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They say curiosity killed the cat, but it also built a museum. Blythe’s Scott County Museum in west-central Arkansas holds a multifaceted collection of military life, pioneer life and Native American artifacts with the purpose and goal of preserving relics of west-central Arkansas.
Many people travel north and south on Arkansas Highway 71, not far from the state’s western border, heading south of Greenwood and Mansfield. They may have passed the blue tourism sign noting a turnoff to visit Blythe’s Scott County Museum and wondered what could be lingering in downtown Waldron. What waits is a plethora of treasures for hundreds of visitors each year, a collection that is actually part of the second-grade curriculum for school children in the area who travel to the museum and see artifacts they read about in their history lessons.
Gary Blythe grew up in Waldron, Arkansas. His family tree runs back within the county’s boundaries for five generations. Both of his grandmothers were part Cherokee. Growing up, Blythe spent time with his grandfather, who loved to dig and unearth treasures. His grandfather built into Blythe a curiosity for what might be found in the dirt. So, when he was out of school in the evenings, weekends or holiday breaks, Blythe would dig. He started at age 9. When he could drive, his dad gave him the keys to the car, allowing him to drive within 30 miles. So, the land of the Caddo Indians and the early white pioneers who moved to the area in the late 1830s became Blythe’s canvas.
His desire to dig and the curiosity for the unseen never disappeared. Drafted into war as a young man, Blythe served as a three-stripe sergeant in the Air Force and flew fighter planes that dropped bombs. For over seven years, he also flew with the Army. When not on duty, he would pull out his small travel shovel, or any device he could turn in to an instrument and would start making discoveries wherever his feet carried him.
Blythe once found himself discovering outside of Tokyo; this time his digging experience lead him to prison. As it turns out, he was digging on the private land of Hirohito. Emperor Showa did not take kindly to having his property unearthed, and Blythe was brought before him to explain. Once Blythe described his innocent curiosity, he was released and went back to his military duties.
But he kept digging.
Blythe’s continuing adventures took him to the Middle East, where he turned up a large selection of Roman coins and pottery. He also unearthed finds in Yemen, India, France, Italy, Iraq and England. The Scott County museum hosts a reproduction of English knight armor from the same place where all original knight armor sets were created. Additionally, Blythe has a conquistador’s helmet and body armor he found in a local cave in Arkansas. While out on duty and serving overseas, “many GIs would spend time in the evenings at the bars and participate in nightlife.” Blythe shares, “That just wasn’t my thing so I would spend my evenings discovering. I flew bombers, and there were lots of places I could hide my findings and bring them all home with me.”
Blythe admits treasures can be found in all sorts of places. His brother was once doing a plumbing job on a few septic tanks and came across interesting items as he was digging new pipes. He called Gary and told him he had one hour to get there and get his digging completed before he would need to finish the job. That’s how Blythe has added many items to his collections; curiosity was simply the catalyst. His reputation for the unusual and his method of displaying his findings makes a collective that other discoverers often donate to.
Gary Blythe also owns four patents, a remarkable feat for a guy who never went to college.
A visit to the museum is full of discovery. Displays include:
Probably the most unique and fascinating piece in the museum is Judge Issac Parker’s gavel and cell locks. Anyone familiar with the U.S. Marshal story or history of Fort Smith will know how important this piece is. Mr. Blythe’s story behind acquiring it as well as recent interaction with those building the U.S. Marshals Museum is worth the journey and visit.
The Blythe’s Scott County Museum is free and open to the public. They operate out of the back of their pawnshop, and both locations are on land once owned by Blythe’s grandparents. Visitors traveling a distance may want to call ahead to make sure the owners are on site. Blythe usually stays and serves as a personal tour guide. He takes pride in all of his pieces. You can tell this hobby-turned-lifestyle is an important and special part of the journey his life has taken.
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