Criminal Activities

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Entry Category: Criminal Activities

Beavers, William and Henry (Lynchings of)

In 1890 and 1892, brothers William and Henry Beavers—both African American—were lynched near Warren (Bradley County) and Wilmar (Drew County), respectively. William was accused of assaulting Inez Abernathy, whose family he had been living with. Henry was murdered for attacking Chloe Wright, the daughter of a prominent Drew County farmer. In 1880, William Beavers (then two years old) and his brother Junior (presumably Henry, age four) were living in Pennington Township of Bradley County with their parents, Henry and Lorenda Beavers, and several other siblings. Henry Beavers Sr. was thirty years old and was a farmer. If these ages are correct, William Beavers would have been only fourteen years old at the time of his murder, and Henry sixteen. Both …

Berryman, Peter (Lynching of)

On February 20, 1901, Peter Berryman (regularly referred to as “Nigger Pete” in newspaper articles) was murdered in Mena (Polk County) for the alleged assault of young Essie Osborne. Berryman’s murder and numerous other instances of racially motivated harassment throughout the years in Mena—combined with changing job prospects with the relocation of railroad division shops—apparently convinced many African Americans to leave the area, and Mena slowly became a “sundown town.” There were 152 black residents of Mena in 1900 but only sixteen in 1910. In 1900, Peter Berryman, age forty-five, was living alone in a house in Mena. He could neither read nor write; his occupation is illegible on the census record. According to various newspaper accounts, Berryman was “half-witted” …

Biscoe Family (Lynching of)

In early February 1892, Hamp Biscoe (or Bisco), his pregnant wife, and his thirteen-year-old son were killed in Keo (Lonoke County); their infant escaped with only a minor wound. This murder was apparently the culmination of years of suffering and bitterness on the part of the Biscoe family. It was also one of the numerous incidents occurring in Arkansas at the time that prompted the Reverend Malcolm E. Argyle to write in the March 1892 Christian Recorder (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): “There is much uneasiness and unrest all over this State among our people, owing to the fact that the people (our race variety) all over the State are being lynched upon the slightest provocation….In the last 30 days there have been …

Blakely, Joe (Lynching of)

On May 29, 1909, African-American man Sam Blakely—with his brother Joe Blakely as an accessory—allegedly murdered deputy sheriff Walter Cain in Portland (Ashley County). Sam briefly escaped, and Joe was eventually lynched for his role in the murder. The incident was covered by numerous newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Tribune. According to the Arkansas Gazette, the difficulty started when a white farmer named Bud Harper killed Sam Blakely’s dog. The two Blakely brothers then went to Harper’s home, assaulting him “in his own yard, abusing him while he held Mr. Harper under gun cover, backed up by Joe.” Warrants were sworn out against the African-American brothers for disturbing the peace, and Cain …

Blazes, Albert (Lynching of)

aka: Albert Blades (Lynching of)
In May 1926, an African-American man named Albert Blazes (sometimes referred to as Blades) was taken from authorities in Wilson (Mississippi County) and lynched for allegedly attacking a white girl. The story was covered both nationally and internationally, appearing in Time magazine and meriting a front-page illustration in Le Petit Journal, published in Paris, France. There is no information on the identity of either the girl or the alleged perpetrator. According to the May 27, 1926, Arkansas Gazette, a group of Wilson school children were on an outing when three girls became separated from their classmates. Albert Blazes (whose age is reported in various sources from nineteen to twenty-two) pursued them; two of them ran away, but one girl tripped, …

Bonnie and Clyde

aka: Barrow Brothers
aka: Barrow Gang
Arkansas was frequented by Bonnie Parker, Clyde Chesnut Barrow, and their associates, collectively known as the Barrow Gang, between 1932 and 1934. The gang’s criminal exploits in Arkansas included murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery, and automobile theft. Western Arkansas was also on the circuit of back roads Clyde Barrow used to evade lawmen from other states. The most serious crime committed in the state by the Barrow Gang was the murder of Marshal Henry D. Humphrey of Alma (Crawford County), committed while the gang was hiding out in a tourist camp in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in June 1933. Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910–May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909–May 23, 1934) both grew up in poverty in …

