Marcus A. Whitley (Execution of)

Marcus A. Whitley was hanged at Pocahontas (Randolph County) on September 26, 1879, for a fatal shooting in a botched robbery two years earlier.

Duke Summers, a former bushwhacker who had become a law-abiding citizen after the Civil War, rode into Pocahontas on February 14, 1877. A horseracing aficionado who was known to win large sums of prize money, he was heading toward a race in a neighboring county. Marcus A. Whitley and Joe Davis offered to guide him there via a shortcut through the swamps near their home community of Indian Bay (Randolph County). Once they were out of town, though, the two men let Summers get ahead of them, and Davis shot him from behind. Summers’s wound kept him from firing back, but he fled and found safety with a group of wood cutters.

His horse, meanwhile, ran back to Pocahontas, leading authorities there to suspect that Whitley and Davis had engaged in foul play. Summers was brought back to Pocahontas, and he reported what had happened to him. The wounded man confronted the pair, and “a deep sense of guilt was visible in their every act and word.” Summers “lived but a few hours thereafter—long enough…to know that his assassins were adjudged guilty of murder, and ordered to jail.”

At some point after their capture, Whitley and Davis were freed from the jail “by parties unknown” and fled the town. Whitley went to Missouri and was working at a sawmill under an assumed name when he was captured and returned to Randolph County for trial.

He was convicted in August 1879 and sentenced to hang after a “long and tedious trial.” The Arkansas Gazette reported what it described as probably inaccurate information that Whitley “committed suicide by starving himself” but also ran a bizarre article in which Whitley and a Black inmate named Andrew White claimed that a ghost had come to their cell in the Randolph County jail, leading Whitley to exclaim: “The devil won’t wait until the day of my execution.”

A pair of local preachers counseled Whitley as he awaited execution, and the doomed man “professed forgiveness and was baptized.” He confessed and implicated Joe Davis’s brother Doc in the Summers shooting, leading the sheriff, on the day before his scheduled execution, to request a twenty-day delay of the sentence, albeit unsuccessfully. In the confession, Whitley blamed “bad company and whisky alone” for his participation in the crime, though he admitted drunkenly firing a shot at Summer during the attempted robbery.

On September 26, 1879, Whitley was escorted from the county jail just before noon and taken to the gallows, surrounded by twenty armed men and accompanied by his spiritual advisers. The Gazette noted that “he was very calm throughout, his head drooping and tears falling from his cheeks.” After prayers and hymns, a hood was placed over his head, and at 1:12 p.m. the “drop fell,” with the newspaper reporting that “after four minutes of convulsive movements he was still.”

Joe Davis apparently was never captured or tried for Duke Summers’s murder.

For additional information:
Arkansas Democrat, August 9, 1879, p. 4.

“Entered Eternity.” Arkansas Gazette, September 27, 1879, pp. 1, 5.

“Local Paragraphs.” Arkansas Gazette, September 25, 1879, p. 8.

“Marcus Whitley.” Arkansas Gazette, September 16, 1879, p. 8.

“Marcus Whitney [sic].” Arkansas Gazette, September 13, 1879, p. 8.

“The Pocahontas Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, March 14, 1877, p. 4.

“The Pocahontas Murder.” Southern Standard, March 24, 1877, p. 2.

“Sentenced to be Hanged.” [Tucson] Arizona Weekly Citizen, August 29, 1879, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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