The day Henry Starr came to town on June 5th, 1893, was a day the people of Bentonville did not soon forget. That was the day the town's bank was robbed by Henry Starr at about 2:30 in the afternoon. The account that follows describing the events of that day is pieced together from several different sources, some of which are inconsistent with each other.
About a week before the robbery, Henry Starr came to Bentonville to case out the town. He observed what time Peoples Bank opened and when money was brought out of the safe in the back. He found where most of the guns in town were stored, and he rode around town getting used to the layout of the community. He memorized the streets and alleys he would try to use to make his getaway. He also rode each day along the route he would use to take to get back to Indian Territory, about 15 miles away. He also learned of some short cuts that would help in his escape. He spent a week in town with no one knowing who he was or what was about to happen.
On the morning of the bank robbery, six men left their hideout in Indian Territory heading for Bentonville. They were to meet up with Henry Starr in Bentonville. The other bandits involved in the robbery are believed to be Frank Cheney, Bud Tyler, Hank Watt, Kid Wilson, Link Cumplin, and a character referred to as “Happy Jack”. The bandits were all armed that day with Winchester rifles, which were accurate guns usually used for hunting big game. As the bandits were heading into Bentonville, two locals (Tom Barr & Ed Holowell ) started riding with the group. In the conversation, Holowell bragged about how fast his horse was. The two men who had joined the bandits suddenly turned off and galloped away, and it is thought that that the two men may have grown aware of the newcomers' plans. The bandits caught up with them and forced them into accompanying them into town.
The group entered town from the west. They met up with Henry Starr in an alley between the lumberyard and E.E. Brock Music house. As they were preparing for the robbery three men walked up the alley. The three men were E. E. Brock (owner of the music store), William Brock, and F.F. Dumont, all of whom joined Tom Barr and Ed Holowell as the bandits' prisoners. As the men started to move toward the bank, “Happy Jack” was left to watch the prisoners and horses. Henry Star and the five others started walking in a single file toward the bank. They only had one business to pass on the way to the bank, and as they walked in front of the Benton County Sun Newspaper building, the editor, H. L. Cross, was standing close to the front door. He noticed the men were all carrying Winchesters and said, “My God, they’re going to rob the bank.” He wanted to go warn others about the robbery, but his sons, Don and Vic Cross, held him back and Miss Maggie Woods locked the door of the office.
As the bandits moved down the street, one of them stopped at the alley by the Sun Newspaper office as a guard. The rest of the men continued on. In the Sun office an employee, John Hanes, decided he would sneak out and go to his house close by to get his gun. When he opened up the back door of the office to leave, one of the bandits who was in the alley shot at him. He didn’t try leaving the Sun office again. One account says the employees at the Sun gathered at the front window to watch the events. Another account says they all went upstairs to hide.
Starr and the other four men continued towards the bank. Some folks said they were acting drunk and having a good old time. As the rest of the bandits were entering the bank, Link Cumplin moved to the top of the steps in front of the bank. He situated himself between the two iron poles on the front of the bank building, and with a loud voice ordered everyone to get off the street. This was followed by a loud shot from his gun. At first everyone ran for cover. Link would then shoot at anything that moved. He was hoping to keep the people of the town at bay. This worked for a little while.
Upon entering the bank, the robbers found the president of the bank A. W. Dinsmore and vice president I. R. Hall, both stockholders in the bank. Also present were J.C. McAndrew, the cashier, and George P. Jackson, the assistant cashier. The bandits made McAndrew open the vault and start to empty all the contents into a bag they had brought. Gold and currency were placed into one bag and silver into another. He filled the bags part way, then closed the door saying that was all the money. One of the robbers then slashed him with a knife and said, “None of that. I mean business.” McAndrew’s reply to the robbers was for them to “get it yourselves.” Two of the robbers finished emptying the vault.
By this point, citizens were running to get their guns. You would think the town’s “gentleman’s pistols” and shotguns would be no match for the bandits' Winchesters. W.L. Marley was at the courthouse serving as deputy sheriff when he heard the first shot and went out to investigate. When he came out of the courthouse, he could see Link Cumplin shooting at anything that moved. He worked his way across the street to the northeast corner of the building across the street from the courthouse which was then located where the Neighborhood Market is now. He was met there by Joe Peel and Col. J. Dillard James who owned stores on the north side of the square. All three managed to get revolvers.
