Howard Davis (Lynching of)

On October 25, 1914, a mob in Newport (Jackson County) took an African-American man named Howard Davis from county authorities and hanged him for allegedly murdering Marshal James S. Payne. Davis was supposedly assisted in the murder by an accomplice, John Woodard. Some national reporting indicates that there may have been at least one more accomplice.

While there is no information available on Davis or Woodard, or on Bob Griffin, to whose house Davis fled after the shooting, Payne was apparently a popular resident of Newport. He was forty-three years old at the time of these events and had a wife and five children. Born in Missouri in 1871, he married Parlee Belford in 1892, and by 1900 they were living in Bird Township (Jackson County) with three children aged three to eight. Parlee may have died, because in 1903 Payne married eighteen-year-old Etta Reeves of Tuckerman (Jackson County), and in 1910 they were living in Bird Township with six children.

There are few details about the altercation that sparked these events. Newspaper reports indicate that Davis and Woodard were approached by Payne in front of Wood Hafner’s grocery store in Newport around 2:30 a.m. on October 25, perhaps because they were causing a disturbance. According to the Arkansas Gazette, when Payne attempted to arrest the two, Davis allegedly shot him twice. During the confrontation, the mortally wounded Payne managed to wound Davis before dying. Davis and Woodard then fled. Payne’s body was discovered about one and a half hours later, and authorities were able to follow the trail of the wounded Davis to the home of Bob Griffin, where he had apparently been staying. He and Woodard were arrested and jailed under the protection of Sheriff J. M. McCuistion and several deputies. By this time, a mob of approximately 200 people had assembled. Around noon Deputy H. S. Simmons left the jail for some reason and was overpowered by mob members, who took his keys. Davis was taken from his cell and, asked to make a statement, demurred because he was “apparently…dumb with fear.” Sheriff McCuistion tried to interfere, but the mob was too large. The mob, “working quietly, and with a semblance of organization,” took Davis to a nearby tree, where they hanged him. They also tried to take Woodard but were persuaded that they had “killed the real culprit.” When another mob gathered later that day intending to lynch Woodard, the sheriff and his men took Woodard from his cell, boarded a train, and took him to Little Rock (Pulaski County) to be housed in the Pulaski County Jail.

The Bowen Art Gallery in Newport produced a penny postcard of the lynching, which depicts the body of Davis hanging from a tree within a fenced-in area, with several men standing around on the other side of the fence. Some national newspapers, relying on Associated Press reports, indicated that there were more accomplices in the killing of Payne. According to the October 26 edition of the El Paso Times, “Posses of armed citizens are pursuing two other negroes who shot at Payne, with the avowed intention of lynching both if they are caught.”

For additional information:
“Arkansas Negro Lynched by Mob for Killing Officer.” El Paso Times, October 26, 1914, p. 1.

“Mob Hangs Negro Slayer of Officer.” Arkansas Gazette, October 26, 1914, p. 1.

“Newport Negro Lynched by Mob.” Arkansas Democrat, October 26, 1914, p. 12.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated: 08/22/2019