Judge Isaac Parker was born in Ohio and practiced law in Missouri after being admitted to the bar. He served during the Civil War and later was elected to Congress by his constituents in the Show-Me state of Missouri.
Parker was an outspoken advocate of increased rights for women and Native Americans in his day. In 1875, Judge Isaac Parker was appointed to the federal bench in Fort Smith, Arkansas, with jurisdiction over 70,000 square miles of frontier territory. He became known as “the Hanging Judge” while playing a large role in establishing law and order in the southwest territory, sentencing 172 men and women to the hangman’s noose. Sixty of the men were executed. His executioner, George Maledon, shot down five men who attempted to escape and federal marshals hunted down and killed many others in blazing gun battles.
In addition to the vilest of men, there were a host of ladies who were tried in Judge Parker’s court. Four were sentenced to hang. None were executed as they were pardoned or given reduced sentences.
Belle Starr appeared before Judge Parker on numerous occasions as both a defendant and with her various love interests. He once sentenced her to a term in Michigan’s Detroit House of Corrections for stealing. The facility opened in 1861 and housed several notorious inmates through the years.
The Michigan prison was ahead of its time in reshaping wayward individuals. Belle Starr received a further education in crime while there, learning to be more careful in her exploits. She was in Judge Parker’s court several more times before her death in 1889, shot in the back and left dead in the mud near her home.
As for the native Americans, Judge Parker was looked on as the “red man’s friend,” their common foe being the frontier outlaws.
“Twenty-one years on the bench has taught me that the Indian race is really not one of criminals,” Judge Parker said before his death. “They are inclined to be religious, law-abiding and respectful of authority. As a people, they are good citizens.”
Parker added that there were some exceptions, bad Indians who had “copied our vices. These native Americans failed to imitate our virtues because they only came into regular contact with the lowest of our people.”
Little Raven, chief of the Arapahos said, “If all whites are like the ones I know, the Indians who go to Heaven will have very few whites to trouble them there.”
Cherokee Bill was one of the exceptions. He was a member of Bill Cook’s outlaw gang, some called him half Indian while others called him half white or half black. Cherokee Bill killed a man during a holdup and some of Bill Cook’s own men, turned him in for the reward money. He was responsible for eight other murders.
PJudge Parker sentenced Cherokee Bill to hang. While awaiting the hangman’s noose a gun was smuggled into the jail and Cherokee Bill attempted to escape, killing a guard (Keating) leaving a widow and four children.
Judge Parker was saddened by his loss. He lashed out at our government in Washington for “inadequate funds for needed guards.” He also complained that the Supreme Court “was allowing, undue, lengthy delays for appeals, giving murderers too many opportunities to escape.
“This one guard’s life was worth more to the community and to our society than the lives of one hundred murderers,” Judge Parker said. Cherokee Bill was already sentenced to hang but Parker insisted that he be tried for Keating’s death as well.
“Cherokee Bill, you revel in the maiming and destruction of human life,” Judge Parker answered after comments from the convicted man. “Mr. Keating was a good man and a minister of peace, doing untold good for prisoners while bringing credit to our system of justice.
“It troubles me to speak harshly but you are a minister of wickedness whereas officer Keating was a minister of peace. You have been found guilty of a most wicked, foul and unprovoked murder.
“I sentenced you before for a horrible and wicked murder. I appealed to you then to call on God and to get right with Him. Yet you’ve committed another dastardly murder. I have nothing more to offer you. I sentence you to hang by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Cherokee Bill was hanged in 1896 in Fort Smith at age 20. copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Read more about “the Hanging Judge” next week at bereaonline.com. Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature. Don’t miss a single issue!
A Voice for God – a voice for good
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I’ll be 78 years young on March 24th and like many of you, He has helped me through many close calls. He’s kept my life interesting, challenging and rewarding.
I recognize our good Lord in my life every day. A couple years ago my heart beat fast and irregularly for perhaps six months or more. Dr. Brian Adams helped get me past that and it now beats about 62 to 68 or so times per minute. My blood pressure is generally like 130 over 66. I’m on medication of course but without it I would either be dead or have a low quality of life. Thank God that we live in a time with improved care and more competent doctors and health care workers.
I have a surgical procedure coming up soon to remove four bulging discs and bone spur in my neck. My balance has gotten progressively worse and the pressure on my spine causes frequent pain. I pray the surgery will fix or help somewhat with these maladies.
Although the surgery is an hour and a half I should be hospitalized only two days or so. My doctors are most competent and my Good Lord in Heaven is with me every day. He has brought me this far and if he wants me, I am ready. I have good support at home. If you care to say a little prayer for this mountain boy I would appreciate it.
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me…..