Boodle Prosecutions

aka: Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908
The Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908 dealt with pervasive bribery (“boodle” is a slang term for bribe money) in the 1905 Arkansas General Assembly uncovered by Lewis Rhoton, prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District (Pulaski and Perry counties). Rhoton’s unmasking of legislators’ corruption in Arkansas in these years advanced the rise of Progressivism as a political force. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 25, 1905, he praised Rhoton’s effort to hold public officials to account. The president also decried difficulties in prosecuting the wealthy or influential, including difficulties created by the legal system itself. Problems with Arkansas’s law and judicial procedures were partly at fault for Rhoton’s lack of widespread success in proceeding against boodlers. …

Bowles (Lynching of)

Sometime around August 22, 1892, an African-American man identified only by his surname, which was Bowles, was hanged near Gurdon (Clark County) for allegedly raping sixteen-year-old Nellie Wilkes. Public records reveal no additional information about either Bowles or Wilkes. Although the incident was apparently not covered in Arkansas, several publications across the country reported on it, including a German-language newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. According to the Hamilton, Ohio, Daily Republican, Bowles, a “burly negro,” “outraged” Wilkes and then fled the scene. This aroused the neighborhood, and a mob was soon in pursuit. He was discovered at a farmhouse, where he had compelled the occupants to give him food. He was brought back to the scene of the crime, where he …

Branch, Charley (Lynching of)

On December 26, 1882, Charley Branch (sometimes referred to as Charles, Charlie, or Charles B. Branch) was lynched by a mob of African Americans near Varner (Lincoln County) for allegedly raping and murdering Cora Wallace, the daughter of Dock Wallace. Both Branch and his alleged victim were African American. At the time of the incident, Charley Branch was reported by the Arkansas Gazette to be thirty-five years old. There is no likely listing for a Charley or Charles Branch in either the 1860 or 1870 Arkansas census. One possible Charles Branch listed in Arkansas in 1880 was living in Monroe Township in Mississippi County. However, there was also listed in the 1880 census one “Chas. Branch.” Born around 1857, he …

Briggs, Clinton (Lynching of)

Clinton Briggs, a twenty-six-year-old soldier who had just returned to Star City (Lincoln County) after serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, was lynched on September 1, 1919, after allegedly insulting a young white woman. According to the 1910 census, eighteen-year-old Briggs was living on a rented farm in Bartholomew Township, Lincoln County, with his parents, Sandy and Catherine Briggs. His father was a farmer, and Clinton was listed as a laborer. Clinton could both read and write, although he had not attended school. On June 5, 1917, he registered for the draft. On his draft registration, he stated that he was working for a farmer named Alex Dutton. Briggs served in the army from June 19, 1918, …

Brinkley, John Richard

John Richard Brinkley made a fortune in medical quackery, radio, and advertising in Del Rio, Texas. In the late 1930s, he moved his practice to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where his dishonest career came to light and collapsed. Born John Romulus Brinkley on July 8, 1885, in Jackson County, North Carolina, he was the illegitimate child of John Richard Brinkley and Sarah Candace Burnett, the twenty-four-year-old niece of his long-suffering wife, Sarah Mingus. There is some dispute as to why his middle name was changed from Romulus to Richard. The official biography by Clement Wood attributes the change to the Methodist minister who baptized Brinkley and rejected the name Romulus as heathen. Brinkley’s own account is that he took the …

Brock, Ed (Lynching of)

On August 10, 1923, a young African-American teamster named Ed Brock was lynched at Murphyville in Union County for allegedly insulting a white woman. In 1922, oil was discovered in what is known as the Smackover field in Union and Ouachita counties, and by 1923, J. T. Murphy was operating a number of wells there. Murphyville, which the Arkansas Gazette described as being located six miles northeast of Norphlet (Union County), was probably an oil camp. According to the Gazette, Brock had allegedly insulted Mrs. W. C. Ranoff, the wife of an oil field worker. She reported the incident to her husband, who got a gun and captured Brock on the afternoon of August 10. According to reports, Ranoff intended …

Brodie (Lynching of)

