The Jesse James Gang Robs Bentonville Business


I was reading through some of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Programs listings for Bentonville Buildings - at

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...