Dan T. Nelson (Lynching of)

Dan T. Nelson was lynched by a mob of African Americans in Lincoln County on November 13, 1893, for allegedly murdering Ben Betts. Unlike most lynchings in Arkansas (and the United States), several of the perpetrators of this crime were actually tried and sent to jail, perhaps because the mob was composed entirely of African Americans.

According to an account published in the Arkansas Gazette, on November 7, Ben Betts, an African American, accompanied a relative to Dan Nelson’s home near Varner (Lincoln County) to help that relative collect a rent bill from Nelson. Betts and Nelson got into an argument, and Betts ordered Nelson out of the house. Nelson emerged from the dwelling, armed with a hatchet and carrying his baby. He then killed Betts with the hatchet.

Nelson was arrested and jailed, but at 11:00 p.m. on November 13, he was taken from the Lincoln County jail by a masked mob, which battered down the jail door. Some members of the mob were unmasked, although most took the precaution of covering their faces with handkerchiefs. According to the Gazette, “Over a score of shots were fired at the unfortunate wretch at close range and a dozen bullets entered his body.” Before he died, Nelson was thrown onto a brush pile and set on fire, but the fire was extinguished by a rainstorm before the body could be burned. According to the Gazette, while, as in most lynchings, the victim was African American, “the crime for which the awful punishment was inflicted was of a different character, and the mob which meted out the punishment instead of being composed of whites…was made up of blacks.”

By November 18, Judge John M. Elliott had issued a number of arrest warrants in the case. The alleged leader of the mob was Yancey Hawkins, who was a deputy constable. Others implicated included Steve Tinsley, Abraham Washington, Edmund Taylor Jr., William Moore, Jim Ells, Milton Greenler, Tom Boykin, J. K. Hubbard (who was a justice of the peace in Choctaw Township), Tom Riley, and Jim Ellis (who was expected to be able to prove his innocence). By November 24, the men had been arraigned and sent to the Jefferson County jail in Pine Bluff. According to the Arkansas Gazette, “The proof is very strong against them and all have admitted their guilt but are now trying to retract.” A Reedville (Desha County) merchant named Captain Bowles was apparently trying to keep Tom Riley out of prison.

On February 21, 1894, seven of the alleged perpetrators were indicted by the Lincoln County grand jury: Yancey Hawkins, Edmund Taylor, Colburn Ashley, and Tom Riley for first-degree murder and Tom Boykin, Steve Tinsley, and Abe Washington as accessories. On February 26, in Lincoln County court, four of the men pleaded guilty. Ike (presumably Edmund) Taylor and Yancey Hawkins were sentenced to five years in prison. The accessories, Steven Tinsley and Abe Washington, were each sentenced to one year.

According to the U.S. Census in 1900, three of the convicted men remained in Lincoln County after being released from jail: Hawkins, Taylor, and Tinsley.

For additional information:
“Bullets and Fire.” Arkansas Gazette, November 15, 1893, pp. 1, 5.

“Lynchers Convicted.” Arkansas Gazette, February 28, 1894, p. 1.

“Members of the Varner Mob Held to Answer for Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, November 24, 1893, p. 5.

“Seven of the Varner Lynchers Indicted for Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, February 23, 1894, p. 2.

“The Varner Lynchers.” Arkansas Gazette, November 18, 1893, p. 6.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Clinton, South Carolina


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