Hill Larkin (Lynching of)

On February 14, 1890, an African-American man named Hill Larkin (sometimes referred to as Hill Larker) was hanged in Camden (Ouachita County) for allegedly murdering a deputy sheriff named Ross and wounding or killing a deputy sheriff named Snead from Calhoun County.

In 1880, forty-two-year-old Hill Larkin, a native of Mississippi, was living in Carroll Township, Ouachita County, with his wife, Parille. He was a farmer and could neither read nor write. Ross, sometimes identified as Tom Ross, was probably John Thomas Ross. In 1870, he was eleven years old and living with his parents, John J. and M. E. Ross, in Lafayette Township. John Thomas Ross died in Ouachita County on February 4, 1890, and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Camden.

According to the Arkansas Gazette, on Tuesday, February 4, deputies Ross and Snead went about ten miles outside of Camden to arrest two African Americans, identified only as Booker and Morris, for kidnapping. The two suspects declared that “they would allow no d—m officer to arrest them.” Nonetheless, Booker was arrested, and the deputies set out to Camden to put him in jail. On their way, they were attacked from ambush, and Ross was killed. Snead’s fate is less certain. His horse was found wandering in the woods nearby, and it was assumed that he had either been wounded or killed. (Booker fled during the shooting but was reportedly wounded.) Sheriff D. Newton of Ouachita County assembled a posse to pursue the alleged assassins.

Larkin was arrested on February 9 and placed in the county jail. Although there had been quite a bit of excitement over the murder, on February 11 the Gazette reported that this had subsided and no trouble was expected. Consequently, citizens were somewhat surprised when between 3:00 and 4:00 on the morning of February 14, a crowd of unidentified men broke into the jail, took Larkin to the bridge over a nearby ravine, and hanged him.

According to the Gazette, the lynching was well planned. The mob had raided the jail at a time when it would be least noticeable, and within thirty minutes they had broken into the jail and hanged Larkin from a bridge. They made very little noise except for firing several shots into Larkin’s body. Most people thought that the members of the mob were not from Camden.

According to the Gazette, “Much regret is expressed by the citizens that the law was not permitted to take its course. Our community generally is opposed to mob law.” A brief report published in the Nevada County Picayune of Prescott (Nevada County) several days later expressed similar sentiments. According to the Picayune, “Mob law is dangerous and should not be countenanced. While this is true, many say it is sometimes excusable, as it strikes terror to the evil doer and saves heavy expense.”

For additional information:
“A Murder Avenged.” Arkansas Gazette, February 15, 1890.

“A Murderer Captured.” Arkansas Gazette, February 11, 1890, p. 1.

“Shot from Ambush.” Arkansas Gazette, February 6, 1890, p. 1.

Untitled. Nevada County Picayune, February 19, 1890, p. 2.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 03/13/2021