Entry Category: Law

Austin v. The State

Slaves in the United States had no legal rights and only limited access to legal protection, so few legal cases in antebellum Arkansas involved African Americans. Even fewer of those cases were ever reviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court. However, a case in 1854 established a new principle for Arkansas courts that allowed slave owners to testify in criminal cases involving their own slaves. The murder trial of Austin, a slave in Independence County, was appealed to the state’s high court on several procedural issues, one of which was the denial of his owner’s testimony. The court found that such testimony must be permitted, thus throwing out the circuit court’s decision and ordering a new trial. The event that led …

Avery, Andrew (Lynching of)

On July 30, 1917, an African-American man named Andrew Avery was lynched for allegedly attacking a levee contractor named Will Woods (also referred to as W. J. Woods and William Wood) several days earlier. Although a headline in the Arkansas Gazette indicates that Avery was lynched in Garland City (Miller County), information in the article itself seems to indicate that Avery was captured by Deputy Sheriff Walter Oden at Sheppard (in neighboring Hempstead County) and a mob intercepted them on their way to the Hempstead County jail. Another article in the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, however, omits any mention of Sheppard or Hempstead County and reports that Oden was taking Avery to the jail in Texarkana (Miller County) when he …

Bagley-Ridgeway Feud

“Officer Uses a Pistol Fatally,” an Arkansas Gazette headline stated on March 5, 1905. The incident that led to this headline was the catalyst for one of the state’s longest-running and bloodiest feuds. On March 4, 1905, Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County) city marshal Robert Lee Ridgeway shot Jesse Edward (Ed) Bagley, son of wealthy farmer Isham J. Bagley, three times. Bagley was reportedly drunk and resisting arrest when Ridgeway, acting in his legal capacity as law officer, shot and killed him. At a coroner’s inquiry, Ridgeway was found innocent of any wrongdoing. At the time of the shooting, Isham Bagley and his other two sons were “in the country” (that is, in the vicinity). It was reported, “When they learn …

Bailey, George (Lynching of)

Sometime during the night of December 19–20, 1909, an African-American man named George Bailey was shot to death by a mob while he was housed in the jail at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County). Although whites outnumbered blacks approximately two to one in Prairie County at that time, there was already racial animus in the area because a few days earlier an unknown African-American man had reportedly attacked a white man who was sleeping in a boxcar nearby. According to the Arkansas Gazette, the attack was an attempted robbery, and the attacker almost cut the victim’s throat: “At the time a party was organized to lynch the negro, but cooler counsel prevailed and the would-be lynchers were dissuaded from their purpose.” …

Bailey, James (Lynching of)

On July 9, 1891, James Bailey was hanged from a railroad crossing sign in Beebe (White County) for allegedly attacking a white woman. There is very little information available on Bailey. The only African American named James Bailey in White County at the time of the 1880 census was five years old. He was living in West Point Township with his mother, Fannie, and five siblings. If this is the correct James Bailey, he would have been only sixteen years old at the time of the lynching. The alleged victim was a Mrs. Folsom. There was still a Folsom family in Beebe at the time of the 1900 census. Henry Folsom, a forty-five-year-old day laborer, was living with his wife …

Baker, Basil

Basil Thorpe Baker served on the Arkansas Supreme Court from 1934 until his death in 1941, and while his service was not long, his name appeared on 333 opinions, most of which reflected the sentiments of a unanimous court. On those occasions when he did dissent, his vote was usually cast for the common man as opposed to the large corporation. He was, his colleagues recalled, “neither a confirmed conservative nor liberal in his interpretations of Arkansas statutes.” Instead, as Horace Sloan observed, “he had a natural legal mind.” Basil Baker was born on January 29, 1871, to Joshua D. and Bethia T. Jameson Baker on their Columbia County farm; he had one brother. His father was a farmer and …

Baker, Eugene (Lynching of)

On July 30, 1892, Eugene Baker (sometimes referred to as Dan Baker), who allegedly murdered a white man in Ashley County, was taken from the jail in Monticello (Drew County) by a mob and lynched just outside of town. According to the 1880 census, seven-year-old Eugene Baker was living at that time in White Township, Ashley County, with his parents, Henry and Mary Baker. This would have made him nineteen at the time of the lynching. Baker had five siblings, and both of his parents worked on a farm. Neither could read or write. According to newspaper reports, Baker, an African American, was abused by whitecappers in Ashley County. Whitecappers, also called nightriders, were vigilante bands, usually consisting of poor …

