The Bentonville Bank Robbery of 1893 - by W. L. Marley From The Benton County Democrat (1950) - Now the NWA Democrat Gazette - The Century of Progress Edition
A bright afternoon in June, in the year of Our Lord 1893, this then quiet old town of Bentonvillewas entertained with an unannounced show, and doubtless the most thrilling one of her lifetime. The troupe of performers was composed of six stalwart horsemen, who rode in from the west, not in abreast, but in the less conspicuous manner, by pairs. All meeting at an aboandoned lumberyard, one block south of the Peoples Bank, now the Bank of Bentonville, at the southwest corner of the Public Square, where they hitched their horses. The troupe had arbitarily designated the bank as the stage of action, and where the scene did open. Two of the troupe stayed to guard the horses, while the other four proceeded toward the bank, one of them stopping at a station halfway between the bank and the hitched horses. The other three men met at the corner in front of the bank door, then two of them entered the bank, where they found Grear McAndrew, the cashier, and George Jackson, the president of the bank, at their desks, and W. A. Dinsmore, a visitor, seated in the lobby.
The strangers, but apparently new patrons of the bank, did not take time to present checks for the withdrawal of funds in the usual way, but verbally and peremtorally demanded all the cash which the bank possessed. The new patrons, being armed to the teeth, and the bankers having made no preparations for such an emergency, could do nothing but turn over the keys to the bank's coffers. The robbers carried two meal sacks in which they quickly scooped all the cash they could find in the bank's tills and vault.
In the meantime, however, and while this inside act was being presented quietly and systematically, there was being presented to the outside audience an act more noisy and thrilling. The man stationed on the sidewalk in front of the bank door, fired the signal gun which announced the opening of the ball. And that bank robbers were in town; and that circulating pedesrtrians had better get off the streets and in doors. They obeyed. The citizens of the erstwise peaceful old town were as surprised as if it had been a clap of thunder in the cloudless sky that June afternoon.
At the time, I was acting in the capacity of deputy sheriff, and attending a trial at the old courthouse, located at the northwest corner of the square, where the bus station is now located. [Today it would be the Wal-Mart Market.] I was duty bound to investigate disturbances of the peace, and the loud report of the robber's gun signified that the peace of the town was being disturbed, so, I took French leave of the J. P. court and went out of the east door of the court house onto the sidewalk, where I could see the gunman on the corner at the bank shooting his big gun up and down the streets; definitely disturbing the peace. And I had full authority, and was duty bound to go down at once and command the peace. Nothing in my way but a lack of physical courage and ability.
This is a photo of the Peoples Bank as it appear at the time it was robbed
However, I decided to maneuver a bit, and veering I crossed the street south of the court house to the opposite store building, all the west side store buildings affording me safe breastworks from the gunman on the bank corner. The late Joe Peel and the late Col. J. D. James, who kept store on the north side of the public square, made a circuit and joined me in my safe fortification. The both were armed with small revolvers, as I was. We could peep around the corner and when the gunman on the bank corner was not shooting up our way, we would shell him with our small artillery. From our gunfire, or for some other reason, the robber on the corner, our antagonist, retreated into the bank. Then I went around the rear of the west side store buildings, which had no abutments at that time and took a stand at the rear corner of the Terry Peel Building, where I could see the gunman through the window on the north side of the bank building and took another shot at him through the window, however, firing at an angle my bullet glanced and all the harm that it did was to shatter the big window pane. Almost immediately, the three robbers came out of the bank, arm in arm with the bank officials arranged on the side next to the street, thus they marched down the sidewalk to their horses which they mounted and rode away on the same route they came in on from the west, with more than ten thousand of the bank's gold and currency.
Sheriff F. P. Galbreaith was at his office, but without firearms. We quickly decided to get our horses and pursue the robbers. A number of farmer horsemen were in town, and several townsmen with their horses, and we quickly made up a posse of some twenty determined men and gave hot pursuit of the fleeing bandits. The hardware stores supplied us with plenty of shot guns and shells, but they had no long range guns, hence the posse was at a disadvantage pursuing desperate men with long range guns. However, we thought to take short cut roads to the west end of the county so we might get ahead of the robbers and ambush them with our shotguns; but lo and behold, when we arrived at the shortcuts we found that the robbers had utilized them in their retreat. Just beyond Decatur, at the west side of the county, where the road wound through the timber, and at a convenient ambush, the bandits made a stand and fired on the posse, shooting two horses from under their riders. The posse halted. The robbers proceded on their orderly retreat. They had accomplished their purpose. We at once realized what they could do to us. We were nearing the Indian Territory, just a few miles to the bandits' hideout in Spavinaw Hills. So, the posse held council of war and decided to abandon the chase and return home and see what had happened to our town and build up the waste places. The late Jerry LeFors was one of the two men of the posse whose horse was the victim of the robbers bullets, I cannot call to mind the other one.
