Saunders Museum is home to a local sharp-shooting legend’s legacy and items collected from around the world

City-owned Saunders Museum in Berryville, Ark., is a double tribute.

First, it is a tribute to the long-forgotten tradition of touring the world and collecting artifacts and other items of interest so popular in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The second is a tribute to local resident Burton “Buck” Saunders who donated his entire collection, some land and the money to build a smaller but world-class museum. Buck’s only stipulation was that nothing should ever be added or deleted from the diverse collection. At the front line of protection and dedication to this request is Rose Garrett, museum curator for nearly 20 years. Her love and passion for all things Saunders has inspired her staff.

“I came here to fill in for someone else one day and never left. Rose educated and trained us so thoroughly that we all feel the same passion as she does about this place, and now we passed that passion onto visitors,” explained tour guide Joan Lasseter.

Though born in Texas, Buck arrived in Arkansas when he was 4, after his mother and sister’s harrowing kidnapping and escape from Indians. Consequently, the family moved to Arkansas and later settled in the Berryville when Professor Isaac Clarke opened a private school called the Berryville Male and Female Academy. Not long after graduating high school, Buck went to St. Louis, where he graduated with a business degree. After a variety of profitable positions, Buck went to San Francisco, where he worked in stocks and bonds.

While in San Francisco, Buck built a gun collection which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Fortunately, he was engaged to Gertrude Bowers, who encouraged him to start again by giving him the first gun is the new collection which belonged to her recently-deceased brother Claude Smith.

The collection contains some irreplaceable guns, such as one used by Jesse James to kill five officers near Joplin, Mo., when they attempted to arrest him, and Belle Starr’s .36 caliber Manhattan percussion revolver, which she used to kill the sheriff in Dallas during a running gunfight. Also displayed is a pair of double-barrelled flintlock pistols from 1735 and a 17th century pair of gold inlaid dueling pistols thought to have belonged to the first president of France.

Buck’s passion for guns and sharpshooting was so strong that he had a shooting range in the basement of his house. He often took groups of up to 30 people on tours of his entire collection, tours which included sharpshooting demonstrations.

Buck and Gertrude married the November after the 1906 earthquake and began a two-year long world tour in 1909. Among the highlights was a visit with an Arabian sheik who had a very old and ornate blunderbuss that Buck wanted for his collection. He attained the beautiful gun in a shooting match that also gave him possession of the sheiks tent which was brightly colored and intricately quilted by his 200 plus wives. Buck graciously and willingly gave the sheik his modern and far more accurate pistol so the two left on good terms.

That same tour established Buck as a world-class sharpshooter highlighted by his winning the Paris 1910 world championship in pistol shooting. He never lost his outstanding ability. At age 75, he won a Missouri pistol shooting contest against peace officers and the best marksman in the area, and at 80 he could still hit a metal disk and even pennies tossed into the air which astonished visitors to his home.

“I wish I could have talked with him because he was so amazing, knowledgeable and slightly eccentric,” Joan said.

Buck died in 1952 when he was 89. The museum building cost $150,000 and was opened in 1956 with a marble reception area greeting and surprising visitors. Most visitors learn of the museum by word-of-mouth, and for the last four years the Berryville fourth grade class visits the museum as a field trip. The museum is open from April 15 until the first week in November from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Sundays and holidays.

An important current project is creating a computer database of all of the museum’s artifacts which span centuries and cultures. Other prized possessions include an ancient oil lamp, Geronimo’s scalp belt complete with nine Indian scalps and a 500-year-old Chinese furniture collection.

“The city of Berryville takes great pride in what Mr. Saunders had collected and trusted us to preserve,” commented Mayor Tim McKinney.


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