Stuttgart businessman, farmer and land speculator James Roger Crowe left behind a distinguished legacy on the Grand Prairie. His eye for opportunity helped him become a major force in the fortunes of Stuttgart and those who came here to take part in the area’s signature activity, duck hunting.
“One thing about Mr. Crowe, he was always a gentleman. He was from the old school when a handshake meant something,” said Milton Stovesand of Stuttgart, whose father bought the family farm from Crowe. Over the years Milton worked for the businessman in various capacities.
Crowe was a sportsman himself and as his business dealings flourished, he established a small private reserve of flooded green timber to indulge his love for duck hunting.
“Mr. Crowe had 300 acres of timber that was right there connected to all that other,” Stovesand said. “He had his own private duck hunting and had a little lodge on it there.”
Managing that property showed him the importance of habitat. Crowe was an early proponent of water and land management to help keep the duck populations abundant. A major rice and soybean farmer in the area, he annually flooded 600 to 700 acres of rice fields to provide feeding areas for the ducks.
He also saw the need for strong, independent leadership on wildlife issues at the state government level. Crowe was the leader of a successful campaign to adopt Amendment 35 to the Arkansas constitution in 1944, a measure that changed the structure of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from a body appointed by the governor with little power, meager resources and subject to the whims of politics, to the non-partisan department of state government it is today.
He continued to lend his leadership skills to the efforts of the newly-independent Commission by serving at its first chairman. In time he would also serve as a trustee for the Mississippi Flyway and become active in Ducks Unlimited. He was honored as top conservationist in the nation by Woodmen of the World in 1956.
Crowe also proved an adroit judge of real estate and had extensive land holdings in the area. This led him to have a hand in the formation of three of the most famous duck clubs on the Arkansas Grand Prairie.
Crowe was also involved with establishing another famous club, Wingmead, today on the National Register of Historic Places. Edgar and Ethel Queeny of St. Louis loved to hunt ducks, but when Ethel got her fill of living in a trailer during these excursions, she gave her husband, head of Monsanto Chemical Company, an ultimatum to provide better accommodations. Edgar Queeny turned to Crowe to line him up with the appropriate real estate for a hunting lodge and Crowe delivered an 11,000 plot near LaGrue Bayou which Queeny would eventually obtain for his estate.
Wingmead hosted guests from the worlds of entertainment, professional sports and titans of industry. One of these well-heeled guests, industrialist John Olin of Illinois, liked it so much he desired a club of his own. Once again, Crowe was in the middle of the deal, leasing Olin 7,000 acres. Olin called the place Greenbriar, but many locals simply referred to it as the Winchester Club, because Olin’s company owned the fabled gun and ammo manufacturer.
Crowe’s business interests began in 1915 when he moved to Stuttgart from Memphis and founded the Crowe Drug Company. Located at 305 Main Street, the drugstore featured a soda fountain and curbside service in the 1940s. A popular gathering place, it was the site of Stuttgart High School pep rallies in the 1960s.
Other business interests included serving as president and board chairman for the First National Bank of Stuttgart and a longtime board member of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company.
“If you knew him you couldn’t help but be impressed by him,” Stovesand said. “I tell a lot of people that he was a visionary. You know, when he was 80 years old he was still acting to where you think he’s going to live another hundred years. With his business and farming and things, he always looked ahead. I’m sure that was part of his success, without a doubt.”
Stoveshand remembers despite having played a part in the three famous clubs, Crowe preferred to hunt in a private reserve of flooded green timber he kept to himself.
Born in Lane’s Ferry, Tenn., Crowe was educated in Missouri and earned his pharmacy degree from Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa. He died June 6, 1979. Stoveshand remembers Crowe as gracious and driven in everything he did.
“One time we were riding around on the farm and I made the statement to him about somebody being lucky. He said, ‘Milton, if you work hard you’ll be lucky.’ I’ve never forgotten that for sure.”