landscape was completely “modern” with regard to the abundance and distribution of plants and animals that became favored foods in later times.

Like Paleoindians, Dalton groups probably consisted of families related by kinship and mutual dependence. Some archaeologists believe that these people were “settling down” to reside within a familiar foraging territory rather than moving from one new location to another throughout their lives. One theory proposes that a group lived in a series of base camps during a year, with work parties leaving the base to gather food, tool-making stone, or other necessary resources. An alternative theory is that the entire group moved from location to location to take advantage of the seasonal abundance of valuable resources. Too few Dalton sites have been studied in Arkansas to verify either theory.

One site in northeast Arkansas produced a rare glimpse of Dalton ritual activities. The Sloan Site yielded several caches of finely chipped stone artifacts rarely found in typical Dalton sites. These included spear points, adzes, and a variety of other piercing, cutting, and pounding tools. Most showed no signs of being used. Tiny pieces of bone were identified as human. The arrangement and fine condition of these artifacts indicate that the site was a cemetery where members of a local Dalton group were buried with gifts or offerings. If this is true, the Sloan Site is the oldest identified cemetery in North America.

Archaic Period
By 6,000 BC, a new lifeway based on hunting and gathering but emphasizing new technologies and settlement patterns was in place across North America. This lifeway persisted in Arkansas until about 500 BC and was a successful adaptation to the diverse resources available in forests and streams in the state.

The environment changed gradually during this time. A long period of increasingly dry and warm climate conditions called the Hypsithermal began between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago. In many locations in Arkansas, grasslands expanded, deciduous forests shrank in area, and the distribution of resources attractive to humans was different from both the preceding and the subsequent millennia. About 5,000 years ago, the Late Archaic began with a gradual return to cooler and moister conditions similar to those in Arkansas in modern times.

During this period, people still depended on wild resources, and groups moved from one location to another when resources became scarce or abundant. Archaic people favored locations in forests and near streams, but their camps and work sites are found throughout Arkansas in settings like Ozark rock shelters, high promontories overlooking valleys, and alluvial lowlands. Thousands of Archaic sites have been discovered, but few have been studied. Therefore, there is only a general picture of this way of life.

Archaic technology was similar to the preceding Dalton, with chipped stone tools used for many purposes. Spears were tipped with stone projectile points, and some weapons were propelled by atlatls. Bows and arrows were not known. Chipped stone was used for cutting, scraping, chopping, and piercing for gathering food, making clothing, and numerous other tasks. During the Archaic, people discovered and began to mine the bedrock deposits of Ouachita Mountain novaculite, Ozark Mountain cherts, and other non-local stones and minerals. Stone tools were also made by grinding as well as chipping. Axes and other woodworking tools are the most notable and were used for chopping wood, making other tools, and probably for fashioning dugout canoes for river travel. Archaic tool kits included needles and weaving tools, nets, baskets, snares, and bags. 

Archaic people are believed to have lived in small social groups that moved periodically within a home territory. Some sites were revisited for generations, resulting in dense accumulations of broken stone tools and manufacturing debris, cooked animal bones, fire-blackened soil, and other garbage. No permanent dwellings have been found, but humans and pet dogs were buried at some camps.

Although people were still thinly scattered, populations grew during the Archaic. Social groups exchanged durable goods and possibly food, spouses, and information with neighbors. In the late Archaic, rocks and minerals from Arkansas were distributed as far as modern-day Louisiana and Mississippi, where they were used for tools, jewelry, and other items. These included novaculite, slate, hematite, lamprophyre, and quartz crystals.

In addition to goods, a variety of technological innovations seem to have spread from group to group during the Archaic. One innovation was gardening. Corn and beans were not the first domesticated plants in North America. Gourds and squashes came first, used for containers and sources of nourishing seeds. Native annuals, plants identified as weeds today, rich in oily and starchy seeds, became a significant item in human diets. By the Late Archaic, about 3,000 years ago, several domesticated plants, including chenopod, sumpweed, and sunflower, along with squashes and gourds, were grown in Arkansas. Ozark rock shelters have yielded domesticated and wild plant seeds stored along with fruits, nuts, and other supplies like baskets and tools.

These first gardeners used domesticated plants to supplement a diet still based on wild foods. This method of gardening did not require people to live in permanent communities or create large agricultural fields. Many questions about this “food revolution” remain. It is not known whether all native people in Arkansas were using domesticated plants. Archaeologists disagree about whether gardening first took place in the moist alluvial valleys with easily tilled soils or in the less lush uplands where wild plants were harder to find. It is also unknown whether native gardeners developed their skills and crops independent of outsiders or whether the cultivated plants and gardening skills were introduced into Arkansas from people of neighboring regions.

Mound building is another innovation that appeared during the Archaic. About 5,000 years ago, some people in the uplands west of the Mississippi River began constructing mounds that are thought to be centers for periodic political and ritual activity for a dispersed foraging population. Political leadership was probably limited, informal, and invested in individuals with personal charisma and large family support groups. Nevertheless, mound building and the development of central political or ritual places demonstrate that scattered populations were willing to undertake collective activities for special purposes. Mounds and cemeteries also are material representations of a group’s claim over a particular landscape within which families moved from place to place.

