Harrison History

The History of Harrison

Harrison, the county seat of Boone County, is located in northwest Arkansas in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Boone County lies 36 degrees north latitude and 16 degrees longitude west of Washington D.C. The elevation is 1,250 feet above sea level.

Indians were the first inhabitants of the area, the first probably being the "Bluff Dweller", who lived in caves in the bluffs along the rivers. In later times, the Osage, a branch of the Sioux, was the main tribe in the Ozarks and one of their larger villages is thought to have been to the east of the present site of Harrison. The Shawnees, Quapaws, and Caddo Indians were also familiar to the area.

The Cherokee arrived around 1816 and could not get along with the Osage. This hostility erupted into a full scale Indian war in the Ozark Mountains. By the 1830's both tribes were removed to Oklahoma. Some historians contend that the first white man to visit the area were some forty followers of Hernando Desota and that they camped at an Indian village on the White River at the mouth of Bear Creek. It is more probable that the first white men were French hunters or trappers who followed the course of the White River.

During the ensuing decades, Harrison, AR and the surrounding community strived on agricultural production and trade.  From cattle farming to occasional crop production and eventually poultry farming, the Harrison community has a history of hard work.  Manufacturing has also become a key aspect of Harrison's growth over the past few decades.  Once home to companies such as Levi Strauss, and Emerson Electric, Harrison is now home to Wabash Wood Products, Pace Industries, Rock Tenn, and Tankinetics to name a few.

Harrison, AR has a wonderful historic walking tour available to guests.  The historic walking tour is free to everyone and can be self-guided or scheduled outings with a local historian are planned on a weekly basis.  To find out dates and times of the guided historic tour, please contact the Harrison Convention & Visitors Bureau at 870.741.1789.


Harrison is just north of the Buffalo National River so it is important to acknowledge one of the greatest historical events in United States History.  On March 1st, 1972, 100 years after the establishment of the first National Park at Yellowstone National Park, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Buffalo National River as the first National River in the United States.  The project was spearheaded by longtime congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison, Arkansas.

The Outlaw, Henry Starr

Americans have always been fascinated with the outlaws of the Wild West, legends like Jesse James and Emmet Dalton.  The sometimes ruthless, always adventurous, exploits of such men turned them into folk heroes.  Nevertheless, Henry Starr stands out among them as a man who was uncharacteristically charming, gallant, self-educated and insightful.  These attributes enabled the "Cherokee Badman" to live a life of outlandish exploits, escape death sentences and go on to become a film star.

Born near Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma, Starr was the son of George "Hop" Starr, a half-blood Cherokee and Mary Scott, one-quarter Cherokee.  He once stated, "I have more white blood than Indian, and with my knowledge of both races, I fervently wish that every drop in my veins was red."

The turning point came in 1891 when he was falsely, as he claims, incarcerated at Fort Smith, Arkansas for horse stealing without a trial.  His tale of the court's hardness corresponds with the infamous history of the U.S. Western District Court of Fort Smith under the "Hanging Judge" Issac Parker, whom Starr called "The Nero of America".

Henry Starr's second brush with the law came when he was still only 16 years old.  He claims an acquaintance had asked him to drive a wagon for him.  He agreed and was soon stopped by two Deputy U.S. Marshals who searched the grip and arrested him for carrying two pints of whiskey which he insisted were unknown to him.  After being fined $100, Starr returned to the Nowata Ranch to work off his debt.

In 1892, Henry Starr next robbed a safe in a local railroad depot with a partner.  With no trouble and four shots fired, "to relieve nervous tension",  they came out with $400.00.  However, he was soon caught and imprisoned at Fort Smith.  When released on bond, The now-guilty Starr skipped trial and left town.  A warrant was issued for Henry Starr's arrest and Floyd Wilson, a railroad detective was sent to find him.  Although accounts differ about the moments leading up to their meeting, the confrontation ended with Starr fatally shooting Wilson.  This isolated episode turned out to be the only man Starr ever killed and it boosted his image as a dangerous outlaw.

