Early Settlers Speak

By Larry Horton

One of the more interesting finds within the Special Collections Department at the University of Arkansas are the Historical Records Survey, or Early Settlers Questionnaire. In 1940, the University at Little Rock conducted a survey of early state settlers and with this provides us some interesting insight from years ago. There are only six interviewees from Bentonville:

  • F. P. Galbreaith, b. 1856, who was sheriff, County Collector, Circuit Clerk and livestock dealer
  • L. C. Sulzer, b. 1858, a retired merchant
  • L. C. Crouch, b. 1860, retired harness and saddle maker
  • M. C. Cunningham, b. 1869, transfer and storage agent
  • Joseph Peel. B. 1852. Merchant
  • J. T. Elms, b. 1863, retired farmer

These individuals represented some of the most well-known men about town in the late 1800’s Bentonville.

They were given a list of 59 questions to answer and they provide us with some very interesting insights into life in 1800’s Bentonville. The questions ranged from mundane – name, date and place of birth, occupation, etc.… to the much more interesting – what was school like. Early home construction, forms of lighting, food, clothes, when did you see your first car, train, and airplane.

 I can combine some of the answers to flesh out existence in Bentonville from that time period:

Wild game – they hunted deer, turkey, squirrel, wild hogs and prairie chickens. Game was said to be plentiful.

Crops – corn, wheat, oats, strawberries were plentiful, apples, peaches, tobacco.

Entertainment – corn husking, quilting bees, dances, house raisings, candy pulling – especially during the winter months when there was less actual farming to be done.

Stage stops & taverns – Eagle Hotel, Clark Hotel. Galbreaith says that the stage coach line from Springfield MO to Ft. Smith stopped here. Changed four head of horses each day. Carried eight passengers and the mail.

School – Schooling was limited for most. Galbreaith went to school until age 13. Log school house with split log benches. He states that he didn’t finish school because his father died and he had to make a living for the family.

Transportation – they saw their first automobile in Bentonville in 1903, first train in Seligman in 1878 when the Frisco was being built, first airplane in 1910.

Historical Figures – Galbreaith was sheriff when the People’s Bank was robbed. He also mentions that the James Gang robbed Craig’s store in 1878. All the men knew James H. Berry, Governor and later Senator, who was from Bentonville

Civil War – “When Sigel came to town my mother put us in the cellar. Did not see any fight.” “Was 10 years of age but saw some skirmishes, saw small battle on Marshall Prairie in…Boone County…”

When I say that these folks represented Bentonville during that time period, it’s too true. Galbreaith was a prominent county officer who had seen untold amounts of history unfold in our town. Crouch had his harness shop on the north side of the square and it was a well-known hang out for the men in town to share gossip and tell tall tales. He was referred to as “Professor Lucius Clinton Crouch” and I’m sure there is a backstory to that name. Peel was from the locally famous Peel family, Samuel Peel was his father – businessman, county clerk, lawyer, Indian Agent, congressman and banker. Cunningham was the transfer agent and also operated a wagon called the “Tally-Ho” which ferried groups of people to picnics and ballgames. He was in close contact with the depot agent and knew of all of the comings and goings in town.

I can’t tell you how important these become as the years roll by. They are the last eyewitness accounts of history from the mid to late 1800’s in our town. The Bentonville History Museum has plans to do similar interviews with today’s residents to entertain future historians of our time here in Bentonville.