Sunday, June 14, 2020

Frontier Justice In Arkansas 1895 - 1922

Frontier justice is extrajudicial punishment that's motivated by the belief that law and order either doesn't exist or doesn't work. And while that may be true, lynchings, gunfights, revenge killings are all said to be considered forms of frontier justice. Yes indeed, frontier justice is also "vigilante justice".

On August 6th, 1895, Crittenden County Deputy Sheriff Alfred Werner was shot and killed when he and two other deputies attempted to arrest a man at his home. When they arrived at the home the two deputies went inside the home as Deputy Werner remained outside.

The suspect was expecting the deputies to arrive at the house, so he hid outside waiting. Yes, ready to ambush the deputies. As Deputy Werner stood outside, the man opened fire from an ambush position and shot Deputy Werner in the neck. He killed the deputy almost instantly.

A posse was formed to capture the killer. While officially it is not known if he was ever captured or killed. It is believed by most that he was hanged from some tree.
Hot Springs Police Detective John Donahue

On Thursday, December 25th, 1902, Hot Springs Police Department's Chief of Detectives John Donahue was shot and killed by a man the he attempted to arrest for assaulting a woman with an ax. Detective Donahue approached the man on a local street. The suspect drew a revolver and shot him in the head, killing Donahue instantly.

As the suspect attempted to escape, a 16-year-old boy who saw what took place ran to get his father's shotgun and shot the murderer in the face. Because of his distance, the shotgun put the murderer on the ground but did not kill him.

The murderer lay in the street writhing in pain. But as the boy approached him with his reloaded shotgun, the murderer turned his pistol on himself and shot himself in the head.

On August 20th, 1910, Garland County Sheriff Jake Houpt was shot and mortally wounded. And his brother, who was a deputy, was also wounded while attempting to arrest two brothers for stealing horses.

The two horse thieves suddenly produced pistols and opened fire as Sheriff Houpt and his brother were escorting them to jail. As the suspects fled, both wounded lawmen returned fire killing one suspect and wounding the other. Sadly, Sheriff Houpt died three days later.

The other suspect was captured three days after the shooting. Then on December 26, 1910, Sheriff Houpt's killer was being escorted by a deputy sheriff from the Garland County Jail to the police station when three unidentified men walked up with guns drawn.

The unidentified men forced the deputy to step away. Once clear, the three men opened fire and shot the killer to death. As for the shooters, the unidentified citizens were never identified.

On September 26th, 1911, Sheriff William Preston and Deputy Sheriff Barney Stiel of the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office were shot and killed by two brothers they were attempting to arrest near Dumas.

As Sheriff Preston and several of his deputies approached the suspect's cabin, one of the brothers opened fire killing the Sheriff instantly. Deputy Stiel returned fire killing his Sheriff's murderer, but the other brother opened fire and killed Deputy Stiel.

The other deputies shot and killed his killer. They also shot and seriously wounded their father who arrived on the scene shooting a rifle at them. The killers' father was taken to a hospital and then to the local jail. Almost immediately, word started to go around that the killers' father was only acting in defense of his sons and would probably get off with a light sentence if any.

The next morning the father of those two killers was taken from the local jail by a group of angry citizens. He was hanged from a water tank just outside of town on the Iron Mountain Railroad.

On April 1st, 1912, Fort Smith Police Department's Detective Patrick Andrew Carr was shot and killed when he assisted other officers in the capture of an escaped prisoner.

It all took place when the 42-year old Fort Smith Police Detective observed a 24-year old male engaged in a loud argument with a woman on Garrison Avenue. Detective Carr arrested the young man. While escorting him to jail, the prisoner pulled away from the Detective and ran.

Detective Carr was soon joined by other officers in pursuit of the escapee. During their efforts to recapture of the prisoner, shots were fired and Detective Carr was struck above the right eye by a bullet. Detective Carr died nine days later in St. Edward Hospital and did not regain consciousness. He was survived by his wife, two sons, and three daughters.

A few days later, Detective Carr's killer was found. Soon enough, he was captured. But on the way to jail, the officers were overpowered by a number of angry citizens. They took Detective Carr's killer and hanged him from a nearby tree.

On July 4th, 1912, Conway County Sheriff's Special Deputy Herbert Paul Nisler was only 21 years old when he was killed. It happened when he and several other deputies, and the Conway County Sheriff attempted to break up a fight at a picnic near Plummerville.

After Special Deputy Nisler was assaulted and killed, citizens became angry and soon grabbed his killer. Before it could be stopped, his killer was hanged from the nearest tree.

