Time Period: Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age (1875 - 1900) - Starting with S

Sanders, Jim (Lynching of)

On the night of May 28, 1882, a mob removed a young African American named Jim Sanders from the custody of authorities and killed him, using “enough buckshot to kill a score of men,” according to one account. The previous day, he had allegedly attacked Nancie (sometimes referred to as Nannie) Carr as she was cleaning the schoolhouse in the Parker community of Union Township in Pulaski County. There is very little information about Jim Sanders, whom the Arkansas Gazette refers to as a “youth.” There were two African Americans named James Sanders in Pulaski County in 1880; the most likely match is James Sanders, born around 1872, who was living in Badgett Township with his parents, Charlie and Julia …

Scruggs, David (Lynching of)

In late July 1885, an African-American man named David Scruggs was lynched by a mob of black citizens near Redfield (Jefferson County) for allegedly committing incest with his daughter. In 1880, farmer David Scruggs was living in Victoria (Jefferson County) with his wife, Nancy; an eleven-year-old daughter named Julia; and a ten-year-old grandchild. His wife was working as a laborer. Although some sources say that the lynching occurred on July 24, an Arkansas Gazette article datelined Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), July 24, gives the date as “one night this week.” As July 24 was a Friday, it is probable that the lynching occurred earlier in the week. The Alexandria Gazette says that it happened on Thursday night, which would make …

Searcy County Courthouse

The Searcy County Courthouse is in the historic commercial district of Marshall (Searcy County). Built in 1889, this two-story building, made of stone native to the area, stands as one of the oldest courthouses in Arkansas. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program recognizes the courthouse as architecturally and historically significant as an outstanding example of an Arkansas Adamesque building. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 12, 1976. Since Searcy County turned eleven acres into its county seat in 1856, three courthouses have managed local affairs. The first was a log cabin, one of the few structures in town at that time along with a two-story hotel, a mercantile store, and a collection of houses. At …

Sees, Willis (Lynching of)

Little information exists about the lynching of an African-American man, Willis Sees, in late April 1899, for the crime of arson—specifically, the burning of barns—in Osceola (Mississippi County). A brief account, citing a report out of Memphis, Tennessee, circulated in Arkansas newspapers in early May 1899. The whole account reads as follows: “A special to Memphis of April 30th gives an account of the lynching of a negro named Willis Sees at Osceola, Mississippi county. It seems that a number of barns have been fired within the last few months near Osceola, and suspicion was directed toward Sees. The negro’s wife gave information which led to his arrest.” This account is missing a great deal of information standard to reports …

Semmes, Samuel Spencer

Samuel Semmes was a Civil War veteran, lawyer, and businessman in Mississippi County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He served one term as the county judge. Samuel Spencer Semmes, the son of Raphael Semmes and Ann Elizabeth Spencer Semmes, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 4, 1838. His father, who was later the famed raider of the Confederate CSS Alabama, had moved to Ohio in 1834, marrying Ann in 1837. Semmes was the oldest of their six children. In about 1848, after serving in the Mexican War, Semmes’s father moved his family to near Mobile, Alabama, where Semmes spent his youth. By the early 1850s, he was attending the Jesuit school Spring Hill College in Mobile, …

Separate Coach Law of 1891

The Separate Coach Law of 1891 (Act 17) was a Jim Crow law requiring separate coaches on railway trains for white and black passengers. The law arose out of the political upheavals of the era, in which the Democratic Party sought to stave off challenges to their dominance by distracting voters with racist concerns, and it further relegated African Americans to the margins of social and economic life. By the late 1880s, large numbers of angry white farmers threatened to leave the Democratic Party and join new agrarian parties, such as the Union Labor and Populist organizations. Democratic chieftains and established elites tried to allay defections and distract attention from economic and class issues that were beginning to divide the …

Sevier County Lynching of 1881

In late May 1881, three African-American men were lynched in Sevier County for allegedly attacking a man who requested their help in crossing Rolling Fork Creek. The descriptions of the victim are confusing. The Arkansas Gazette described him as “an old man named Holly.” The St. Paul Globe reported that he was a prominent Sevier County farmer named R. F. Hall; the Memphis Daily Appeal concurred, adding that he was eccentric. The Nebraska Advertiser gave his name as A. F. Hall. In his “Early Days in Sevier County,” W. S. Ray wrote that he was a “simple-minded man named Hall” who was passing through the county. Public records do nothing to clarify his identity. His alleged attackers were not identified …