Archaic mound building reached its greatest expression in northeast Louisiana about 3,500 years ago where the Poverty Point Site, an elaborate 400-acre arrangement of mounds and other earthworks, was the center for a large and highly influential Late Archaic society. Poverty Point extended its influence far into Arkansas to acquire goods such as hematite, magnetite, quartz crystals, slate, and novaculite from the Ouachita Mountains. At Poverty Point, these were made into tools, jewelry, and other objects that were also redistributed over a wide area of the lower Mississippi Valley. Poverty Point people may have traveled into Arkansas for these resources or acquired them through trade with groups residing in the area. No Archaic mounds of comparable scale have been recorded in Arkansas.

Woodland Period
About 2,500 years ago, pottery first appeared in Arkansas, marking the beginning of the Woodland Period. Pottery containers represent new dietary practices that probably included the use of seeds, nuts, and other plants that were boiled into stews, soup, and mush. Potters express cultural and aesthetic values through vessel shape and decoration, making even broken pottery sherds rich sources of information for archaeologists. They employed specific recipes for clay and temper—that is, granular or fibrous material added to raw clay to allow pots to withstand temperature and moisture changes during manufacture and use—in making their pots. Local customs also dictated how pots were shaped and decorated. Archaeologists use this information to identify local and short-lived customs within communities and to study the relationships between neighboring communities through time. Woodland pottery differs from one part of Arkansas to another and illustrates some fundamental cultural differences between people living in different parts of the state. These differences become more distinct in the 1,000 years before Europeans arrived.

Because pottery was not highly portable, people gave up some mobility for convenience in preparing food that was new or improved through cooking, given that cooked foods provided quick carbohydrate and fat calories and were easier for children and older people to digest. Woodland people lived in all parts of Arkansas in locations ranging from upland rock shelters to alluvial river valleys in camps, residential sites, and religious or political centers. Woodland diets were still dominated by wild plant and animal resources. In the Ozark highlands, some groups grew squash, gourds, and native seed-bearing plants, but it is not known whether people elsewhere in the state practiced gardening through most of this period. Animals were hunted with spears, probably with nets and traps of various sorts, and possibly with bolas—stones tied together by short lengths of cord and thrown at prey to entangle it and bring it down. Bows and arrows appeared about 1,400 years ago in the Late Woodland. Chipped stone axes or adzes and ground-stone plummets and boatstones were also made. Plummets are prehistoric equivalents to plumb bobs, drop-shaped ground stone objects with a narrow end pierced or encircled by a groove where a cord can be tied. They may have served as weights or as charm stones. Archaic people first made plummets, but they are still found in the Woodland period. Boatstones, as their name indicates, are shaped like small ground stone canoes and are believed to be counterweights for atlatls or throwing sticks.

Woodland gardeners were the first people in Arkansas to raise corn (maize), first in very small amounts in the Ozark highlands and the central Arkansas River Valley between 1,200 and 1,400 years ago. Domesticated elsewhere, maize may have been introduced to groups in Arkansas from the Southwest. These would have been little more than ritual or novelty plants; there is no indication that maize became a significant food until less than 1,000 years ago.

Woodland people do not seem to have lived in permanent villages. Sturdy dwellings have been found where one or a few families may have resided, but campsites that were occupied occasionally over the course of years or generations are far more common. These camps have middens, or garbage deposits where stone tools, pottery, burnt rocks from campfires, discarded animal bones, mussel shells, and other waste material, as well as human and dog burials, have been found.

During this time, cultural traditions in different corners of Arkansas each became distinct. In southwest Arkansas, the Fourche Maline culture is characterized by dark middens containing an abundance of plain pottery, projectile points and other stone tools, animal bones, and broken burned rocks. Woodland sites in east Arkansas often have plain, cord-impressed, or red-filmed pottery in middens, evidence of dwelling structures, and large underground pits used first for storing food and later as garbage containers. People in what is now northern Arkansas shared some cultural practices, like making pottery vessels with pointed bottoms and cord-roughened surfaces, with societies further north in the Midwest. These regional differences and others probably indicate populations were forming large cultural groups akin to historically known tribal societies.

Mound building became more common and complex among Woodland peoples. Some mounds were burial monuments and crypts, some were platforms for special buildings, and others were erected to mark the location of public ritual and social spaces. Not all Woodland people in Arkansas built mounds, however.

The greatest mound center in Arkansas is the Toltec Site, center of the Plum Bayou culture, situated in Lonoke County in central Arkansas near Little Rock (Pulaski County) and used between 900 and 1,400 years ago. Plum Bayou culture dominated central Arkansas for centuries and affected the development of complex societies in the Arkansas River Valley near Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and along the Red River in southwest Arkansas. Plum Bayou people sought rock and mineral resources from the Ouachita Mountains that they made into tools and decorative objects.