On November 7th, 1919, Columbia County Sheriff B. E. Greer was shot and killed while attempting to arrest a man wanted for beating his wife at their home approximately four miles west of Magnolia. Yes, killed during a domestic violence situation. Sound familiar, it should. More law enforcement officers are killed during domestic violence situations than any other type of situation.

On the way there, the 45-year old Sheriff Greer deputized a citizen to accompany him to the home. They met with another deputy at the location. The sheriff and the deputized citizen approached the home's open door. The man inside immediately fired at them, but fortunately the shooter missed both of them.

Sheriff Greer then entered the home and returned fire at the suspect. The suspect then took cover hiding under a bed. When the sheriff bent down to look under the bed, the suspect fatally shot him.

The killer of Sheriff Greer was able to get away but was arrested by a sheriff's posse at his sister's house. As the sheriff's posse took the man to jail, an armed group of angry citizens approached the posse and took the killer off their hands. They then hanged him.

On December 10th, 1922, Conway County Deputy Sheriff Granville Edward Farish was only 34 years old when he was shot and fatally wounded in the line of duty. He sustained his fatal wound the previous day while interviewing a suspect in Morrilton.

While talking with the suspect, his killer all of a sudden pulled out a .32 caliber revolver and shot Deputy Farish in the abdomen. He then ran from the scene.

The killer was found and was arrested by other deputies. He was then taken to the county jail. But due to the threat of mob violence, the Sheriff decided to move him to another county. In the process of transferring their prisoner, the deputies were confronted and overpowered by a large group of angry citizens who were concerned that the killer would get of lightly.

Those angry citizens hauled the killer away with them. And later, well later the deputies found Deputy Farish's killer where those concerned citizens had hanged him.

None of this was unusual back in the day. All are just examples of frontier justice. And after reading this, you might be wondering what would give the people back then the notion that a killer might get off lightly? Especially when people today have this idea that no one got off lightly back in those days.

Well, imagine this, on May 26th, 1874, John Wesley Hardin killed Brown County, Texas, Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. Of course, Hardin claimed he killed the Deputy in "self-defense." And no, Hardin was not alone when he killed Deputy Webb. Two of Hardin's gang members were with him when it happened.

The murder of Deputy Web angered a great many locals and soon a group of citizens quickly formed. Believe it or not, it is said that Hardin's parents and wife were taken into protective custody. And yes, tension was high for over a month until his brother Joe, and their two cousins, Bud and Tom Dixon, were arrested on outstanding warrants in July. It was then that the angry citizens broke into the jail and dragged out Joe, Bud, and Tom. They pulled the three outlaws to a tree and strung them up. Then they went looking for Hardin.

John Wesley Hardin had fled, but it would be years before he was finally caught. Then on June 5, 1878, Hardin was tried for the killing Deputy Webb. And surprising as it was, Hardin was only sentenced to serve 25 years in Huntsville Prison for killing Deputy Webb. That's it, 25 years for luring Deputy Webb into a hotel room to kill him.

It is interesting to note, that on February 14, 1892, while in prison, Hardin was convicted of a manslaughter charge for the earlier shooting of J.B. Morgan. For killing Morgan, Hardin was given an additional two-year sentence that was to be served concurrently with his 25-year sentence.

So, let’s make no mistake about it, whether it was the Vigilance Committee of 1851 in San Francisco, California, which numbered in the thousands, or small groups of angry citizens in small towns in Arkansas, citizens in the Old West knew real well that the law did not always work. Because of that, in many cases in many parts of the West, citizens did what the law may have refused to do.

They were dissatisfied with the performance of the justice system. And because of that, they saw it as their duty to take action to stop killers from killing again.

Tom Correa


  1. Nice compilation, for a good point. I'm 'sharing' this. Just was reading about the well organized citizenry in Cour deAlene. Thanks, Tom

  2. In many cases in the Old West, especially in the state of Arkansas, the criminals always bit off more than they could chew. But then again, so did the lynch mobs. Sometimes they would even hang a man who DIDN'T do a crime. Frontier justice was nothing to mess with. If they said you were gonna die, you were gonna die. And if the gallows wasn't waiting then either a tree or a bullet would do. But that's why they are called vigilantes. They are vigilant and they take the law into their own hands in order to save their community. There's always gonna be somebody out there that will here about a rapist or a murderer and then say, "You don't even wanna know what I would do to him" not knowing that the law will take its course. In the end, we all learn the same lesson. Don't leave people hanging. Because lynching is a hate crime. Court is adjourned.


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