Jail House Fire By J. Dickson Black (Written in 1955)
The talk about the bond issue to build a new County Jail House in Bentonville has brought back memories of the tragedy that made people see the need for a new jail house here over 50 years ago.
The tragedy was a fire that was seen burning in the jail in the early morning hours on March 4, 1905. Two inmates of the jail, Dan Reaves and Henry Crow, were burned to death in their cells.
The Benton County Jail at that time was behind the Old Court House. The lot where it stood is now [in 1955 when this article was written] a parking lot and is almost across the street from the present jail.
It was a one story brick structure with steel cells surrounded by a steel runway. There was no room for the jailer, Henry Williams, or the sheriff, Taylor T. Blake, so they were not on hand to open up the jail or turn in a fire alarm.
Reaves and Crow occupied a cell together while four other inmates were shackled in pairs and occupied cots in the corridor.
There is no doubt but that the fire was started by matches used by either Reaves of Crow to light pipes of cigarettes. Their bedding caught fire and Crow, in his terror, clung to Reaves so desperately that the latter was unable to extinguish the flames. Neither was burned seriously enough to cause death, but the smoke and flames were inhaled and both were quickly overcome.
It took some time for word to reach the jailer of the fire. By the time he got there some people had broken out the windows and the firemen threw a stream of water in the cell. This saved the four men in the corridor but was too late to save Reaves and Crow.
Reaves, who was serving a sentence for petit larceny, was to have been released the following Saturday. He lived at Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and left a wife and four children.
Crow had first been arrested on a charge of insanity. He improved so much with a short stay in the jail that the county judge gave him 50 cents and sent him home. But he invested the money in files, which he gave to the prisoners in jail. For this he was back in jail and sitting out a $100 fine.
For several years after the fire a temporary jail was used. In 1911 a new and modern jail was built. This building is still in use and will be replaced by a new and more modern jail if the bond issue is passed.