Rex Hancock Jr., (July 6, 1923-July 8, 1986) dentist, outdoor sportsman/conservationist, was born in Laddonnia, Missouri, to A.R. Hancock, D.D.S., and Alma Bothmann Klein. After graduating Laddonia High School in 1941, Rex attended Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. His education and semi pro-baseball career there were interrupted by World War II and his service as a pharmacist’s mate in the US Seventh Fleet’s Amphibious Division took place. After the war he returned to Westminster and finished his AB degree in 1947. He received a D.D.S. degree in 1951 from the University of Missouri School of Dentistry at Kansas City. He moved to Arkansas because of its reputation as a hunting and fishing paradise, first in Huntsville where he and a neighbor, future Gov. Orval E. Faubus, cared for each other’s hunting dogs when either was away. A few months later, Hancock permanently relocated to Stuttgart, which is known for its waterfowl hunting. Although a competent dentist who was active in the Arkansas Dental Association, Hancock’s passion was hunting and fishing, and his mission was saving wildlife habitat, for which he received national acclaim. He was known in his endeavors for intensity, energy and perseverance.
In 1931 a Missouri magazine noted him as probably the states youngest licensed hunter. He was his dad’s constant companion. He began going with his dad at the age of 4. At the age of 6, his dad bought him his first gun, which was a small air rifle, and at the age of 8 came his first shotgun.
As an adult he hunted anything legal in Arkansas, Alaska, and British Columbia.
By the 1960 he had switched almost exclusively from gun to bow and arrow.
In 1958 Rex realized that Arkansas was not listed in the Boone and Crockett Club’s Records of North America Big Game whitetail deer listings. He corrected that by taking a course to become certified as an official scorer for the club. Then he started looking for mounts to be measured and took Arkansas from not being represented to first place in 1964.
It was in 1964 that he also was searching for the source of fish kills on the nearby Bayou Meto. It was not until 1979 that the federal government acknowledged that an old pesticide plant at Jacksonville was discharging TCDD 9dioxin) into the stream. Know as Vertac, the site became Arkansas’ most notorious toxic cleanup case.
He served five consecutive terms as president of the Grand Prairie Chapter of the Wildlife Federation. Under his leadership the membership rose to 5001plus in 1968, which was also the year he was the Arkansas Wildlife Federation’s conservationist of the year. He then became AWF president and served from 1975-1979 as a regional National Wildlife Federation director.
Hancock’s greatest achievement was leading one of Arkansas’ foremost environmental crusades, the fight to save 232 miles of the Cache River and its tributary, Bayou DeView, from being channelized. The cache runs through Northeast Arkansas from the Missouri Bootheel to the White River at Clarendon. Bayou DeView parallels the cache about 8 miles to the east for much of its length. Together they are the winter resting place for an estimated 800.000 migrating ducks.
A plan to straighten and deepen the streams to improve the drainage of surrounding lands so that they could be cleared was proposed as early as the 1920s, but it was not until the soybean prices soared in the late 1960s that U.S. Rep, Bill Alexander and U.S. Sen. John McClellan got congress to allocate $60 million for the work in 1970.
Richard S. Arnold, an attorney for a group of environmentalists, filed suit I federal court, challenging the adequacy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, 12-page Environmental Impact Statement on the project. District Judge J. Henley ruled for the Corps, it began dredging the Cache near Clarendon even though Gov. Dale Bumpers had ask for a delay and it had been appealed to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I couldn’t stand by and watch a bureaucratic federal agency thumb its nose at Arkansas,” Hancock said, explaining why he single handedly organized the Citizens Committee to Save the Cache River Basin in October 1972. It eventually included 35 national organizations and eight states in the Mississippi Flyway. He personally challenged the Corps at every turn, spending hundreds of hours and thousands of his own money. In 1978 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study called the plan “the single most damaging project to waterfowl in the nation,” and the Environmental Protection Agency refused to grant a necessary permit to the Corps in 1979. In 1980, USF announced plans for a 35,000 acres River National Wildlife Refuse. With the help form the private Nature Conservancy, the Refuge has been established and is growing. Only seven –plus miles of the Cache near Clarendon was ever “ditched.”
Rex was married to Jan Hagaman in 1963 and they had three daughters, Terri, Nancy, Hannah and two sons Jim, and Bryan. He died of cancer on July 8, 1986. His body was cremated and the ashes placed in the Cache River bottoms of the states Rex Hancock Wildlife Management Area.
Greenhead is proud to present the inaugural Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame. The creation of this new program is a long overdue effort to preserve the contributions of those individuals who have gone above and beyond through dedicated time, resources and other work to enhance the waterfowl industry in Arkansas.
The inaugural class of this landmark program will be inducted on December 1, 2016.Nominate Today!
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