William Herrig (Lynching of)

William Herrig, a white man described in news reports as “a well-to-do farmer 67 years old” was lynched in Clay County by vigilantes on December 29, 1887, for murdering his young wife and a man with whom she was apparently friendly.

No William Herrig was living in Clay County by the time of the 1880s census, although other men of that name were living in various places in the United States at the time, all of them German immigrants. Herrig’s wife, whose maiden name was Julia Bennett (and who is also dubbed “Mrs. Nettie” in reports), was described as “a charmingly plump little 20-years-of-age wife” who “had been for the two years before her marriage an actress in the Pauline Markham [burlesque] company, and before that with W. H. Lytell. She had not the best reputation.” The couple apparently lived eight miles west of St. Francis (Clay County). According to the Arkansas Gazette, a neighbor of Herrig’s, Henry Mathewson, had apparently known Julia in New York before she was married, and “Herrig became jealous, either with or without cause,” warning Matthewson on December 27 that “if he caught him on his premises again he would shoot him.” However, Matthewson did return the following day and offered Julia a ride in his carriage, to which Herrig reacted by shooting Matthewson with a double-barreled shotgun. After this, Herrig “arranged the dead body in the carriage and made his wife drive it to the Matthewson homestead,” and when she returned, she found “her home in flames, and Herrig waiting for her with his gun fully loaded.” He shot her twice, killing her, and fled. The Gazette noted that “the only witnesses were negro servants.”

Herrig apparently fled north “with the purpose of escaping into Missouri, and making for Kansas City or St. Louis.” However, according to the Gazette, the “force of men” who set out to find him located him four miles north of Rector (Clay County), in the southern portion of the county. At 11:00 p.m. on December 29, “a band of vigilants” found Herrig “asleep under a large tree.” They woke him, and according to the report provided the Gazette, Herrig announced himself “willing and ready” to die for his crimes. He was hanged from the tree he had been sleeping under at around midnight.

For additional information:
“A Cold Blooded Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, December 29, 1887, p. 1.

“Hanged for His Crime.” Arkansas Gazette, December 30, 1887, p. 1.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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