• Dennis McCaslin

He Hung 'Em High: September 9, 1881 - William Brown, Patrick McGowen, George Padgett, Abler and 

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 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 men executed under the judicial watch of Judge Issac C. Parker.

September 9, 1881 - William Brown, Patrick McGowen, George Padgett, Abler and Amos Manley

Five men were executed on the Fort Smith gallows on September 9, 1881.

George Padgett (24) was convicted of murdering his employer Mr. Stevens.

While driving cattle to Kansas Padgett discovered several heads that belonged a former employer, Wagner, from Texas. Just before reaching the Kansas line, on July 26, 1880, they were cutting cattle to be sold and Padgett asked Stevens about the Wagner’s cattle.

Stevens indicated they were to be sold with the rest of the cattle. Padgett and Stevens got into an argument that ended with Padgett shot and killed the unarmed Stevens.

The jury took 24 hours to convict.William T. Brown (27) and his friend Ralph Tate (17) were in a group of men employed by a hay contractor at Ft. Sill, I.T.

In August of 1880, Brown and a coworker named Moore got into an argument over a foot race, which lead to a fight and Brown being severely beaten. Brown ran to his room grabbed his pistol and his attempt to get revenge when Brown killed Ralph Tate not Moore.

Brown ran and was captured 28 days later by G.W. Tate, Ralph’s father. Brown admitted to killing Tate.

Patrick McGowen (35) and Sam Latta had owned 300 acres of land. After a disagreement, Latta bought McGowen’s share. The disagreement continued and on the day of the murder, McGowen hid in the corn field near a peach orchard behind Latta’s home and waited for several hours.

Late in the evening Latta walked to the orchard, picked a handful of peaches, and was returning to his home when McGowen killed him.

The jury took less than an hour to convict.Amos and Abler Manley’s first trial, December 1880, ended with a hung jury because one juror refused to convict because he was opposed to capital punishment.

Their retrial was in June of 1881. They were convicted of murdering Eli McVay.

On the day of the execution, the men were given new suits and led to the gallows at 10 AM. After their death, sentences were read and all but McGowen took time to speak with clergy.

They were positioned on the trap door and given an opportunity for last words.

Padgett claimed it was self-defense.

McGowen also claimed he killed in self-defense.

He spoke of his wife and children asking mercy for them and finished with “I die claiming to be an innocent man, and bid you all a long farewell.”

Brown was calm as he said, “I realize that I am standing on the scaffold of death, feeling that my sins are forgiven, and I forgive all mankind.” He acknowledged having killed his friend through a mistake and stated that he would rather have died himself. “I feel as if I am going off in a sweet sleep, and will meet you all in glory. I am ready and willing to go.”

The Manley brothers admitted to killing McVay.

Once they were finished speaking black hoods were placed over their heads and nooses secured around their necks. At 10:10, the trapdoor opened. By 11:00, the bodies had been cut-down, placed in coffins, and claimed by family.