Monday, November 26, 2018

Walnut Ridge Feud among the State’s Longest

Arkansas has a long history of violent feuds and duels, going back even to its Territorial days, but a feud in Walnut Ridge is among the state’s longest running. 

Late in the afternoon of March 4, 1905, Walnut Ridge City Marshal Lee Ridgeway attempted to arrest 23-year-old farmer Edward Bagley for public intoxication. Bagley had caused trouble in a local store. Bagley resisted arrest and fought with Ridgeway, who shot Bagley three times. Bagley died, and Ridgeway surrendered to Deputy Sheriff Lou Graff.

But, the Bagley family was known to be vengeful and violent. Concerned over a backlash, Walnut Ridge officials requested a Little Rock officer come to the city. A Lawrence County grand jury then indicted Ridgeway, who was released with a $2,000 bond.

West Front Street with Pitzele Store and Trolley, Walnut Ridge
A Jury found Ridgeway killed Bagley in self-defense and delivered a not guilty verdict. Ridgeway then decided to leave Walnut Ridge because he feared the Bagley family would seek revenge. He waited three years before returning to the city. Ridgeway thought that amount of time was enough for the Bagley family to cool off, but he was wrong. On Oct. 26, 1908, Ridgeway was shot and killed by Edward Bagley’s brother, Alf.

A jury acquitted Alf Bagley for Ridgeway’s murder after he said he was just carrying out a blood feud. During the trial, a local doctor, John C. “Jack” Hughes, testified against Alf Bagley, which began a new feud for the Bagleys. For the next two years, Hughes and Alf Bagley tried to kill each other. At one point, Hughes shot off one of Bagley’s fingers. Hughes finally shot and killed Bagley in the middle of a street on Oct. 22, 1910. Two hours later, Bagley’s father, Isham, was also shot and killed.

Hughes was arrested for both murders. He admitted to killing Alf Bagley in self-defense but denied shooting Isham Bagley. Law enforcement officials decided against charges for Hughes and released him. For the next few years, the Bagley family continued to seek revenge against Hughes.

Then, in 1912, Hughes’ friend Wolford Benningfield shot and killed John Bagley, Isham’s second son, in retaliation for an attempt on Hughes’ life. Authorities charged Benningfield with second degree murder, and he became the first and only person convicted over the feud. Benningfield was sentenced to 20 years at the State Penitentiary, but the feud continued.

In September 1914, L.A. Bland shot Benningfield’s cousin, Solon Crook, in retaliation for Benningfield’s killing of John Bagley. In an effort to finally stop the feud, Hughes was indicted for the murders of Alf and Isham Bagley, but the judge declared a mistrial. Hughes was tried again in 1915 but was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. The next year, Gov. George Hays pardoned Benningfield, and the feud finally ended.