James Hinds (1833–1868)
James M. Hinds was an Arkansas politician during the Reconstruction era. He served as a representative to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1868 and to the U.S. Congress upon Arkansas’s readmission to the Union after the Civil War. During his four months as representative, Hinds helped introduce a bill for the sale of what is now Hot Springs National Park, aided in establishing agricultural colleges, and promoted the interests of black soldiers. Upon the passage of the Reconstruction Acts, Hinds advocated the measures on a state level, as well as taught enfranchised African-American men about their newly acquired rights as citizens. His assassination by a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member was deemed politically motivated. He is one of the six members in the history of the U.S. Congress to have been murdered, as well as the highest-ranking government official to be killed in any state during Reconstruction.
James M. Hinds was born on December 5, 1833, in Hebron, New York. He was the sixth child and youngest son of Charles Hinds and Jane Hinds (née Qua). He attended school in New York, including New York State Normal School at Albany and Salem Academy, until moving west to attend law school. After attending law school in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinds graduated from Cincinnati Law College in 1856.
Upon graduation, Hinds relocated to St. Peters, Minnesota, where he was admitted to the bar. He served as district attorney for thirteen counties of Minnesota over three years and as a U.S. district attorney for a short period. In 1859, Hinds married Anna Pratt, a Maine native. While in Minnesota, the couple had two daughters.
The Hinds family experienced political unrest on the frontier during their years in Minnesota. Treaties between the U.S. government and the Dakota tribe native to Minnesota, the most recent of which had been signed in 1851, began to fall apart. More people settled in Minnesota, making resources, food, and land scarce. In 1862, damaged crops and late payment of monies promised by the government to the Dakota, to be used for credit with traders, caused widespread hunger for the Dakota. A Dakota foraging party attacked a family of settlers in August 1862, igniting the U.S.-Dakota War. When former Minnesota governor Henry Sibley led a relief party to settlers who were fleeing their homes, Hinds joined him. As part of the cavalry, Hinds served in the Minnesota River valley.
Ultimately, Hinds’s service and professional skills led him to Arkansas. He and his family settled in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in June 1865. In 1866, Hinds and his wife became parents to a son, though he died fifteen months later.
The following year saw Hinds elected to represent Pulaski County at the Arkansas constitutional convention when it convened on January 7, 1868. There, he was elected one of Arkansas’s three congressmen following its return to the Union, and he served beginning in June 1868. When Congress adjourned, Hinds visited his mother, whom he had not seen in more than a decade, and then proceeded to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to attend the Arkansas state Republican convention in August 1868. At the convention, Hinds declined renomination, as he was planning to travel across Arkansas to gain popular support for the Republican Party.
By September, Hinds traveled to the southern portion of the state, bordering on Texas and Louisiana, and had a hostile reception. In letters to his wife, Hinds described death threats and plots against his life during these travels. On October 22, 1868, Hinds and Joseph Brooks planned to speak in Indian Bay (Monroe County) but were delayed because they were denied travel arrangements based on their political affiliations. Running behind schedule, they attempted to catch up with their group, which, they had been told, was headed toward Evans Place (Monroe County), approximately six miles from Indian Bay. The two traveled in that direction on horseback for about a mile or so down the road when the man who had given them directions caught up with them. The man, later identified as George A. Clark, fired his shotgun at Brooks and Hinds, the latter being hit in the back. With Brooks escaping the scene and Hinds’s horse running off at the gunshot, Hinds lay on the road for about an hour before he was found. He identified his attackers before succumbing to his wounds. Clark, secretary of the Democratic Committee of Monroe County, had reportedly made threats against Hinds and Brooks earlier in the day. He was never arrested or prosecuted for what was described in contemporaneous reports as a political assassination.
Hinds’s funeral procession in Little Rock—consisting of military, state, federal, county, and city officers, as well as fire companies, representatives of black schools, and average citizens—marched from the capitol to the railroad station. All businesses closed during the procession. Hinds’s remains were returned to Salem, New York, via railroad transport and interred there. He also has an honorary marker in the U.S. Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC.
For additional information
Barnes, William H. The Fortieth Congress of the United States: Historical and Biographical. New York: George E. Ferine, 1870.
Darrow, William B. “The Killing of Congressman James Hinds.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 74 (Spring 2015): 18–55.
Hinds, Albert Henry. History and Genealogy of the Hinds Family. Portland, ME: The Thurston Print, 1899.
Lass, William E. Minnesota: A History. 2nd ed. New York: Norton & Company, 1998.
Perry, Kenneth A. The Fitch Gazetteer of Washington County New York. Vol. 4. Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2007.
North Little Rock, Arkansas
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This is a good entry on the assassination of James Hinds, who was the first U.S. congressman murdered in office. The killing could be considered premeditated as well as political. Clark armed himself with a loaded, double-barreled shotgun, mounted a horse, and rode after Hinds and Brooks. He then killed Hinds with one shot and wounded Brooks with the other. Further, a contemporaneous newspaper quotes Clark (a Democrat) as saying, earlier that same day, that if he saw the two “radical” Republicans, he would kill them.
It was a political murder, during very volatile times, of a carpet-bagger radical Republican, by a KKK Democratic official of Monroe County. Such killings were, unfortunately, not uncommon at the time. What was extraordinary about the killing of Hinds was that he was a U.S. Congressman, and the first one to be killed in office. Many state and local politicians supporting the Reconstruction were killed across the South–just not many feds.