At the height of Starr's early days, in 1893, he admitted "the excitement of the game had completely enthralled me".  His gang of seven roamed the land, intimidating, looting, and shooting as they became bolder and moved from train robberies to bank robberies.  After successfully eluding the law for some months, Henry Starr was finally captured, sent to Fort Smith, tried for murder and sentenced by Judge Issac Parker to hang.  After two appeals to the Supreme Court with new trials granted, two months later, in March 1898, Starr pled guilty to manslaughter.  Luckily for Starr, the gallows in Fort Smith and Issac Parker became obsolete and Judge John Rogers sentenced Starr to three years for manslaughter, which was spent in the penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.  Pending his murder case, he had been convicted of several robberies and his sentences totaled fifteen years.

in 1902, Henry Starr was pardoned by President Theodore Roosevelt for his heroic intervention of the attempted jailbreak by fellow outlaw, Cherokee Bill.  Given this new opportunity for freedom, Starr married, had a son and settled into a normal life.  It was three years until Starr went back to the life of crime.

In 1915, Starr and his gang attempted a double bank robbery in full daylight in Stroud, Oklahoma.  This bold move led to a fierce gun battle with citizens of the town, leaving Starr wounded and captured.  Other members of the gang escaped with the loot.  After spending another four years in prison, Starr was paroled and soon used the Stroud robbery as the basis for a silent movie in which he starred, entitled, A Debtor to the Law.

Henry Starr's last mistake was in coming to Harrison, Arkansas in 1921 to rob the Peoples National Bank.  The first attempt at bank robbery in the history of Harrison was staged after 10:00 AM at the Peoples National Bank when Starr and three confederates entered the bank with drawn guns and ordered, "hands up".  W.J. Myers, Bank President, who stepped into the vault secured a rifle and fired on Starr while he was looting the open safe of its contents.  Starr seemed confused by the shot coming from inside the safe and feeling that the game was up, ordered his confederates, who were making as if to shoot Cashier Cleve Coffman, to leave without shooting anyone.

The men left the bank, took the automobile and departed over the Crooked Creek bridge, exchanging fire with W.J. Myers, who rushed out of the bank and fired on them as they departed.  Many men in cars pursued the men but only found their car top burning near Bellefonte, a suburb of Harrison.  The robbers fled into the woods and cut telephone lines as they escaped.

Henry Starr was taken to the jail and physicians were summoned.  The ball had penetrated into a vital part of his body inflicting partial paralysis.  Starr begged for chloroform and also asked for Cashier Cleve Coffman, whose life he had saved.  He insisted in shaking hands with Coffman, whose life he had saved.  Upon asking forgiveness, Starr said, "You know I saved your life".  The forgiveness was granted by Coffman.  Starr asked who the man was who shot him and said, "I do not blame him at all, I would have done the same thing in his place".

Starr begged for Cleve Coffman to stay with him and said he wanted him and George Crump to both stay there till the end if he died, but wanted no one else about him but the two physicians.  He remarked that if he died, he wished Cleve Coffman to have his gun.  He gave those in attendance the names of his mother, wife and son in Oklahoma and asked that they be notified of his mishap.

Starr battled four days against death before passing.  Relatives came for Henry Starr's remains after he died in the county jail.  They took him to Dewey, Oklahoma by train where he was buried beside his sister and his child.  A large crowd was present at the undertakers and at the depot to obtain a last glimpse of the Starr family and a look at the casket.

Before leaving Harrison, Starr's sons came to the Times office and Tonie Starr said, "We are proud of the record of our father, in spite of what has happened.  He did not wish to come here but was influenced by someone closer to Harrison than where my father belongs.  I know he did not plan that robbery, it was not his way of working out the details."

For more details on Henry Starr, visit the Boone County Heritage Museum.  The Museum houses the gun that shot Henry Starr as well as other historic accounts from the fateful day.

 
 
2:30 pm
October 21, 2017