O'er the Trail to Frisco Town

Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.
— Louis Armstrong
The march shown was published in 1884 as a tribute to Black’s friend, James Berry.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The march shown was published in 1884 as a tribute to Black’s friend, James Berry.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Music has always been a big part of Bentonville, and not just recently. Bentonville citizens of yesteryear would appreciate our affinity for good music, be it through the many local concerts or just the “pickin on the square” on Friday nights. One man in particular would be extremely pleased.

Alexander Greenwood Black was born May 10th, 1856 in Bentonville, the son of John Black and Sophia Greenwood Black. His father was a lawyer and his mother was the daughter of the well-known Senator A. B. Greenwood. He worked as a private secretary to Senator James H. Berry and later served in the banking industry and as City recorder for Bentonville.  But he was known far and wide as the director of the Bentonville Band and the widely-loved band teacher of the area children.

Mr. Black first formed a Bentonville Band around 1890.  It was common for towns to have their own band, to perform at picnics, parades, and concerts. They also competed regionally with other teams from around the state. Many of these were combined with fire department “musters” or speed competitions. Occasionally they devolved into drunken brawls, not surprising considering the rough-and-tumble group present. 

The Bentonville Band won many awards and was loved by the community. This was aptly expressed in the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat on 19 June, 1884:

Alex Black in uniform, Courtesy of Colleen Peterson and FindAGrave.com

Alex Black in uniform, Courtesy of Colleen Peterson and FindAGrave.com

“The Bentonville Cornet Band played several of their sweetest airs on the public square at that city last Saturday evening, to which we had the pleasure of listening. The band is still under the skillful leadership of “Little Alex” Black and cannot be excelled in Northwest Arkansas.”

I also love this quote, taken from the Daily Arkansas Gazette from 15 April 1885, regarding the arrival back home of the Hon. Zack Baker, a local representative:

“…When the train arrived, the procession formed, with band in front, followed by his honor, Zach Baker…marched to the time of the sweetest strains of the band, and they got in their best work. Alex Black, the leader, ‘tooted’ as he never ‘tooted’ before…”

The band served as a military entity both during the Mexican Revolution and WWI. They were officially designated the Second Regimental Band, Arkansas National Guard, 1 April 1915.  Although Black was too old to participate, several members of the group were sent to France during WWI.

Black died in April 1919, less than six months after the Armistice was signed. But he was definitely a home town hero.

Several Bentonville men served in the Second Regimental Band, but one of the more unusual was Russell Rice.

Rice served as “Chief Musician” for the Second Regimental Band. I assume he took that position because Black was too old to serve.

Russell Ragan Rice was born in 1885. In 1910 he was living in Bentonville with his parents acting as a stenographer for his father’s law office. By 1914 he was an attorney and deputy prosecuting attorney in Benton County.  The Rice family was well-known throughout the region and very powerful politically.

Sheet music written for the Pan-Pacific Exposition, 1915, Russell Rice, author collection.

Sheet music written for the Pan-Pacific Exposition, 1915, Russell Rice, author collection.

In spite of all of this, or maybe as a result of it, on July 2nd 1914 he murdered Lloyd Karnes at the train station in Rogers. Evidently more than a little drunk according to newspaper accounts. He was later acquitted in court for reasons I have not discovered.

By August 1916 he was serving in the military preparing for WWI. He was the Chief Musician of the Second Regiment Band, Arkansas Guard. I’m not sure if the murder/acquittal ended his career as a popular attorney and prosecutor, but it probably should have. I find little historical information about him following the war, except that he moved away and was no longer an attorney.

By 1930 he was living in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife Ellen working as a clerk in the pay department of the US Army. He died in 1939 and is buried at Bentonville.

There are still members of the Rice family in the area, maybe they can shed some light on the fate of Russell Rice.