• Dennis McCaslin

He Hung 'Em High: The judicial legacy of Judge Issac C. Parker

Few men in the legacy 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.

Sevety-nine 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. As a part of looking back at these turbulent times in Fort Smith history, this is the first of a series of the tales of men (or groups of men) who met justice under the gavel of Issac C. Parker: September 3, 1875 Seven men were sent to the gallows under Parker’s predecessor Judge William T. Story, but when Parker was appointed to replace the corrupt sitting judge that was under impeachment he set an immediate tone that fueled his legend.

George Maledon

On Sept. 3,1875 the first executions ordered and carried out by Parker’s court sent six men plunging to their death simultaneously when hangman George Maledon released the trap door on five white men and one Cherokee Indian. The Indian, Smoker Mankiller, had killed his neighbor over a land dispute. James Moore, a notorious cold-blooded killer with seven notches in his pistol grip, was convicted of killing Officer William Spivey while resisting arrest and Samuel Fooy, a gun for hire, murdered a school teacher for a $250 payout. Edmund Campbell was hanged after killing a man and his wife over a perceived insult, while William Whittington and Daniel Evans were condemned for killing their traveling companion, 19-year-old William Seabolt, in the Creek Nation for the goods and money he carried. That execution spectacle set the tone for Parker’s reign. In the 21 years that followed, there would be 17 more multiple hangings in Fort Smith.

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