William Black (Execution of)

aka: Henry Black (Execution of)

William (or Henry) Black was executed at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on June 28, 1892, for what he claimed was the accidental killing of his stepdaughter.

William Black (he was called William in Arkansas newspapers and Henry in St. Louis, Missouri, papers) lived at Red Bluff (Jefferson County), on the west bank of the Arkansas River, with his wife and her daughter, Georgia Smith, aged sixteen. On February 13, 1892, while arguing with the teenager after she refused to run an errand, he fired a shot toward her as she ran off, killing her.

On May 2, Black was convicted of first-degree murder for Smith’s death, which he claimed was accidental, after the “quickest trial that ever occurred in the State.” Circuit Judge John M. Elliott sentenced him to hang on June 28, 1892. Black’s attorneys made, according to newspaper accounts, “an ineffectual effort to secure a commutation” of the sentence on the day before his execution, after which he was resigned to his death.

A “surging multitude of people” gathered at Pine Bluff to see Black hang, but “the doomed man appeared rather indifferent to his fate.” Speaking from the gallows, Black said he had just intended to frighten his stepdaughter and “was horrified to find that the ball had penetrated her skull…resulting in instant death.” Knowing there would be a coroner’s inquest, he said he remained with the body until he was arrested, which “he said with emphasis, should have proven that he did not mean to kill her.”

A reporter wrote that Black “met death with fortitude, and not until the cap was adjusted did he begin to show signs of weakness, when a tremor perceptibly shook his frame.” Jefferson County sheriff Frank Silverman opened that trap door at 12:09 p.m., and Black fell through, breaking his neck. He was declared dead seven minutes later.

For additional information:
“Black’s Neck Broken.” St. Louis [Missouri] Globe-Democrat, June 29, 1892, p. 5.

“Convicted of Murder.” St. Louis [Missouri] Globe-Democrat, May 4, 1892, p. 3.

“For Killing His Stepdaughter.” Arkansas Gazette, June 29, 1892, p. 1.

“Sentenced to Death.” Arkansas Democrat, May 27, 1892, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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