Mississippian Period
Between 1,000 and 1,200 years ago, profound changes took place among many native societies across eastern North America. The descendants of these people were also the first to encounter European explorers and colonists in the sixteenth century.

Mississippians were true farmers. They raised maize, squashes and gourds, tobacco, sunflowers, beans, and additional ritual and medicinal plants in fields near permanent homesteads and villages. Although they still collected wild food, these people subsisted largely on garden crops. In good years, this meant surplus foods for farmers as well as political leaders and other specialists, such as priests and artists. In bad years, food shortages brought starvation and pressure for warfare over land, food, and the labor of client communities. This commitment to a farming way of life meant fundamental changes in social organization, technology, religious beliefs, and practices during the Mississippian Period.

Mississippian sites are different from Woodland predecessors. The largest and most complex sites were political and religious centers, with one or more flat-topped mounds that were platforms for public events and residences of political and religious leaders. Public works such as ditches and earthen embankments may be present, and some sites may have had encircling defensive wooden palisades. Some sites, like Parkin Archeological State Park in Parkin (Cross County), had a large population crowded into the community. Others were scattered small farmsteads and hamlets, and only a few people resided regularly at the mound center.

Mississippian society was hierarchical; some individuals and families were more influential, wealthy, and privileged than others, and these differences were evident in life and death. Privileges may have been inherited or earned through charisma, valor in warfare, wealth, and other personal qualities. Political leaders, and perhaps also religious leaders, had the power to commandeer the goods and labor of others to construct public works, wage war, carry out community-wide celebrations and events, and support the efforts of nonfarming specialists, such as potters.

Some people in Mississippian society possessed objects that were denied to everyday citizens. These included costumes and ritual paraphernalia. These special objects were transported long distances and possessed by leaders of equivalent power, including some important leaders in Arkansas. These objects and the symbolism they embodied have been identified with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. The religious beliefs, mythology, and rituals connected to these objects were shared among Mississippian people across much of the Southeast during this time. Scholars disagree on the question of who possessed ritual knowledge: some believe only elite members of society possessed it, while others believe all members of society shared the same understanding. Some artwork painted and pecked in rock shelters were made at this time and may be from ritual activities such as spirit quests carried out by individuals from villages in the lowlands.

Mississippian tools and weapons included bows and arrows, and perhaps blowguns, and large chipped stone hoes used to break up alluvial soils in agricultural fields. People with special skills made the costumes and paraphernalia used in rituals and public displays, elaborate non-utilitarian artifacts of shell, pottery, and other media. For instance, pottery was no longer limited to cooking, storing, and serving functions but included effigy figures of human, animal, and supernatural creatures used for special events.

Prehistoric Caddo
In southwest Arkansas and neighboring areas of present-day Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma, a regional version of Mississippian society arose about 1,000 years ago and is believed to be ancestral to historic Caddo culture. Like the Mississippian, prehistoric Caddo economy was based on farming and collecting wild resources. Caddoan settlements were mainly small, semi-isolated farmsteads with one or more dwellings, storage and work facilities, and family graveyards. Family groups residing within a segment of river valley shared traditions in architectural styles, artifacts, and presumably other cultural values. Mound centers with at least one flat-topped mound and one or more additional conical mounds were the political and religious centers for far-flung Caddo communities. Leadership among the prehistoric Caddo was hierarchical and marked by the possession of special exotic and ritually significant objects, such as smoking pipes and costumes, and by special treatment after death.

Prehistoric Caddo were expert potters, like the Mississippians, but shapes and decoration were different. Instead of making effigy figures, Caddo potters covered their simple jars, bowls, and other containers with complex geometric patterns. Caddo also wove baskets, mats, and other furnishings out of reeds, grasses, and split cane. Abundant brine seeps in southwest Arkansas became important salt-making centers for the Caddo; they were still trading salt to neighboring tribes when the French arrived in 1700.

People built mounds throughout Arkansas in the Mississippian Period, even in the Ozarks, but archaeologists cannot yet specify how these people were related to other Mississippian or Caddoan peoples. By the end of the prehistoric period, however, all native Arkansans farmed, lived settled lives in homesteads or villages, had complex social relationships and religious beliefs, and had contact with people outside the region.

These long-distance contacts may have brought the first of many dramatic changes to local residents early in the 1500s. When Spanish explorers engaged the Aztec Empire in the first of many wars of control and conquest in the Americas, smallpox, influenza, measles, and other diseases familiar today began spreading through native cultures. Because these diseases were new to native populations, they spread rapidly, infecting and killing entire communities at a time. No one knows how many people died from these diseases, but conservative estimates are in the millions. Diseases spread from community to community in advance of the Europeans themselves, and it is possible that diseases brought ashore in Mexico reached native people living in and around Arkansas a full generation before Hernando de Soto and his Spanish expedition crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in 1541. Although direct evidence of disease has not been found, changes are apparent in settlement patterns and cultural practices around 1500, especially in the Caddo area. The first native Arkansas people described by members of the de Soto expedition may therefore have already been affected by European invasion of the Americas.


