Through the years Hot Springs has been visited by some of the most famous people in American history: Bat Masterson, Cy Young, Carrie Nation, John F. Kennedy, Billy Sunday, President Herbert Hoover, Helen Keller, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and also Frank and Jesse James.
Many of the famous baseball teams and players came to Hot Springs for their spring training. Before he became a famous preacher, the athlete Billy Sunday came here for spring training with the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) as early as 1886. Connie Mack came down with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1896.
Although the thermal baths were a real plus for baseball players seeking therapy for their aching muscles, Hot Springs also had a major industry of recreation that attracted a variety of people - casino gambling.
While gambling in Hot Springs, Wyatt Earp became upset over his gambling losses, and was disarmed and escorted to the city limits. Legend states that Harry Truman came to Hot Springs and played poker for small stakes.
The most famous visitor down through the ages was probably Al Capone. During the Prohibition Era, Capone came from Chicago to strike deals with bootleggers in Hot Springs to stock his clubs in Chicago with alcohol. Hot Springs was a remote town located in the middle of the Ouachita mountains, and the forest provided "cover" for the moonshine stills year round. Capone would ship his bootleg liquor in railroad cars, and for protection, he had the words "Mountain Valley Water" painted on the side of the railcars.
In Chicago, Detroit, New York - when the FBI and police were after criminals because of a robbery or murder, the gangsters knew where to come to relax in safety. Hot Springs was a sanctuary from both prosecution and enemies. Gangsters could enjoy the entertainment of gambling, and be pampered with the hot mineral baths and massages.
At one time, Capone and his entourage occupied the 4th floor of the Arlington Hotel. (Legend has it that Capone always stayed in room 442.) Capone's arch enemy Bugs Moran and his gang were checked in at the Majestic Hotel, just one block away. There was no conflict, and no violence - both gangsters were on vacation!
This picture is believed to be Al Capone and an unidentified friend at Happy Hollow in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
(Photo and info. courtesy of the Garland County Historical Society and on view at the Hot Springs Convention Center)
The James Brothers
This photo of Jesse James is believed to have been made in Hot Springs around 1874 - about the same time as the stage holdup.
(Photo courtesy of Garland County Historic Society)
Frank and Jesse James are reported to have visited Hot Springs as tourists at least twice - robberies on Malvern Road. Each time they held up the stagecoach. They usually did "big money jobs" - banks and railroads. Rich people from the east came on stagecoaches to Hot Springs for health reasons (the hot mineral baths) and they carried 3 or 4 months worth of cash on them.
During a robbery on January 15th, 1874 - one of the ladies being robbed shrieked! One of the James boys replied, "You ladies don't have to worry, our mothers were ladies too."
They never robbed Confederate veterans. Mr. G. R. Crump spoke up giving the name of the southern unit he served with, and his money and watch were politely returned.
Frank James returned to Hot Springs to retire, and worked at Happy Hollow outside of Hot Springs for 2 or 3 years before his death.
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