Bentonville Attorney Pistol Whips the Governor

By Larry Horton

You thought last year’s election was tense.

Bentonville Attorney Hugh Anderson Dinsmore was born in Cave Springs but reached world-wide political fame before the end of his career. He began his schooling in Bentonville then worked at his father’s general store in Bentonville. He eventually studied law and was appointed Benton County Circuit Clerk in 1872. In 1887, as a reward for acting as presidential elector for the region, he was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as Minister to Korea, one of the youngest ministers appointed to that date. He was first elected to congress in 1893 and served five terms, until running for the position of US Senator in 1905, which he lost to Governor Jeff Davis.

And now to the meat of our story:

Jefferson Davis, the Arkansas governor who shared his name with the unfortunate Confederate president, was a demagogue, in the vein of the later Huey Long of Louisiana, who was largely elected and re-elected by acting on the sympathies of poor farmers against society and the rich, and against African Americans. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Arkansas in 1905, Davis met him with a speech defending the practice of lynching. One of my favorite quotes by Davis is taken from Wikipedia:

The Helena World says that I’m a carrot haired, red-faced, load-mouthed, strong limbed, ox-driving mountaineer lawyer. That I’m a friend to the fellow that brews 40 rod bug juice back in the mountains. Now, I have a little boy, God bless him, and if I find that boy is a smart boy I will go and make a preacher out of him. If I find that he’s not so smart, I’m going to make a lawyer out of him but if I find he has not a bit of sense on this earth, I’m going to make an editor out of him and send him to Little Rock to edit the Arkansas Democrat.
— Jefferson Davis, Arkansas Governor

By 1905, James H. Berry, who had been governor of the state, and then US Senator, had decided to decline running for the office after a 22-year stretch. He was quietly backing Dinsmore. Davis, who had been governor since 1901, was the opposing candidate.

The fight, and subsequent pistol whipping came about as Davis was on the campaign trail and had read a private letter between Sen. Berry and Dinsmore during a campaign speech. Dinsmore was outraged and wanted the letter back. A meeting was set for the Washington Hotel in Fayetteville where Davis was campaigning.

Dinsmore asked for a private meeting with Davis at 11 pm and immediately asked for the letter. Davis replied that he did not have it with him, that it was in Little Rock. Dinsmore, who believed that Davis had read from the letter a few days previously at an appearance in Cotter, called him a liar. Governor Davis, who was carrying a heavy walking stick, (he evidently used it often; he had already used it to beat Arkansas Supreme Court Assistant Judge Carroll Wood – but that’s another story) grasped the cane halfway with the appearance of preparing to strike. Dinsmore answered with a fist to the face. The governor took full swing of the cane and broke it on Dinsmore’s face. Grasping the remaining piece of the cane, the governor attempted to continue pommeling Dinsmore with it, but Dinsmore grabbed it and drew a pistol from his belt and beat the governor over the head and in the face with it. Governor Davis was badly frightened and started shouting for help, fearing that Dinsmore was going to kill him, “Don’t let him kill me! For God’s sake, don’t let him kill me!”

Apparently, the men were separated and went their separate ways. Davis left in the morning for an appointment in Durham and Dinsmore was downtown, according to the newspaper, receiving the hearty handshakes of congratulations of his friends.

The Daily Arkansas Gazette, which covered the incident, says that, “Many people regard this as a personal matter between the two men and do not think it will have any bearing on the senatorial campaign.” According to the report, both Governor Davis and Dinsmore were arrested and released on bond.

I guess the candidates really took a beating on this one. (bad joke)

If you think times are tense now, remember the more things change, the more they remain the same.