Early Crimes of Washington County, Arkansas

The organization of the circuit court in 1829 has already been noticed. Washington County then constituted a part of the Second Judicial Circuit, of which Benjamin Johnson was judge. There was much interchanging of circuits, however, and the court at Fayetteville was presided over successively by Thomas P. Eskridge, Edward Cross and S. S. Hall, and from 1833 to 1837 by Archibald Yell. During that time no very notable or curious cases were tried. At the June term of 1833 Samuel Wackard was called upon to answer the charge of stealing a steer, valued at $12, from one John Musick. The jury decided that he was guilty, and that he should pay to the owner of the steer $24, pay a fine of $24, receive five lashes upon his bare back and stand in the pillory fifteen minutes. At the December term of 1835 Ellis Gregg was tried upon an indictment for murder, and the jury returned the following verdict: “We, the jury, find the defendant guilty of manslaughter, and sess the fine to $1 and one hour’s imprisonment.” The first circuit court held after the organization of the State government was begun on April 15, 1837. The county then formed a part of the Fourth Judicial District, of which J. M. Hoge was judge until 1844. The first conviction for murder occurred at the September term, in 1838, when Spencer Asbury was tried for the killing of Enoch Chandler, of Illinois Township, on August 1, 1838. A verdict of murder in the first degree was found, and he was sentenced to be hung on September 28, but before the day of execution arrived he made his escape and was never recaptured.

At the May term, 1839, Willis S. Wallace was tried upon the charge of manslaughter, for the killing of a Cherokee named Orr. The jury, composed of James Campbell, Jefferson Cabe, Wilson Chapman, Jacob Coats, James R. Wilson, Bailey Marshall, James C. Gilliland, Ralph Skelton, A. H. Bryant, George A. Pettigrew, Jesse Pruett and Daniel Rose, returned a verdict of “not guilty.” At the time the killing occurred the Cherokees were on their way from Tennessee and Georgia to the Indian Territory, and were passing through Fayetteville. It had been their custom on reaching small towns to imbibe freely of “fire water,” then to take possession of the town and terrorize the inhabitants. Fayetteville was made no exception to the rule. The following account of the affair here, by Alfred W. Arrington, is said to be very correct: “It was a beautiful Sunday in midsummer that a band of 1,000 Cherokee emigrants, from their homes east of the Mississippi, passed through Fayetteville to the country provided for them by the Government in the distant west. The scene of their passage through the principal streets of the village was picturesque in the extreme. Long lines of wagons rolled slowly forward, creaking with a dull sound under their heavy loads. Then followed the troops of pedestrians of all ages and conditions; hunters with their rifles and tomahawks; barefoot squaws with their babes tied on their shoulders; little Indian boys leading their lean, wolf-like dogs by long strings fastened around their necks, and half-naked girls driving herds of cattle before them. Next came lines of those on horseback (these belonged to the middle class), and these too were of every variety of description: sober and sedate members of the church; half-breed braves in the wild costume of the desperado; white gamblers, who had married Indian women; and beautiful quadroons, with whose dark and fascinating eyes and raven ringlets, still more bewitching, if possible, floating in the wind around their fine graceful shoulders. After these followed the families of wealth–the Cherokee aristocracy–in their splendid carriages, many of which were equal to the most brilliant that rattle along Broadway. And next, and last of all, came hundreds of African slaves on foot, and weary and worn down by the heavy burdens they were compelled to carry. “It was earnestly hoped by the citizens of Fayetteville that no grocery would be opened on that day to afford the many Indian vagabonds and desperadoes an opportunity of becoming intoxicated, which would very likely result in some serious mischief. But the Wallaces could not let pass so excellent a chance of making a few dollars. Accordingly their door was thrown open and dusky-faced crowds flocked in thick as honey bees to their evening hive. The door was literally blocked up with the dense throng of savage bacchanals, and more than 100 were compelled to remain outside, who passed into the liquor shop their money from hand to hand and received in the same manner large quart and gallon measures of old, rich-beaded whisky, which they gulped down eagerly as if it had been nectar newly drawn from Paradise. But this was found to be too slow a method of satisfying their fiery thirst, and, accordingly, they made up a pony purse, as it is called in the backwoods, bought a whole barrel of brandy at a four-fold price, rolled it out before the grocery door, knocked in the head and commenced dipping and drinking with those little tin cups and gourds, one of which every Indian carries about his person. Men, women, and even children, joined in the spree, and in an incredibly short time were sufficiently drunk to commence yelling and shouting as if a whole army of fiends had just arrived in town from the infernal regions. As yet all went on peaceably; all was fun and frolic; music not over musical, and dancing which, from the verticose motion of the dancers, might be literally termed a reel. The main body, comprising the most respectable