The origin of the county court of Benton County, and the time and place of holding its first term, has been given under the head of “Organization.” For many years–up to 1873–the court was composed of a county judge and two associate justices. The judge was elected by the people, and the associate justices by the several justices of the peace, who met at the county seat in January each year for that purpose. In 1873, under a change in the law, the court was made to consist of a board of supervisors consisting of three persons, Dysert Woods. John W. Phagaen and B. F. Davis, who were appointed by the governor. The first term of the court thus organized was held in May, 1873, when the supervisors met and selected Dysert Woods as president of the board. The court continued thus organized until January, 1875, when, according to another law, it was composed of a single judge elected by the people, and so it has ever since remained.

The county court has always had, and still retains, jurisdiction over the levying and collection of revenues; the erection of public buildings; making of contracts for public improvements; laying out of highways; auditing all accounts against the county, and of all county business proper. It also had jurisdiction of all probate business from its original organization until 1873, at which time the probate business was, by law, transferred to the circuit court. The circuit court had jurisdiction of this branch of business one year, until 1874, and then the separate probate court was established, with full original jurisdiction over all probate business. The county court judge is also judge of the probate court. The county court meets in regular session four times a year, commencing the sessions on the first Mondays of January, April, July and October, and the probate court meets the same number of times, commencing the sessions on the third Mondays of the same months.

First Probate Business

The first letters of administration granted in Benton County were granted April 17, 1837, to Mrs. Mary Blair, to administer on the estate of John C. Blair, deceased. Also to Elizabeth Johnston, to administer on the estate of Spencer B. Johnston, deceased. In September following letters of administration were issued to James McKissick, to administer on the estate of Madeline Catharine White, deceased.

The following is a copy of the first “will” on record in Benton County:

I, Samuel Tenan, of the County of Benton and State of Arkansas, being weak in body, but of strong mind and memory, thanks be to God for the same, do make and ordain this my last will and testament in the manner and form as follows:

First: I give my soul to God, who gave it to me, and my body to earth, to be decently buried by my executor hereafter named.

Second: I request that my negro boy, Jack, be sold, and that some of my connection buy him, and that the money be divided equally between my brother, L. Tenan, and my two sisters, Mary Allen and Zebe Yunt.

Third: I require my executors to take all my personal property, with notes and accounts, and pay all my just debts; and after all are paid, together with my funeral expenses, then the balance to be divided equally between my brother and sisters as before named. I do hereby appoint Abner Allen my executor, and also request that my executor take my negro boy, Jack, and attend to selling him.

Given under my hand and seal this twentieth day of August, 1837.

Test: W. B. Woody, ttt

William Reed

Samuel His X mark. Tenan.

This name appears Abner Allen in the will, as recorded, and Abraham Allen in record of the probate.

This will was probated January 15, 1838, and letters testamentary to Abraham Allen* as sole executor of the will were granted.

First Deed Recorded

Though not belonging to probate business, the following, which is a copy of the first deed recorded in Benton County, will be read with interest, inasmuch as the property conveyed consisted of slaves, conveyed in manner and form the same as real estate, viz.:

Know all men by these presents, that for and in consideration of the sum of $400 to me in hand paid by James M. Dickson, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I, Ezekiel Dickson, of the County of Benton, in the State of Arkansas, do hereby bargain and sell unto the said James M. Dickson, a negro woman named Till, about forty-five years of age, also a negro boy child named Jack, about five or six years of age, which said negroes I hereby sell and convey as slaves for life. And I do hereby warrant and defend the title of said negroes to the said James M. Dickson, his heirs and assigns forever.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 7th day of February, 1837.

Ezekiel Dickson

Witness, James McKissick

The next instrument found on record was dated January 26, 1837, and was for the conveyance by Phineas Holmes and Rachel, his wife, of Lucinda, Guilford, Andy and Clarisa, four slaves, to James H. Wallace, for the consideration of $3,000.

The first instrument on record for the transfer of real estate in Benton County is that of Samuel Whitehead and wife to Singleton Lankston, for the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 31, Township 20 north, Range 30 west, being now a portion of the site of Bentonville. It was dated February 27, 1838.

Circuit Court

When the State of Arkansas was organized it was divided into but few circuits, each containing many counties, or at least much more territory than at present. As the population and business increased, the State was redistricted, or certain circuits were changed from time to time. Additional circuits were formed and the size of the old ones reduced. Prior to the last change, the fourth judicial circuit, of which Benton County composes a part, embraced Marion, Boone, Searcy, Newton, Madison, Carroll, Benton and Washington. In 1887 the General Assembly reduced it in size, and made it to contain, as it is now organized, only the counties of Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington. Only two sessions of this court are held during the year, and the sessions in Benton County commence on the first Mondays of January and July. For a list of the names of the judges who have presided over the Benton Circuit Court, see “County and District Officers.”

Following is a copy of the caption of the record of the proceedings of the first session of the circuit court held in Benton County:

“At a circuit court begun and held at the house of George P. Wallace (the temporary seat of justice of Benton County), for the county of Benton, State of Arkansas, on the second Monday after the fourth Monday in October, A. D. 1837. Present, the Hon. Joseph M. Hoge, judge of said court.”

First Grand Jury

The court being convened, the sheriff returned the following “panel of good and lawful men” to serve as the first grand jury, to-wit: Joseph McKissick, foreman; Philip Dumas, William Reddock, William Ford, Christopher S. Pace, George Graham, Joseph Dickson, Robert Cooper, John B. Robinson, Jonathan Duff, Samuel P. Woods, Dioclesian Jackson, Ezekiel M. Dickson, Ambrose G. Williams and Henry Ford, who, being duly sworn and charged, retired to consult of their duties. Being selected as grand jurors, it follows that these were representative pioneers of Benton County. All are now dead excepting Christopher S. Pace and Ambrose G. Williams, who are still living in the county.

First Petit Jury

The first petit jury was selected on the same day to try a civil case between Samuel Vaughan and John Rose. Their names were James Anderson, Robert Hubbard, John Maxwell, George W. Ford, Samuel B. McLean, Ezekiel J. A. Dickson, Henry Hastings, John Hammock, Nathan Coughman, Samuel Black, David Woods and Samuel Woods. The only survivor of these twelve old pioneers of Benton County is Ezekiel J. A. Dickson, who now lives at Osage Springs, a few miles southeast of Bentonville.

Back to: Benton County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.