Ark. before 1540

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, on 30th November, 1874, just seven and a half months after his parents, Randolph Churchill, a Conservative politician and Jennie Jerome, the daughter of Leonard Jerome, a New York businessman, were married.

Clive Ponting, the author of Winston Churchill (1994) has pointed out: "Winston Churchill was born into the small, immensely influencial and wealthy circle that still dominated English politics and society. For the whole of his life he remained an aristocrat at heart, deeply devoted to the interests of his family and drawing the majority of his friends and social acquaintances from the elite. From 1876 to 1880 he was brought up surrounded by servants amongst the splendors of the British ascendancy in Ireland."

Winston Churchill was sent to to an expensive preparatory school, St George's at Ascot, just before his eighth birthday in November 1882. This was followed by a period in a bording school in Brighton. He was considered to be a bright pupil with a phenomenal memory but he took little interest in subjects that did not stimulate him. It was claimed that he was "negligent, slovenly and perpetually late." He was very lonely and in February 1884 he wrote to his mother: "I am wondering when you are coming to see me? I hope you are coming to see me soon... You must send someone to see me."

In April 1888 Winston Churchill was sent to Harrow School. His behaviour remained bad. At the end of his first term his housemaster reported to his father: "I do not think... that he is in any way wilfully troublesome: but his forgetfulness, carelessness, unpunctuality, and irregularity in every way, have really been so serious... As far as ability goes he ought to be at the top of his form, whereas he is at the bottom."

Winston Churchill started his 16 month course at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in September, 1893. Churchill joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 and saw action on the Indian north-west frontier and in the Sudan where he took part in the Battle of Omdurman (1898).

Winston Churchill: Journalist

While in the army Winston Churchill supplied military reports for the Daily Telegraph and wrote books such as The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899). After leaving the British Army in 1899, Churchill worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. While reporting the Boer War in South Africa he was taken prisoner by the Boers but made headline news when he escaped. On returning to England he wrote about his experiences in the book, London to Ladysmith (1900).

Winston Churchill in Parliament

In the 1900 General Election Winston Churchill was elected as the Conservative MP for Oldham. As a result of reading, Poverty, A Study of Town Life by Seebohm Rowntree he became a supporter of social reform. In 1904, unconvinced by his party leaders desire for change, Churchill decided to join the Liberal Party.

In the 1906 General Election Winston Churchill won North West Manchester and immediately became a member of the new Liberal government as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. When Herbert Asquith replaced Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908 he promoted Churchill to his cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. While in this post he carried through important social legislation including the establishment of employment exchanges.

On 12th September 1908 Winston Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Spencer and the following year published a book on his political philosophy, Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909).

Winston Churchill: Home Secretary

Following the 1910 General Election Winston Churchill became Home Secretary. Churchill introduced several reforms to the prison system, including the provision of lecturers and concerts for prisoners and the setting up of special after-care associations to help convicts after they had served their sentence. However, Churchill was severely criticized for using troops to maintain order during a Welsh miners's strike.

On 16 December 1910, a gang attempted to break into the rear of a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch. An adjacent shopkeeper heard their hammering, and informed the police. When the police arrived, the robbers burst out, shooting three officers dead. The gang leader, a Latvian, Poloski Morountzeff, was accidently shot in the back by another gang member, and died later.

Winston Churchill immediately announced that the police was looking for a gang of Jewish anarchists. It was also important to the government that the incident did not cause anti-Jewish feeling and the coroner made a point of stressing "in justice and fairness to the Jewish community" that he was uncircumcised.

Acting on a tip-off, police surrounded 100 Sidney Street in Stepney on 2nd January 1911. Churchill hurried to the scene in order to direct operations. He was greeted by cries of "who let them immigrants in?" Churchill authorised the deployment of 124 soldiers.

Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street
Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street

The Manchester Guardian reported: "The firing came in spurts. The murderers would shoot first from the ground floor, then the window above … then there would be a barking of rifles in reply. Close on one o'clock an especially sharp fusillade rattled like a growl of exasperation …. a little feather of smoke curling out of the window below the point of attack. We thought at first it was gun smoke and then with a thrill we saw that the house was on fire."

Churchill refused to allow the fire brigade to douse the flames until the firing from inside stopped. When it did and the police were allowed in, only two bodies were found. One writer, Stephen Bates, has argued: "The lesson the police took from the siege was not that they had overreacted but that they needed better weapons. The lesson the press took was that the Liberal government was soft on immigrants."

The two dead men, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, were petty criminals, and not anarchists. However, the government leaked the story that the gang had been led by Peter Piatkow (Peter the Painter) who had managed to escape from the burning building. However, there are doubts that Piatkow ever existed.

First Lord of the Admiralty

Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1911 where he helped modernize the navy. Churchill was one of the first people to grasp the military potential of aircraft and in 1912 he set up the Royal Naval Air Service. He also established an Air Department at the Admiralty so as to make full use of this new technology. Churchill was so enthusiastic about these new developments that he took flying lessons.

