April Was A Busy Month For the Gallows At Fort Smith National Historic Site

Much interpretation on the hanging executions that occurred at Fort Smith during the late 19th century will be offered by site interpreters in April. Photo of gallows by Doc Repanshek.

Western justice -- the kind delivered with a short rope and a long drop -- will be a frequent topic for discussion this month at Fort Smith National Historic Site, which preserves the site where more than a few hangings were carried out in the late 1800s.

Park interpreters, on the anniversary of executions carried out under the orders of federal judges during a 23-year period, will present free programs at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. These programs will include an overview of the federal court during the late 19th century, federal law involving capital crimes, and conditions in Indian Territory. Information will be presented about the condemned individuals executed as well as their victims.

The gallows at Fort Smith were kept busy for 23 years, from 1873-1896, according to park officials. During those years, 86 men were executed on the gallows for capital offenses, they add.

Park historians say that during his 21 years on the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas bench, Judge Isaac C. Parker sentenced to death 160 men and women who had been found guilty of rape or murder -- the only crimes that could end up with a death sentence -- by juries. However, of that total just 79 men, and no women, wound up being executed on the gallows.

Furthermore, the historians note, "the judge only handed down the death sentences; he did not attend the executions or participate in them in any official capacity." For more details on the gallows and its work at Fort Smith, visit the site's webpage, and to learn about "myths and legends" surrounding Judge Parker, visit this page.

The first execution commemorated in April came on Sunday, April 3, to mark the hangings in 1874 of John Billy, Isaac Filmore, and John Pointer. Here's the rest of the month's schedule:

Friday, April 8 -- Commemoration of the execution of Patrick McCarty (1887).

Wednesday, April 13 -– Commemoration of the execution of Robert Massey (1883).

Tuesday, April 19 -- Commemoration of the execution of Malachi Allen and James Mills (1889).

Sunday, April 17 -- Commemoration of the execution of William Phillips (1885).

Saturday, April 23 -- Commemoration of the execution of Joseph Jackson and James Wasson (1886).

Wednesday, April 27 -- Commemoration of the execution of Sheppard Busby (1892).

Saturday, April 30 -- Commemoration of the execution of Webber Isaacs, George Pierce, and John Pierce (1896).

Fort Smith National Historic Site is located in downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas, along the Arkansas River. To access the parking lot from Garrison or Rogers Avenue, turn south on 4th Street and right on Garland Avenue.