Isaac Parker - Hanging Judge of Indian Territory
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"I have ever had the
single aim of justice in view... 'Do equal and exact justice,' is my
motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, 'Permit no innocent man to
be punished, but let no guilty man escape.'"
-Judge Isaac C. Parker, 1896
Judge Isaac Parker often
called the "Hanging Judge,” from
Arkansas ruled over the
lawless land of
in the late 1800s. In 1875,
was populated by cattle and horse thieves, whiskey peddlers, and
bandits who sought refuge in the untamed territory that was free of a
"White Man’s Court.” The only court with jurisdiction over
Indian Territory was the U.S.
Court for the Western District of
which was situated on the border of Western
Judge Isaac Parker
This image available for photographic prints
Judge Isaac Parker
was born in a log cabin outside Barnesville,
Belmont County, Ohio on October 15, 1838. The youngest son of Joseph
and Jane Parker,
helped out on the farm, but never really cared for working out of
doors. He attended the Breeze hill primary school and then the
Barnesville Classical Institute.
To help pay for his higher education he taught students in a country
primary school. When he was 17 he decided to study law, his legal
training consisting of a combination of apprenticeship and self study.
Reading law with a Barnesville attorney, he passed the Ohio bar exam in 1859 at the age
of 21. During this time he met and married Mary O'Toole and the couple
had two sons, Charles and James. Over the years, Parker built a
reputation for being an honest lawyer and a leader of the community.
passing the bar he traveled west to
Missouri River port town. He went to work for his uncle, D.E. Shannon, a partner in the
Shannon and Branch legal firm. By 1861, he was working on his
own in both the municipal and county criminal courts and in April he
won the election as City Attorney. He was reelected to the post
for the next two years.
Isaac Parker ran for county prosecutor of the Ninth
District and in the fall of that same year, he served as a member of
the Electoral College, casting his vote for Abraham Lincoln.
Parker sought and won
a six-year term as judge of the Twelfth
Missouri Circuit. A
Parker would soon gain
the experience that he would later use as the ruling Judge over the
On September 13, 1870,
Parker was nominated on
the Republican ticket for the Seventh Congressional District. To
pursue his political ambitions and devote all his energy to the campaign,
Parker resigned his
judgeship. The heated campaign ended with Parker's opponent
withdrawing from the race two weeks prior to the election and
Parker easily defeated the
replacement candidate in the November 8, 1870 election.
As a freshman
took his seat in the first session of the Forty-second Congress convened
on Saturday, March 4, 1871. In November, 1872 he easily won a second
term and gained national attention for speeches delivered in support of the Bureau of
By the fall of 1874, the
political tide had shifted in
and as a Republican, Isaac Parker
had no chance of reelection to Congress. Instead, he sought a presidential
appointment to public office and submitted a request for appointment as
the judge of the federal district court for the Western District of
On March 18, 1875, President Grant nominated
as judge for the Western District of
Civil War, the number of
had grown, wrecking the relative peace of the five civilized tribes that
Indian Territory. By the time
Parker arrived at
Indian Territory had become known as a
very bad place, where
thought the laws did not apply to them and terror reigned.
Replacing Judge William Story, whose tenure had been marred
Parker arrived in
Fort Smith on May 4, 1875.
At the age of 36, Judge Parker
was the youngest Federal judge in the West.
Holding court for the first time on May 10, 1875, eight men were found
guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Judge Parker held
court six days a week, often up to ten hours each day and
tried 91 defendants in his first
eight weeks on the bench. In that first summer, eighteen persons
came before him charged with murder and 15 were convicted. Eight of them
were sentenced to die on the gallows on September 3, 1875. However, only
six would be executed as one was killed trying to escape and a second had
his sentence commuted to life in prison because of his youth.
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