On the outbreak of war in 1914, Churchill joined the War Council. However, he was blamed for the failure at the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915 and was moved to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Unhappy about not having any power to influence the Government's war policy, he rejoined the British Army and commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front.

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons

When David Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister and he decided to bring Winston Churchill back into the government. In July 1917, Churchill became Minister of Munitions and for the rest of the war, he was in charge of the production of tanks, aeroplanes, guns and shells. Clive Ponting, the author of Churchill (1994) has argued: "The technology in which Churchill placed greatest faith though was chemical warfare, which had first been used by the Germans in 1915. It was at this time that Churchill developed what was to prove a life-long enthusiasm for the widespread use of this form of warfare."

Winston Churchill developed a close relationship with Brigadier General Charles Howard Foulkes, the General Officer Commanding the Special Brigade responsible for Chemical Warfare and Director of Gas Services. Foulkes worked closely with scientists working at the governmental laboratories at Porton Down near Salisbury. Churchill urged Foulkes to provide him with effective ways of using chemical weapons against the German Army. In November 1917 Churchill advocated the production of gas bombs to be dropped by aircraft. However, this idea was rejected "because it would involve the deaths of many French and Belgian civilians behind German lines and take too many scarce servicemen to operate and maintain the aircraft and bombs."

On 6th April, 1918, Churchill told Louis Loucheur, the French Minister of Armaments: "I am... in favour of the greatest possible development of gas-warfare." In a paper he produced for the War Cabinet he argued for the widespread deployment of tanks, large-scale bombing attacks on German civilians and the mass use of chemical warfare. Foulkes told Churchill that his scientists were working on a very powerful new chemical weapon codenamed "M Device".

According to Giles Milton, the author of Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin's Global Plot (2013): "Trials at Porton suggested that the M Device was indeed a terrible new weapon. The active ingredient in the M Device was diphenylaminechloroarsine, a highly toxic chemical. A thermogenerator was used to convert this chemical into a dense smoke that would incapacitate any soldier unfortunate enough to inhale it... The symptoms were violent and deeply unpleasant. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant and crippling fatigue were the most common features.... Victims who were not killed outright were struck down by lassitude and left depressed for long periods."

Churchill hoped that he would be able to use the top secret "M Device", an exploding shell that released a highly toxic gas derived from arsenic. Foulkes called it "the most effective chemical weapon ever devised". The scientist, John Haldane, later described the impact of this new weapon: "The pain in the head is described as like that caused when fresh water gets into the nose when bathing, but infinitely more severe... accompanied by the most appalling mental distress and misery." Foulkes argued that the strategy should be "the discharge of gas on a stupendous scale". This was to be followed by "a British attack, bypassing the trenches filled with suffocating and dying men". However, the war came to an end in November, 1918, before this strategy could be deployed.

After the First World War Winston Churchill was appointed as Minister of War and Air by David Lloyd George. In May 1919, Churchill gave orders for the British troops to use chemical weapons during the campaign to subdue Afghanistan. When the India Office objected to the policy, Churchill replied: "The objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than high explosive shell and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war. The moral effect is also very great. There can be no conceivable reason why it should not be resorted to."

Russian Revolution

Winston Churchill now took the controversial decision to use the stockpiles of M Device (diphenylaminechloroarsine) against the Red Army who were involved in fighting against invading forces hostile to the Russian Revolution. He was supported in this by Sir Keith Price, the head of the chemical warfare, at Porton Down. He declared it to be the "right medicine for the Bolshevist" and the terrain would enable it to "drift along very nicely". Price agreed with Churchill that the use of chemical weapons would lead to a rapid collapse of the Bolshevik government in Russia: "I believe if you got home only once with the Gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda."

In the greatest secrecy, 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Archangel, along with the weaponry required to fire them. Winston Churchill sent a message to Major-General William Ironside: "Fullest use is now to be made of gas shell with your forces, or supplied by us to White Russian forces." He told Ironside that this "thermogenerator of arsenical dust that would penetrate all known types of protective mask". Churchill added that he would very much like the "Bolsheviks" to have it. Churchill also arranged for 10,000 respirators for the British troops and twenty-five specialist gas officers to use the equipment.

Some one leaked this information and Winston Churchill was forced to answer questions on the subject in the House of Commons on 29th May 1919. Churchill insisted that it was the Red Army who was using chemical warfare: "I do not understand why, if they use poison gas, they should object to having it used against them. It is a very right and proper thing to employ poison gas against them." His statement was untrue. There is no evidence of Bolshevik forces using gas against British troops and it was Churchill himself who had authorised its initial use some six weeks earlier.

On 27th August, 1919, British Airco DH.9 bombers dropped these gas bombs on the Russian village of Emtsa. According to one source: "Bolsheviks soldiers fled as the green gas spread. Those who could not escape, vomited blood before losing consciousness." Other villages targeted included Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. During this period 506 gas bombs were dropped on the Russians.

