Franklin Patterson (Execution of)

Franklin Patterson was a Missouri native and discharged Union soldier who was hanged on May 5, 1865, at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) for the murder of a wealthy civilian.

The 1860 federal census lists Frank Marzall, age forty-eight, as a native of Switzerland who lived in Van Buren (Crawford County); the farmer owned $600 in real and $2,630 in personal property. In 1865, he was murdered by Franklin Patterson, who the Fort Smith New Era described as “about 34 years old, of profane and intemperate habits, living in the exulting ecstacies [sic] of passionate indulgences, rather than in the clearer, steadier lights of dispassionate reason.” The newspaper said the Fayette County, Missouri, native had been discharged from the First Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US), though he does not appear in the regiment’s muster rolls.

Marzall apparently owned a pair of mules that Patterson wanted, so the erstwhile soldier said that he was seizing them for the Federal base at Van Buren. Marzall did not believe that Patterson had the authority to make such a seizure and decided to accompany him to Van Buren to check on his claim. After riding several miles, Patterson shot and fatally wounded Marzall after he refused to return to his home.

Patterson made several conflicting statements about the incident, sometimes admitting and sometimes denying the crime. He finally told the Fort Smith base chaplain that “if he had shot down Marzoll [sic], he had lost all remembrance of the act, and that he was so drunk on that day he did not know what he was doing.”

At the chaplain’s behest, Patterson agreed “to say…publicly, on the fatal platform, that the unhappy fate of the prisoner should be regarded…as a solemn warning against the intemperate use of liquor.” The condemned man instead implied that the whiskey he had consumed was drugged and its supplier was to blame for Marzall’s death.

At 9:30 a.m. on May 5, 1865, the trap door of the gallows opened, “and the murderer dangled in the death-struggles amid the green earth beneath and the bright skies above, furnishing to the numerous throng of spectators an impression and awful rendering of the Scripture passage: ‘The way of the transgressor is hard.’”

For additional information:
Furry, William, ed. The Preacher’s Tale: The Civil War Journal of Rev. Francis Springer, Chaplain, U.S. Army of the Frontier. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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