Lynchings and Racial Terror in Pre-Civil War Washington County, Arkansas
J. B. Hogan
After the Civil War, lynchings, primarily of African Americans and typically done by mobs of white people, were common. From 1877-1950, nearly four thousand African Americans were lynched in the United States, some five hundred taking place in Arkansas. It is somewhat surprising then that none have been documented in Washington County during that time; however, several lynchings in the county prior to the Civil War have been noted by journalists and historians.
In 1840, for example, Caroline, an enslaved woman, was charged with the death of her “mistress,” the wife of Andrew Crawford who would later be a county judge. After morning chores were done, Caroline, as was usual, went to help Crawford in the field, but she warned him that a “tramp” had been at the house with possible “evil intentions” toward Mrs. Crawford.
Mr. Crawford ignored the warning but at lunchtime found his wife’s body “bleeding and mangled” by the fire. After a brief, futile search for the tramp, suspicion turned to Caroline who was “examined and blood was found upon her clothes.” The “men of the community held a court” (the Sheriff was absent), appointed a judge and jury, and condemned the slave woman to hang.” A make-shift gallows was hastily erected between “two dogwood trees” with the enslaved woman standing at the back of a wagon. She was reportedly denied a final drink of water and summarily hanged.
An 1849 case involved a Benton County enslaved man named Alph who was accused of killing his “master,” James Anderson, in the Vache Grasse area southeast of Fort Smith. Because of some unspecified impropriety, Anderson had decided to sell Alph, separating the enslaved man from his wife who remained in Benton County.
The killing occurred on Saturday, August 4, but Anderson’s body, head bashed in by a club and “throat cut from ear to ear,” was found the following Tuesday by a party from Fayetteville headed by Alfred M. Wilson, prominent lawyer and early settler.
On the day after the killing, Sunday, August 5, Alph was noticed in Fayetteville riding Anderson’s horse and wearing the dead man’s clothes. After supposedly telling several local slaves and at least one free man of color about his deed, Alph managed to ride out of Fayetteville before a hastily formed posse could locate and capture him.
The posse pursued Alph and shot him twice, in the hip and shoulder, but he initially eluded them. He was finally apprehended and was in custody for three days in Fayetteville before he was taken back to Benton County where he was said to have admitted to the murder. At the last he cried out and pointed to a white man in the crowd who he said “instigated him,” but he was hanged without trial or due process on October 20, 1849.
In 1856 a trio of enslaved men were hanged in Fayetteville for the murder of James Boone, a prominent landowner from near modern-day Elkins. The enslaved men, Anthony, Aaron, and Randall, were charged with Boone’s death. A trial was held in circuit court from June 30 through July 7.
Anthony was acquitted, and prosecutors chose not to pursue charges against Aaron, effectively freeing both men. However, a white mob, led by Boone’s sons, took Anthony and Aaron from jail, where they had remained in custody after their trials, and lynched both men on July 7, 1856. Randall was then convicted of the murder. Despite an appeal, which was denied, Randall was hanged by the State of Arkansas on August 1, 1856.
In 2021, the Washington County Community Remembrance Project, working with the Equal Justice Initiative, had a plaque placed in Oaks Cemetery, Fayetteville’s traditional African American cemetery, to commemorate and venerate Randall, Anthony, and Aaron.
There was also a lynching in the Spring of 1860. An enslaved man named Horace was charged with the killing of his “master,” seventy-four-year-old Jacob Mullis. Mullis and his young wife, Emily, lived with the enslaved Horace in the Mountain Township near the community of Hogeye.
This sensational case not only involved a murder but also rumored miscegenation, at the time an offense “too revolting to mention.” Mullis’ wife Emily was only thirty-six years old and there was talk that she and Horace had become “intimate.” Some believed that Emily “influenced” Horace to kill her husband. Horace claimed that he had killed Mullis in self-defense and “went willingly to the Fayetteville jail without a struggle.”
When word spread throughout Fayetteville of the killing, a mob of white people, after discussing the matter, became “enraged, and dreading the escape of the murderer or disliking too long a delay of justice to him” stormed the jail to get at Horace. Emily Mullis was said to have “pleaded to prevent the lynching,” but the mob took Horace from the jail and “hung him to a limb.”
At least three more pre-Civil War cases of racial terror should be mentioned. In 1841, Nelson Hackett, an enslaved man, escaped from Fayetteville and made it all the way to the supposed safe haven of Canada. He was tracked down, however, by agents of his enslavers and brought back to Arkansas. The incident resulted in a well-documented and contentious international case involving the United States and the British government which, of course, reigned over Canada. Hackett was eventually sent to Texas and vanished from history. 