On May 16, 1900, an African American named James (Jim) or John Brodie—accounts differ—was killed near Raggio (Lee County) for allegedly attacking a local planter and merchant named John Blunt. The murder is considered a lynching by many institutions that keep track of lynchings across the nation. According to the June 15 edition of the Forrest City Times, the lynching happened as a result of a disagreement between Blunt and Brodie in the middle of May. Brodie allegedly tried to shoot Blunt, and they exchanged several shots before another African American shot Brodie in the face. Brodie appeared before a magistrate and was placed in the custody of two Black constables. Blunt sent to Marianna (Lee County) for a deputy …

Brooks (Lynching of)

In some cases, conflicting newspaper accounts make it difficult to identify the actual victim of a lynching, as well as other individuals mentioned in the story. Such is the case with an African American man named Brooks, who was shot in St. Francis County on May 20, 1894, for reportedly asking to marry his white employer’s daughter. An early Kentucky article on the lynching identifies the victim as William Brooks, and this name was listed in The Red Record by Ida B. Wells and by the Equal Justice Initiative. A contemporaneous article in the Forrest City Times, however, identifies the victim as Harry Brooks. Similarly, Brooks’s employer is alternately described as W. A. Saylor and W. A. Taylor, and Saylor/Taylor’s …

Brown, Barney (Murder of)

On December 19, 1895, an African American man named Barney Brown was captured by a group of seven or eight Black men near Wrightsville (Pulaski County) and taken to a pond, where he was subsequently drowned. The incident is labeled as a “lynching” in some sources from the time period. On December 22, 1895, the Arkansas Gazette reported that Brown had been repeatedly threatened by Calvin Ellett for living with Ellett’s former wife. On Thursday, December 19, Ellett gathered several friends and told them that he was going to whip Brown. He sent Jake Howard to Brown’s house to lure him out. When Brown emerged, Ellett confronted him and drew a gun, and the group bound Brown and took him …

Brown, Frank (Lynching of)

On September 22, 1905, an African-American man named Frank Brown was hanged at Conway (Faulkner County) for an alleged assault on Arlena Lawrence and her two young sons, resulting in the death of the older son, Elzey. Contrary to some sources, this was not the only lynching in Faulkner County. Two people had been lynched previously in the county: Thomas Wilson, an African American, in 1884 and Albert England, a white man, in 1895. According to Robert Meriwether’s account of the lynching, Lawrence’s age was “about 35,” and it was reported that she had been raised near Greenbrier (Faulkner County) with the maiden name of Butcher. There is no one named Arlena Lawrence in either the 1900 or 1910 censuses …

Bruce, William Harvey (Harve)

Harve Bruce was a moonshiner who resided on Oak Mountain in Van Buren County. Pursued by local and federal authorities, Bruce shot and killed two U.S. marshals, although his sentences for moonshining were longer than his sentence for killing the marshals.  William Harvey (Harve) Bruce was born on June 23, 1847, to William and Sarah Bruce of Georgia. The family moved to Winston County, Alabama, to earn money through tenant farming. However, the Civil War began soon after, and his father joined the Confederate army. Without any financial support, his mother moved the family closer to relatives in Cherokee County, North Carolina. Two years into the fighting, Harve Bruce joined the Confederate army after turning sixteen. Serving for the remainder of the war, he fought in the infantry division Company D, Thomas’s Legion, led by Colonel William Holland Thomas. This was one of the few regiments in which Cherokee and …

Bryson (Lynching of)

A man known only as Bryson—apparently a white man—was lynched in early June 1888, presumably in Yell County. The details surrounding the incident are decidedly few, drawn primarily from an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and reprinted in both the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette. The original report, datelined June 11, 1888, from Dardanelle (Yell County), reads as follows: “Yesterday the body of one Bryson, riddled with bullets, was found a few miles below here in the Arkansas river. A few days ago Bryson attempted to criminally assault the wife of Dock Shinn, and was pursued by a posse. It is supposed he was overtaken, shot and his body flung into the river.” There is also a similar account …

Bullfrog Valley Gang

The Bullfrog Valley Gang was a notorious counterfeiting ring that operated in the wilderness of Pope County during the depression of the 1890s. The gang’s origin and methods were mysterious, but the New York Times reported its demise on June 28, 1897. The article said deputy U.S. marshals attached to the federal district court at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) had captured three men, effectively breaking up “the once-famous band of counterfeiters known to secret service operators all over the United States as the Bullfrog Valley Gang.” Previous arrests were reported in Arkansas earlier in the year. In all, some fifteen men were arrested and convicted in federal courts at Fort Smith and Little Rock (Pulaski County). Others, in Arkansas and …

