Hall Mahone (Execution of)

Hall (or Hal) Mahone was a young African American man hanged at Van Buren (Crawford County) on November 7, 1902, for rape. His was one of five public executions of rapists in the state between 1901 and 1904.

Mrs. Rebecca McCloud, “a small woman, only 16 years old,” was staying with a Mrs. Clark at Haroldton (Crawford County) on September 5, 1902. She and ten-year-old Edgar Clark walked to the home of Dr. J. L. Young to get some medicine for Mrs. Clark’s sick infant. While they were heading home, Hall Mahone, “but 22 years of age and a giant physically,” allegedly came out of the undergrowth around the Bazort plantation just south of Van Buren and “dragged her into the recesses of the brush.”

Young Clark fled and ran into Dr. Young and “related that the negro was killing a white woman in the bush.” Young saw Mahone emerge from the undergrowth, run to his own wagon, and take off. After taking McCloud to his home, Young alerted neighbors of the assault. Will Clark captured Mahone and brought him to Van Buren, where “a large crowd quickly surrounded the group and for a time a lynching was imminent. The lack of a leader alone prevented the element anxious to take the law into their own hand from making short work of Mahone.”

At his arraignment on September 8, Mahone confessed to committing the assault, but the judge refused to accept his guilty plea so that the testimony of McCloud and Edgar Clark could be taken. A grand jury was empaneled on September 29, and Mahone’s attorneys “made the astonishing announcement that Mahone would waive his rights and was ready and willing to plead guilty.” Judge Jephta H. Evans sentenced him to hang on November 7, 1902, “without the formality of being tried and convicted by a jury of his peers.”

The execution would be public because the Arkansas General Assembly in 1901, reacting to John Wesley’s sensational rape trial in Arkadelphia (Clark County), had removed limitations on the number of witnesses at hangings with the view that “executions of rapists [are] an object-lesson, therefore the barrier should be removed.”

Governor Jeff Davis got involved in the case on October 7 when he wrote Crawford County Sheriff J. A. Pitcock, saying he would not pardon Mahone, “but I want the supreme court to pass on the question as to whether or not a defendant may by sentenced to be hung on his plea of guilty….The nigger can be hung legally by the case being reversed and a jury being called to assess the death penalty.” Otherwise, the governor wrote, there would be “judicial murder, and all officers taking part in it would be morally guilty of murder.”

Pitcock, meanwhile, brought Mahone to the state penitentiary in Little Rock (Pulaski County), as it was reported that “there have been threats of mob violence, and he considered it advisable to bring Mahone to this city.”

On October 23, 1902, Pitcock contracted for construction of a gallows “on the northeast corner of the public square…being the most conspicuous place that could be selected.” It would be the third hanging on the grounds of the Crawford County Courthouse that year, with wife murderers Kit Helton and Dave McWhorter having already been executed there.

After “the supreme court refused to have anything further to do with the case,” Davis declined to intervene and ordered that Mahone be returned to Van Buren to face his punishment. The Fort Smith Times reported on November 5 that “Mahone is cheerful, has never denied his guilt, and seems indifferent to his fate.”

On the morning of November 7, Mahone cried before leaving his cell but “was the coolest man on the scene” as he walked the seventy-five yards from the jail to the gallows as a “motley crowd” of between 2,000 and 5,000 people watched. He climbed the steps “with a smile on his face, seemed pleased with the attention he was attracting.”

Pitcock asked the doomed man if he had anything he wished to say, and Mahone said, “Wait a minute, I want to see if I know anybody.” After a quick glance at the crowd, he said, “I don’t see any one I know.” The sheriff opened the trap door at 11:04 a.m. Mahone dropped six and one half feet, and “death was practically instantaneous….The snap of the neck was plainly audible to those close to the scaffold. There was a slight rebound of the body but never a quiver.”

He was declared dead fourteen minutes later, and the Times concluded that “Mrs. Rebecca McCloud had been avenged; morbid curiosity was satisfied.” Mahone’s family “refused to have anything to do with the body and it was buried by the county.”

In addition to Wesley and Mahone, three other Black men—Charles Anderson, Essex Pippin, and Elisha Davis—would be executed in public after being convicted of rape in the first years of the twentieth century. The public execution exception for rape convictions was rescinded in 1905.

For additional information:
“At State House.” Arkansas Democrat, October 28, 1902, p. 8.

“Arkansas News Summary.” Arkansas Gazette, November 8, p. 1.

“The Case Is Closed.” Fort Smith Times, October 31, 1902, p. 4.

“Davis in New Role.” Fort Smith Times, October 9, 1902, p. 8.

“For Safe Keeping.” Arkansas Democrat, October 9, 1902, p. 7.

“Hall Mahone.” Arkansas Democrat, November 7, 1902, p. 1.

“Hall Mahone Hanged.” Woodruff County News, November 13, 1902, p. 1.

“Hall Mahone Is Hanged.” Fort Smith Times, November 7, 1902, pp. 1, 4.

“Hall Mahone to Hang Friday at Van Buren.” Arkansas Democrat, November 5, 1902, p. 5.

“A Negro Rapist.” Fort Smith Times, September 8, 1902, p. 1.

Newport Daily Independent, September 30, 1902, p. 4, col. 2.

“News of the State.” Arkansas Democrat, October 23, 1902, p. 1.

“Says It Would Be Judicial Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, October 12, 1902, p. 3.

“To Hang in Public.” Fort Smith Times, November 5, 1902, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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