portion of the emigrants, had gone on through the village without making any halt, and camped about two miles beyond on a little creek, there to spend the night. “It was growing late in the evening, the sun being about an hour high, when an event took place to change the boisterous mirth that reigned about the grocery into madness. “A brutal loafer, citizen of Fayetteville, who was busy in the wassail, offered a gross insult to a Cherokee woman. A halfbreed desperado, by the name of Nelson Orr, avenged her by knocking down the ruffian on the sill of the grocery door. He did not stop with this, but jumped on his foe, and commenced choking and gouging him at his leisure. “Riley Wallace, who was standing near, thinking the chastisement sufficient, pulled Orr off his prostrate enemy, though in as gentle a manner as possible to effect the object. Orr immediately turned his wrath against Wallace, drew his bowie knife and made a bold cut at his breast. The latter retreated into his grocery pursued by his foe, furious with rage and bent on slaughter. Willis S. Wallace, seeing the peril of his brother, sprang over the counter, unsheathed his knife, and plunged it up to the hilt in Orr’s side, who reeled and fell on the floor. A deafening outcry was raised by the Indians, who sought to lay hands on Wallace, and prevent his egress from the room. Five or six caught him by different parts of his clothing, but he cut them loose with his bloody knife-blade, and made his escape to his own dwelling, where he armed himself more effectually with gun and pistols. “The rumor of the affray was speedily carried to the Indian encampment for the night, which, as we have said, was two miles west of Fayetteville, and in a short time hundreds of Indians with their guns were seen approaching the town. About a quarter of a mile ahead of the main body rode, at swift gallop, a company of twenty horsemen under the command of William Coody, a quadroon brave. These dashed up the principal street, and into the public square, with the silver handles of their bowie knives and pistols gleaming in the beams of the setting sun. “As soon as Coody got sufficiently near the whites, who had armed themselves, and gathered in a crowd around Wallace, he addressed them in hurried accents, informing them that he had come to prevent bloodshed, and that for that purpose it was necessary for Wallace to leave town immediately, for several hundred furious Cherokees would be there in a few minutes, and that if they found their enemy a scene of slaughter would certainly ensue, and if resistance were offered they would not hesitate to burn down the village! He had scarcely finished the sentence, when a hideous war-whoop was heard in the distance. Coody and his troop of horse then rode rapidly back, to stay if possible the advance of the furious savages. “Wallace was at first unwilling to retreat, swearing that it should never be said that he fled before the face of mortal man. His friends, however, conjured him by every consideration of principle and policy, for the safety of the village and of innocent blood. At length, moved by the urgent entreaties of all present, in company with several friends, he rode off and disappeared in the adjacent forest. The utmost exertions of Coody and the more rational leaders of the Cherokees were barely sufficient to persuade the remainder that Wallace had made his escape, and thus induce them to return without committing any serious outrage. “Orr lingered several days in excruciating torture, and expired as he had lived, a fearless desperado to the last.” This case had scarcely been disposed of when Willis Wallace killed another man. On one Sunday morning L. D. Pollock, Thomas Wagnon and one Curry, his brother-in-law J. Wagnon, all fairly respectable citizens of the county, came to Fayetteville, and became engaged in a game of cards. This was reported to some of the citizens, and Willis Wallace, his brother, Riley and two or three others, resolved to put a stop to the game. They went to where the men were playing, and threatened them with arrest. This very naturally enraged them and a quarrel ensued. Wallace and his party were getting the better of the card players, and Wagnon started to run away. He ran across the public square, and passed out on the other side of town. All the party followed, and Willis Wallace attempted to take Curry’s horse from the rack on the square to pursue Wagnon. At this Curry pulled a pistol from his saddle-bags, but Wallace was too quick for him, and without waiting for further demonstrations drew his own revolver and shot Curry dead. As he fired, Pollock, who was close by, threw a stone, striking Wallace upon the head and knocking him down, whereupon Riley Wallace, in a similar manner, struck down Pollock. He remained unconscious for several seconds. Meantime Willis Wallace regained his feet, and going up to Pollock plunged a bowie knife through his body, pinning him to the ground. It was at first thought that he was killed, but Dr. P. J. Pollard, who had witnessed the fight from his window, had him at once removed to the hotel, dressed his wounds, and by his skill in a few weeks restored him to health. Two or three years later Pollock and Riley Wallace met at a saloon in Fayetteville. Both instantly recognized that it was “kill or be killed.” Wallace drew first, but his pistol missed fire. Pollock was either too nervous or too drunk to take advantage of this accident, and before he could fire Wallace drew a bowie knife and plunged it into his heart, killing him instantly. He then fled the country, and was never