Lieutenant Donald Grantham interviewed Bolshevik prisoners about these attacks. One man named Boctroff said the soldiers "did not know what the cloud was and ran into it and some were overpowered in the cloud and died there; the others staggered about for a short time and then fell down and died". Boctroff claimed that twenty-five of his comrades had been killed during the attack. Boctroff was able to avoid the main "gas cloud" but he was very ill for 24 hours and suffered from "giddiness in head, running from ears, bled from nose and cough with blood, eyes watered and difficulty in breathing."

Major-General William Ironside told David Lloyd George that he was convinced that even after these gas attacks his troops would not be able to advance very far. He also warned that the White Army had experienced a series of mutinies (there were some in the British forces too). Lloyd George agreed that Ironside should withdraw his troops. This was completed by October. The remaining chemical weapons were considered to be too dangerous to be sent back to Britain and therefore it was decided to dump them into the White Sea.

Winston Churchill created great controversy over his policies in Iraq. It was estimated that around 25,000 British and 80,000 Indian troops would be needed to control the country. However, he argued that if Britain relied on air power, you could cut these numbers to 4,000 (British) and 10,000 (Indian). The government was convinced by this argument and it was decided to send the recently formed Royal Air Force to Iraq.

An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen took place in 1920. Over the next few months the RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs killing 9,000 Iraqis. This failed to end the resistance and Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued to pose a threat to British rule. Winston Churchill suggested that the RAF should use chemical weapons on the rebels. Some members of the Cabinet objected to these tactics: Churchill argued: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas... I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gases against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum... Gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would leave a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent affect on most of those affected."

Winston Churchill rejoins Conservative Party

The divisions in the Liberal Party led to Winston Churchill being defeated by E. D. Morel at Dundee in the 1922 General Election. Churchill now rejoined the Conservative Party and was successfully elected to represent Epping in the 1924 General Election.

Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the new Conservative administration, appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1925 Churchill controversially returned Britain the the Gold Standard and the following year took a strong line against the General Strike. Churchill edited the Government's newspaper, the British Gazette, during the dispute where he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country."

With the defeat of the Conservative government in 1929, Winston Churchill lost office. When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931 Churchill, who was now seen as a right-wing extremist, was not invited to join the Cabinet. He spent the next few years concentrating on his writing, including the publication of the History of the English Speaking Peoples.

Rise of Nazi Germany

After Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power in Germany in 1933, Winston Churchill became a leading advocate of rearmament. He was also a staunch critic of Neville Chamberlain and the Conservative government's appeasement policy. In 1939 Churchill controversially argued that Britain and France should form of a military alliance with the Soviet Union.

Britain was in a very difficult situation. In 1939 Germany had a population of 80 million with a workforce of 41 million. Britain had a population of 46 million with less than half Germany's workforce. Germany's total income at market prices was £7,260 million compared to Britain's £5,242 million. More ominously, the Germans had spent five times what Britain had spent on armaments - £1,710 million versus £358 million.

Second World War

On the outbreak of the Second World War Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and on 4th April 1940 became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Later that month the German Army invaded and occupied Norway. The loss of Norway was a considerable setback for Neville Chamberlain and his policies for dealing with Nazi Germany.

On 8th May the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign and this turned into a vote of censure. At the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and a further 60 abstained. Chamberlain now decided to resign and on 10th May, 1940, George VI appointed Churchill as prime minister. Later that day the German Army began its Western Offensive and invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Two days later German forces entered France.

Winston Churchill: Prime Minister

Winston Churchill formed a coalition government and placed leaders of the Labour Party such as Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton in key positions. He also brought in another long-time opponent of Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, as his secretary of state for war. Later that year Eden replaced Lord Halifax as foreign secretary.

As soon as he gained power Churchill considered using chemical weapons. He changed his mind when informed by military intelligence that Germany was capable of dropping three of four times more chemical bombs than Britain. However, plans were put in place to use gas-warfare in Adolf Hitler ordered an invasion of Britain. On 30th May, 1940, he told the Cabinet "we should not hesitate to contaminate our beaches with gas". By the end of September, with the invasion scare over, he decided against first use of the weapon. He instructed General Hastings Ismay, his Chief of Staff, that stocks should be maintained: "I am deeply anxious that gas warfare should not be adopted at the present time... We should never begin but we must be able to reply."

Churchill realised straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Randolph Churchill, on the morning of 18th May, 1940, claims that his father told him "I think I see my way through.... I mean we can beat them." When Randolph asked him how, he replied with great intensity: "I shall drag the United States in."

Churchill now sent William Stephenson to the United States. Stephenson's main contact was Gene Tunney, a friend from the First World War, who had been World Heavyweight Champion (1926-1928) and was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Tunney later recalled: "Quite to my surprise I received a confidential letter that was from Billy Stephenson, and he asked me to try and arrange for him to see J. Edgar Hoover... I found out that his mission was so important that the Ambassador from England could not be in on it, and no one in official government... It was my understanding that the thing went off extremely well." Stephenson was also a friend of Ernest Cuneo. He worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and according to Stephenson was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". Cuneo met with Roosevelt and reported back that the president wanted "the closest possible marriage between the FBI and British Intelligence."

