Wednesday, June 12, 2019

‘Prince of Hangmen’ Never Haunted Over Executions

George Maledon, from the 1898 book, 
“Hell on the Border,” courtesy of 
the Arkansas State Archives. 
Fort Smith has a unique place in the story of the taming of the American West. The city’s history created legendary outlaws and lawmen, including a German native who became known as the most prolific executioner of the late 1800s.

George Maledon was born June 10, 1830, in Landau, Germany, and immigrated with his parents to the United States. The family settled in the Detroit area. As a young man in the late 1840s, Maledon headed west and first landed a job at a lumber mill for the Choctaw Nation. The work didn’t interest him as much as law enforcement, however, so Maledon traveled to Fort Smith, where he joined the city’s police force in 1857.

When the Civil War broke out, Maledon enlisted with the Union army in the First Arkansas Light Artillery Battery. After the war, in 1871, he became a guard with the U.S. marshals for the U.S. District Court for the Western District, which included western Arkansas and Indian Territory, or what is now Oklahoma. The next year, he became a deputy sheriff of Fort Smith. After serving a few years with distinction, he returned to working as a guard for the marshals.

In 1875, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed former Missouri Congressman Isaac Parker to the district court judge position. Parker’s jurisdiction was a well-known hiding places for outlaws, and his court became one of the busiest courts in the West. The number of outlaws condemned to death by Parker led to his popular nickname, “The Hanging Judge.” Although Parker pronounced the sentences, it was Maledon who carried them out.  

Maledon became the primary executioner under Parker, but his involvement with executions started in 1873, when he served as an assistant executioner to Charley Messler who was in charge of executions at the time. The first execution in which Maledon was involved was the case of John Childers, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Rayburn Wedding.

Wedding was a traveling salesman who rode a circuit through Indian Territory selling bacon and flour in return for animal hides that he sold in Arkansas. On Oct. 14, 1870, Wedding crossed paths with Childers, who demanded Wedding trade horses with him. Wedding refused because his horse was worth more than Childers’ horse. Childers, undeterred, overtook Wedding, murdered him and stole his fine, black horse.

On May 15, 1871, the grand jury indicted Childers for murder, and he was held over for trial in Fort Smith. His trial began in May 1873 and resulted in conviction and a death sentence. On Aug. 15, 1873, Childers stood on the newly built gallows and awaited his fate. The sky was clear and sunny, but as the executioner readied the noose, a dark cloud suddenly appeared. As the execution time grew closer, the dark cloud grew larger, and a light rain began to fall.

When asked for final words, Childers spoke for 15 minutes, detailing his life of crime and warning the audience to avoid consorting with dangerous criminals. As Childers spoke, he recognized other members of his criminal gang in the audience. He remarked that, even though his gang members all promised to aid each other, “they seem to be doing nothing for me now.” The hangman said he would spare Childers if he would identify the rest of the gang in the audience, but Childers declined and demanded the marshal pull the trap door to hang him.

The storm grew more intense. Maledon recalled, “Just as the trap was sprung, the keenest flash of lightning I ever saw rent the air, accompanied by a tremendous clap of thunder.” Seconds later, Childers was dead. Almost simultaneously, the storm ended, and the sky began to clear.
Over the next few decades, many outlaws would meet the same fate as Childers. After Maledon became chief executioner for the court, the number of executions he oversaw earned him the nickname “The Prince of Hangmen.”

When Maledon retired in 1894, he claimed he hanged 83 men but admitted he had not kept good records. The exact number of men Maledon hanged cannot be verified. As with so many Old West personalities, reality has been blended with myth.

After retirement, Maledon went on tour to talk about his experiences as a hangman in Judge Parker’s court. He carried with him pieces of rope and a gallery of photographs of outlaws who met their ends on the gallows. He drew large crowds wherever he went.

