Henry Rose (Execution of)

Henry Rose was an African American man hanged at Osceola (Mississippi County) on April 4, 1884, for the shotgun slaying of Dempsey Taylor, a wealthy farmer.

The 1880 census shows fifty-year-old Dempsey Taylor, who was listed as “mulatto,” living in Mississippi County’s Monroe Township with his wife Melinda and five children. Henry Rose, a seventeen-year-old Black laborer, lived in the same township with his grandparents, as did John Morrow, age twenty-five, a white farmer who lived with his wife and brother. A Tennessee newspaper described Taylor as “popular with his race, but…regarded as [an] impudent and overbearing person by his white neighbors.”

On December 4, 1883, the Arkansas Gazette reported, Rose and Morrow argued with Taylor and “had trouble with him about the rent of the land.” That night, someone crept onto Taylor’s porch as he sat in a chair tending to his sick wife (some accounts say he was sitting in front of a fire) when a shot rang out and “a heavy charge of buck-shot crushed through his head, tearing off nearly the entire back portion, and killing him instantly.”

The killer had gone to Taylor’s house in his stocking feet, leaving tracks in the mud, and Sheriff W. B. Haskins, suspecting Rose, went to his home and asked a small girl if she knew where the muddy socks were; she responded that they were hidden under a bed. Both Rose and Morrow were arrested for Taylor’s murder within twenty-four hours of the crime, though Morrow was apparently released without charges, as he does not show up in subsequent newspaper reports.

Rose was tried in Mississippi County Circuit Court in January 1884 and, after a three-day trial, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang. Sheriff Haskins ordered a rope from St. Louis that was eighteen feet long and a quarter to three quarters of an inch in diameter since Rose was “full 200 pounds.”

Rose was led to the gallows and, the Osceola Times reported, “went off in a blaze of glory” before a crowd of around 1,000 spectators. The Times wrote that “Rose…harangued the crowd for over two hours, detailing at length the part enacted by him in the dastardly and cowardly assassination,” though a Nashville, Tennessee, paper stated that he “told his listeners to be warned by his fate.”

The trap door was opened at 1:00 p.m. Rose’s neck was broken, and he died quickly.

For additional information:
“By the Neck, Till Dead.” Nashville Tennessean, April 5, 1884, p. 1.

“Circuit Court.” Osceola Times, January 26, 1884, p. 1.

“Hangman’s Work.” Memphis Weekly Public Ledger, April 8, 1884, p. 3.

“Henry Rose Hanged.” Osceola Times, April 5, 1884, p. 4.

“Through a Window.” Arkansas Gazette, December 4, 1883, p. 5.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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