David S. Lewis (Execution of)

David S. Lewis was hanged at Batesville (Independence County) on April 29, 1859, for murdering his father-in-law in White County about a year earlier.

David S. Lewis, twenty-four, was the son of Abner and Mary Lewis of Pickens County, South Carolina, and was married to a daughter of Will C. Bewler. Lewis, described as “a drinking, worthless scamp,” was immigrating to Texas with Bewler and his wife, the family’s three daughters, and Lewis’s child when he and Bewler had an argument over some property. Lewis then left the party, riding ahead to Searcy (White County).

Lewis proceeded to get drunk “and had his passions highly inflamed by the suggestions of some rowdys [sic]…concerning the aggravating character of his father-in-law’s treatment of him.” Lewis rejoined the Bewler party, walked up to Bewler’s buggy, and demanded the property. When he refused, Lewis “deliberately shot Bewler with a large rifle,” hitting him in the arm with a bullet that then struck him in the face. Bewler fell to the ground, and Lewis reloaded the gun “and approached him again, while he was lying, weltering in his blood, and probably mortally wounded, and shot him a second time.”

Lewis was arrested and charged with murder. Worried that he would not get a fair trial in White County, he won a change of venue to Independence County where, in the spring of 1859, he was tried, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.

Between 2,500 and 4,000 people gathered in Batesville to watch the execution on April 29, 1859. Lewis, who “thought he had received the forgiveness of his sins on Sunday, the 24th of April, but afterwards was seriously in doubt of it,” was joined by two preachers as he approached the gallows at around 11:00 a.m. While the spiritual advisers read Bible verses, sang hymns, and spoke to the crowd, Lewis “was engaged in earnest prayer the whole time.”

The rope was placed around his neck at about 11:35 a.m., and the trap door opened soon after. A newspaper reported that “the unfortunate man struggled about 15 minutes in the embrace of death, and his soul took its flight to ‘that undiscovered country.’”

For additional information:
“Convicted.” Des Arc Weekly Citizen, April 8, 1859, p. 3.

“Execution of Lewis.” [Louisville, Kentucky] Courier-Journal, May 19, 1858, p. 3.

Huddleston, Duane. “The Execution of David S. Lewis Batesville—April 29, 1859.” Independence County Chronicle 9 (July 1974): 9–12.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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