Rush Bennett (Execution of)

Rush Bennett was hanged in El Dorado (Union County) on February 4, 1881, for the murder of a former employer two years earlier.

Rush Bennett, labeled a “mulatto” in press reports, was born around 1850 and was enslaved by a planter near New Orleans, Louisiana. When the Civil War began, he spied for Confederate forces, but after the Union captured New Orleans, he worked for the Federals and gave “minute intelligence of the movements and numbers of the Confederates along the Louisiana and Arkansas border.”

Bennett moved to Arkansas after the war, working on cotton plantations and hunting for a living. Among his employers was A. C. Jameson, a lawyer and planter who lived near El Dorado, and a newspaper reported that Bennett was “dismissed on account of some misunderstanding.”

On the evening of March 4, 1879, Jameson was in the sitting room of his home when an assassin entered with a shotgun and, “placing the muzzle of the gun within a few feet of his victim’s head, fired, blowing the whole of one side of his head off.” The killer slipped away, leaving few clues.

Rewards were offered by members of Jameson’s family and Governor William Read Miller for the arrest of the killer. Bennett was developed as a suspect when his half brother told detectives that Bennett had admitted killing the planter. A detective was placed in the Bradley County jail, where Bennett was being held on unrelated charges, and enticed him into confessing the crime.

Bennett was transferred to the Union County jail, but he escaped before he could be tried, fleeing to Chicot County, where he lived under the name Joe Foreman. Drew County sheriff J. H. Hammock and a constable named McClean from Bradley County (they would split the reward) tracked him down and, on September 2, 1880, shot him in the leg as he tried to escape. The wounded man admitted, “I shot Jameson…because he had cheated me in a settlement we had more than a year ago,” and also said he had previously killed three men in Louisiana. He later recanted the confession.

A Union County jury found Bennett guilty of murder in a trial based on circumstantial evidence, and he was sentenced to hang on February 4, 1881.

A crowd estimated at 5,000 to 8,000 gathered at El Dorado to witness the execution. Bennett mounted the scaffold, and as a St. Louis, Missouri, newspaper reported, “made a lengthy address, saying that death had no terror for him, and he had made his peace with God.” His last words were: “I am innocent.”

However, the Arkansas Democrat reported a week after Bennett’s hanging that an El Dorado newspaper had published a confession in which he admitted killing Jameson, saying, “I am willing that all should know how wicked I have been, and that it was the devil and his agent whisky that made me so.”

For additional information:
Arkansas Democrat, January 15, 1881, p. 1.

“A Bloody Deed.” Arkansas Gazette, March 11, 1879, p. 4.

“An Evil Life Ended.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 5, 1881, p. 1.

“Murderer Caught.” Arkansas Gazette, September 15, 1880, p. 8.

“Murderer to be Hanged.” Arkansas Gazette, February 2, 1881, p. 4.

“Personal and General.” Graham County Lever [Gettysburg, Kansas], February 11, 1881, p. 1.

“Rush Bennett.” Arkansas Democrat, February 11, 1881, p. 3.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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