Baker, Norman

Norman Glenwood Baker is best known in Arkansas as a promoter of alternative medicine who settled in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 1936 and was convicted of mail fraud in 1940. Anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, he was also a radio pioneer and a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat and for governor of Iowa. Norman Baker, the tenth and last child of John and Frances Baker of Muscatine, Iowa, was born on November 27, 1882. His father reportedly held 126 patents and operated Baker Manufacturing Company in Muscatine. His mother, prior to her marriage, had written extensively. Baker left high school after his sophomore year, and his early adult years were spent working as a tramp machinist. After witnessing a vaudeville …

Banks, Isadore (Murder of)

Isadore Banks, a fifty-nine-year-old prominent African-American landowner, disappeared on June 4, 1954. Banks’s wife, Alice, last saw him as he left the house with the intention of paying his farmhands. On or about June 8, 1954, Banks’s truck was discovered in a wooded property just outside of Marion (Crittenden County) by Carl Croom, a neighboring landowner. Banks’s loaded shotgun and coat were still inside. Authorities found Banks’s body tied to a tree, mutilated, and burned beyond recognition. Banks had been drenched with fuel and burned from the knees up. A can of gasoline was found close to the body. The coroner, T. H. McGough, found no sign of robbery or struggle at the scene, indicating that the killing may have …

Baptist Health v. Murphy

Baptist Health v. Murphy was an extended legal battle culminating in a 2010 ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Addressing the issue of economic credentialing, and resolving a dispute that had first entered the judicial system in February 2004, the court eventually ruled in favor of a group of doctors whose part ownership in competing hospitals had been deemed a violation of the contracting hospital’s conflict of interest policy, which had resulted in the severance of their association and employment. In its ruling, the court upheld a previously issued permanent injunction, and Baptist Health was permanently prevented from implementing the policy. The genesis of the case was the adoption in May 2003 of the Economic Conflict of Interest Policy by …

Barham, Ella (Murder of)

The 1912 murder of eighteen-year-old Ella Barham in Boone County was one of the most gruesome events to occur in northwestern Arkansas in the early twentieth century. The incident has intrigued people for decades, and some believe the wrong man was sent to the gallows for the crime. Much of the story has evolved into folklore. On the morning of Thursday, November 21, 1912, Ella Barham walked from her home south of Crooked Creek to the post office and store in Pleasant Ridge (Boone County), a community once located about eighteen miles east of Harrison (Boone County) near the Marion County line, to buy cloth for a hat. After returning home at about 9:00 a.m., she saddled her brother’s horse …

Barker (Reported Lynching of)

According to stories circulating in state newspapers in July and August 1883, a Grant County man named Barker murdered his daughter with an axe and was subsequently lynched for his actions. However, later reports contradict this and insist that the whole story was a hoax. Early reporting on this subject appeared in several newspapers, including the Arkansas Gazette of July 27 and 28, 1883; the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat of August 2, 1883; and the Southern Standard of Arkadelphia (Clark County) of August 4, 1883. All of these printed a story, attributed to the Saline Courier, that begun thusly: “The most horrible crime that this paper has had to chronicle occurred on Hurricane Creek, in Grant county, about ten or twelve …

Barker-Karpis Gang

aka: Ma Barker Gang
The Barker-Karpis Gang, later known as the “Ma Barker Gang,” was a famous criminal group of the Depression era. Led by Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (1907–1979) and Fred Barker (1903–1935) during most of its criminal tenure, the lethal gang consisted of many different individuals over the course of its exploits. Some of the core members besides Karpis and Barker were Arthur “Doc” Barker (brother of Fred), Lawrence DeVol, Harvey Bailey, Frank “Jelly” Nash, Bernard Phillips, Harry Sawyer, Volney Davis, Harry Campbell, and Verne Miller. Although most well known for committing crimes throughout the Midwest, the gang’s first murder was of a town marshal in Pocahontas (Randolph County), and members later holed up in Hot Springs (Garland County). Fred Barker and Alvin …

Barnett, John (Lynching of)

On April 17, 1905, an African-American levee worker named John Barnett was hanged by a black mob near Askew (Lee County) for allegedly murdering a fellow worker. Barnett may have been the same John Barnett who, at the time of the 1900 census, was living in Independence Township (Lee County). He was a forty-nine-year-old widower and was working on a rented farm and raising six children between the ages of six and eighteen. Barnett’s alleged victim was Albert Wakefield. The only man by that name in the region was another African American living in Tunica County, Mississippi, just across the Mississippi River. He was also a widower and was working as a day laborer. According to newspaper accounts, in late …

