Charles Mitchell (Lynching of)

On November 2, 1884, Charles Mitchell was murdered near Richmond (Little River County) for the alleged murder of a prominent farmer’s wife, Kate Waddell. The incident made news not only in Arkansas, but also in Texas, the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and Michigan.

At the time of the 1880 census, forty-year-old Charley Mitchell—an African-American or biracial man—was living in Johnson Township of Little River County with his wife, Isabella, and their two sons, William (thirteen) and Mitchel (eleven). The census lists no occupation for Mitchell, but his two sons were working as servants.

According to an October 31 article in the Arkansas Gazette, Mrs. Waddell, “an estimable woman,” was murdered on October 29 “by a notorious negro by the name of Charles Mitchell.” Mitchell had escaped, but more than 100 men were searching for him, and, “If caught he will hang,” the article stated. By the following day, the Gazette had more details about the incident. Apparently, Waddell was home on the morning of the October 29. Mitchell, described as “a large, burly mulatto, about 40 years old, with eyes protruding and continually opening and closing,” raped Waddell and then, to keep her from identifying him, brained her with a smoothing iron after stabbing her multiple times. The Gazette mentions that Waddell’s six-year-old son witnessed the murder and ran for help, soon rousing the neighborhood.

The posse pursued Mitchell for several days. The Indian Chieftain of Vinita, Indian Territory, quoting the Fort Smith (Sebastian County) Democrat, reported that the officers did encounter Mitchell once, while he was stealing a horse to use in his escape, “but notwithstanding the fact that several shots were fired at him and every effort made to effect his capture, he got away.”

Mitchell was finally arrested and jailed on November 2. That night, according to the Gazette, “a body of determined citizens, numbering 150, went to the jail.” They took the key from the jailor, removed Mitchell from the jail, and put a noose around his neck. When asked if he had anything to say, Mitchell allegedly confessed to the murder but insisted that Waddell’s husband had hired him to commit the crime. Waddell was then arrested, and both he and Mitchell were taken into the woods at midnight. At that point, “The county for miles around was aroused by the firing of a hundred guns in the direction the party went.” Although several newspapers reported that both had been killed, according to the Gazette, “No doubt the negro was properly disposed of, but there is doubt of the fate of Waddell.”

For additional information:
“A Brutal Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1884, p. 1.

“The Dreadful Crime of a Burly Mulatto.” Arkansas Gazette, November 1, 1884, p. 3.

“Special Pick-Ups: Swift Justice on a Negro Ravisher.” Arkansas Gazette, November 4, 1884, p. 2.

“Territory and Border Notes.” Indian Chieftain (Vinita, Indian Territory), November 13, 1884, p. 3.

“Work by Judge Lynch.” The Democrat (McKinney, Texas), November 6, 1884, p. 3.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Clinton, South Carolina


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