Bryson (Lynching of)

A man known only as Bryson—apparently a white man—was lynched in early June 1888, presumably in Yell County. The details surrounding the incident are decidedly few, drawn primarily from an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and reprinted in both the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette.

The original report, datelined June 11, 1888, from Dardanelle (Yell County), reads as follows: “Yesterday the body of one Bryson, riddled with bullets, was found a few miles below here in the Arkansas river. A few days ago Bryson attempted to criminally assault the wife of Dock Shinn, and was pursued by a posse. It is supposed he was overtaken, shot and his body flung into the river.”

There is also a similar account of this story in the Wisconsin State Journal, one that presents a first name for the apparent lynching victim: “Tom Bryson assaulted the wife of Dr. Shinn, in Yell County, Ark., a few days ago. On Saturday, Bryson’s body was riddled with bullets.” However, at the same time the lynching was reported, a syndicated serial titled Tom Bryson’s Crime, the author of which was given only as “The Major,” had been in publication in multiple newspapers nationwide. The serial is a work of historical fiction that begins in 1829 in a village called Aylesworth and so has no relationship whatsoever with the events in Arkansas. But there is a chance that the reporter with the Wisconsin State Journal conflated the lynching of Bryson with Tom Bryson’s Crime, given that the serial circulated widely, including in other Wisconsin newspapers, such as the Superior Times, in which the first installment appeared on April 14, 1888.

There are a number of people by the name of Shinn recorded as residing in Yell County during the 1880 census. Given that “Dock” is apparently a nickname, the exact identity of Dock Shinn is difficult to discern. Likewise, there are a number of individuals of the last name of Bryson listed on the census. However, it is also possible that the person in question may have been traveling through the area and of no relationship to the local families.

For additional information:
“A Brute’s Fate.” Arkansas Democrat, June 11, 1888, p. 1.

“Condensed News.” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison County, Wisconsin), June 11, 1888, p. 1.

“Served Him Right.” Arkansas Gazette, June 12, 1888, p. 1.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/07/2021