captured. Willis Wallace gave himself up to the authorities, but was released upon bail. After the Cane Hill murder occurred the public mind became agitated about Wallace’s being at large. This feeling was encouraged by A. W. Arrington, until finally a mob gathered in Fayetteville, and placed itself under his leadership for the arrest of Wallace. The latter had in his possession a cannon or two, and some small arms and ammunition, which had been placed under his care by the State, and with a party of his friends he fortified himself in his store-house on the west side of the public square, where the arms were stored. Arrington and his party occupied the court-house. The excitement became intense, and bloodshed seemed inevitable. Families within range of the guns took refuge in cellars, and all waited in breathless anxiety for the battle to begin. It did not take place, however. The party in the court-house did not venture an attack, and finally dispersed. At the next term of the circuit court Wallace was tried upon an indictment for manslaughter, and was acquitted. He soon after moved to Texas. In 1846 one of those brutal murders, of which there had been so many, was committed on the Cherokee line. This time the victim was George Harnage, and the motive as usual was robbery. John Work, a desperado living in the west part of the county, was suspected, and anticipating capture he disappeared. The grand jury found an indictment against him, and a warrant was placed in the hands of the sheriff for his arrest, but he could not be found. Some time after Sheriff Elijah O’Brien and a posse were hastily summoned by Jacob Funkhouser, of Cane Hill, to his residence. There it was learned that Work was in hiding in the vicinity, and could be captured. It appeared that before the murder of Harnage, Work had become intimate with a black man belonging to Funkhouser, and had planned to go with him to the free States or to Canada. This made the slave his fast friend, and after the murder he sought the negro, and induced him to supply him with food. He told the negro that he wished to kill his master, Jacob Funkhouser, against whom he had a grudge, and would then flee the country with him. The negro supplied him with food, answered the questions concerning the movements of his master, and did his bidding for some time. But Work could find no opportunity to accomplish the murder, and chafing under his involuntary seclusion became as ferocious as a caged tiger. He became more outrageous in his demands upon his slave friend, and finally began to use threats against him. This frightened the negro, who in reality did not wish to see his master murdered, and at last he decided to make a clean breast of it and make known the hiding place of Work. He related the whole matter to his master, who quietly summoned the sheriff, and instructed the negro to keep up his relations with the murderer as though nothing had occurred. It was decided that the negro should inform Work that the time for him to act had come, that at a certain hour that evening he would find Funkhouser in his field, and that he, the negro, would have a horse ready for him to make his escape. The sheriff and his posse then stationed themselves near the spot where Work and the negro had been in the habit of meeting, and the remainder of the program was carried out as arranged. The negro met the murderer and gave him his instructions, and as the latter started for the spot where he was to meet his victim the officers fired upon him, mortally wounding him. He instantly recognized that he had been betrayed, and drawing a bowie-knife sprang at the negro, but fell dead when just beyond reach of him. Work was about thirty-five years of age, and a Hercules in size and courage. Ordinarily he was social and pleasant, but belonged to that class denominated “dangerous.” Of the posse who accompanied Sheriff O’Brien two are still living. They are Thomas Ballard and W. B. Taylor. In 1845 occurred the first legal executions in Washington County. In the autumn of that year Crawford Burnett, his wife Lavinia, and his son John, were hung for the murder of Jonathan Selby. Selby was a bachelor living some few miles from Fayetteville, and was murdered for the money he was supposed to keep in his house. Much excitement was aroused, and suspicion fell upon the Burnetts. They were taken into custody, and a daughter, a young girl about fifteen years of age, confessed that her parents had planned the murder, and that her brother, John, had executed it. Before the arrests the latter had gone to Missouri, and only Burnett and his wife were taken into custody. They were tried at a special term in October, 1845. A. B. Greenwood was prosecuting attorney, and the judge assigned Isaac Strain and James P. Neal to defend the prisoners. Isaac Murphy also volunteered his services for the defense. The defendants were tried separately, and a verdict of guilty returned in each case. The trials were short, the principal witness being the daughter that had confessed to the guilt of the parents. They were sentenced to be hung on November 8, 1845, less than thirty days after the trial. At the appointed time a gallows was erected on the hill south of town, not far from the National Cemetery, and there in the presence of almost the entire county Crawford and Lavinia Burnett were landed into eternity. Soon after their execution John Burnett was arrested, and returned to the county. He was indicted, and after a brief trial found guilty, and on December 4, 1845, was sentenced to be hung on the 26th of the same month. His attorneys