The Oddest News Stories I Could FInd...So Far

Bentonville News Oddities

 

While looking through old newspapers for interesting Bentonville historical items, I often come upon articles that either are outlandish or are in need of further explanation. Here are a few for your entertainment:

 

Arkansas Democrat, Oct. 6, 1905:

“Mysterious Happenings in Connection with Historic Cave in the Vicinity

Mr. Jackson, owner of Crystal Cave near this city (Bentonville), reports that quite often during the night he can hear pounding in the cave…Mr. Jackson has blocked the entrance several times, and within a few days it would be reopened.”

-          Ok, what the heck? Spooks in the cave? There is some conjecture that someone was breaking in to steal onyx which was found in the cave, but still, pounding in the middle of the night? That would be creepy to say the least.

 

 

 

 

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, June 22, 1915:

“A meteor which seemed to explode was seen last week by a large number of people.”

-          That’s kinda cool, an exploding meteor. I wonder where it went? Maybe they named the Meteor Theater after they saw it? More information please.

 

 

 

Daily Arkansas Gazette, May 07, 1916:

“Begins War on Flies: Bentonville Children to Get Prizes for Killing Insects

…dead flies collected by Bentonville children will bring 10 cents per hundred…In addition, special prizes are offered by merchants to the first boy or girl killing 500 flies or more…”

 

-          I guess that’s one way to do it. I wonder, though, how can they tell if they are Bentonville flies? Maybe they are Rogers flies that have been snuck in to add to the count?

 

 

 

 

Daily Arkansas Gazette, August 8, 1888:

“Sneak thieves are becoming troublesome about Bentonville.”

                                               

-          That’s short and sweet. But what? Sneak thieves? When’s the last time you heard that? According to Merriam-Webster, a sneak thief is someone who steals whatever is readily available without breaking and entering. But surely there is more to this story – like where or what was stolen. Whatever. Just be on the lookout I guess.

 

 

 

Arkansas Democrat, June 5, 1882:

“Miss Lola Smith fell from the hotel balcony at Bentonville last week and was seriously injured.”

 

-          This story begs for more detail. How exactly did a woman fall from the balcony? Was alcohol involved? What happened to her? They leave you wanting more information on this one for sure. Lola Smith was probably someone’s great grandmother. This may be the first they’ve heard of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Arkansas Gazette, September 9, 1912:

“Insane in Schoolroom

Bentonville Teacher Suddenly Becomes Violently Demented

Hunter Patterson, a young man who became insane on Monday…will be placed in the State Hospital for Nervous Cases….He has been engaged in teaching for several years and had shown no indication of mental derangement until Monday when, after opening school at the Jefferson School House, two miles east of Bentonville, he became violently insane and had to be taken in charge by Sheriff A. J. Russell. He was only slightly improved yesterday.”

 

-          Ah, the deranged teacher. This could have been any time, including today. I know it could have been when I was in school. Poor teachers, cut them some slack. Immediately remanded to the state mental hospital? Wow, that’s harsh.

 

 

 

 

 

Arkansas Democrat, April 6, 1899:

“Lillie Wilson, 14 years old, was put in jail in Bentonville for contempt in refusing to answer questions by the grand jury.”

 

-          First the teachers, now the kids! 14 years old and in jail for not answering the jury. Again, sounds a little harsh. I’d like to know more, wouldn’t you? I wonder what they were asking her? There’s no follow up, so it’s lost to history I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arkansas Democrat January 19, 1886:

“A curiosity at Bentonville is a chicken with teeth, and a head resembling that of a pointer dog.”

 

-          This just sounds made up. A chicken with teeth and a head like a dog? Oddly enough there is a genetic mutation that causes a chicken to grow teeth and have an abnormal shape. This was what led scientists to believe birds were descended from dinosaurs, like in Jurassic Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Arkansas Democrat January 23, 1900:
 

“N.J. Robbins of Bentonville sold two cars of mules to South Africa for $2900.”

 

-          Mules for Africa. Hmmm. Well, the Boer War was going on in South Africa in 1900 so maybe they needed mules. But from Bentonville? Weren’t there any mules closer than 8800 miles? Weird to say the least.

 

 

 

 

Finally, the most interesting is also the oldest:

Daily Arkansas Gazette, August 4, 1869:

From the Bentonville Traveler: Some workmen, while cleaning out a well near the square, found a human skull in it. No one can account for it’s being there, as it looks too old to have been deposited there during the war.”

 

-          This is the creepiest. Just a skull, they say, no body or anything. I want to know where!... And it’s not like it was front page news, just a little blurb, like – Is anyone missing a HUMAN SKULL? Nobody? I wonder what they did with it?  I’ll be here, begging for the details.  

The Interurban, Downtown Bentonville Early Transit

 

 

 

The Bentonville Interurban

 

The Bentonville Interurban was a fascinating part of Bentonville history and was a unique slice of time gone by.

As many of you may know, Bentonville was missed by the Frisco line that ran from Missouri to Fayetteville and southward in 1881, but leading citizens paid to have a branch line run to Bentonville in 1882 to supply its residents with passenger access and those in the apple industry a means to transport goods outside of our area. Talks had been underway for a rail access directly to Bentonville as early as the 1850’s but the Civil War halted all activity until after the war.

By the early 1900’s the railroad line was doing a booming business, and small community interurban passenger trains were all the rage. Several cities in Arkansas operated these types of trains or their close kin, overhead electric trolley systems. Discussions had occurred as early as 1909 concerning the operation of an interurban, and originally plans were to run the line from Joplin to Bentonville. Along the way, other towns were willing to pay to take part in the service. Eventually even Gentry, Siloam Springs and Tontitown expressed interest in running the line to their towns too, but in the end the interurban was a Rogers to Bentonville service only.

