Simpson Mason (?–1868)
Simpson Mason, who was a Union scout and militia commander during the Civil War, served as an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau in northern Arkansas immediately after the conflict. He was killed on September 19, 1868, by Ku Klux Klan members in Fulton County.
Little is known of Mason’s life before the Civil War. He appears in the 1860 federal census, living with his sister and her family in Union Township, Fulton County. Listed in the census as a bootmaker, Simpson was about thirty-nine at the time and owned about $720 of real estate and more than $530 of personal items. Born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, he was unmarried and did not have any children. It is unknown when he arrived in Arkansas.
After the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, the Federal Army of the Southwest moved across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas in an effort to capture the Confederate state capital at Little Rock (Pulaski County). Unable to do so, the army finally took the Mississippi River port of Helena (Phillips County), where it could be easily resupplied. Mason followed the army and met William Monks, an ardent Unionist who lived in both Fulton County and southern Missouri before the war. For the remainder of the war, the men worked together to support Union efforts in Arkansas and Missouri. It does not appear that Mason served in an official role with the Union army, but he did serve as a scout while Monks led a company in the Sixteenth Missouri Cavalry. Mason served a single term in the House of the Arkansas General Assembly in 1864 and 1865.
In early 1865, Governor Isaac Murphy gave Mason a commission in the Arkansas militia as a captain, and Mason led a group of displaced refugees from Rolla, Missouri, back to Fulton County. Later in life, Monks recalled that many of his friends warned him and Mason about returning to their homes, which were surrounded by former Confederates who endeavored to kill them. The men disagreed, with Monks saying, “Damn a man that is afraid to go back and enjoy the fruits of his victory.”
Monks received an appointment as an agent with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in 1866, stationed in Union Township, Fulton County. He was one of just eleven civilian agents in the state. Responsible for all or part of five counties in northern Arkansas—including Izard, Lawrence, Marion, and Randolph, as well as his home county of Fulton—Monks likely worked both with Unionist refugees returning home at the end of the war and the small population of freed enslaved people residing in that part of the state.
Mason also received an appointment as the postmaster of Union Township and in 1867 took a seat on the three-person Board of Registration for the county, tasked with voter registration. This political power enraged some former Confederates in the area.
Violence continued in the area even after the end of the war, and on June 11, 1865, about twenty militia members under Mason’s command executed two former Confederate soldiers, John Hollingsworth and Samuel Pogue. The militia members claimed that the men had been notorious bushwhackers and murderers during the war, but Mason was indicted in 1866 on two counts of murder along with a count of horse thievery. He refused to appear in court, and the charges against Mason brought an investigation by Federal troops into the incident. The final report ordered the local sheriff to leave Mason alone and let the matter drop.
Much of Mason’s time was spent trying to enforce contracts between freedmen and local landowners, despite attempts by many landowners to force African Americans back into virtual slavery. On December 25, 1867, Uriah J. Douthit was murdered near Evening Shade (Sharp County). A Unionist, Douthit worked to protect the rights and livelihoods of African Americans in the area. Other killings followed on both sides, with Monks leading a group of Missouri militia into Fulton County in late 1868, killing at least two former Confederates before returning home. Mason wrote multiple letters to his superiors in the Freedmen’s Bureau and to Governor Isaac Murphy, imploring them to step in and protect the loyal citizens of north-central Arkansas, especially the members of the boards of registration.
The Ku Klux Klan began to operate in the state in April 1868, with a group attacking a militia company of freedmen at Batesville (Independence County) later in the year. A chapter began operating in western Fulton County at Bennett’s Bayou under the leadership of Jesse Harrison Tracy. Former Federals operated a chapter of the Union League of America in the county. Mason was a member of the group.
On the morning of September 19, 1868, Mason and several members of his militia unit traveled to Bennett’s Bayou to register voters. While riding, Mason was shot dead in an ambush and fell from his horse. A posse led by the county sheriff, who was also a member of the Union League, arrived at Bennett’s Bayou three days later to arrest Tracy and his brother for the murder. The men were not present, but the posse arrested a number of men accused of being complicit in the murder.
William Monks arrived with a militia company on September 23 and took the prisoners away from the sheriff and posse. The militia members destroyed Tracy’s farm and interrogated the prisoners, with some reports claiming the men were tortured. On September 26, a deputy arrived at the farm with another posse to take charge of the prisoners, along with a writ of habeas corpus. Monks turned over the two remaining prisoners: Uriah Bush, a local Klan member, and Joseph Tracy, the younger brother of the local Klan leader. On the way to Salem (Fulton County), the group was ambushed by an armed and masked gang that captured Bush and executed him. The deputy saved Tracy and made it to Salem, where Tracy was released by a local judge.
Many Unionist families fled the county, and African Americans turned to Joseph Martin, the replacement Freedmen’s Bureau agent, for protection. Martin requested troops be sent to protect the citizens, but no forces were dispatched. Representative James Hinds was assassinated on October 22 in Monroe County, and Governor Powell Clayton declared that votes from a number of counties across the state would not be counted for the upcoming election, as citizens had been prevented from registering. After the election, Republicans retained power and Clayton declared martial law in fourteen counties, including Fulton.
Troops under George Washington Dale requested support from Monks, who led the Missouri militia across the border, and the units worked together to dismantle the Klan in the county. Most of the Klan members went into hiding, and while seven men were eventually arrested in Mason’s death, it does not appear that charges were ever filed. No fighting took place in Fulton County during what was later termed the Militia War, and the Klan was dismantled by the seizure of property and supplies, preventing the former Confederates from continuing to oppose Republican rule. Most of the militia in the county participated in a number of engagements in eastern Arkansas in early 1869.
No one was ever prosecuted for Simpson Mason’s murder. The Tracy brothers moved to Texas, where they became prosperous. The location of Mason’s grave is unknown.
For additional information:
Blevins, Brooks. “Reconstruction in the Ozarks: Simpson Mason, William Monks, and the War that Refused to End.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 77 (Autumn 2018): 175–207.
Garrison, Tony. “The Murder of Simpson Mason.” Independence County Chronicle 32 (April–July 1991): 39–47.
Greenstreet, Terri. “Reconstruction in Izard County.” Izard County Historian 14 (October 1983): 17–26.
Monks, William. A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas: Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, and Ku-Klux, and Times of Peace, edited and with an introduction by John Bradbury Jr. and Lou Wehmer. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
“Murder in Fulton County.” Baxter County History 23 (January–March 1997): 9–11.
“Murder in Fulton County, Part 2.” Baxter County History 23 (April–June 1997): 34–38.
Southeastern Louisiana University
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