Bates, James Woodson

James Woodson Bates was an early Arkansas settler who was elected as the first Arkansas territorial representative to the U.S. Congress. After leaving that office, he went on to help develop Arkansas’s legal system as a judge and lawyer. Batesville (Independence County) was named after him in 1824. James Bates was born on August 25, 1788, in Belmont, Virginia, to Thomas F. Bates and Caroline Woodson Bates. Little is known of his early life, but he attended Yale College (now Yale University). He eventually graduated from Princeton College (now Princeton University) in 1807 and began practicing law in Virginia. In 1816, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where his brother Frederick Bates had been appointed territorial secretary. In 1819, he, …

Battle, Burrill Bunn

Burrill Bunn Battle was a prominent Arkansas attorney and jurist in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. Although he was born in Mississippi, his family moved to Arkansas when he was a child, and it was there that he embarked on a legal career that culminated in a twenty-five-year tenure on the Arkansas Supreme Court. Burrill B. Battle was born on October 24, 1838, in Hinds County in Mississippi. His parents, Joseph Battle and Nancy Stricklin Battle, were native North Carolinians, but when Battle was six, the family relocated to Arkansas, settling in Lafayette County, where he received his early education. From there, Battle attended Arkansas College in Fayetteville (Washington County), …

Bays, Glenco (Lynching of)

On February 18, 1904, Glenco Bays was burned at the stake near Crossett (Ashley County) for the murder of J. D. Stephens, a prominent local farmer. The lynch mob was made up of both whites and African Americans. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Bays was employed by Stephens, who found him to be “a quarrelsome negro.” Bays and Stephens apparently had an argument, and Bays allegedly went to Stephens’s house and shot him. According to the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, after he killed Stephens, Bays beat his body with the butt of the shotgun. Stephens was one of the most prosperous and admired farmers in the county. The Arkansas Gazette reported that black residents of the area “showed their esteem …

Beard v. State (1906)

In 1906 and 1907, a notable case made its way through the courts. An African-American man named Govan Beard was convicted and sentenced to death for assaulting a white woman in Phillips County. When the Arkansas Supreme Court twice denied his appeal, and Governor Jeff Davis refused to pardon Beard even though the alleged victim recanted her claims, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Govan Beard is most likely the one-year-old boy listed as Eaton Govan Beard in the 1880 census. At that time, he was living in Helena (Phillips County) with his mother, Chana Beard, and four siblings (Peter, George, Mary, and Walter). By 1900, Govan was still living in Helena with his mother and his …

Bearden Lynching of 1893

On May 9, 1893, three African Americans were lynched in Bearden (Ouachita County) for what was called a “murderous assault” on Jesse Norman, a prosperous young businessman. At midnight on Saturday, May 6, Jesse Norman was hit over the head with an axe and robbed. The victim was probably the Jessie J. Norman listed in the 1880 census, thirteen years before the event. In 1880, he was nine years old and was living with his parents Eleazer (variously spelled Elezer and Elesa) Norman and Panthaia (variously spelled Panttairer and Panthier) Norman in Union Township of Ouachita County; his parents were still living in the county in 1900. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Norman’s skull was crushed with an axe, and …

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 …

Bennett, Bruce

Bruce Bennett was Arkansas’s attorney general from 1957 to 1960 and from 1963 to 1966. As the state’s leading legal authority, he became known as much for flouting the law as for upholding it. In the wake of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) desegregation crisis, Bennett authored legislation to bypass federal desegregation orders, including acts “designed to harass” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He gained further notoriety in asserting that communist influence underlay the racial unrest in Arkansas. Toward the end of his career, Bennett became infamous for his part in the securities fraud scandal involving the Arkansas Loan and Thrift. Bruce Bennett was born on October 31, 1917, to Oakley Adair Bennett and Anita …

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” …

Bethune, Edwin Ruthvin (Ed), Jr.

Edwin Ruthvin (Ed) Bethune Jr., a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington DC, served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985 from the Second Congressional District of Arkansas. Ed Bethune was born on December 19, 1935, in Pocahontas (Randolph County) to Edwin Bethune Sr. and Delta Lewallen Bethune. He has one sister. Although he grew up in Pocahontas, Bethune spent one year in Little Rock (Pulaski County), attending Little Rock High School (later called Central High); Bethune graduated from Pocahontas High School in 1953. He attended one semester at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and followed that with four years in the U.S. Marine Corps (1954–1957), during which time he …