Funding was secured, surveys were made, and the extension of the main line was completed for a grand opening on July 1, 1914. The interurban line left the Bentonville Branch line of the Frisco at SW A Street, running straight up the middle of the street north to a stop at the Massey Hotel. The line ended at the Park Springs Hotel, where there was a storage barn for the trolley. This allowed tourists to come straight to the hotel of their choosing. Also large crowds were brought in for city picnics and ballgames, as the Park Springs Park and the adjacent Blackjack ball park were conveniently at the end of the line.

Here is the description given by J. Dickson Black in his book History of Benton County:

On July 1, 1914, several hundred Bentonville citizens and a band went to Rogers on the first trips of the new motor car, an an informal reception was held.  A little later Rogers returned the call and a dinner and picnic was held at Park Springs.
The fare was 15 cents at first and the car made several trips each day.  The motor car was not always reliable and missed a good many trips.  But this was a lot better than having just one run a day like the Frisco made with their train that ran from Rogers to Grove, Oklahoma.
The train was far different from any the people in Benton County had ever seen before.  It was a big red coach trimmed in black and had gold lettering.  The engine was built in one end of the long coach, and next to this was a small baggage rood.  The coach was 72 feet long inside.  The passenger part seated about 130(if some some passengers were standing in the aisle) Sometimes there would be standing room only.

 

All went relatively well, barring the occasional derailment or breakdown, until June 1916, when the Frisco raised the rent for use of their line between Bentonville and Rogers, and the interurban was discontinued. An attempt was made in 1917 to revitalize the line but it failed.

After the line was discontinued, the tracks were taken up on A Street but not without problems. The city eventually had to pay some of the land owners along the tracks for damages caused by them. But it was a great idea, wasn’t it?

The James Gang in Bentonville?

One of the most visited spots on my history website is of the robbery of Charlie Craig's store, possibly by Jesse James. More than one reference is given that the James Gang are the ones responsible. Here are the facts:

The James Gang, consisting at that time of Jesse and Frank James and Cole and Bob Younger, and possibly Arthur McCoy, robbed the stage at Hot Springs on January 15th, 1874 of about $3000. On January 31st, they robbed the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern train in Gad's Hill, MO. They made off with about $12,000. Gad's Hill is located in Eastern Missouri, about 75 miles north of the Arkansas line. Craig's store was robbed on February 11, 1874, then the gang would have been back in the Kansas City area by March 10th in order to kill a Pinkerton man who decided to go to their home alone and was found later, shot three times. Here's what the Daily Arkansas Gazette had to say, courtesy of the Bentonville Advance:

Charley Craig and Charley Clark sleep at the store. It was 8 o'clock at night...the two men were sitting by the stove, cooking some eggs, when the door opened and two men entered and took seats by them. This was such a common occurrence that it did not worry the boys. Directly, the door opened again, and in stepped two more men; as they entered the store, the two sitting by the boys, quick as lightning, put pistols to their heads, threatening their lives if they moved or uttered a word. The third watched the door while the fourth ransacked the store, doing the stealing. He literally "went through" the store, stealing all of the money he could find. He took a suit of clothes, the very best in the store, for each of the party, ordered Charley Clark to take off his boots and, when he found they did not fit, ordered Charley Craig to do the same...and left the young man bootless. The boys had to give up their gold shirt buttons and permit themselves to be searched for other valuables. After they had stolen all they wanted, they tied the boys and made their way to the street....so ended one of the boldest robberies ever perpetrated in this part of the state..."

So was it the James Gang? Several sources say yes. The newspapers never indicated one way or the other, meaning that they likely didn't suspect them at the time. It's a long way from Gad's Hill to Bentonville and then back to Clay County, but it is pretty well known that the gang spent a lot of time in the caves around the Missouri line north of Bella Vista, so it's conceivable. The gang's mannerisms seem pretty professional; obviously this wasn't the first time they had robbed someone and gotten away. And the theft of fine suits of clothing seems to fit their mold too. Most thieves would have just gotten the money and left quickly. If I can find out more, I'll post it

One of my Favorite Bentonville Post Cards

 

 

 

This is one of my favorite items that I have found. I found it an old abandoned house when I was a teen, about 1977. The house was falling in and I was exploring, like I shouldn't have been . Anyway, it's a post card from the Bentonville Weather Bureau dated November 28, 1924. They evidently sent post cards out to whomever requested it, giving the weather forecast for a day or two at a time. As you may or may not know, Bentonville was the smallest town in the United States to have a First Order Weather Bureau. It was provided through the help of native son and US Senator James H. Berry, and was a testament to the huge impact the Benton County apple market had on the United States as a whole. It was in operation until 1942 and was located on the northeast corner of NE 2nd and A.

To my knowledge, this post card is the only one like it still in existence, as they were normally thrown away nearly as soon as they were received.

And Then There's This News Item...

From the Arkansas Democrat, 9 Feb 1892:
"A herd of 365 cattle passed through the streets of Bentonville Wednesday. They were being driven from the eastern part of the county to the Indian Territory."

Can you imagine 365 head of cattle passing through Bentonville today? They would almost cause as much problem with traffic as shutting down every street across town has in 2017.

"We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." Will Rogers

As you know from reading my website, I was once a fireman. I started that career many years ago in the early 1980's. In the last few of months I have lost a couple of friends from that earlier time that I believe are worth mentioning.

Leon Reece died in November, 2016. He was only 72 years old. He was a fireman for about 26 years I think. He was one of the first two paramedics that Bentonville had. At that time, every time there was an ambulance call, either he or the other medic had to meet the ambulance if one of them wasn't already on it. That lasted about a year. Leon was promoted to fire chief in about 1987 when Chief Jerry Griffith retired. He served in that position until his retirement in 1999. Leon played in a local band called the UpTights. They were pretty good for Bentonville 1960's standards, and they continued to play for many years, often to the old Bentonville High School alumni crowd, who really appreciated them the most. As Leon often said, " We aren't very good, but we sure are loud."