Shady Grove Delmar Church and School

The Shady Grove Delmar Church and School is a historic building located near Delmar (Carroll County). The church is about three miles southeast of Osage (Carroll County). Constructed around 1880, the building housed a school until 1945, and a church regularly met in the building until 1969. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 27, 2015. The first settlers in the Osage Valley arrived around 1830. The population grew slowly, and by 1889, Osage included four homes, three stores, and the school. The land on which the church was constructed was donated to the district by Thomas Sisco, the son of an early settler. Sisco owned several businesses in Delmar, including a post office, sawmill, …

Sharp, Ephraim [of Fulton County]

Ephraim Sharp, nephew of the Ephraim Sharp after whom Sharp County was named, was an important early settler and mercantilist in neighboring Fulton County. He established a mill, and the community of Sharp’s Mill, now Saddle (Fulton County), grew up around it. His mercantile establishment helped to provide the goods that sustained the growth of the Mammoth Spring (Fulton County) area. Ephraim Sharp was born in Sandtown Township, Decatur County, Indiana, on June 23, 1833, to John Elston Sharp (called Jackson) and Susannah Armstrong Sharp. He was the fifth child and third son of this family of seven children. His mother died in 1841 when he was eight years old. His father married Sarah Armstrong, his mother’s sister. When Sarah …

Shepperson, Carrie Lena Fambro Still

Carrie Lena Fambro Still Shepperson was an African-American teacher and education advocate in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and the mother of composer and musician William Grant Still Jr. Carrie Fambro was born in 1872, near Milledgeville Georgia to Anne Fambro, a freedwoman. Little is known about her family. Her exact birth date, father’s name, and number of siblings are unknown. Encouraged by her mother to pursue her education, she graduated from Atlanta University in 1886. In 1893, while teaching at Alabama State Agricultural and Mechanical College, she met William Grant Still, a colleague who taught bookkeeping, instrumental music, and vocal music. Still was an 1892 graduate of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College at Lorman, Mississippi. The couple married and settled …

Silver Mining

The silver in Arkansas is mixed sulfide ores of lead, zinc, copper, and antimony in small, scattered deposits in parts of the southern and eastern Ouachita Mountains. Most of the known mining activity involving silver took place between 1840 and 1927 and rarely resulted in profit to owners and operators. Sale of claims or mines to unsuspecting investors was usually the only route to profit. The mines opened in the 1800s were shallow, reaching maximum depths of less than 200 feet. Most of the deposits where mining was undertaken are clustered in three groups. One is along Kellogg Creek in Pulaski County, north of the Arkansas River. Deposits in another group were clustered along tributaries near the confluence of the north …

Skipper v. Union Central Life Insurance Company

aka: William Franklin Skipper (Murder of)
aka: Monticello Lynching of 1898
The death of William Franklin Skipper near Baxter (Drew County) in 1896 sparked a series of trials the Arkansas Gazette described as “perhaps the strangest case in the criminal annals of Arkansas.” The only certainty in the case seems to be that Skipper, a merchant and sawmill owner and a partner in the firm of Skipper and Lephiew (sometimes spelled Lephlew), died of a knife wound to the neck beside Bayou Bartholomew sometime on May 13, 1896. During the two criminal trials, much of the argument centered on whether he committed suicide or was murdered by a group of African-American men who worked at his mill. The criminal case dragged on for more than two years. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the …

Slemons, William Ferguson

William Ferguson Slemons was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the Second District of Arkansas in the Forty-Fourth through the Forty-Sixth Congresses, serving from 1875 to 1881. William F. Slemons—a descendant of the family of Thomas Slemons, who was born in Perth, Scotland, and came to the United States in 1723, ultimately settling in Pennsylvania—was born on March 15, 1830, near Dresden, Tennessee, to J. B. Slemons and Elizabeth Slemons. After limited early formal education, he attended Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. Slemons moved to Arkansas in 1852. While he briefly taught school in Hamburg (Ashley County), he also began the study of law, including some formal training at Cumberland School of Law in Lebanon, …

Smith (Lynching of)

In August 1882, an African-American man known only as Smith in published newspaper reports became the second man ever to be lynched in Pulaski County, according to available records. Jim Sanders had been lynched earlier that year in the county. In part because the victim was named only as “Smith” in published accounts, little information can be gleaned regarding his actual identity. Nothing was reported of the event in the Arkansas Gazette, and most reports that circulated nationally fell along the lines of this bare-bones account published in the Highland Weekly News of Highland County, Ohio: “Smith, who assaulted a white lady near Little Rock, Arkansas, was lynched by a disguised party who shot him to death.” The National Republican …

Smith, Henry (Lynching of)

