Parker - Page 2
When the fateful day of September 3, 1875 arrived
the hanging became
an extraordinary media event when reporters from Little Rock,
Louis and Kansas City flocked to the city. Other newspapermen traveled
far from eastern and northern cities to catch the "scoop.” Beginning a week before the hanging, the city began to fill with
strangers from all over the country, anxious to view the hangings. On the day they were to be condemned more than 5,000 people
watched as the six men were marched from the jail to the gallows.
The Fort Smith
Independent was the first newspaper to report the event on
September 3, 1875 with the large column heading reading: "Execution
Day!!" Other newspapers around the country reported the event a day
later. These press reports shocked people throughout the nation. "Cool
Destruction of Six Human Lives by Legal Process" screamed the
Of the six
felons, three were white, two were
Native American and one was black.
Seated along the back of the gallows, their death warrants were
read to them and each was asked if they had any last words.
preliminaries were over, the six were lined up on the scaffold while
Maledon adjusted the nooses around
their necks. The trap was sprung all six died at once at the end of
Though the hangings
were an indication that the once corrupt court was functioning again,
critics dubbed him the "Hanging Judge" and called his court the "Court
of the Damned." However, most of
Parker's critics didn’t
live in the frontier and did not understand the ethics (or lack
thereof) of the untamed
Indian Territory. Most of the local
people approved of
feeling like the utter viciousness of the crimes merited the sentences
imposed. From these first 6 hangings in 1875, there would be 73 more
until his death in 1896.
Parker was hard on killers and
rapists, he was also a fair man. He occasionally granted retrials
that sometimes resulted in acquittals or reduced sentences. Though
Parker actually favored the
abolition of the death penalty, he strictly adhered to the letter of the
law. At one time he said, "in the uncertainty of punishment
following crime, lies the weakness of our halting justice." However,
Parker reserved most of his
sympathy for the crime victims and is now seen as one of first advocates
of victim's rights.
Executioner, earned the moniker of the Prince of Hangmen.
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jurisdiction began to shrink as more courts were given authority over
Territory. The restrictions of the court's once vast jurisdiction were sometimes a
source of frustration to
but what bothered him the most were the Supreme Court reversals of capital
crimes tried in
Fully two-thirds of the cases appealed to the higher court were reversed
and sent back to
for new trials. In 1894 the judge gained national attention in a dispute
with the Supreme Court over the case of Lafayette Hudson.
In 1895 a new Courts Act
was passed which would remove the last remaining
jurisdiction effective September 1, 1896. Following the escape attempt of
Bill in the
summer of 1895, which resulted in the death of a jail guard,
again came into conflict with his superior when he blamed the Justice
Department and the Supreme court for the incident.
eventually hanged in
on March 17, 1896. But the debate was not yet over and a very public
argument was carried on between
and the Assistant Attorney General.
When the August 1896 term
was at home, too sick to preside over the court. Twenty years of overwork
had contributed to a variety of ailments, including Bright's Disease. When
the jurisdiction of the court over lands in the
came to an end on September 1, 1896, the Judge had to be interviewed by
reporters at his bedside. Scarcely two months after the jurisdictional
change took effect, the Judge died on November 17, 1896.
in the Sixth Street Courtroom, circa 1894, courtesy
Fort Smith National Historic Site
In 21 years on the
bench, Judge Parker tried 13,490 cases, 344 of which were capital crimes. 9,454
cases resulted in guilty pleas or convictions. Over the years,
Judge Parker sentenced 160 men to death by hanging, though only 79 of them
were actually hanged. The rest died in jail, appealed or were
of America, updated December, 2012.
National Historic Site
Maledon - Prince of Hangmen
"This is as good a
day to die as any."
Cherokee Bill, March 17, 1896,
as he stepped into the courtyard at Fort Smith and saw the gallows
Judge Isaac Parker before
his death in 1896
was sentenced by
Judge Parker and
on March 17, 1896.
Court Room at Fort Smith,
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