Leon Reece (L) and old friend Pete Hill, back in the day  

Leon Reece (L) and old friend Pete Hill, back in the day

 

 

Leon was what is known as "a good old boy." He liked to hunt but from what I hear, he especially enjoyed being the camp cook at deer camp every year.

 

 

 

 

Bob's Obit picture

Bob's Obit picture

Then within a few months, another friend gone. Bobby Joe Elsea died in February. Bobby Joe was only 70. Although he was a few years older than me, we both went to paramedic school at Springdale Hospital in 1986 and 1987. If you looked up "laid back" in the dictionary, I'm sure Bob's picture would be there. He was the very definition of the term. Bob was nearly always seen with a Marlboro 100 hanging from his lips and his glass of sweet tea. Although Bob tried to burn me up one time and drown me a second (email me for the details) I don't think I ever saw him lose his temper. He served for 20 years before medical troubles caused him to bow out of the career he loved so much.

 

 

Both Leon and Bob had long careers with the Arkansas National Guard, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 142nd Field Artillery.

I know a lot of people won't know them and won't remember them once they have faded from memory. But they meant a lot to this community while they were here, and that's something we should never forget. They served in the military locally, with the fire department in our city, and as paramedics for our ambulance service giving comfort to the sick and injured. I know I won't forget. I'll sit on the curb and cheer the true heroes in our lives - those that help and protect us here, in Bentonville.

 

The Bentonville Square Statue - What it means and what it doesn't mean

I am going to handle a hot potato and try not to get burned. I have a lot of people come to this site wanting to know about the Confederate Statue on the Bentonville Square. No one has dealt with the history of the statue or at least have deat with it at the bare minimum and it needs to be addressed.

In no way does this blog attempt to make apologies for slave owners for the way they treated African American slaves in the 1800's. Slavery was a failing if not failed institution by the time of the Civil War and was hotly debated at even the time of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence 90 years earlier. I am humbled by the experiences that slaves endured throughout slavery as I hope everyone is. Looking at it in hindsight without putting yourself in the actual position of the slaves and slave owners is difficult to do, as none of us will ever really be able to "know what it's like." Especially helpful is a reading of slave narratives taken by the WPA in the 1940's. I am much more sickened by the treatment of African Americans in the South after the war, especially in the 1950's and 1960's, as that era is more familiar to me. I hope that relations between all races continues to get better and better instead of what appears to be a worsening situation in many areas today. Fortunately, Northwest Arkansas has sped ahead of many areas in their treatment of different cultures and races. My fervent home is that it stays this way.

I have had a few nasty comments about the statue and the backwardness that it represents and have been called a few names, although I have nothing to do with the statue or the history in general.

Here is what I posted in 2010:

I have had a search of my site recently by someone who wondered who the statue in the middle of the square was supposed to be. The statue is a figural respresentation of the Confederate Soldier.

The history behind the statue is part of what makes Bentonville unique. The only Arkansas Governor from Bentonville was James H. Berry who served as a lawyer in Bentonville, was elected to state legislature in 1872 and speaker of the house in 1874. He was a circuit judge here from 1878 to 1882. He was elected governor in 1882 and served from January 1883 to January 1885. He was appointed to the United States Senate in 1885 and served there until 1907. Berry was a Confederate and served as a 2nd Lieutenant and was wounded in Corith, Mississippi and lost a leg. 

Andrew J. Bates was born near Dadeville, Missouri in 1844. He fought for the Confederacy, joining the Arkansas 26th Infantry, Company “K.” He never rose above the rank of private. In 1866, Bates came to Benton County. He was a founder of the Benton County Bank, along with Col. W. A. Terry and S. F. Stahl, where he served as vice-president. He sold his interest in that bank and organized the First National Bank of Bentonville, of which he was president until 1920.  He was a well known elk and big game hunter. His many hunting trophies added flavor to the Elk Horn Barber Shop. Bates died in 1928 and left an estate of $150,000. At his wife’s death, the remainder of the estate was to be used to build and maintain a hospital, to be known as Bates Memorial.  After a challenge to the will by Bates’ nieces and nephews, and the loss of $52,000 in worthless stock, the remainder was matched by the WPA. In 1935 the twelve bed hospital was completed at a cost of $18,000.

So anyway, Bates wanted to make a gift to the city to memorialize the Confederate soldiers who had served from Benton County and Bentonville in particular. Statues of this sort are common throughout the south. If you are familiar with Bentonville history, the town was nearly completely burned by the Union Army during the Civil War and many of the local boys fought for the south.

The statue was dedicated in a grand ceremony on August 8th, 1908. One side of the base reads, "To the Southern Soldiers - Erected by A.J. Bates and the James H. Berry Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy Aug. 8, 1908." The other reads, " Their Names are Borne On Honors Shield. Their Record Is With God. They Fought For Home and Fatherland."

There have been attempts made a few times over the past fifty years to have the statue removed because of the pain that the Civil War caused on both sides; however, the center of the square was deeded to the Daughters of the Confederacy for use as a park to be known as Public Square Park and will remain in their possession in perpetuity.

Benton County was never a large slave holding county in Arkansas. Most of the slave owners were failures at business in other places and started anew here, bringing their slaves with them. The 1850 census shows Benton County with 3710 population and 209 slaves. By 1860, the population had grown by nearly tripled to 9306 but the slave population was only 384, growth that was less than doubled.

The soldiers from Benton County were about 1100 total. Of those, about 51 deserted from the 15th Arkansas Infantry Northwest alone; 43 were killed or sick. Company F was hit hardest, with 7 desertions, 20 killed or ill, and 45 captured.

If you read in-depth of the history of our county and especially the history of our town, the treatment of African Americans, while not execllent, was better than most southern cities. Bentonville never had "sundown"laws to my knowledge, and I have done extensive research.

 More to follow...

