The hanging Judge Isaac Parker, played a major role in establishing law and order in the southwest territory.
His court was in Fort Smith, Arkansas and he had jurisdiction over 70,000 square miles of frontier territory. Upon his arrival he noted there was “a great depravity and a great wickedness” prevalent in the territory and previous judges had been swayed by threat and graft. He vowed that he would not bend to either.
Parker appointed two hundred deputy marshals. He was often troubled that many of them were killed in the line of duty. He ordered that gallows be built that could handle twelve executions at a time, vowing “to clean up the territory.”
Lynchings were not uncommon at the time Judge Parker and his family arrived in Fort Smith in 1875. Citizens would become outraged and take the law into their own hands at times, especially when courts were negligent in their duty.
This was not a necessity during Judge Parker’s twenty-one years with only three illegal lynchings during his tenure on the federal bench. He sentenced some 172 men and four women to hang, earning him the sobriquet “the Hanging Judge.” Eighty-eight of the men were executed but the four women were given reduced sentences or pardoned.
The U. S. Marshals complained about having to carry out the hangings. Judge Parker appointed a diminutive fellow named George Maledon as his Lord High Executioner in 1875. Maledon, who had prior service as a policeman and deputy sheriff was a crack shot who wore twin pistols holstered backwards.
Judge Parker met with Maledon soon after his arrival and discussed an incident that occurred at a hanging in Mississippi. The scaffold collapsed resulting in the convicted man being bloodied and in obvious pain as he lay in the debris.
“Don’t choke me,” he pleaded as he lay amid the rubble. “Jesus save me from this. Oh Lord have mercy on me.”
“We don’t want anything approaching that occurrence to happen here,” Judge Parker told Maledon. “They proceeded to hang the prisoner but the feeling among those present was one of sympathy for the guilty man. These men of blood who maim and kill innocent men, women and children, we don’t want an oversight on our part to affect the hanging or the public’s perception of it. Messy work results in sympathy for the prisoner. They can be sympathetic but not because of negligence on our part. These convicts are being hanged for their misdeeds so make no mistakes. We don’t want that to happen under our jurisdiction.”
Maledon became very meticulous in his work thereafter, serving as executioner at sixty hangings without incident. He also shot five men to death while attempting to escape.
Judge Parker was irked when presidents or governors pardoned those guilty of heinous crimes from his court.
“Why do they give their blessings to the evil and malicious,” he asked. “These law-breakers should be getting ready to meet their Maker instead of seeking clemency or of devising some method of escape.”
At times Judge Parker suggested a course of action for men who were sentenced to the gallows to follow.
“In the quietness of your prison cell you would do well to recount the final struggle and dying groans of those you murdered,” he said. “This may soften your heart and if it does, then ask the Savior to have mercy on your soul.”
Judge Parker was also troubled by the tendency for some ladies to become infatuated with these convicts who he considered to be the vilest of humanity.
“I have difficulty understanding these good ladies who carry food or flowers to these men who are often the worst of criminals,” Parker said. “They must mean well but, oh what mistaken goodness. How foolhardy can they be? They see the man but forget the crime. They see the man and not the vile murderous assassin.”
Judge Parker was concerned that the hangings began taking on a festive air with thousands of onlookers, including entire families, coming to witness them. He discontinued the practice in 1878, having the executions conducted privately with admittance passes required to witness the event. These were reserved primarily for ministers, doctors, lawyers, news reporters, and family members of the victims as well as family members of the prisoner. copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Read more about the Hanging Judge next week at beraonline.com Jadon Gibson is a widely read writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Don’t miss a single release!