Samuel Vaughn (Execution of)
Samuel F. Vaughn (sometimes spelled Vaughan) was born in Morgan County, Tennessee, in 1848. His family moved to Arkansas and settled in Madison County three years later, and he would become popular enough to be elected to positions as a constable and county assessor. He became involved in a land purchase with Andrew Gage, who had served as county clerk. It then went sour, leading to a contentious lawsuit.
On September 26, 1891, Gage was working on his Madison County farm when he was shot in the back “and killed instantly,” with the Arkansas Democrat reporting that “the charge of buckshot entered square in the back and tore a great hole through the body.”
A substantial manhunt was mounted for the killer, and “finally suspicion centered on [Thomas] Hamilton, who after he was arrested confessed…and revealed the whole plot.” Hamilton, “who was poor and ignorant…[and] had a large family,” stated that he was desperate for money to hire a doctor to treat his sick wife and children when Vaughn approached him about murdering Gage, saying he would not be a suspect since he did not know the victim. Vaughn also was arrested in the case. Hamilton was indicted for first-degree murder, and Vaughn as an accessory before the fact.
Both men were granted changes of venue for their trials, with Vaughn going to Washington County and Hamilton to Carroll County. Vaughn was tried in May 1892, and Hamilton testified against him. He was convicted on the accessory charge and sentenced to hang on August 5, 1892. The state Supreme Court, however, reversed the sentence and ordered a new trial for Vaughn.
A second trial in Fayetteville again resulted in Vaughn’s conviction on May 15, 1893, and he was sent to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) for safekeeping until his execution. The Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in January 1894, and Governor William Meade Fishback set April 27, 1894, as the day for Vaughn to hang. Asked to commute the sentence, Fishback wrote in mid-April that “I can conceive of no more monstrous crime by one more entirely wanting of every element of palliation.” A petition with 3,000 signatures asking him to issue a commutation was presented a week before the execution date, but the governor again let the sentence stand.
Vaughn continued to maintain his innocence, writing in a statement to the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, “I am wrongfully accused, and wrongfully convicted and will be wrongfully executed.”
Vaughn’s wife and children were allowed to visit him the day before his hanging, and they had a family photograph taken at a nearby gallery. At around 5:00 a.m. on April 27, 1894, a deputy came to the cell and said that the family would have to leave and advised Vaughn to prepare himself. As his family wailed, “this so unnerved him that he fainted away and his entire system, both physical and mental, succumbed to the terrible strain,” the Arkansas Gazette reported. A Fayetteville newspaper stated that “he turned over and groaned, became rigid and never talked any more.”
After attempts to revive him failed, at 7:00 a.m., “a pine plank was secured and strapped firmly to his back so as to hold him in an upright position.” Four deputies helped him walk to the scaffold, which was surrounded by a sixteen-foot fence, but “he did not pretend to have any use of himself and had to be held up.”
The trap door was opened at 7:04 a.m., and though he died almost instantly, the hanging was grisly. The Fayetteville paper wrote that “the knot slipped to the back of his head and the rope cut his neck from which he bled freely,” while the Gazette reported that “when the trap was sprung the drop almost severed his head from the body.” A third account said that “he bled profusely, the blood covering his clothes and dropping off at his feet.” He was declared dead at 7:16, and his body was turned over to his family for burial in Madison County.
Thomas Hamilton, who had testified against Vaughn in both trials, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder at Eureka Springs (Carroll County) on August 20, 1894, and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. A newspaper reported that Hamilton’s “wife and nine children were in court, and the parting scene was heart-rending in the extreme.”
For additional information:
“Arkansas Execution Next Month.” Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, March 27, 1894, p. 2.
“Assassinated.” Arkansas Democrat, September 28, 1891, p. 1.
“Confessed His Crime.” Mountain Echo, August 31, 1894, p. 1.
“Guilty.” Arkansas Gazette, May 16, 1893, p. 6.
“Guilty as Charged.” Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, May 19, 1892, p. 2.
“Hired to Kill.” Arkansas Gazette, May 25, 1892, p. 2.
“The Law Vindicated.” Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, April 26, 1894, p. 2.
“Madison County Court Notes.” Arkansas Gazette, March 16, 1892, p. 5.
“Must Hang.” Arkansas Gazette, April 20, 1894, p. 8.
“A Sensational Murder Case.” Arkansas Gazette, April 22, 1892, p. 1.
“An Unusual Execution in Fayetteville.” Flashback 2 (May 1952): 8.
“Vaughan Will Hang.” Arkansas Gazette, January 14, 1894, p. 2.
“Vaughn Hanged.” Arkansas Gazette, April 28, 1894, p. 1.
“Vaughn Hanged.” Southern Standard, May 4, 1894, p. 1.
“Will Hang.” Arkansas Gazette, April 14, 1894, p. 5.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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