William Closson (Lynching of)

In May 1869, a white man named William Closson was lynched in DeWitt (Arkansas County) after his first murder trial apparently ended in a hung jury.

Sources on the event are limited. According to a reprinting in the Arkansas Gazette of an article published in DeWitt’s Sentinel on May 22, 1869, Closson had been indicted at the November 1868 term of the Arkansas County Circuit Court for having murdered William Word, who resided near Crockett’s Bluff (Arkansas County). Indeed, the Weekly Arkansas Gazette reprinted on May 12, 1868, an article from DeWitt’s Elector that gives more detail as to the affair. According to this, on Saturday, April 11, 1868, Word was leaving DeWitt and “starting in the direction of Crockett’s Bluff” when he came upon three young men: Closson, Andy Pickens, and someone identified only as “young Roach.” The latter two men were walking in advance of Closson and stopped to talk to Word, but “Closson then came up, and him and Mr. Word not being on speaking terms, spoke to him in a rather abrupt manner,” to which Word replied with “go to hell,” saying that he “did not wish to speak to him.” Closson then drew his pistol, and although Roach pushed down Closson’s arm and asked him not to shoot, he raised his pistol again and fired, hitting Word in the side. Word, identified as “the father of our worthy deputy sheriff, Mr. B. N. Word” and “one of Arkansas’ best and most respected citizens,” was taken to a nearby house and, “after suffering intense pain for twenty-four hours departed this life,” but not before giving a statement about what had happened.

Closson managed to evade local authorities “for a few months” but then “returned and voluntarily surrendered himself to the authorities of the law.” His trial took place during the April term of the circuit court but “resulted in a disagreement of the jury.” Consequently, he remained in custody for retrial at the next session of the court.

The report’s description of the lynching does not specify when the event took place and employs a significant amount of passive voice so as to obscure the actors: “While inside the strong case of the jail, unarmed, defenceless [sic] and chained, in the dark hour of a dark and rainy morning, the outer door of the jail was forced to yield, and the inner door, leading to the cell, opened by a key, and he was shot dowd [sic] in cold blood.” Acting coroner F. K. Lyman led the inquest, and the newspaper reported: “A large number of witnesses were examined, but no facts elicited sufficient to warrant the jury in making any arrests. The verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to his death by reason of gun and pistol shot wounds, received at the hands of two or more persons, to the jury unknown.”

The 1860 census does record a William Clawson residing in Crockett’s Bluff. At the time of the census, he was fourteen years old, which would make him approximately twenty-three years old at the time of his death. A native of Arkansas, he was living with an apparent brother, Thomas Clawson (age seventeen), who was working as a farm laborer on the land of one John Lowe, sixty-one years of age and originally from England.

For additional information:
“State News.” Weekly Arkansas Gazette, May 12, 1868, p. 3.

Untitled. Arkansas Gazette, May 26, 1869, p. 3.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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