A short history of Bentonville, Arkansas

A. 1836 - 1860

      Settlers lived in the Bentonville area as early as 1830, but the town was originally known as Osage. The post office was established in December, 1836. The town was later renamed Bentonville in the same manner as the county was named, after prominent Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton who had been a strong supporter of Arkansas statehood. The town of Bentonville was selected as county seat of Benton County upon Arkansas’ acceptance as a state on June 15th, 1836. The town site itself was not laid out and platted until November 7th, 1837.[1]

            Almost immediately the first general store opened on the east side of the town square, but isolation caused the town to grow slowly. It was the town’s good fortune, then, to lure in a new resident in 1838 who would begin to help put Bentonville, economically, on the map. Alfred Greenwood was appointed in 1837 as one of the Federal Commissary agents who escorted a group of Cherokee Indians into the Indian Territory. After the escort, Greenwood decided to move his family from Georgia to Arkansas, and he selected Bentonville as their new home. Greenwood opened a law office in a town with a population of thirty. There was only one business, a general store. In 1846 he was elected by the state legislature as prosecuting attorney representing ten Northwest Arkansas counties. He held this position until 1852, at which time he was elected Circuit Judge of the Fourth Judicial District of Arkansas. This position was short-lived, as Greenwood resigned in 1853 when nominated to Congress from the First Congressional District, which consisted of all territory north of the Arkansas River. This position was one of only two congressional seats for the whole state and it was from this seat that Greenwood was allowed to procure some benefit for Bentonville, his home town.[2] He nearly immediately began building support within the federal government to aid in the construction of a railroad from Springfield, Missouri to Shreveport, Louisiana via Bentonville. The railroad bill that was proposed by Greenwood eventually fell short, lost on the fears surrounding the upcoming 1856 election and the furor over slavery.[3] But Bentonville had been helped considerably. By the start of the Civil War, there were five general stores, a furniture store, saddle and harness shop, two hotels, and three or four mechanics shops. It also contained county buildings, two churches, a Masonic lodge and school house, and about 500 citizens.[4] New roads were built, securing a lifeline for the town to the outside world. 


      B. 1860-1865

            The Civil War was particularly devastating to the town. The most important battle west of the Mississippi was fought within ten miles of Bentonville. Sometimes called “The Gettysburg of the West,” the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought in March, 1862, and resulted in a sound Confederate defeat. The battle all but secured Union control of Missouri, a much needed victory after their defeat at the hands of the Rebels at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri in August, 1861. Many of the local boys fought in this battle and others throughout the war, but the main damage to the town was done by Union soldiers during the war. Rumor has it that the soldiers, angry over the alleged death of one of their comrades at the hands of a local, burned many of the buildings in town, including the county court house. According to Goodspeed, “Bentonville, especially, suffered terribly from the ravages of war. In February, 1862, when a portion of the Federal troops belonging to Gen. Curtis’ army passed through the town, a soldier lingered behind…and was killed by one in sympathy with the southern cause. Some of the Federal soldiers returned to town the next day, and on learning the fate of their comrade became exasperated, applied the torch in revenge, and on this occasion thirty-six buildings were consumed by fire…Afterward…buildings continued to be burned in the town, and in the country surrounding it…Both (Union and Confederate) contending parties now claim that the court-house was burned by the other. According to best authority, two churches, the Masonic hall and school building, and the jail, were burned…This work of burning property was carried on to such an extent that when the war closed only about a dozen houses were left standing in Bentonville.”[5]


      C. From Reconstruction to the New Century

          From 1868 to 1874, Arkansas state government remained in disarray, although relations with the United States government had been reestablished. There was a complex power struggle within the Republican Party that was encouraged by the Democrats. This conflict meant the return to power by the Democrats. With the election of Augustus H. Garland in 1874, the internal conflict finally ended.[6] Reconstruction also held up the town’s plan to build a new court house in 1871. Money was scarce, and when the county attempted to sell $33,000 in bonds to pay for the court house, only $14,500 could be collected. It took a second bond issue in 1873 to secure the funds for construction. [7]

            In January, 1873, Bentonville was officially incorporated as an Arkansas town. This allowed the town to be self-governing, with the “full authority to organize as such and…as a corporate body have all of the powers conferred by law upon incorporated towns of its size and class…Provided always that the town council…hereafter be selected by the qualified electors of said incorporated town…” The incorporation also allowed the city to levy taxes on property within the city limits, except for that land, “…used only for farming purposes…nor upon any timbered land…within the limits of said corporation…”[8] However, granted this new power, the city fathers failed to enact their first ordinance until 1886, some 13 years later. No city records remain to explain the gap. One possible reason is that the city was being pushed to incorporate by one of its favorite political sons but failed to continue with the enthusiasm after the deed was done.

            In another stroke of good fortune, two more great politicians made themselves at home in Bentonville.  Samuel Peel was an ex-Confederate colonel who practiced law in Bentonville beginning in 1867. In 1869 he convinced his brother-in-law, James Henderson Berry, to move his family to the town and join in law practice with him. In 1872, Berry was elected to the state legislature from Benton County. In 1878, he was elected to a circuit judge position. Peel served as a state prosecuting attorney from 1873 until 1882. In that year both men moved to higher office. Berry was elected Governor of Arkansas and Peel was elected to Congress. Berry served until 1885 when he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill a vacant position. He served here until 1907. Peel served in Congress until 1892.[9] The benefits of having two hometown attorneys in state and national office at the same time again allowed Bentonville to receive more attention than most towns her size.


[1] Conflicting reports vary on the date that the name was actually changed. Postman/attorney/amateur                                                        historian Alvin Seamster reports in an article for the Benton County Pioneer, that the name was changed on July 10, 1841. However, in his book Handling the Mail in Benton County, George Phillips quotes the date as January 3, 1843. In either case, the name Osage had apparently fallen out of favor upon statehood in favor of the respected politician Benton.

[2] J. Dickson Black, History of Benton County, International Graphics Industries, Little Rock, Arkansas,

1975, pp.163-165

[3] Journal of the House of the United States of America, 1789 – 1873, Feb. 21, 1856.

[4] Goodspeed, History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas, Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago, 1889, p. 96.

                [5] Goodspeed, p. 97.

[6] C. Fred Williams, S. Charles Bolton, Carl H. Moneyhon, and LeRoy T. Williams, editors, A Documentary History of Arkansas, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 1984, pp. 88-89.

[7] Black, History of Benton County, p. 28

[8] Petition for Incorporation of the Town of Bentonville, Jan. 7th, 1873

                                                [9] Black, History, p 165-172