Entries - Entry Category: Law - Starting with O

Oats, Presley (Lynching of)

Although many lynchings in Arkansas occurred in connection with serious crimes, real or alleged, there were some people lynched for trivial reasons. On May 13, 1897, an African-American man named Presley Oats was, according to national reports, dragged from his home in Pope County and lynched for supposedly stealing a ham. This incident preceded the Atkins Race War, which began approximately two weeks later. It was, however, indicative of the racial animus caused by the recent influx of African Americans into the county. Many of these new arrivals accepted lower wages for farm work and work in the lumber mills, causing resentment among area whites. Although one newspaper account of the incident referred to Presley Oats as an “old negro,” …

Oliver, Dan (Lynching of)

On July 28, 1884, an African-American man named Dan Oliver was shot by a mob near Roseville (Logan County) for allegedly attempting to assault the daughter of a local white man identified only by his last name, Amos. Amos, whom the Arkansas Gazette called “one of the best citizens of Logan County,” was probably Elisha Amos. According to public records, Elisha Amos was born in Tennessee in 1841, and by 1860, he and his parents were living in Arkansas. He married Malinda Ann Pendergraft in Franklin County in 1862, and served in the Civil War. In 1870, he and Malinda and two children, Jesse (three years old) and Emily (six months), were living in Sebastian County. Elisha Amos was living …

Olyphant Train Robbery

During the nineteenth century, travelers on steam locomotives were at risk for train robberies. In Arkansas, one particularly high-profile train robbery happened in the small town of Olyphant (Jackson County) in 1893. What followed was a sensationalized manhunt and the execution of three bandits involved in the incident. On November 3, 1893, the seven-car Train No. 51 of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway pulled off to a side track so that the Cannonball Express, a much faster train, could pass. It was about 10:00 p.m. on a cold and rainy night; the train had left Poplar Bluff, Missouri, at noon that day and was headed to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Many of the 300 passengers were wealthy …

One Drop Rule

aka: Act 320 of 1911
aka: House Bill 79 of 1911
In 1911, Arkansas passed Act 320 (House Bill 79), also known as the “one-drop rule.” This law had two goals: it made interracial “cohabitation” a felony, and it defined as “Negro” anyone “who has…any negro blood whatever,” thus relegating to second-class citizenship anyone accused of having any African ancestry. Although the law had features unique to Arkansas, it largely reflected nationwide trends. Laws against interracial sex were not new. Virginia declared extramarital sex a crime during Oliver Cromwell’s era and increased the penalty for sex across the color line in 1662. In 1691, Virginia criminalized matrimony when celebrated by an interracial couple. Maryland did so the following year, and others followed. By 1776, twelve of the thirteen colonies that declared …

Orsini, Mary “Lee”

Mary “Lee” Hatcher Orsini was the central figure in two sensational murders and the ensuing media frenzy that took place in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1981–82. After many dramatic turns, including the arrest of her defense attorney on suspicion of conspiring to kill his wife, Orsini was ultimately arrested and convicted. Mary Lee Orsini was born Mary Myrtle Hatcher in Searcy (White County) on August 17, 1947, to Henry Hatcher, who raised cattle on land near Gravel Ridge (Pulaski County), and Julia Hatcher, who was a school cafeteria worker and drove a county school bus; she had two siblings. Though Hatcher later left the impression with acquaintances that she had been a refined “society” girl, she spent her early …

Orton, Mat (Lynching of)

On September 8, 1884 (some papers give the date as September 9), a white man named Mat Orton was lynched in Arkansas City (Desha County) for allegedly setting a fire that destroyed many of the town’s businesses. There is some information about Mat Orton in newspaper accounts and public records. In 1880, he was thirty-three years old and was living in Arkansas City and working as a carpenter. He married Margaret McCoy there on March 14, 1882. An article in the Arkansas Gazette on May 16, 1883, indicates that Orton was a deputy sheriff and was sent to retrieve R. H. Costello (sometimes called Castelio, although census records list him as Costelo), who was wanted in Desha County for the …

Overton, William Ray

William Ray Overton was a U.S. district judge from 1979 to 1987 and is best known for his ruling in the McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education court case, which held the teaching of creationism to be unconstitutional. William Ray Overton was born on September 19, 1939, in Hot Spring County to Elizabeth Ford and Odis Ray Overton, a mine foreman at Magnet Cove (Hot Spring County). His mother, who taught several subjects in Hot Spring County’s public school system, was known for her skill with the English language; Overton joked that he got some learning in language by osmosis. Overton was an only child. His father died in 1957 when Overton was sixteen years old. In 1963, his mother …

Owen, Hurley (Lynching of)

Hurley Owen, an African-American man, was lynched in Texarkana (Miller County) on May 19, 1922, in front of a mob numbering in the thousands for the alleged crime of murdering a local police officer. His body was subsequently burned. Hurley Owen (or Hullen Owens, as his name was sometimes reported) had been arrested on Thursday, May 18, 1922, on a charge of stealing automotive parts. The following afternoon, he reportedly told Patrolman Richard C. Choate and Police Chief L. J. Lummus that he was willing to show them where he had hidden away more stolen goods. They followed him into an alley, where he pulled a .45 caliber pistol from a trash bin. According to the Arkansas Democrat, Lummus then …