Col. James started to advance down the west side of the square from doorway to doorway. He waited until the bandits were shooting south, then he would then advance to the next storefront, shooting at the bandits as he advanced. He kept moving forward until he had made his way down most of the block. By this time it’s believed that Col. James shot Link Cumplin and also put one of the bullet holes in the metal pillars. W. L. Marley went around the back of the buildings. He positioned himself at the rear corner of the Terry Block Building. He could see the gunmen through the window of the bank. He fired at the robbers, but the only thing he did was to break out the window. Ben Allison was the city marshal at the time but didn’t have his gun when the robbery started, so he ran to his house northeast of the Bentonville square to get it. He started to work his way across the square towards the bank, shooting toward the bank as he advanced. He is credited with shooting one of the robbers and the metal pillar of the bank. Unfortunately, he also shot someone’s horse in the hip as it was hitched on the square. Clint Croxdale, who ran a drug store in town, stepped out of the back door of his store to take a few shots at the robbers. When he got back into the store someone asked if he had been shot. He looked down and saw red all over his knee and passed out. Mr. Croxdale wasn’t shot but had just knelt in some red paint. He was teased about this for years.
The most serious citizen injury of the day was a local farmer named Taylor Stone who was in the corner drug store at the time of the robbery. He secured a gun and loaded it with bird shot and got a shot off. One of the robbers spotted him and shot him. The bullet went through his left groin and into the hip. He dragged himself around the corner into Wood & Hammel’s barber shop. The bullet severed a blood vessel and he could easily have bled to death, but Dr. Charles Hurley, who was a skilled surgeon, caught the vein with his finger, stopping the flow of blood until he could get help. Dr. Charles Hurley and Dr. T. W. Hurley dressed the wound and saved Mr. Stone’s life. Mr. Stone recovered from the injury, but had a limp the rest of his life.
Tom Woosley was credited with at least wounding one of the robbers. Sheriff Pierce Galbraith was at his office at the time of the robbery with no gun on hand. He climbed out the window of his office and headed home to get his gun.
When the robbery began, there were a lot of teams of horses tied up. With all the shooting going, on several teams broke loose from their hitching posts, running wildly through the streets.
At the bank, Link Cumplin was yelling at the robbers inside “hurry up, it getting hot out here”. He stepped into the building for some cover. The four bank officials were forced to leave the bank in front of the robbers. They were followed by the leaders of the gang, Henry Starr and Kid Wilson. One of the robbers carried the bag of gold and currency. They forced George Jackson to carry the bag of silver. By this time Link Cumplin had been badly hurt and had to be helped back to the horses. That day he had his eye shot out, two shots to his arm, and eight wounds in other places. The group had two men at the rear firing their guns as they moved south down Main St.
One man, Tom Baker, had secured a shotgun. As the robbers headed down Main St., Baker got off a shot at point blank range, but the shot scattered so much it did little damage except for hitting the assistant cashier, George Jackson, in three different places. Jackson was a most likely target, being more than six feet tall and standing well above all the robbers. Tom Baker was shot in the chin during the skirmish. As the robbers passed the Benton County Sun office, they were fired upon pretty constantly. When the group came even with the door of the Sun office, they paused to return fire. An employee, Miss Maggie Woods, quickly ran and unbolted the front door. She grabbed George Jackson, pulling him into the Sun office with the bag of silver, quickly locking the door behind her. Apparently the robbers were too surprised to act. Once in the door, Mr. Jackson dropped the bag of silver coins on the floor and the employees rushed Mr. Jackson to a back room. By this time Mr. Jackson was kind of dazed as they moved back farther into the building. They found that he had been shot in the head, back of the right ear, and in the back of the left elbow, but none of the wounds were serious. When passing an alley, the other bank officials made a mad run for their lives and escaped. Two of the robbers went around each side of the newspaper building thinking that George Jackson might come out the back door. When he didn’t come out right away, the robbers were anxious to get back to their horses and went on.
Everyone in the Sun building seemed to forget about the bag of silver coins except Miss Maggie Woods, who took the bag of silver, carried it upstairs, and hid it in a safe place for fear that the robbers might come back looking for it. There were $900 dollars in silver coins in the bag. At the time Miss Maggie Woods weighed 120 pounds and the bag of silver weighed 65 pounds. When she later tried to pick up the bag of coins she couldn’t do it. She told the editor, Mr. Cross, what she had done, and they returned the money to the bank. That bag of money was used to open the bank the next day.
In the meantime, Sheriff Pierce Galbraith had made it home to find his wife and one of his deputies, Clem Williams, in the front yard loading the guns. The sheriff knew they couldn’t compete with the robbers' high-powered Winchesters, so he and William tried to find the robbers' horses in hopes they could stampede them. They took up a position in an empty lot between the Eagle Hotel and Dr. Smartt’s. By that time the robbers were just reaching their horses. Sheriff Galbraith tried to shoot at the robbers but his gun failed to work. Some said he hadn’t used it in so long it had rusted. He called to William to shoot low at the horses, not being able to tell who were the prisoners and who were the robbers. In their excitement, they failed to hit anyone. All told, it is said over a hundred shots were fired in town that day.
