• Dennis McCaslin

'He Hung 'Em High' Harris Austin, John Billy, Jimmon Burris, Sam Goin, Jefferson Jones a



Few men in the annals of the American Old West represent the phrase “frontier justice” as well as Judge Isaac C. Parker, the infamous “Hanging Judge” of Fort Smith, who ruled over the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas with an iron hand from 1874-1895.

During his 21-year tenure on the bench, Parker presided over 160 cases that resulted in the sentence of death and 79 of those men met their final fate at the end of a hemp rope attached to the stone, wooden, and mortar gallows that defined and justified the nickname “Hell on the Border” on the Arkansas-Indian Territory border.

In later life, Parker was quoted as saying, “I never hanged a man, the law did,” and it was the keen sense of adherence to the law that allowed the court to operate and clean up what had become a lawless civilization in the years after the Civil War.

These are the tales of the men that met their final justice under the auspices of Parker's court.

January 16, 1880 - Harris Austin, John Billy, Jimmon Burris, Sam Goin, Jefferson Jones and Thomas Willis

Twice in the history of federal hangings in Fort Smith, six men were hanged at one time: September 3, 1875 and January 16, 1890.

On that 1890 date Harris Austin, John Billy, Jimmon Burris, Sam Goin, Jefferson Jones and Thomas Willis died on the gallows.

Austin was found guilty of shooting and killing Thomas Elliott in a dispute over whiskey. Billy and Willis robbed W.P. Williams in the Kiamichi Mountains and then killed him.

A jury convicted Jones of the murder of Henry Wilson for the $12.00 he carried. Burris and Goin killed Houston Joyce as he traveled through Indian Territory.

Originally, Judge Isaac Parker had sentenced nine people to be executed on this date, but three received reprieves or commutations.