Saunders Museum turns 50
BERRYVILLE -- When Saunders Memorial Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary with free admission Saturday during the town's annual Ice Cream Social, visitors will have the opportunity to experience the passion of a man who not only traveled the world, but was responsible for naming Eureka Springs.
The open house will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While known for its collection of guns, which Col. C. (Charles) Burton "Buck" Saunders collected, the museum also houses an impressive collection of furniture, housewares, art, jewelry, tapestries and stuffed animals gathered from all parts of the world.
Born near Greenville, Texas, in 1863, six years before Carroll County's present borders were established, his mother and a sister were kidnapped by Indians when he was less than two years old. His father, L.B. (Levi) Saunders, partner George Wilson and ranch hands pursued the Indians and a fight ensued in which Wilson was killed and L.B. was badly wounded. Mrs. Saunders and the girl could not be found, but they later made their way home, having escaped from the Indians prior to the battle.
The Saunders home in Greenville was also burned by Indians, along with the rest of the town.
That was apparently enough for the Saunders family, and in 1865 they decided to move to Washington County, Mr. and Mrs. Saunders' old home.
With the opening of the Berryville Male and Female Academy in 1867, the Saunders family moved to Berryville to take advantage of the educational opportunity.
L.B. Saunders opened a store on the location now occupied by the Grandview Hotel, more recently known as Defenders, and built a home near the site of the museum, which now serves as Berryville City Hall.
Documents shortly after the family's move to Berryville refer to Levi as "Judge Saunders," but no records in the Arkansas archives indicate he was ever elected or appointed to a judgeship in this state. A document in the Saunders Memorial Museum collection indicates he was conferred the title of judge while in Texas, possibly in compensation for the danger he encountered there.
An L.B. Saunders' name appears in an 1850s petition to Texas Governor P.H. Bell, asking the governor to "to authorise the raiseing and organizing of a Company of Rangers to range upon the Northern portion for some short period. " That petition indicates L.B. Saunders was residing in Bell County, Texas, at the time.
Before the family left Fayetteville for Berryville, Burton's maternal grandfather Sherrod, known as a "fighting preacher," gave the four-year-old boy a muzzle-loading rifle and taught him how to shoot it.
That launched a love of hunting small game. By age 10, Burton's marksmanship was the talk of the town, and he became known for always shooting squirrels in the eye. His talent probably came naturally, as Burton's mother was considered among the best of female shooters in Texas.
Minding the store for his father, Burton agreed to trade one of his father's fine horses for a Winchester rifle and 400 rounds of ammunition. Burton soon earned the nickname "Buck" because of the large number of deer he had shot.
At the age of 17, Buck built a rough cabin at what is now Basin Spring in Eureka Springs after a long-standing leg injury of his father's started healing rapidly after the judge began bathing the wound in the spring's water.
Word of the medicinal qualities of the water spread quickly, and tents began springing up in the area of the spring. Buck and L.B.'s hunting buddy, Dr. Alvah Jackson, a Berryville physician, suggested the settlement should be named for Judge Saunders, and the judge insisted it be named for Jackson. Buck broke the deadlock by declaring its name should be Eureka.
Buck soon attended business school in St. Louis, then returned to work at Berryville before taking a position in a new bank at Eureka Springs. At age 25 he was made a deputy U.S. marshal, in a day when the Ozark hills attracted many desperadoes and bank robbers hiding out.
In 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Buck's marksmanship came to the attention of Buffalo Bill, and for a time Buck put on shooting exhibitions with Annie Oakley.
In the late 19th century, stories of great adventure, wealth and hunting were coming from the rapidly growing West, and Buck took off to the gold fields of British Columbia as a bookkeeper with a mining company. He later joined a banking and real estate firm in Oregon, during which time he accumulated a fortune from mining and real estate ventures.
Moving on to San Francisco, he went into business and started his first collection of guns in his downtown office. He was visiting friends at Redlands, Calif., on April 18, 1906, when the San Francisco earthquake hit, and his gun collection was lost.
Almost immediately, his fiancee, Gertrude Bowers, gave him a gun to start a new collection, and they were married the following November.
For three years the couple traveled around the world, and Buck's collecting hobby began to include new fields -- works of art, antiques from the tombs of pharaohs, articles from the Holy Land, Persian rugs, Oriental furniture, lace, handwork, curios, silver, glass, and ancient Egyptian jewelry.
While in Cairo, Buck renewed his acquaintance with Theodore Roosevelt, who he had met while hunting in Arizona. In 1910, Saunders won the world championship in pistol shooting in Paris.
The couple returned to California, and Mrs. Saunders died in 1911 at their home in Redlands.
Buck returned to Berryville in 1919, and he continued to add to his collections, welcoming thousands of people into his home.
Saunders knew the value of what he collection, and was discriminating. He would not purchase a gun without being certain of its history. Additionally, when he got an item in mind for his collection, he exercised great persistence in obtaining it.
His collection came to include items such as an intricately quilted Arabian sheik's tent, a hand-woven Indian body blanket, and a rare antique lamp like those carried by the virgins in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25.
In 1936, for his 73rd birthday, the townspeople of Berryville honored him with a big celebration attended by Governor Junius Marion Futrell and other dignitaries, as well as thousands of friends. It was at that time the governor commissioned him as a colonel on the governor's staff, hence Buck Saunders became known as Colonel Saunders.
Two years later, he won the Southwestern Missouri pistol shooting competition at Neosho, Mo., and at 80 years of age he could still hit a metal disc, such as a penny, tossed into the air. Two years later, in 1952, he died of a heart attack at a hospital in Hot Springs, after having been in ill health for several months.
Along with his collection, Saunders had a strong interest in nature, and promoted considerable planting a shade trees throughout the city.
Col. Saunders' gun collection, consisting of about 2,500 items, was valued at more than $210,000 in 1950.
Trustees of Col. Saunders' estate turned over the museum building to the City of Berryville in 1955, and it opened to the public in May 1956, after several years of work and planning.