John Prine and Paradise

None of this has anything to do with Bentonville History but read it anyway...haha

I first discovered the genius of John Prine when I started my career at the fire department. He was popular with the other couple of guys on my shift and I grew to love his music. One of my favorite songs was one he wrote called "Paradise." Here is the "real" story from wikipedia in case anyone cares:

"Paradise" is a song written by John Prine for his father, and recorded for his 1971 debut album, John Prine. Prine also re-recorded the song for his 1986 album, German Afternoons. The song is about the impact of coal mining both while in activity and what happens to the area around the Green River in Kentucky once the coal mining ends. The song references the Peabody Energy Corporation, and a now-defunct town called Paradise in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky

The point of all this - and there is a point - is that the song is one of the best pieces of poetry written about changes in rural America that I have heard or read. The lyrics follow, with the chorus only once to save the redundancy:

"When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.
 
"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"
 
 
Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill
 
Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man
 
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am"

 

This song reminds me strongly of the Ozarks and of how fortunate we all are that our progress has been "constructive" instead of "destructive." Do you remember going out with your dad or brothers and shooting at pop bottles? The line that, "the air smelled like snakes" isn't that the humid summer feeling we all get when we are lazing about the yard or along the creek, watching for the water moccasins and copperheads?

Finally, the last stanza reminds me of Mill Dam, which was the local swimming hole for many years off Regional Airport Blvd, where the Osage rolled over the old mill dam and created a pool perfect for swimming and sunning. There was a low water bridge there (read "no bridge" if you aren't from the Ozarks) which was replaced a couple of years ago by a regular boring bridge. You used to be able to drive down the road in the summer and drive right through the Osage to continue on down the road and see the locals lounging around in the water, the kids playing in the pool, sunning on the big limestone dam. Back in OUR Paradise, just five miles away from wherever we are.



Old Timers and Their ways...

I was thinking a little bit earlier about how times have changed, just over the last tewnty five years. In one of the many previous jobs I have done was that of water pump service man. I have worked since I was a child. That's not a boast, it's a fact. Work was expected around the farm as there were many things to be done and I had it easier than a lot of my friends. My dad owned a livestock auction, so we were always feeding, sorting, and loading out for sale. The first time I drove the pick-up while dad fed hay from the back I was five years old and living in Sugar Creek valley on 417 acres. Dad put the truck in low and told me to steer. I was terrified. Lots of my friends did real work, on large dairy farms where they worked from sun up to sun down. I had it easy in comparison. I worked at the livestock auction from childhood until I was 14 or so when I went to work for my step father, Bob Harbit, at Northwest Pump. And I have told you all that to tell you this.

Over the course of several years in the pump business I ran into a couple of people who remind me now of what farming and work was really like. Pump work is hard work, hot and thirsty in the summer and freezing in the winter. Never any water to drink unless you brought your own. But I remember a couple of people who knew what it was like to work.

The first was Roy and Ruth Elzey who had a place out toward Beaver Lake. Mr. Elzey was an old Bentonville contractor and the father of two Bentonville Fire Department retirees and the grandfather of one retiree and one who still works here today. When we were in the middle of pulling the pump to correct whatever was wrong down in the well, Mr. Elzey stopped us midway for sandwiches. Now tell me, when you call the plumber today or have your roof replaced on your house do you stop the workers halfway through for snacks? I didn't think so. I usually don't think about it either. But Roy did. He knew what it was like to work all day in the hot sun. I won't ever forget the hospitality.

The other time was when Bob and I were working for Mrs. Inlow in Cave Springs. She was the mother of Charles Inlow, one of the first cardiologists in Northwest Arkansas and a student of my grandmother's at Cave Springs Elementary School back in the 50's. Tragically, cancer took this brilliant doctor in 2009. But back to the story. Halfway through the job we were stopped by Mrs. Inlow for lunch. Forced. There was no way to say no. This was how it was going to be.

When we cleaned up a little and went into her kitchen she had laid out a spread fit for a Sunday dinner. There was virtually everything you could think of - the table was covered with all sorts of food. Do you remember when you used to go to your grandmother's or great-grandmother's for a visit on Sunday and piles of food would appear as if by magic? How did they do it? I'm lucky if the peanut butter at my house is fresh, yet here it was. Everything.

Mrs. Inlow was raised on a farm I'm sure and had her own farm for years. She knew what it was like to work all day and she was prepared to feed the workers just like she had her entire life. Second nature.

I will never forget these two thoughtful people who remembered what real work was like in a world where most people don't give the working man a second glance.

 

"when the whistles Blew"

The title was brought back to me a little while ago when I was sitting outside and heard the local Arkansas and Missouri freight train blowing it's whistle frequently as it came into Bentonville. They have some box cars on the siding at SE 8th where the track now ends and also deliver sand to the local concrete company and, as they do, blow the whistle at every intersection every time they move back and forth into the city.

The old line used to run from where it stops now, down towards SE J Street next to the old Wal-Mart Warehouse #2 which is now the return center and sample store. It angled Northwest to near SE D and 4th past the old Ice House and where the Eagle Mill once stood. There was a siding there that veered north and then made a dead end where the city shop is now at SE 3rd and D. There was an apple evaporator there years ago, when apple was king of Benton County, and when they added onto the shop, they found a large diameter pipe that ran north to parts unknown. My guess was that it ran downhill to the "Largest Brandy Distillery West of the Mississippi" at Old Wayne Road and NE 2nd so that apple squeezin's (an Ozark term for sure) could be flowed in to be made into brandy.

From SE D and 4th the line  ran west past the Farmer's Co-Op and the depot at South Main then continued west and then slightly southwest past (or maybe even through) what is now the Wal-Mart Home Office, continuing southwest and then west about 150 yards north of Highway 102 toward Centerton and westward. The pictures of this old rail bed are elsewhere on this site.

