Saunders Museum: Best Kept Ozark Secret

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Some of the guns at the Saunders Museum are not terribly attractive, but they are fascinating.

Some of the guns at the Saunders Museum are not terribly attractive, but they are fascinating.

There are a lot of small little museums scattered around this great country of ours.  Small town museums occasionally have a couple of items that are significant to the history outside of the local area. But it is not everyday, or in every small town, that you come across a collection that is truly remarkable. Berryville, AR is home to a hidden gem for the historic gun nut.  The Saunders Museum is one of those rare finds– a museum with a very large and historically significant firearms collection.

This is the first article from our visit to the Saunders Museum.  Tim McKinney, mayor of Berryville, was kind enough to grant us some special access to a number of firearms in the collection. Yep, we got to open cases and play with the cool stuff!  Look for some future articles that will highlight some notable pieces in the collection. Maybe, if the stars align just right and Donald Trumps hair doesn’t see its shadow, there might be some more “in depth” reviews of some of the firearms in the collection.

I like my Colts to be over a century old, and the Saunders has a very well aged collection.

I like my Colts to be over a century old, and the Saunders has a very well aged collection.

The museum is a well kept secret. But it shouldn't be.

The museum is a well kept secret. But it shouldn’t be.

Who was Saunders?

Burton “Buck” Saunders is the man who’s collection is on display.  Saunders was born in Texas in 1863.  Shortly after his birth, his family moved to the Berryville, AR area.  As Saunders grew up in the Ozarks of North Arkansas, be became know as an excellent shooter.  His nickname, Buck, is said to come from his deer hunting skills and ability to shoot them in the eye with his Winchester. According to local legend, he practiced his sharp shooting on squirrels with a muzzle loader given to him by his grandfather. There seems to be a lot of myth and legend around Buck Saunders.  That is part of the allure to his story and the museum too.

Saunders eventually moved west and made his fortune in real estate and with gold and oil leases.  He lived in British Columbia, Oregon and California.  It was around this time that he started his first collection of firearms and other unique items.  His first collection was lost in a fire following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. He soon after began the collection that is now in the museum. He met and married Gertrude Bowers and the couple traveled the world together. During their travels they picked up many of the non gun items that are in the museum today.  There are numerous Native artifacts, and there is a quilted tent that belong to an Arabian Sheikh.

An elaborate tent won by Saunders in a shooting contest.

An elaborate tent won by Saunders in a shooting contest.

Some of the earlier artifacts in the collection.

Some of the earlier artifacts in the collection.

In 1910 Saunders won a world pistol competition in Paris, France.  On the same trip he was reintroduced to Theodor Roosevelt–pretty big company for a poor boy from north Arkansas.  After his wife passed, Saunders returned to Berryville, AR (1919).  He continued to add to his firearm collection and compete in shooting matches.  At the age of 75 he won a pistol shooting competition in southwest Missouri. In 1952, Burton Saunders passed away after an illness in Hot Springs, AR. He willed his collection to the town of Berryville, and in 1956 the Saunders Museum opened to the public.

Berryville, AR

So where the heck is Berryville?  It is in Carrol County Arkansas and about 30 minutes from the better know tourist destination of Eureka Springs. Berryville is the location of some big names in the custom 1911 world.

Both Nighthawk Customs and Wilson Combat call Berryville home. If you are a traditional black powder fanatic, Caywood is also in Berryville and makes some of the nicest flint lock muskets, fowlers and rifles available anywhere.

There are lots of other things to do in the area, too.  Eureka Springs is a great little Victorian era town built in the Ozark Mountains.  They have a number of spas, tons of shopping and the Thorncrown Chapel is right outside of town. What I am getting at is this could easily be a good family trip.  Dad can see some remarkable old guns but there is also plenty to do for a family in the area.

Get to the guns!

Take a look at the pictures below for a general idea of what this collection holds.  A vast majority of the guns on display are pistols and revolvers.  There are some rifles and shotguns, but the meat and potatoes of this museum are the handguns.  They range from tiny little European pocket pistols to the huge Colt Walker and Dragoons. Yes, there is a Walker and a Dragoon in the collection.  Speaking of Colts, if the evolution of Colt revolvers is your thing, you will be able to start at the beginning–there is a Paterson or two to been seen here.

The collection of old Colts is really stupendous.

The collection of old Colts is really stupendous.

We'd like to see some of these brought back into circulation.

We’d like to see some of these brought back into circulation.

Auto loaders more your thing? How about one of the Savage pistols in .45 auto that went up against what became the 1911? Yep, there is one of them and only about 700 or so were ever made.

These old Savages are very rare.

These old Savages are very rare.

It was the favorite of the GunsAmerica crew.

It was the favorite of the GunsAmerica crew.

How about lever action handguns? The Saunders Museum has a couple of Volcanic Arms pieces.  They even have some ammo for them which is probably more rare than the actual guns.

The old Volcanic pistols are really fascinating. We'll be seeing more of them.

The old Volcanic pistols are really fascinating. We’ll be seeing more of them.

The ammo wasn't held in a case--the propellant was contained in the bullet.

The ammo wasn’t held in a case–the propellant was contained in the bullet.

The Saunders Museum also has a number of guns that are reported to have belonged to some pretty famous people. We will take an in depth look into some of the claims at a later date.

More To Come

Once again, this article is just the tip of the iceberg on the items in this great museum.  Stay tuned for some more articles where we look at some of the individual pieces. Be sure to watch the videos in this article for a good look at the Saunders Museum and some of the things we found.

We'll be looking closely at the museum's more infamous guns, too.

We’ll be looking closely at the museum’s more infamous guns, too.


{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Richard Long November 11, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Thanks for the great article and videos. What an interesting place. Hope I can get to go there someday. Look forward to your future articles on the museum.

  • Rose November 11, 2015, 7:47 am

    I am not so into this matter but my husband will eventually love the information. I kept the link for him.

  • Clifford Hall November 9, 2015, 1:39 pm

    Local treasure. Thanks!

  • Herb Hall November 9, 2015, 9:02 am

    The Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks just south of Branson, MO in Point Lookout has a large weapons exhibit. The museum is spectacular with everything Ozarks related…quite the study of area history, including the Beverly Hillbillies, but I don’t think they have Granny’s rifle on display.

    • Jeff Cantwell August 9, 2016, 1:21 pm

      I spent many hours in college drooling over the guns at the Ralph Foster museum.

  • David Rogers November 9, 2015, 7:55 am

    The J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma is also a must see.

  • Steve November 9, 2015, 6:56 am

    Many years ago we used to vacation in Branson and one day we took a “backroad” to Eureka Springs and found this place by accident. Talk about a mind blowing experience for a gun nut!! A great big room full of guns under glass and guns on the wall.
    Be sure to take a big hankie,because the drool will run off your chin for sure. Absolutely a fantastic place to visit. I highly reccomend it.

  • Irvine Kjellin November 9, 2015, 4:37 am

    I live in West Central Missouri and have been to Berryville. I can not believe I missed these treasures. I will have to get back there to see them! Thanks for sharing!

  • Tom Horn November 7, 2015, 3:21 pm

    Road Trip!

    That wouldn’t be Jelly Bryces’s Colt next to Pretty Boy’s .32, would it?

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