Burton-Aikin Feud

The Burton-Aikin (also spelled “Aiken”) feud between Dr. Phillip Patrick (known as P. P.) Burton and Dr. Trent C. Aikin—who both practiced medicine in Batesville (Independence County )—began on October 21, 1841, with the death of Nicholas E. Burton (son of P. P. Burton) and ended on September 15, 1849, when an Independence County jury found P. P. Burton’s son Phil Burton “not guilty” in the murder of Dr. Aikin. The feud grew out of a medical disagreement between the two doctors. Dr. Aikin was called to treat a “Negro woman” (presumably a slave) belonging to a Mr. Byers of Batesville. Aikin diagnosed the woman with liver disease and began treatment of it. When the woman failed to improve, Byers asked Dr. …

Butlerville Lynching of 1882

On June 1, 1882, three African Americans named Joseph Earl, Taylor Washington, and Thomas Humphreys were hanged in Butlerville (Lonoke County) for allegedly attacking a young girl named Annie Bridges. Public records reveal very little about the girl or her alleged attackers. There was a thirteen-year-old girl named Sally Bridges in Butler Township of Lonoke County in 1880. She was living in the household of George and Mary Phillips, and her relationship to them was listed merely as “Home.” If the victim’s first name was Sally and not Annie, there is information indicating that her mother had died in Hot Springs (Garland County) in 1878. There was a fourteen-year-old boy named Taylor Washington living in neighboring Prairie County with his …

Cadle, Zallie C. (Lynching of)

Early on the morning of November 8, 1903, a mob lynched a white man named Zallie C. Cadle in Brinkley (Monroe County) for the alleged murder of a night marshal named J. C. Cox. The Forrest City Times reported that Cox had been a farmer outside Forrest City (St. Francis County) and was “highly esteemed.” According to marriage and burial records, Zallie Cadle was born in 1873 and married Nancy Simmons in Cash (Craighead County) in 1896. Although the earliest information about the lynching appeared in both the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette on November 10, a later article in the Forrest City Times provides more information. According to this report, Cadle was a lumberman at Hutchinson’s Mill, and …

Caldwell, Will, and John Thomas (Lynching of)

aka: John Thomas and Will Caldwell (Lynching of)
On September 10, 1895, an African-American man named Will Caldwell and an “old negro man” identified by some newspapers as John Thomas were lynched near Blytheville (Mississippi County) for allegedly murdering and robbing a woman named Mattie Rhea. An extensive search of records for Arkansas and neighboring states revealed no information about either Mattie Rhea or Will Caldwell. There was, however, a John Thomas living in Mississippi County in 1880. He was twenty-six years old and living in Pecan Point Township, in the very southeastern part of the county. He would have been forty-one at the time of the lynching, which may not qualify him for the sobriquet “old negro.” Living in the same township and working on a farm …

Cane Hill Murders of 1839

On June 15, 1839, William Carter Wright of Cane Hill (Washington County) and four of his children were murdered in their home. Their slaying led to the impromptu trial and lynching of four men, conducted by the Cane Hill Independent Regulating Company, a “citizens’ vigilante group.” The brutality of the Cane Hill Murders and the nature of the hearings reflect the potential for lawlessness in the border region in the early history of the state. On the night of June 15, 1839, Nancy Wright (referred to as Frances in some sources) awoke when she heard horses and men outside the Wrights’ cabin. The sounds alarmed her, and she woke her husband, telling him that she thought Indians were approaching. Three …

Canfield Race War of 1896

On Saturday, December 12, 1896, African-American workers at the Canfield Lumber Company in the small lumber town of Canfield (Lafayette County) were fired on by a mob of whites and forced to leave the area. This was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation of black laborers in southern Arkansas in the 1890s, a practice that seems to have reached a peak in 1896. There were incidents involving railroad workers in Polk County in August and on the Cotton Belt Railway line in Ouachita County in early December. Later in December, there was a similar incident at a sawmill in McNeil (Columbia County). These incidents were part of a larger pattern evident in southern Arkansas throughout the 1890s in which …