Charles Stewart (Lynching of)

Charles Stewart, a white man, was lynched in Perryville (Perry County) on May 17, 1892, after killing Deputy Sheriff Tom Holmes in a failed attempt to escape jail. This was the only recorded lynching in Perry County.

Given the absence of enumeration sheets for the 1890 census, determining the identity of Charles Stewart is difficult. However, there was a Charley Straut living in neighboring Yell County in 1880; his age was given as six years old (making him about eighteen in 1892, when the crime and lyching took place). Reports on the lynching present little biographical information.

According to the Arkansas Gazette, Stewart had been jailed in Perryville “for attempted outrage on the 11-year-old daughter of J. W. Guin, and the subsequent stealing of a mule in March.” As the jail was not a very secure place for housing inmates, Stewart was shackled to the wall, and Deputy Holmes slept in the cell with him. On Monday, May 16, Stewart complained that his shackles were too tight, and after the deputy adjusted them, Stewart “brained Holmes with a piece of scantling”—a small piece of lumber—“but failed to secure the keys, as the door had been locked from the outside.” A differing report in the Arkansas Democrat held that Stewart instead attacked Holmes while Holmes was asleep.

The following day, Stewart “raised the alarm,” claiming that Holmes had been murdered and placed in his cell. The ruse did not succeed. According to the Gazette, “The enraged citizens took Stewart out to a convenient tree and hanged him.”

The narrative does have a coda. According to a May 31 report in the Democrat, Stewart, before he was hanged, confessed the deed and claimed that his uncles, “the McArthurs,” had encouraged him to commit the murder. These three men—later named as J. S. McArthur and his two sons, Curtis and William—were arrested and charged as accessories to murder. The Democrat reported that a subsequent trial “lasted five days and created great interest,” though the Gazette described this only as a hearing, after which they were held for trial before the circuit court. Rumors soon spread that while Sheriff J. E. Oliver was transporting his prisoners, he was either attacked by a group of the McArthurs’ friends, during which two of the prisoners were killed, or that all three prisoners were lynched. However, a June 1 article in the Democrat stated that the McArthurs had been safely transported to the jail in Morrilton (Conway County).

For additional information:
“Lynched.” Arkansas Democrat, May 21, 1892, p. 1.

“Not Lynched.” Arkansas Democrat, June 1, 1892, p. 4.

“Not Lynched.” Arkansas Gazette, June 1, 1892, p. 8.

“Reported Lynching.” Arkansas Democrat, May 31, 1892, p. 1.

“To a Finish.” Arkansas Gazette, May 22, 1892, p. 9.

Guy Lancaster
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 02/05/2020