Back to the original thought - the phrase "When the Whistles Blew" is located in J. Dickson Black's History of Benton County, heading a hand drawn map of Benton County rail lines drawn by Clarence A. Harris in 1964.

Railroads have always fascinated me. It is difficult to understand today what an impact these trains had around the turn of the century in our area. They were, for the day, unbelievably powerful, fast, and especially, loud. There was nothing like it - a humongous piece of machinery that could move faster than anything anyone had seen.

Robert G. Winn, the known expert in Northwest Arkansas railroads and railroads in general, has the perfect prologue in his book "Railroads of Northwest Arkansas." (Find one here on Amazon if available at http://www.amazon.com/Railroads-northwest-Arkansas-Robert-Winn/dp/B0006EO5MY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368666502&sr=8-1&keywords=railroads+of+northwest+arkansas I got my copy on eBay.)

"During the early part of this century when railroading was at its peak, the Frisco daily ran two fast trains through the Ozarks. The only stop these fast passenger trains made between Fayetteville and Van Buren was at Winslow. Through all the other small villages along the route (which came into the county where it does now at Gateway on it's way south to Fayetteville) they travelled at such terrific speed that they were called by local residents 'The Cannonballs.' They stopped for absolutely nothing. Children were cautioned to be wary of crossing the tracks when these trains were due. They went so fast that an unwary child caught on the tracks as the train approached would only have seconds to get out of the way.

Very little persuasion was needed to make children aware of the danger. Stock was allowed free range and often cows, horses, pigs, and household pets met their death under the grinding wheels of these 'Cannonballs.' The sight of an animal being crushed and its bloody carcass dragged along the track was enough to fill the most daring child with the dread of the swift moving locomotives."

Porter (later Schaberg) in northern Crawford County seemed to fall victim to more than its share of these grisly accidents. Situated as it was in the narrow valley with a long stretch of track dividing the town, the place was especially vulnerable.

One mile north of the crossing at Porter stood the 'whistling post.' When a train approaching from the north reached the post, its engineer blew a long doleful whistle. With this signal, travelling at a speed of sixty miles an hour, the train was through town in less than a minute. A series of short, sharp blasts from the whistle alerted all within earshot that some living creature was on the track. Most animals thus caught moved too slowly to escape, even if they were frightened enough by the whistle to attempt a run."

Thanks to Robert Winn for that perfect description. While reviewing the Obituaries of Benton County between 1888 and 1935 (available on CD from the Benton County Historical Society) one can see many instances of death by train. Most were from railroad workers who were unlucky enough to fall between the cars while trying to set a brake, pin a coupling, or just losing balance. There were several horrendous wrecks involving vehicles, including one particularly nasty one in Lowell involving the train and a gasoline truck. But in several instances, the train just ran over some innocent person wandering along the track headed for home or town, overtaken by the fastest machine on wheels. There are even a few instances of bodies being found alongside the track that remained unidentified and unclaimed, usually tramps or hobos who lost their balance while riding the rails.

Today in the age of supersonic flight, nascar speeds at over 200 mph, and cars daily on the interstate at 90 mph or more, these old accounts seem nearly unbeliveable. But early in the 20th century when horses were the top mode of transportation and early automobiles moved at twenty or thirty mph, the train was an awesome spectacle, when the whistle blew...

A Picnic at the Hanging

I had a search on the site for "hanging tree" in Bentonville. I don't know of such a tree, but I can recount the story of the last legal hanging in Bentonville, through the writings of J. Dickson Black in his "History of Benton County" paraphrased for length:

The last legal hanging held in Bentonville turned out to be the biggest get-together the county had ever had to that date. Many people started to town the day beforee, so they would be there in time for the hanging. By daylight of January 14th, 1876, there was a big crowd in town. The stores all opened early and did a good business.

The excitement all started on August 4th, 1875, when Columbus Hancock was found murdered near his home in White Hollow near White River in Benton County. Sheriff J.H. McClinton soon arrested cornelius Hammon and Grisham P. Hoyt. They were indicted for the murder of Handcock. The both pleaded not guilty. Hoytt asked for a changed of venue and was later tried in Washington County and found not guilty.

Hammon was tried in Bentonville in October, 1875. The courthouse had been in use only about a year, and this was the first big trial to take place in it. People filled the courtroom and the halls for the trial.

Col. Sam Peel was the prosecuting attorney and John M. Peel represented the defense. They were both well known attorneys.

The trial didn't last very long, and the jury was out a very short time. John W. Floyd was the foreman of the jury. They returned a verdict saying, "We the jury find the defendant, Cornelius Hammon, guilty of murder in the first degree as charged by the indictment."

Hammon was sentenced bu Judge J.M. Pitman to be hanged by the neck until dead, on the 14th day of January, 1876, between the hours of 10:00 in the morning and 2:00 in the afternoon, at some point selected by Sheriff McClinton within two miles of the courthouse.

The scaffold was erected just west of the Razorback Inn on the south side of the road on one of the knolls, about where 71 bypass leaves Highway 71. (This would be in the area of the current post office, more or less, although I have heard accounts that it was erected somewhere in Razorback Subdivision, which is the area north of the current intersection of Walton and SW 14th, where Razorback Street is located)

Hammon was taken from the courthouse in a wagon, riding astride his coffin, at about 10:30 that morning to take his last ride. There was a big crowd at the courthouse, and they followed the wagon out to the scaffold.

As they made the trip out of town, people kept passing the wagon as they wanted to be sure they got to see the whole show. Hammon called out to some of them, saying, "There's no use to be in a hurry for nothing's going to happen until I get there.'

His last words were, "You are hanging the wrong man," and afterwards some people got to thinking maybe they did, but it was too late.

The story of the hanging has been told and retold by those who saw it. They all seemed to think it had been a day well spent. Many of them brought their lunch or bought food at one of the stores. It was one of those warm days in January, so a large number sat down for a picnic lunch not far from the hanging. And many were still in sight of the scaffold on which Hammon had hung.