In a case that highlights the fragility of being a free Black person in a slave-holding state, in 1849, John Smith, who was a free man, was accused of murder (the victim was not identified). Fortunately, Smith had some rights as a free man and was acquitted of the charge. Four years later, an enslaved man named Aldred was accused of being responsible for his mother’s death. According to a New York Times article from the following year, Aldred was convicted of “killing his mother” and then “promptly hanged.”
No cases of outright lynching in Washington County after the Civil War have yet been found, but several incidents seem to come close to that label or at least indicate the underlying fear of such among the county’s Black population. For example, in the 1910s (specific date not given), a Black man named Gibb was shot by a white man while they were playing dice. The shooter was charged with “firing [a] weapon inside the city” and fined ten dollars.
In 1927, a man named Joshua Thompson was shot dead by “Constable Sam” for stealing a sack of chicken feed. Local attorney J. Wythe Walker, commented: “I don’t believe that any man should be killed over a six-bit [seventy-five cents] tow-sack full of chops” [chicken feed]. And in a 1928 case in which Everett Williams, a Black man, killed Fayetteville Black patrolman Lem McPherson in a deadly gun battle, Williams – who had managed to escape twice from authorities – finally surrendered, but only after he was convinced he would not be the victim of a “mobbing.” Lynchings were still a common enough event that Williams was clearly and profoundly afraid of turning himself in because he might become yet another victim of extra-legal mob violence.
That other incidents of racial terror and violence have occurred in Washington County in the 150 years since emancipation seems a certainty. More research into the topic will be necessary to reveal these as yet hidden cases as the nation continues to deal with its racially charged history that has so often been ignored or simply avoided.
“Lynchings in the South,” in Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy Of Racial Terror, Equal Justice Initiative Report, Third Edition, https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/, accessed July 10, 2021.
Goodspeed “History of Washington County, Arkansas,” 1889, p. 159 and “Killings in Washington County,” Lloyd McConnell, Flashback, journal of the Washington County (AR) Historical Society (WCHS), Vol. 32, Number 1, February 1982, p. 15.
Goodspeed, pp. 159-160.
Flashback, February 1982, p. 15.
Goodspeed, p. 160.
Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840-1950, edited by Guy Lancaster, The University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2018, p. 27.
Arkansas Gazette, August 16, 1849, p. 2.
Bullets and Fire, p. 27.
Ibid., pp. 27-28.
Flashback, February 1982 p. 16. This case is discussed in several other issues of Flashback, among other sources, including the April 1960 and Autumn 2006 issues.
Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, Denele Campbell, 2017, p. 106.
Bullets and Fire, p. 22.
Index to Washington County Murders, 1829-1991, anonymous and undated Washington County document, p. 1.
Flashback, February 1982, p. 16.
“Do You Remember When?, Charles M. Wantuck, Flashback, Volume 43, Number 1, February 1993, p. 15.
“Constable Sam” is likely Sam Guinn, who served as Washington County Sheriff from 1921-1923 and again in 1929-1930. Washington County website, “Sheriffs of Washington County,” internet page, https://www.washingtoncountyar.gov/government/departments-f-z/sheriff/sheriffs-of-washington-county, accessed July 14, 2021.
Flashback, Vol. XVI, No. 4, November 1966, pp. 30-31.
“Tragedy in Tin Cup,” J. B. Hogan, Flashback, Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2006, p. 125.
J. B. Hogan was born in Zion, a rural community in eastern Washington County, Arkansas, and his family moved from Goshen into Fayetteville when he was four. He grew up in Fayetteville where he played sports, read lots of books, and wrote some stories – including a sports novel when he was 11.
He moved to California in the early 1960s, graduating from high school there and playing one year of junior college baseball before he joined the United States Air Force. He served four years, including two years in Japan and a 5-month temporary assignment to Korea during the Pueblo Crisis of 1968. After the military he completed his BA at Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri) majoring in English with a minor in print journalism. After a three-year stint as a park worker in Lincoln, Nebraska, he went back to school, attaining his MA in English at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras and his PhD in English from Arizona State University. After a brief academic career, he worked for many years as a technical writer in Arizona and Colorado.
He has published over 270 stories and poems and is the author of ten books, including Bar Harbor, Time and Time Again, Mexican Skies, Tin Hollow, Living Behind Time, Losing Cotton, The Rubicon, Fallen, The Apostate, and Angels in the Ozarks (nonfiction, local professional baseball history). His fiction, and to a lesser degree, poetry, reflect the author’s deep commitment to realism. He also helped research and write The Square Book: An Illustrated History of the Fayetteville Square.