On his return to London, Stephenson reported back to Churchill. After hearing what he had to say, Churchill told Stephenson: "You know what you must do at once. We have discussed it most fully, and there is a complete fusion of minds between us. You are to be my personal representative in the United States. I will ensure that you have the full support of all the resources at my command. I know that you will have success, and the good Lord will guide your efforts as He will ours." Charles Howard Ellis said that he selected Stephenson because: "Firstly, he was Canadian. Secondly, he had very good American connections... he had a sort of fox terrier character, and if he undertook something, he would carry it through."

Churchill now instructed Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, to appoint William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Menzies told Gladwyn Jebb on 3rd June, 1940: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official (J. Edgar Hoover) who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA."

As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. In 1940 a BSC agent approached Donald Chase Downes and told him that he was working under the direct orders of Winston Churchill. "Our primary directive from Churchill is that American participation in the war is the most important single objective for Britain. It is the only way, he feels, to victory over Nazism."

Churchill had a serious problem. Joseph P. Kennedy was the United States Ambassador to Britain. He soon came to the conclusion that the island was a lost cause and he considered aid to Britain fruitless. Kennedy, an isolationist, consistently warned Roosevelt "against holding the bag in a war in which the Allies expect to be beaten." Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary in July 1940: "Saw Joe Kennedy who says everyone in the USA thinks we shall be beaten before the end of the month." Averell Harriman later explained the thinking of Kennedy and other isolationists: "After World War I, there was a surge of isolationism, a feeling there was no reason for getting involved in another war... We made a mistake and there were a lot of debts owed by European countries. The country went isolationist.

William Stephenson knew that with leading officials supporting isolationism he had to overcome these barriers. His main ally in this was another friend, William Donovan, who he had met in the First World War. "The procurement of certain supplies for Britain was high on my priority list and it was the burning urgency of this requirement that made me instinctively concentrate on the single individual who could help me. I turned to Bill Donovan." Donovan arranged meetings with Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Cordell Hull (Secretary of State) and Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy). The main topic was Britain's lack of destroyers and the possibility of finding a formula for transfer of fifty "over-age" destroyers to the Royal Navy without a legal breach of U.S. neutrality legislation.

It was decided to send Donovan to Britain on a fact-finding mission. He left on 14th July, 1940. When he heard the news, Joseph P. Kennedy complained: "Our staff, I think is getting all the information that possibility can be gathered, and to send a new man here at this time is to me the height of nonsense and a definite blow to good organization." He added that the trip would "simply result in causing confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the British". Andrew Lycett has argued: "Nothing was held back from the big American. British planners had decided to take him completely into their confidence and share their most prized military secrets in the hope that he would return home even more convinced of their resourcefulness and determination to win the war."

William Donovan arrived back in the United States in early August, 1940. In his report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he argued: "(1) That the British would fight to the last ditch. (2) They could not hope to hold to hold the last ditch unless they got supplies at least from America. (3) That supplies were of no avail unless they were delivered to the fighting front - in short, that protecting the lines of communication was a sine qua non. (4) That Fifth Column activity was an important factor." Donovan also urged that the government should sack Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who was predicting a German victory. Donovan also wrote a series of articles arguing that Nazi Germany posed a serious threat to the United States.

On 22nd August, William Stephenson reported to London that the destroyer deal was agreed upon. The agreement for transferring 50 aging American destroyers, in return for the rights to air and naval basis in Bermuda, Newfoundland, the Caribbean and British Guiana, was announced 3rd September, 1940. The bases were leased for 99 years and the destroyers were of great value as convey escorts. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British Chief of Combined Operations, commented: "We were told that the man primarily responsible for the loan of the 50 American destroyers to the Royal Navy at a critical moment was Bill Stephenson; that he had managed to persuade the president that this was in the ultimate interests of America themselves and various other loans of that sort were arranged. These destroyers were very important to us...although they were only old destroyers, the main thing was to have combat ships that could actually guard against and attack U-boats."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Churchill developed a strong personal relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt and he asked him for help to beat Nazi Germany. On 17th December, 1940, Roosevelt made a speech to the American public: "In the present world situation of course there is absolutely no doubt in the mind of a very overwhelming number of Americans that the best immediate defence of the United States is the success of Great Britain in defending itself; and that, therefore, quite aside from our historic and current interest in the survival of democracy in the world as a whole, it is equally important, from a selfish point of view of American defence, that we should do everything to help the British Empire to defend itself... In other words, if you lend certain munitions and get the munitions back at the end of the war, if they are intact - haven't been hurt - you are all right; if they have been damaged or have deteriorated or have been lost completely, it seems to me you come out pretty well if you have them replaced by the fellow to whom you have lent them." The Lend Lease agreement of March 1941 allowed Britain to order war goods from the United States on credit.