The scaffold stood for over fifty years as a reminder of what took place there but the scaffold and the Razorback Inn are both gone and most of the people have forgotten that there ever was a hanging or a picnic here at one time. But to this day it is not known for sure if they hung the right man or not.

 

Now me - back to the hanging tree, I have never heard of it if there was one. The hangings in Bentonville were few, as evidenced by the one so detailed in the preceding article. I'm sure that there were several cases of frontier justice prior to Bentonville being "civilized" but these have long been forgotten.

Benton County - Home of the Big Red...Tobacco Leaf?

Most people are aware of what a large part the apple industry played in the development of Benton County and Bentonville...Benton County at the turn of the century had more apple trees than any other county in the United States, we shipped more apples, both fresh and dried, had more evaporators than any other county, and had the largest apple brandy distillery and apple vinegar factory west of the Mississippi. Our apple growers won more awards at the St. Louis and San Francisco Exposition than any other county in the US. But were you aware that before the apple, our county raised the finest award winning tobacco in the country?

In the 1880's it was the largest cash crop in the county. Early settlers here from Kentucky are said to have brought the first tobacco seed into the county somewhere around 1833, according to J. Dickson Black. By 1840 tobacco was a cash crop on many farms in the county. The quality was much higher than that being grown in Kentucky at the time. In 1860, 37,725 lbs of top grade tobacco was shipped out of the county. Things slowed down a little during the war, but afterward by 1870 they were growing fields full of Virginia Golden Leaf, White Burley, Yellow Pryor, and Hico Wrapper Leaf. 200,000 lbs were shipped out in 1870 from 547 acres. From 1880 to 1887 the crop ran about 400,000 lbs per year.  Bentonville had several tobacco buyers in town and for years Trotter & Wilkes was the biggest tobacco company in Bentonville, and made a full line of tobacco goods sold over six states. In a newspaper article from 1890, it was said that Benton County tobacco was superior to that grown anywhere else in the United States and that we could produce up to 2 million lbs per year. By about 1888 the tobacco industry had begun to fade out as farmers began to cut down on total acres grown. Although Benton County tobacco took first place in the Cotton Exchange Fair in New Orleans in the early 1880's, it soon gave way to the apple industry.

I have always said that Benton County was extremely fortunate in that we had fertile ground here on the Ozark Plateau between the Ozarks and the Boston Mountains and we had the ability to bring in top dollar cash crops in the form of tobacco, then apples, then cattle and dairy, then chickens, and then finally Sam Walton arrived and changed history. Isn't that amazing?

 

The Elkhorn Barbershop Again

I wrote my Master's thesis on a Bentonville business, the Elkhorn Barber Shop and the people who worked there and used the shop not only for a shave and a haircut but as the local meeting place.

The original shop was on South Main at the back of the People's Bank, but soon moved around the corner to Central, on the south side of the square, where the Chamber of Commerce is now located.

This is the way I remember it:

It was honestly exactly like this in the late 60's and early 70's...only the people and the cars changed.

 

The main reason I started writing about it was because my grandfather was a barber there for the last few years of a career that started in 1919. He worked in the chair by the window looking out onto the square from 1966 to 1976. 

 

 

 An article from the Springdale Daily News from May 8, 1974 said the following:

"Horton remembers driving to the local picture show in a buggy some fifty years ago (around 1925) because “that was the only transportation I had at the time.” He estimated that during that era a shave cost about fifteen cents and a haircut twenty-five cents. “Times certainly have changed,” the tobacco chewing Hiwasse resident declared, while relaxing in a vacant barber chair at the close of another business day."

He died in 2004 at the age of 99, but only after my grandmother, his wife of 73 years, preceded him in death by five weeks.

I will always remember getting my haircut there, especially in the 70's when long hair was "in." He HATED long hair on men (or boys) but he trimmed it anyway and then I left to walk up the street to Gus' News Stand for a comic book. Sure do miss him sometimes...

 

Mid Town Shopping Center - Walton's and Phillips Food Center

As I was mentioning on the first page of the blog, Mid Town Shopping Center was the hub of activity in the 60's and 70's. I remember when I was young Walton's Department Store was on the west end. When you went in the farthest west door you were walking into sporting goods. Toward the back and then right you went up a ramp and into the dry good part of the store. Of course we went there for everything - cause if they didn't have it, you didn't need it! There were a couple of ladies who worked there - I don't remember their names - but I think they stayed with the company for years and even moved out into the store on North Walton when it was built in the late 70's. Next door was Phillips Food Center. Harlon Phillips was the owner and he was in the store quite often. He would greet EVERY customer with a "Hi there! how are you today?" It was the same with the employees, as I worked for him when he opened Food 4 Less on North Walton next to Wal-Mart. If someone needed a price check, often Mr. Phillips would know the price off the top of his head. A great guy and a genius of the grocery business. His wife would come in often too and was so elegant. Nice people to work for.

In the earlier years there was a restaurant in the back of Phillips. My Aunt Martha used to be a waitress there for a while. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on NW 2nd street and we rode our bikes all over town, of course, and spent a lot of time in Walton's and Phillips'.

 

Not a great picture, but you get the idea!

Later, in the late 70's, both companies moved to North Walton - here are the aerial views:

 There was a gas station added out front later.

 

 

 

Here's the old Food 4 Less building. The old Kentucky Fried Chicken is in the foreground.

Both buildings were remodeled and are now WalMart Transportation and Logistics Buildings. WalMart bought out Mr. Phillips in about 1982

The lot that Mid Town now occupies has been a busy spot for many years. The county courthouse sat on the corner of Main and 2nd in front of the current buildings.

The courthouse was built in 1874, one of the first things we could accomplish after Reconstruction following the Civil War.

