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Home / Browse / Bonanza (Sebastian County)
Latitude and Longitude:
2.786 square miles (2010 Census)
575 (2010 Census)
November 26, 1898
Historical Population as per the U.S. Census:
The city of Bonanza was a major center of the coal industry in Sebastian County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since the decline of that industry, it has become a small bedroom community for the nearby city of Fort Smith (Sebastian County).
According to historian Jim Hartness, the first mine in the Bonanza area, Mine No. 10, was started in 1896 but proved to be very poor. However, other mines were soon established, and around them grew a typical mining city dubbed Bonanza, reflecting hopes for great wealth. Mine superintendent C. C. Woodson filed a petition to incorporate the city, and it was incorporated on November 26, 1898. From the beginning, the city was a company city, with Central Coal and Coke Company operating the only three mines there: No. 12, No. 20, and No. 26, which employed 144, 185, and 76 people, respectively. The city’s placement along the main line of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway ensured ready transportation, and the post office was moved to Bonanza in 1897. The main business was a company store, but there were also a number of general stores, restaurants, drugstores, blacksmiths, barber shops, saloons, butchers, and clothing establishments.
In 1897, the murder of Constable James Murray made national news as papers showcased the “lawlessness” of Arkansas.
On the night of April 27, 1904, some 200 citizens of Bonanza held a meeting west of the city and passed resolutions “demanding that about forty negroes employed by Central Coal and Coke Company leave town,” with plans to effect the removal by force if the company should resist. A tense peace reigned for a few days, but on the night of April 30, an exchange of bullets between black and white miners outside a saloon turned into a city-wide race war, with about 500 shots being fired, mostly into the homes of black residents. The Arkansas Gazette reported that, by May 7, nearly all black residents had left the city. This event came to be known as the Bonanza Race War, and it resulted in Bonanza becoming a “sundown town”—a place where African Americans were forbidden from living through the threat of violence.
The city was home to several churches, including Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist, as well as Catholic churches for both Irish and Italian miners. During the 1910s, Bonanza was home to the Bonanza Blues, a well-known baseball team, one member of which, George “Rube” Foster, went on to become a major league player.
Mine No. 20 was shut down in 1907. Mine No. 26 was shut down in 1919, and the city went into decline, with Central Coal and Coke dismantling the company homes after it closed down operations in Bonanza; it moved the homes to another mining town in Oklahoma. In 1930, Bonanza’s high school was consolidated with Hackett (Sebastian County); the grade school was consolidated later. In 1937, the original Central Coal and Coke company store building burned down. As Hartness notes, “Bonanza is the only town in the county mine area that has so few of the commercial buildings of the boom days still standing,” many of them having succumbed to fire.
Great Western Mine Company moved to the area in 1947, but its operations were not enough to revitalize the city. The post office closed on December 31, 1959. The following year, the U.S. Census recorded Bonanza’s lowest ever population, 247 people. However, in subsequent years, the growth of Fort Smith spilled over into Bonanza, which saw its population rise again in the last decades of the twentieth century. The city is primarily a residential community, though it has a few small businesses, such as a car care products store and ABC Printing & Graphics.
For additional information:
Hartness, Jim. “Bonanza.” The Key 25.1 (1990): 10–11.
———. “Bonanza, Arkansas.” The Key 20 (Summer 1985): 30–32.
Lancaster, Guy. “‘Negroes Warned to Leave Town’: The Bonanza Race War of 1904.” Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society 34 (April 2010): 24–29. Online at http://library.uafs.edu/sites/librarydev.uafs.edu/files/Departments/fshsj/34-01_complete_issue.pdf (accessed January 23, 2018).
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 3/9/2018
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