Through much of its history, Eureka Springs had a small but vibrant community of African-Americans centered on Cliff Street below W.O. Perkins Lumber. My understanding is that the number of black Eurekans dwindled through the decades until only Richard Banks remained. After the strong response to last week’s column, I have several additional stories about this legendary local man.
Seeing Rich around town was an everyday occurrence and everyone knew him. Tori Bush remembers walking home from school, seeing him sitting at the bottom of Benton Street whittling. Like others, Butch Berry remembers numerous rides in Rich’s Model A Ford up Benton Street to school.
Several mentioned that Rich enjoyed his beer but would not go into the Hi Hat. When Butch Berry’s father was home on leave from the Air Force, he’d take beer out to Richard. Likewise, Marc Speer remembers his father taking beer to Rich sitting on the steps outside the Hi Hat. He said that at the time you could buy beer to go, and Rich would ask men he trusted to buy him five cans of beer instead of a full six pack, since five cans is what he could drink. As Marc Speer said, “The man knew his limits.”
Working off my father’s recollection of men wagering at the feed store on how much weight Richard Banks could lift, including feed sacks with his teeth, I asked about his physical strength. Turns out he was even stronger than I imagined, especially for a man of medium stature. When Rich would have been about 24 years old, McKinley Weems watched him unloading a truck at the wholesale grocery. He lifted 100 pound sacks of sugar and put one on each shoulder and then with each hand carried another 100 pound sack, moving 400 pounds of sugar at a time. He could also unload a 50 gallon wood barrel of vinegar by himself.
Gayla Wolfinbarger tells how Richard Banks often had dinner with the Mullins family at Pivot Rock, and while in the hospital at the end of his life they visited him daily.
Even though he was living out west by this time, when Tommy Hughes read in Virginia Tyler’s column in the Times-Echo that Richard Banks was hospitalized he mailed him a get-well card. It was returned advising that the addressee had died.