Later after it was torn down for the "new" court house in 1928, the Hotel Bentonville and the Crosstown Restaurant were on the corner, as was a bus stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Now we are preparing for the new Harps being built on North Walton and 13th. The old buildings will be torn down to make way for retail shops, a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, and a parking garage.

Once again Downtown Bentonville will remake itself for the betterment of the community.

Skirmish at Sugar Creek and Brush Creek

I had mentioned in an earlier post that General Franz Sigel had been surprised at Bentonville by forces of the Confederate Infantry and Cavalry. Their skirmish took place at the intersection of Sugar Creek and Brush Creek near the bridge on Hwy 72 east. Old Confederate Camp Stephens lay up the Sugar Creek Valley to the east and nearly five miles to the east, the Union Army was entrenched on the north side of Sugar Creek Valley at Brightwater. It was these troops, including Captain Hoffman's Battery and the Fifthteenth Missouri Volunteers who hurried back to assist General Sigel and the Twelfth Missouri, who were under seige by Cavalry led by General James McIntosh and Confederate Infantry under Colonel Gates.

I have spent some time recently in that area doing some hillbilly archeology and have turned up a few items from the clash.

 

 

 

 

 

Some nice fired bullets, a lead bar for melting to make bullets, some dropped round balls, and a decent Union Infantry Button.

 All of these are a little over 150 years old and almost positively traceable back to this exact skirmish.

 

Bentonville Fire Department Historical Inventory

Bentonville Fire Department

Equipment List

 

 

1892                     One   Hand Engine

                             One   Hose Cart       400 feet  2 ½” hose

 

1904                     Two    Hose Carts

                             One   Hook and Ladder Truck

                            

1908                     Two    Hose Carts

                             One   Hook and Ladder Truck

                             21      Firefighters

                             750    Feet 2 ½” hose

 

1914                     Two    Hose Carts

                             One   Hook and Ladder truck

                             23      Firefighters

                             1250  Feet 2 ½” Hose

                             12      Leather Buckets

 

1922                     One   Ford Fire Truck    30 Gal. Chemical Tank

                             One   American LaFrance Fire Truck w/750 GPM                                                pump, Two 20’ ladders, 30 gal. chemical Tank

                             One   paid firefighter    Eighteen Volunteers

 

1933                     One   Ford Fire Truck    30 Gal. Chemical Tank

                             One   American LaFrance 24’ Ladder,

                                      200’ Chemical Hose

 

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bentonville Fire Department

Fire Chief List

 

1887           G.M. Craig  1st Chief

 

1918           Lee Seamster, President                   Ed Masoner, Chief

1919           A. Back, President                             Ed Masoner, Chief

1920           Floyd Moody, President           Frank Hamilton, Chief

1921           Dick Hickman, President         Floyd Moody, Chief

1922           Lee Seamster, President                   Floyd Moody, Chief

1923           Dick Hickman, President         Frank Hamilton, Chief

1924           Dick Hickman, President         James Galbreath, Chief

1925           Henry Cavness, President       James Galbreath, Chief

1928           J.H. Kohley, Chief

1931           F.M. Brock, Chief

1933           C.J.Wright, Chief

1948           Tom Macon, Chief

1955           Bryan Maples, Chief

1956           Joe Haney, Chief

1958           Bryan Maples, Chief

1960           Truman Boling, Chief

1972           Jerry Griffith, Chief

1986           Leon Reece, Chief

1999           Randy Baldridge, Chief

2001           Dan White, Chief

2012           Brent Boydston, Chief

Heroes of the Bentonville Fire Department - Chief Jerry Griffith

I wanted to talk a little bit about some folks who have mentored me throughout my career and  there is no better way to start than to introduce Chief Jerry Griffith.

Chief Griffith, or Griff as he was known to his "guys" was put on the fire department on April 18, 1961. He worked as a paid volunteer and his "real" job was working as a printer. During that time, and for many years before, the department had been made up of all volunteers, members of the community who responded to all of the calls in the response area and met twice a month for training meetings and general commentary on whatever was going on in the city at the time. Griff took over as chief of the department from Truman Boling on March 22, 1972. Boling, who had been on the department since April, 1951, was a master builder by trade, and, along with his son Mike who is also a fire departmetn retiree, was instrumental in the building of the fire station that was previously occupied at 215 SW A Street.

Griff was promoted into a paid position as chief in 1978. This was the first full paid chief position at the City of Bentonville.

Griff's most instrumental and lasting effect on the department was the decision to take over the ambulance service when the local funeral home decided to get out of the business, in September 1977. This move, although controversial at the time, allowed the department room to grow and, looking back, was a decision that many fire departments only came to in the 1990's and beyond, finding that housing ambulances in fire houses and cross training the members was a sure-fire way to insure full paid staffing for the fire apparatus.

When I got hired on at the department thirty years ago, Griff was the "old man" who oversaw all of the fire calls, many times staying with a burned out house through-out the night to make sure there were no re-kindles or missed hot spots, constantly smoking his Benson and Hedges cigarettes.

 

This is what I remember  - first morning cup of coffee at  the station, planning out his day.

 

 Griff had been in a firefighting family, or married into one. His beloved wife Deloras was the daughter, granddaughter, and wife of a Bentonville Fire Chief. Thier son Scott served on the department for a time as well. As a side note, Deloras' mother Pearl Maples was crazy for the fire department. Her dad, husband and son-in-law were all on the department as just mentioned, and Pearl had a scanner or fire department radio that she took everywhere with her to monitor what we were doing all of the time. I took her in the ambulance to the hospital a couple of times and the monitor went with her. When she passed away, I was a pall bearer at her funeral. I often wondered whether she took the monitor with her...She was a faithful supporter.

A visit to the Griffith house brings rememberance of jazz music and cigarette smoke, like their own little jazz club. They both enjoyed star-gazing and could name all of the major stars and constellations. A wealth of knowledge it seems.

