Isaac Filmore (Execution of)

On April 3, 1874, a sixteen-year-old Choctaw boy named Isaac Filmore was hanged in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) for the murder of a German man who was traveling from California.

According to the warrant issued for Filmore’s arrest in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, on Saturday, July 19, 1873 (or thereabouts), he and another man named William Grayson (a.k.a. “Black Bill”) murdered the unnamed German man, who was “a white man and not an Indian.” Both Filmore and Grayson were arrested in the Creek Nation on July 21. Filmore reportedly made a voluntary statement when he was arrested. He said he was leaving town on Saturday (July 19) when he met Grayson. They were both looking for work and decided to travel together. Filmore confessed that he had started out “with the intention of killing the first man he came to because he was in destitute circumstances, was barefooted and without anything to eat at house.” He apparently had a wife and young child, and they were hungry. As Filmore and Grayson were traveling, they saw a man walking along with a pack. Grayson told Filmore to kill him and that he would come to Filmore’s house later to divide the spoils. Filmore then shot the German with a shotgun and fled.

A grand jury was called for August 15, but since the attorneys were not ready, it reconvened the next day. A witness testified that he had seen Filmore with a gun in Fishertown (Creek Nation) on June 18. On June 20, news reached Fishertown that a body had been found five miles north of town, and several men went out to see it. They found a man who had been killed with a shotgun; his pack had been opened, and its contents were scattered around the body. Nearby was a ramrod. Following the hearing, Filmore was confined to jail, and Grayson was released.

Filmore’s trial was scheduled for the November term of the District Court. He appeared on November 12 and told the judge that he had no funds to secure several witnesses essential to his case. The court agreed to subpoena the witnesses. Isaac Filmore was tried and convicted on December 17, and sentenced to hang on April 3, 1874. He was hanged in Fort Smith along with other condemned men John Billy and John Pointer in front of a crowd estimated to number 1,000.

For additional information:
“Arkansas.” The Tennessean, April 4, 1874, p. 1.

“Arkansas Filings.” Daily Memphis Avalanche, April 12, 1874, p. 1.

“Isaac Filmore.” Fort Smith, Arkansas, U.S., Criminal Files, 1866–1900,

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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