Although he provided strong leadership the war continued to go badly for Britain and after a series of military defeats Churchill had to face a motion of no confidence in Parliament. However, he maintained the support of most members of the House of Commons and won by 475 votes to 25. Churchill continued to be criticized for meddling in military matters and tended to take too much notice of the views of his friends such as Frederick Lindemann rather than his military commanders. In April 1941 he made the serious mistake of trying to save Greece by weakening his forces fighting the Desert War.

One of the major contributions made by Churchill to eventual victory was his ability to inspire the British people to greater effort by making public broadcasts on significant occasions. A brilliant orator he was a tireless source of strength to people experiencing the sufferings of the Blitz.


After Pearl Harbor Churchill worked closely with Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure victory over Germany and Japan. He was also a loyal ally of the Soviet Union after Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941. Churchill made a public statement that if Germany used chemical bombs against the Soviet Union he would order instructions that Britain would also use these weapons. Churchill told General Hastings Ismay, his Chief of Staff: "We would retaliate by drenching the German cities with gas on the largest possible scale."

Churchill held important meetings with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Teheran (November, 1943) and Yalta (February, 1945). Although Churchill's relationship with Stalin was always difficult he managed to successfully develop a united strategy against the Axis powers.

Despite intense pressure from Stalin to open a second-front by landing Allied troops in France in 1943, Churchill continued to argue that this should not happen until the defeat of Nazi Germany was guaranteed. The D-Day landings did not take place until June, 1944 and this delay enabled the Red Army to capture territory from Germany in Eastern Europe.

In March 1944 Churchill ordered 500,000 anthrax bombs from the United States. These bombs were to be dropped "well behind the lines, to render towns uninhabitable and indeed dangerous to enter without a respirator". Churchill was now told by military intelligence that the British had far larger stocks of poison gas than Nazi Germany. He wrote to General Hastings Ismay, his Chief of Staff, on 6th July, 1944: "It is absurd to consider morality on this topic when everybody used it in the last war without a nod of complaint from the moralists of the Church... It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts for women... One really must not be bound by silly conventions of the mind."

Churchill now sent a message to his chiefs of staff: "I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention... If we do it, let us do it one hundred per cent. In the meantime, I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by that particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across now here now there."

On 28th July 1944, the chief of staffs reported to Churchill that gas warfare was possible and that Britain could drop more than Germany but they doubted whether it would cause many difficulties to the German authorities in controlling the country. However, they were deeply concerned by the possibility that Germany would retaliate as they feared the British public would react in a different way to those in Germany: "the same cannot be said for our own people, who are in no such inarticulate condition". After reading the chiefs of staff assessment Churchill concluded gloomily, "I am not at all convinced by this negative report. But clearly I cannot make head against the parsons and the warriors at the same time."

Winston Churchill and 1945 General Election

In public Winston Churchill accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944. However, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In May 1945, Churchill made a radio broadcast where he attacked the Labour Party: "I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas on freedom. There is to be one State, to which all are to be obedient in every act of their lives. This State, once in power, will prescribe for everyone: where they are to work, what they are to work at, where they may go and what they may say, what views they are to hold, where their wives are to queue up for the State ration, and what education their children are to receive. A socialist state could not afford to suffer opposition - no socialist system can be established without a political police. They (the Labour government) would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo."

Clement Attlee's response the following day caused Churchill serious damage: "The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials. I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others. There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners. The Conservative Party remains as always a class Party. In twenty-three years in the House of Commons, I cannot recall more than half a dozen from the ranks of the wage earners. It represents today, as in the past, the forces of property and privilege. The Labour Party is, in fact, the one Party which most nearly reflects in its representation and composition all the main streams which flow into the great river of our national life."

In the 1945 General Election Churchill's attempts to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Attlee won a landslide victory.

Churchill became leader of the opposition and when visiting the United States in March 1946, he made his famous Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri. He suffered the first of several strokes in August 1946 but this information was kept from the general public and he continued to lead the Conservative Party.

Churchill's cousin, Clare Sheridan had lunch with him in June 1948. "Winston, in his dreadful boiler suit was looking pale. He rants, of course, about the inefficient ignorant crowd now in power, who are what he calls throwing the British Empire away. He is almost heartbroken. All his life he has been such a great Imperialist. He is so brilliant, but unless one can make notes in shorthand one cannot recapture all he says. He quotes so aptly, which I envy, having myself no memory. He quoted Hamlet several times which illustrates his spirit of despondency... He has finished three volumes of his new book The Second World War, and only the possibility of being called back into politics prevents him going on with it."


Churchill returned to power after the 1951 General Election. After the publication of his six volume, The Second World War, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Churchill's health continued to deteriorate and in 1955 he reluctantly retired from politics. Clare Sheridan remembers visiting his home in London after he left politics. She found him very depressed. He told her that he felt a failure. She replied: "How can you!" You beat the Nazis." Churchill remained sunk in gloom: "Yes.... we had to fight those Nazis - it would have been too terrible had we failed. But in the end you have your art. The Empire I believed in has gone."

Winston Churchill died on 24th January, 1965.