Griff also oversaw the addition onto the old station in 1980 and instead of three drivers, one for each shift, the department first had three per shift, then four when I arrived in 1982. He brought the city personnel with paramedic training, some of the first in the state, along with Springdale, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Bella Vista.

The addition of the ambulances helped secure not only a strong foundation for a fire department but also the best in medically trained personnel for the citizens of Bentonville and the outlying areas. For many years Bentonville was the only department in the county with rescue equipment and responded all the way to the Missouri and Oklahoma state lines for rescue efforts. When Rogers made a decision around 1980 to discontinue all ambulance service outside of its city limits, it was Bentonville that took up the slack, responding past the Rogers stations and out into the Beaver Lake area, a politically motivated move that was fortunately short lived.

We now have a department with 60 uniformed personnel and six administrative personnel. What began as a hundred fire calls a year and maybe 60 ambulance calls per month has turned into nearly 5000 calls a year, from five station strategically located around the city, with a sixth in the planning stages.

The last time I saw Griff was shortly before he moved to California to be closer to his daughter Nancy Griffin Volkins. It was about 2002 or 2003. I wanted to make it clear to him that he was what had made the Bentonville Fire Department into what it is today. He was instrumental in making me into what I am today, a thirty year employee, battalion chief, paramedic. His eyes teared up a little and he only said, " Thanks."

Chief Griffith died February 3, 2010 in California. Deloras died a couple of years before, and, after a couple of devastating strokes, Griff could no longer remember where she had gone.

I bring this up to remind everyone to remember where they came from. And remember where you are going. There is likely to be someone somewhere back there that gave you some direction. I am happy to say that Jerry Griffith pointed me in the right direction and I will always be grateful.

Thanks Griff!

Bentonville Growth - 07-28-1888

From the Springfield Herald:

Northwest Arkansas is a lovely land and all who go there fall in love with it.

Large numbers of people are emigrating from Kansas and making new homes in Benton County and its thriving towns and cities. They are astonished as well as pleased on their arrival at the orchards loaded with delicious fruit until the trees almost lie upon the ground.

Bentonville, the county seat, is a well built and properous city., the terminus of the Bentonville Railway, and is growing steadily. Yje new buildings going up, whether residences or business blocks, are a sure indication of the prevalance among the people of the spirit of enterprise, as they are in line with the advanced spirit of the age. A new three stroy bank and store building is in progress of construction, and a large evaporator will soon be in operation. The evaporator will have a large capacity and will create a market for thousands of bushels of the apples now ripening in that land of apples. The people are liberal, kind, and hospitable, and extend a hearty welcome to all strangers who come to make their homes and assist in the development of the country.

 

The Jesse James Gang Robs Bentonville Business

 

I was reading through some of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Programs listings for Bentonville Buildings - at www.arkansaspreservation.com/historic-properties/_search_nomination_popup.aspx

and I came upon the entry for the Charles R. Craig building located at 113 South Main Street. It was nominated for the National Registry of Historic Places as the best example of a two-story commercial building featuring pressed-tin facade in downtown Bentonville.

By 1837, according to the article, the town had at least 30 settlers, including a Samuel Burks, the owner of the Elk Horn Tavern, which is the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862. Burks was listed as the first proeprty owner of 113 South Main Street. By the year 1860, the town of Bentonville contained five general stores, the furniture store of Henry Baumeister, the Vestal Hotel, the saddle and harness shop of J.W. Clark, the Clark Hotel, and three or four mechanics shops. Bentonville was growing considerably with 500 residents.

in 1852 James T. Craig becamse a resident of Bentonville. He engaged in merchandising until the Civil War broke out. At the beginning of thwar he left Bentonville and returned to Cane Hill and continued farming until 1871. At that time he returned to Bentonville to continue merchandising until 1882 when he turned his business over to his sons.

Charles R. Craig was born in 1854 and was in the real estate business in Bentonville. He was also engaged in the mercantile establishment of Craig & Sons. Charles and his brother, George, became involved with the growth of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad and were active in procurements of rights-of-way and the laying of the rail lines. George, who incidentally was the first fire chief in Bentonville, later became a prosperous businessman and banker in Galveston, Texas.

Little is known of the actual use of the Craig Building. We do know from the Sanborn Maps that the building was used as an office on the first floor and a photography studio on the second floor. One can assume that Mr. Craig used the first story office space for his real estate business, as the building's close proximity to the dourthouse would have made it an ideal location for such a business.

Little did we know that it was also the scene of a robbery by one of the United States' most famous gang of robbers, the James Gang. Sometime in February, 1874 - exact date unknown, the robbers, who were fresh off of a train robbery at Gad's Hill Missouri, headed to Arkansas after the robbery. The gang included Jesse James, brother Frank James, Cole, Bob, and John Younger, and maybe Clell Miller and/or Arthur McCoy. Soon after their arrival in Bentonville they robbed the Craig & Sons General store of around two hundred dollars, with various goods and merchandise as well. They apparently were not met with any resistance by the town citizens and rode out of Bentonville after the robbery was completed.

 The Craig Building as it looks today, home of Randy Lawson's Lawco Exploration

 

James was known to frequent the area around the Missouri line in what was then known as Caverna, although the town is long gone. (my Great-great grandfather was postmaster there) It was rumored that the gang would hole up in the big cave on Bear Hollow Road at the state line and it was even rumored that they could travel underground, undetected, all the way to the Wonderland Cave off Dartmoor, although this has never been proven.

 

 

James was finally and famously gunned down in 1882 by the outlaw Bob Ford while a guest in James' home.

 

Oddly enough this wasn't the only time Jesse James visited Bentonville. In March 2010, he and then wife Oscar winner Sandra Bullock made an appearance around Bentonville, two days before the break-up of their marriage, likely leaving a bad taste of Bentonville in the mouths of both. Different Jesse James I guess but still a nasty visit to Bentonville all the same...