When the fighting began, F. G. Lindsey had run home and gotten his pistol. As the robbers passed his house he fired, hitting one of them. Starr headed west on Southwest Second St. while the rest of the robbers turned south at the Baptist church then a couple of blocks later turned west. They all met up at the school which at that time was located at S.W. 4th St. & S.W. E St.
Will Buchanan was the first person to go after the robbers. The sheriff was right after him as soon as he could get his horse, with others soon following. At Lark Wilson’s farm near Bloomfield four miles west of Bentonville, the robbers met Lee McAlister. They took his horse and left him the horse they had taken from Ed Holowell. The horse was not as good as Holowell had bragged and was left with Mr. McAlister. McAlister said two of the men were wounded, and one of the two was bleeding pretty badly from the head. This was likely Link Cumplin. It was at this point that the posse came close enough to try to shoot at the robbers. In that group were Wes Oaks, Will Buchanan, and Jack Payne but none of them were close enough to hit the robbers. The bandits switched horses with anyone who came by who had a fresh horse to ride. The posse couldn’t do the same. By the time deputy sheriff W. L. Marley reached his home about a mile out of town, he was too late for the first posse, so he formed a second posse. He knew of a shortcut to Decatur where he thought he could ambush them. Henry Starr was also aware of the shortcut and had already used it.
The robbers stopped in Decatur long enough to take a little rest and plunder some of the stores. They left a message for the sheriff that they would shoot to kill. When the sheriff was in sight, the robbers took off again. A few miles later, the road wound through the trees, and the robbers set up an ambush for the posse. There was a skirmish in which the robbers seemed to come out on the losing end. Two of the bandits were wounded in the exchange, and they lost one horse. No one in the posse was hurt, but two men had their horses shot out from under them. At this point it was starting to get dark, and most of the posse decided to head for home.
Word got back that the fugitives had camped the first night near Cherokee City and that four of them had been wounded. From there they headed into Oklahoma. The next day everyone came to town from the surrounding area to see the aftermath and hear of the events of the previous day. That same day the bank officials met and determined the bank had lost $11,001.53 in the robbery. They also placed an order for some rifles to be kept in the bank.
The robbery could have been much worse. The spring strawberry crop had just come in and there was a lot of money in the area. So much cash had come into the bank the two days before the robbery that the bank had sent a package of money to St. Louis. The president and cashier of the McIlroy Bank in Fayetteville came up the next day with $8000 to lend the bank until they could get their money from St. Louis. People’s Bank put up a $1000 reward for a list of the names of the robbers to be given to the Benton County Sheriff. Also offered as a reward was half the money received and returned. The governor of Arkansas offered a reward of $150 for capture and conviction of each robber. The banks in Fayetteville said they would try to put together a reward of $1000 for the capture of the robbers.
In July of 1893 Henry Starr and Kid Wilson were captured in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the time of their arrest they only had $2000 left on them.The bank sent its attorney, L. H. McGill, to try to recover the money as what was taken from the bank. The robbers, and the money found with them, were sent back to Fort Smith to stand trial. Sheriff Galbraith and George Jackson went to Fort Smith to identify Henry Starr. After a lot of court action the bank only received $430 of the $2000. It was said to have cost the bank over $1000 to try to get this money back. Once in custody in Fort Smith, Henry Starr stood trial before “Hanging” Judge Parker for a shooting that had happened before the Bentonville robbery. Judge Parker was known for trying to eliminate the outlaws present in the Indian Territory and sentenced Starr to be hung. During the time Henry Starr’s appeals were being considered, Judge Parker passed away. Starr managed to get his sentence reduced to 15 years in the Ohio State Prison.
Once in prison, Starr was a model prisoner who was well liked by others. Arkansas still tried to get Starr returned so he could face charges for the bank robbery in Bentonville. They continued their efforts the whole time Starr was the Ohio prison, but he was paroled after just 5 years. Upon his release, he moved to Tulsa and went into real estate. At the time, this was still Indian Territory. Once Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Arkansas again tried to extradite Starr back to Arkansas to stand trial for the bank robbery. The new governor of Oklahoma was inclined to give Henry Starr a chance due to his recent behavior.
Eventually Henry Starr left the state of Oklahoma and carried out several more bank robberies, becoming a fugitive again. In 1921, Starr pulled his last bank robbery. He was shot while trying to rob a bank in Harrison, Arkansas, and was moved to the Harrison jail where he received medical attention. After hearing that Starr was in custody in Harrison, Benton County sent Sheriff George Maple to arrest Starr on the Bentonville charges from nearly 20 years earlier. This seemed to be Bentonville's chance to finally try Starr on the Bentonville robbery charges, but Starr died of his wounds before he could stand trial. Starr's body was displayed in the window of a hardware store in Harrison before being buried.
Jim Craig - Pointing out a bullet hole from the Bentonville bank robbery