Charles Malpass (Lynching of)
According to newspaper accounts, Charles Malpass was a descendent of early French settlers at Arkansas Post. In 1850, the Malpass family was living in nearby Red Fork Township. Farmer Rubin Malpass was living with his wife, Rebecca, and five children, including four-year-old Charles. The family was still in the area in 1860, but by this time there were eight children, among them sixteen-year-old Charles. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Charles began living with a “mulatto” woman named Bettie West in 1868. West had resources of her own, having inherited several thousand dollars when her father, a white man, died. At the time, common law marriage was recognized as legal in Arkansas “irrespective of color of contracting parties.” This law was repealed in 1869, and Charles Malpass was indicted and then acquitted of a charge of “illegal cohabitation.” The Gazette reported that he was later “waited on by the Ku Klux Klan, but the government broke up this organization before it succeeded in separating this couple.”
Charles Malpass and his family are not listed in the 1870 census. In 1880, however, Malpass, listed as single, was farming in Red Fork Township. Bettie West was also a member of the household, along with their sons Lee, Wiley, and Charles Jr.
According to the Gazette, in 1889, Malpass was accused of murdering Squire Raines but was acquitted for lack of evidence. Apparently, his sons started stealing during childhood. According to the Gazette, they had been in jail charged with various crimes over the years. Henry Malpass—another brother of Lee, Wiley, and Charles Jr.—was reportedly convicted of an unidentified crime and was confined to the penitentiary in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he subsequently died.
In 1900, Charles Malpass, by then fifty-four years old, was still farming in Red Fork Township. Living nearby was his son Albert, who was also a farmer. Albert’s family included his mother, Bettie West, and his eighteen-year-old sister, Lula. Lucinda, Beulah, and William (Will) Malpass, described as boarders, were also living with them; they were also listed in the household of their father, blacksmith Lee Malpass.
By 1907, Lee and Charles Jr. were involved in a gang that was stealing cattle and selling whiskey. Apparently, in 1911, one member of the gang was captured by Constable Biggerstaff, but the Malpass brothers intercepted the constable as he was taking the prisoner to jail and forced him to release his prisoner. They, along with their father, were arrested and jailed in Arkansas City (Desha County). Charles Malpass Sr. was eventually released from jail. Lee and Charles Jr. escaped and left the area, and Charles Sr. held a grudge against Sheriff William Preston for arresting his sons. The only member of the Malpass family listed in the 1910 census was Will, age twenty, who was boarding in the home of German Spearman and working as a farm laborer. Perhaps this was because the rest of the family was living on Oak Log Bayou west of Dumas (Desha County), an area that the Gazette described as “inaccessible and…considered a good place for desperate characters to evade capture or resist arrest.”
Lee and Charles Malpass Jr. left Desha County after escaping in April 1911, but by fall they had returned home and declared that they would stay there. Local residents had seen them, heavily armed, in the area. On September 26, 1911, Sheriff Preston assembled a posse to serve warrants on the Malpass brothers. The members of the posse were Ike Bankston, W. A. Nuckols, Mid Johnson, Fenner Dickinson, and Barney Stiel. Stiel was a police officer from Little Rock who happened to be visiting his sister in Desha County. Members of the Malpass family were told of the posse’s approach, and they gathered in a small workshop near their house.
Sheriff Preston went in first, with a pistol in each hand. Those waiting outside heard a shot, reportedly fired by Lee Malpass, and Preston fell back against Barney Stiel, who was right behind him. He had been shot five times, and he died immediately. Stiel then killed Lee Malpass, whereupon Charles Malpass Jr. shot Stiel. Stiel ran out of the house and fell dead in the yard. Charles Malpass Jr. followed him out of the house and was killed by Fenner Dickinson. The elder Malpass then shot into the crowd. Ike Bankston fired his rifle at him, severely wounding him in the leg. Other members of the Malpass family escaped, and the remainder of the posse returned to Dumas.
Later that day, another posse started out for Oak Bayou to capture Charles Malpass Sr., and the Gazette reported that “if he is alive when the posse arrives, he will be lynched.” The posse also hoped to capture Bettie West and her fifteen-year-old grandson, Will. West was suspected of loading guns during the gunfight the day before. When they reached the house, they found Charles Malpass lying in bed. While they were taking him into custody, the mattress slipped, and they discovered Will Malpass under the bed armed with two guns. He refused to surrender and tried to shoot. He was shot by Special Agent Higgenbotham of the Iron Mountain Railroad, but he continued to fire, and was finally shot and killed by Deputy Robinson.
The posse left early the following morning to take Charles Malpass—along with Will’s body—back to Dumas. A mob had gathered at the edge of town. They seized Charles Malpass and hanged him from the city water tank. According to the Gazette, “The lynching was done so quietly that few people in the town knew anything about it until they came down town early and saw the body.”
Justice of the Peace M. A. Bridwell held an inquest into the shootings. His conclusion was that the Malpasses had “met death at the hands of officers in the discharge of their duties.” Their bodies were buried in a single grave in a field outside of town. Reportedly, “All of the negroes in the neighborhood look upon the affair as one in which they have no interest. All of the negroes recognized the Malpass family as desperate men, and they had little to do with them.” According to the Roanoke Beacon, “The authorities say the community lived in a state of almost constant terror because of the Malpass family, against which prevailed intense feeling.”
Other papers, including the Bismarck Daily Tribune, reported that the elder Malpass’s real crime was marrying an African American. The Nashville Globe expanded on this assertion, saying that Malpass was “charged with having a black woman for his wife, and defending his mulatto sons in a controversy they had in the community.” Malpass’s crime was “living in open defiance to public sentiment.” Had he “kept his deviltry under the cover, that mob of respectable Arkansas citizens would never have molested him.”
There is minimal information available about what became of the other members of the Malpass family. Marriage records indicate that Albert Malpass married Josie Palmer on December 25, 1900. By 1910, Josie Malpass had apparently married James Gentry. They were living in Red Fork Township with a niece, Mattie Malpass, and three children: Charlie Malpass (nine) Robert Malpass (seven), and Eddie Malpass (five). Albert Malpass does not appear in the census in any state in 1910 or 1920. Military records indicate that a man named Albert Malpas [sic] registered for the draft in Poinsett County on September 12, 1918. At the time, he was farming for Cook and Gray Company in Memphis, Tennessee. He listed his closest relative as Jane Malpas, who lived in Lepanto (Poinsett County). Wiley Malpass married Susan Nicholas on March 8, 1897, in Desha County. By 1910, he was living alone and working as a blacksmith in Bartholomew Township of Lincoln County. Beulah Malpass married Henry Gilbert in Arkansas County on May 14, 1916; they divorced there in 1939. There is no additional information about Bettie West.
For additional information:
“The Arkansas Mob.” Nashville Globe (Nashville, Tennessee), September 29, 1911, p. 4.
“Lynching Sequel of Two Killings.” Arkansas Gazette, September 28, 1911, pp. 1–2.
“Mob Lynches White Man.” Bismarck Daily Tribune, September 27, 1911, p. 1.
“Mob Lynches White Man.” Roanoke Beacon (Plymouth, North Carolina) October 6, 1911, p. 1.
“Negroes Kill Sheriff and One of Posse.” Arkansas Gazette, September 27, 1911, pp. 1–2.
Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina
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