At that period, hitch racks were around the park in the center of the public square, where many teams with wagons were hitched. Some of the teams broke loose at the noise and ran helter skelter through the streets, but a runaway team and wagon hardly created excitement at that particular time. No serious damage resulted from that source. The most serious accident was sustained by Taylor Stone, a nearby farmer, who was in the corner drug store, opposite the bank, and when the bankers, arm in arm with the robbers, came out the bank and were marching down the sidewalk, Mr. Stone secured a shotgun loaded with bird shot and took a "pot" shot at the mixed company. Banker Jackson, whom was forced to carry the sack of silver, received some of the shot from Mr. Stone's gun, as evidently did the robber beside him, for he turned around around and shot Mr. Stone through the thigh, severing a blood vessel, and his death from loss of blood was only a matter of moments, but the elder Dr. Hurley, who was a skilled surgeon was in the drug store at the time and prepared to render effective first aid. He caught the severed blood vein with his fingers and stopped the flow of blood till assistance arrived and they bound up the wound and saved the life of the victim of the robber's bullet. Mr. Stone recovered but ever after was a cripple. He died at Cave Springs some ten years ago.
I can recall the names of but a few, who took an active part in this first and most important bank robbery in Benton County: My old friend, Kit Campbell is not in business at the same old stand, but is yet living comfortably in Bentonville with the good wife of his youth. At the time of the noted incident he conducted a barber shop in the rear of the bank building. The compartment then had a door fronting Main Street, and which the robbers and which the robbers passed coming and going. However, Kit did not invite them in and greet them with his usual pleasant, "Be seated, you're the next in one of the chairs!" But instead bolted the door. And some of his enemies, if he had any, reported that Kit tried to hide in the trash can in the rear of his shop. Kit still insists that he got a close shave himself.
It would require a book to record all the amusing incidents, midst the fearful tumult. Another old friend, who is still living in single- blessedness, as he terms it, is George Cotton, living at his farm nearby. George was cashier of the Benton County Bank, across the street in the Terry Peel building. I personally know that George did not have any enemies, but some tell-tale revealed that the bank's cashier and its president, the late Judge S. F. Stahl, who were on duty, took refuge under the bank counter, and in the hurry of the moment, neglected to bolt the front door, to keep the robbers out, contended about whose duty it was to emerge from their hideout and bolt the neglected door,until the shooting was all over.
Mr. John T. Jackson, who with his daughter, Miss Josephine, lives next door to my humble apartment, played an active role in the drama. As far as my information extends, Mr. Jackson and I are the only ones living who participated in the pursuit of the robbers. At the time John kept store on the west side and was eye witness to some of the amusing incidents. Pedestians being ordered to get indoors, especially those of the timid sex, would come into his store, gripping their purses and run upstairs seeking safer refuge from the outlaws. John, smarting under captivity, sallied forth in hopes of secuing firearms from a neighbor, but when the gunman on the bank corner shot off a shop sign just above his head, he prudently decided to obey orders and returned to his store and remained till the atmosphere cleared up on the outside.
Mis Maggie Wood, who still lives in Bentonville, and an estimable lady, played a minor role in the tragi-drama. She is sometimes heralded as the heroine by saving the sack of silver. I hope not to appear jealous of Miss Maggie's notoriety, but I desire to keep the record straight. Miss Maggie was one of the force at the Sun office, which was situated halfway between the bank and the robbers' horses. By her own admission, they bolted the door of the office and the whole force sought safer refuge upstairs where they all remained till the shooting subsided. Miss Maggie had just unbolted the door, while Banker Jackson was passing with the sack of silver; he had been shot by Mr. Stone; he fell exhausted into the door, throwing the sack of silver at the young lady's feet. The facts are: The robbers already had released the bank officials; also they had abandoned the sack of silver, which contained a thousand dollars and weighed 60 pounds, as being too cumbersome to take horseback. To be sure it was thrilling experience for Miss Maggie, but the sack of silver was already saved. The bank had strong stockholders, who at once made up the loss sustained by the robbery, and there was no interference with its operation.
It is practially certain that the leaders of this gang were Henry Starr, and Kid Wilson, already noted outlaws of the Indian Territory. The names of the rest of the gang were never disclosed. All who witnessed the first and most important bank robbery in Benton County, will agree that it was both amusing and exciting, but none will crave a return engagement.