were Isaac Murphy and A. M. Wilson. They believed their client innocent of the crime, and did all in their power to save him, but, in the face of the two prior convictions and the testimony of the sister, that was but little; he was hanged on the day named, on the same scaffold where his parents had met their deaths less than two months before. In 1856 Dr. James Boone, an old and prominent citizen living about five miles from Fayetteville, was brutally murdered by three slaves, two of whom belonged to him, and one was the property of a neighbor. The negroes conspired to kill him, and going to his house at night they created sufficient disturbance to bring him to his door, when they felled him to the ground with a blow from a bludgeon, and continued to beat him until he was dead. When accused they confessed to the crime, and a band of men, led by the sons of Dr. Boone, took the two negroes that had belonged to him from jail and hung them. The third one was tried at the next term of the circuit court, and was also hung. In 1860 an old man named Mullis, living in Mountain Township, was murdered in his house at night by a negro man belonging to him. Mullis, a man beyond middle life, had come from Indiana a few years before, bringing with him a young woman whom he called his wife. It was rumored, however, that he had been a well-to-do farmer in Indiana, and that he had left a wife and several children, and eloped with a servant girl. After coming to Arkansas Mullis purchased a negro man, and between his so-called wife and this negro there grew up a criminal intimacy. It was this that led to the murder. After his arrest the negro confessed to the killing, but plead self-defense. He was lodged in the jail at Fayetteville, but was not allowed to remain there long. A mob, raised in the neighborhood where the crime was committed, came to Fayetteville, and hung him. The woman. his guilty partner, was in the town at the time, and it was only through the intervention of citizens that she was saved from the same fate. During the war, and immediately after, numerous homicides were committed in Washington County, but these were incident to the demoralized state of society. Under normal conditions there is no more peaceable and quiet community. In 1868 a deadly feud arose between the Shannons and Fishers and their friends, in which several persons on each side lost their lives. All the parties at the time lived at or near Evansville and were considered desperate characters. The trouble grew out of a gambling transaction. Maj. Fisher won a horse from M. K. Shannon, but the latter’s father claimed $30 of the value of the horse, and Fisher paid it. About a week later he met M. K. Shannon in a saloon in Evansville, and asked him to make good the amount he had paid his father. While they were parleying F. M. Shannon, a brother of M. K. Shannon, entered the saloon and shot Fisher through the head, killing him instantly. Shannon was tried before a justice of the peace, and released. Soon after John Fisher, a brother of the murdered man, and Calvin Carter’ returned from southern Arkansas, where they had been attending races, and had Shannon re-arrested, taken to Fayetteville, and again tried, with the same result as before. They returned to Evansville, resolved to kill Shannon, but he remained away. Dr. J. C. McKinney, the father-in-law of Shannon, took an active part in his defense, and attempted to raise a mob to drive Fisher and Carter from the country. One morning in February, 1869, he entered G. W. McClure’s store to make some purchases, and was followed by John Fisher, who without many words shot him through the heart. He then went to Mrs. Alberty’s, where he re-enforced himself with Calvin Carter and Charles Bush. All mounted horses, and armed with guns and pistols passed several times up and down the streets of Evansville. Some half hour later they rode out of town into the Nation. In a short time F. M. Shannon, with John Finley, W. M. Finley, J. W. Bell, M. K. Shannon and John Brotherton, arrived in Evansville and started in pursuit. After going some eight or ten miles the party separated, and taking a circuitous route returned to Evansville. Bell, Brotherton, W. M. Finley and M. K. Shannon arrived first, and dismounted at the store where McKinney had been killed. Fisher and his party, who in the meantime had returned and were at Gillett’s grocery, fired upon them, wounding Sam Alberty, an old citizen, in the hip, and breaking the leg of a horse. F. M. Shannon and John Finley arrived at this juncture, and a large number of shots were fired by both parties, but no serious damage was done. Matters then quieted down for several weeks, but each party watched the other, hoping to take them at a disadvantage. Meantime the Fisher party was re-enforced by Scott Reed, and one who was thought to have been Frank James. Not long after this party gave a dance in Evansville, and the Shannons, together with the sheriff, Benjamin Little, and a posse, in all about thirty men, attempted to eapture John Fisher, for whom Gov. Clayton had offered a reward. They made the attack, and killed Scott Reed at the first fire, but Fisher rallied his men, and drove the Shannons into an old stable near by. He then took refuge in the house where his sisters lived. The two parties maintained their respective positions, firing occasional shots back and forth all day. When night came on Fisher and his men escaped into the Territory, and the sheriff took Fisher’s horses and left. The sheriff then took a posse, and went to Texas in search of the outlaws, and upon his return