On July 10, 1881, an African American man named Henry Smith was hanged at Des Arc (Prairie County) for allegedly murdering an orphan girl named Lucinda (Lucy) or Matilda (Mattie) Webb. According to census records, an eighteen-year-old laborer named Henry Smith was living in the household of farmer William McBee in White River Township in 1880. Reports on the lynching indicate that, in 1881, he was living on the Stallings place. There were two Stallings (or Stallins) families in White River Township at the time, those of fifty-one-year-old Len C. Stallins and thirty-five-year-old J. B. Stallins. There was an orphan girl named Webb in White River Township in 1880, but the census lists her first name as Tennessee. She was …

Smith, Jim (Lynching of)

Sometime in mid-November 1888, an African-American man named Jim Smith was lynched in Crittenden County for allegedly approaching an unidentified white woman with an insulting proposal. According to the November 30 edition of the Arkansas Democrat, which quotes the Memphis Avalanche, word reached Little Rock (Pulaski County) on November 29 that a black man named Jim Smith approached a married white woman on the road and asked her a question. She recognized him and paused to answer him, whereupon they spoke about “the weather and the cotton crop.” She was not suspicious, and answered his question, whereupon he made her “an insulting proposition.” She became angry and began to hurry away, but he followed, threatening her. The woman became increasingly …

Smith, Walter (Reported Lynching of)

In many cases of reported lynchings, newspapers in other states received initial reports by wire from local newspapers and then failed to include updates on these first stories. Such was the case with the alleged lynching of twenty-four-year-old Walter Smith in Cabot (Lonoke County) in May 1892. In Smith’s case, even the Arkansas Gazette failed to update its story on a rumored lynching. The first news of Smith’s alleged crime appeared in the Arkansas Democrat on May 23, 1892. Smith, an African American, had reportedly attacked a white woman in Cabot a week earlier. After committing “his heinous crime,” he escaped. Police wired a description of “the brute” to officials in the area, and he was found on May 22 …

Smithee-Adams Duel

What has often been described as “the last duel fought in Arkansas” was an exchange of gunshots in the streets of Little Rock (Pulaski County) between James Newton (J. N.) Smithee and John D. Adams on May 5, 1878. This event was also an early episode in the long newspaper war conducted between the Arkansas Gazette (then the Daily Arkansas Gazette) and the Arkansas Democrat. Adams became owner, with William D. Blocher, of the Gazette on November 11, 1876. They hired James Mitchell to be editor-in-chief of the newspaper; Mitchell had been a professor of English literature at Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Smithee competed with the Gazette by purchasing the printing …

Smithee, James Newton

James Newton Smithee, the founder of the Arkansas Democrat, was a prominent figure in the history of Arkansas journalism. Smithee was also an important Democrat during the years after Reconstruction and an advocate of the silver movement in Arkansas. J. N. Smithee was born in 1842 in what would become Sharp County into a poor Scottish-Irish farming family; his parents were Samuel Harris Smithee and Edna Elizabeth (Woodrome) Smithee. His formal education consisted of three months in a country school. When he was twelve years old, he became an apprentice to the Des Arc Citizen, where he learned the printing trade. When Smithee was eighteen, he bought into the Prairie County Democrat and used it to support the Southern Democratic …

Southall, James Henry

James Henry Southall was a founding member of the Medical Department of Arkansas Industrial University, the precursor to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Southall was born on November 5, 1841, in Smithville, Virginia, the son and grandson of distinguished Virginia physicians. After the completion of his education and the interruptions of life caused by the Civil War, Southall moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) at a time when the local medical community was beginning to consider forming a medical school in the state. As with many physicians of his era, Southall had begun his medical education by reading medicine under the tutelage of a professional, Dr. Robert Tunstall of Norfolk, Virginia. He attended medical school at the …

Southern Arkansas Race Riots of Late 1896

During November and December 1896, there were three separate racial incidents on job sites in and around El Dorado (Union County). In mid-November 1896, there was a “race war” between white and black workers at Hawthorne Mills, twelve miles southwest of El Dorado. On Tuesday, December 1, 1896, five African-American section men who were working on the line of the Cotton Belt Railroad between Camden (Ouachita County) and Bearden (Ouachita County) were killed by a group of unidentified men. In late December, near McNeil (Columbia County), approximately twenty African Americans were shot when white men raided a sawmill. This was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation of black laborers in southern Arkansas in the 1890s, a practice that seems to …

Southland College

Southland College emerged out of a Civil War–era mission by Indiana Quakers who came to Helena (Phillips County) in 1864 to care for lost and abandoned black children. Its founders, Alida and Calvin Clark, were abolitionist members of the Religious Society of Friends who arrived in Arkansas to render temporary relief to displaced orphans. They stayed for the remainder of their working lives, establishing the school that became the first institution of higher education for African Americans west of the Mississippi River. The school survived six decades of economic adversity and social strife. After operating an orphanage and school in Helena for two years, in 1866, the Clarks, with the vital assistance of the officers and men of the Fifty-sixth …