reported that Fisher had been killed. Fisher’s sisters brought suit for the horses taken by the sheriff, and gained the suit, but it is said, that the Shannons, as soon as the judgment was rendered, went to the stable and shot one of the horses, a fine race mare. Soon after this occurrence the Fisher sisters removed into the Cherokee Nation, where they joined their brother and his party. On June 2, 1869, John Fisher, Cal Carter, Charles Bush, James Reed and John Coleman entered Evansville, and waylaid and killed two of the Shannon faction, Noah Fitzwaters and Newton C. Stout. They then returned to the Nation, and the Governor offered a reward for their arrest. Capt. Anderson, of Crawford County, with a posse, went in pursuit, and succeeded in killing two of the party, Edmondson and Coleman, in Benton County. By this time the law-abiding citizens had become weary at these continued outrages, and A. G. Lewis, William Littlejohn, Capt. Adair and several others organized themselves into a company, and forced both parties to leave the country. Two or three years after the above occurrences two young men from Kansas passed through Evansville, with a drove of some twenty-five horses, on their way South. They had been gone but a short time when a printed circular was received at the Evansville post-office, offering half of the horses to any one arresting the men, who, it was stated, had stolen them. John and Jack Richmond, Lafayette Shultz and Bud Morris, residents of the vicinity of Evansville, started in pursuit. A. G. Lewis, deputy sheriff of Washington County, wished to accompany them, but they refused him. They overtook the horsemen below Van Buren, and started back with them, but when they reached Lee’s Creek Mountain they took them into a ravine near the road, shot them, and went on to Evansville with the horses. A man by the name of Dodge came from Ellsworth, Kas., rewarded the captors with half of the horses, and returned. Subsequent investigation showed that the circular referred to was the only one sent out, and that the Richmonds called for it as soon as it reached the office. John Richmond was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Lewis, and was tried. The jury failed to agree, and pending another trial he made his escape. The others of his party had fled, as soon as suspicion fell upon them, but about seven years later Bud Morris was arrested and brought back, and while out on bond again made his escape. The demoralizing effects of the war were slow in dying out. In Washington County, before the war, there lived three brothers, all natives of the county, John, George and James Reed, sons of Richard A. Reed, who was himself born in the county. All were known as industrious young men, and were well respected. John entered the Federal army, and at the close of hostilities returned home, and engaged in farming on White River. He was a resolute but quiet man when sober, but quarrelsome and disposed to play the bully when intoxicated, and his character had not been improved by his war experience. He was a Republican in politics, and while this had nothing to do with his death, it doubtless involved him in difficulties which would not otherwise have arisen. He had more than once defied the authorities of Fayetteville, and had come to be looked upon by them as a “bad man.” In February, 1879, Deputy Sheriff John R. Serrell arrested John Rutherford, a friend of the Reeds, for an assault, and, as he failed to furnish the required bond, was proceeding to put him in jail, when John Reed arrived and demanded his release. For some reason he refused to bail his friend, and when the jailer, J. B. Moore, opened the cell door to put the prisoner in, Reed struck him on the head with a bottle filled with brandy, felling him to the floor. Two shots were instantly fired, and Reed fell mortally wounded. Deputy Sheriff Serrell was arrested, charged with the homicide, but upon trial was discharged. George Reed swore revenge, but it was generally believed that he did not have sufficient courage to put his threats into execution. He was apparently afraid of Marshal Stirman, and once begged him not to shoot him if he ever had any trouble with him. The officer would not promise, and soon after the conversation Reed, while mounted, drew a revolver on the marshal, who quickly sprang under the horse’s neck and pulled Reed to the ground, punishing him quite severely. Not long after Stirman resigned, and William Patton was appointed to succeed him. George Reed at once told his friends that he was going into town to try the new marshal. This intention he carried into effect. He entered the town and, having got into a quarrel with the officer, was attempting to draw his revolver, when the marshal shot him from his horse, killing him instantly. This occurred on June 4, 1881. Patton was tried and honorably acquitted, but the friends of Reed were not satisfied, and swore to avenge his death, and from that time Patton lived in constant fear of assassination. He took every precaution to save his life, but fate was against him. About 9 o’clock on Saturday night, July 2, 1881, while Patton and Deputy Sheriff and Night Watchman John Mount were conversing on the public square, they were fired upon by unknown parties, and both instantly killed. Patton was shot three times and Mount twice. No clue was ever obtained to the assassins, but they were, without doubt, the friends of Reed.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

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


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