Maledon died in Tennessee at a retirement home for soldiers in 1911. Until the end, he said he was never bothered by his role as a hangman. A reporter asked Maledon in 1900 if he was haunted by the ghosts of those he hanged, but Maledon scoffed. “I sleep just as soundly as I ever did, and when I am awake, I am not bothered with bad thoughts,” Maledon said. “You can just say for me that the botheration of the spirits is not a factor in my life. I simply did my duty, and, as I have said, there was not a man sentenced to be hung by Judge Parker who didn’t deserve to be hung.”

For more information on the history of Fort Smith or Arkansas, visit the Arkansas State Archives at 1 Capitol Mall, Suite 215, or call 501-682-6900. Information is also available online at For information on the acquisition of U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas records, visit

Wednesday's Wonderful Collection - Hayes C. McClerkin campaign papers, MS.000168

Hayes C. McClerkin was born December 16, 1931 in Texarkana, Arkansas. He acquired his Bachelor of Arts from Washington and Lee University in 1953 and a law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1959. He served in the United States Navy Reserve, with active duty as an officer from July 1953 to December 1956, and inactive duty from 1956 to 1967.
McClerkin served five consecutive terms as a state representative from District 38, Miller County, from 1960 to 1970. He was chairman of the Public Health Committee, the Efficiency Committee, and was Speaker of the House for the 67th General Assembly, 1969-1970.
In 1970 McClerkin campaigned unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor.
This collection contains papers of the unsuccessful campaign of Hayes C. McClerkin for Democratic nominee for governor in 1970. Materials include his campaign schedule/itinerary, general correspondence, speeches, general reports, newspaper clippings, and financial records.
·         Biographical material
o    1. 1970 May 25: News release, biographical sketch of Hayes McClerkin (Box 1)
o    2. Newspaper release publicity
o    3. Radio release publicity
o    4. Campaign manuals
o    5. Photographs
o    6. Photographs
·         Campaign material
o    7. Arkansas County (Box 2)
o    8. Ashley County
o    9. Baxter County
o    10. Benton County
o    11. Boone County
o    12. Bradley County
o    13. Calhoun County
o    14. Carroll County
o    15. Chicot County
o    16. Clark County
o    17. Clay County
o    18. Cleburne County
o    19. Cleveland County
o    20. Columbia County (Box 3)
o    21. Conway County
o    22. Craighead County
o    23. Crawford County
o    24. Crittenden County
o    25. Cross County
o    26. Dallas County
o    27. Desha County
o    28. Drew County
o    29. Faulkner County
o    30. Franklin County
o    31. Fulton County
o    32. Garland County
o    33. Grant County
o    34. Greene County (Box 4)
o    35. Hempstead County
o    36. Hot Spring County
o    37. Howard County
o    38. Independence County
o    39. Izard County
o    40. Jackson County
o    41. Jefferson County
o    42. Johnson County
o    43. Lafayette County
o    44. Lawrence County
o    45. Lee County
o    46. Lincoln County
o    47. Little River County
o    48. Logan County
o    49. Lonoke County (Box 5)
o    50. Madison County
o    51. Marion County
o    52. Miller County
o    53. Miller County, general correspondence, 1969 January
o    54. Miller County, general correspondence, 1969 February
o    55. Miller County, general correspondence, 1969 March-December
o    56. Miller County, general correspondence, 1970
o    57. Mississippi County
o    58. Monroe County
o    59. Montgomery County
o    60. Nevada County
o    61. Newton County
o    62. Ouachita County (Box 6)
o    63. Ouachita County, general correspondence, 1969-1970
o    64. Perry County
o    65. Phillips County
o    66. Pike County
o    67. Poinsett County
o    68. Polk County
o    69. Pope County
o    70. Prairie County
o    71. Pulaski County
o    72. Pulaski County: "Thank you" letters from McClerkin
o    73. Randolph County
o    74. St. Francis County (Box 7)
o    75. Saline County
o    76. Scott County
o    77. Searcy County
o    78. Sebastian County
o    79. Sevier County
o    80. Sharp County
o    81. Stone County
o    82. Union County
o    83. Van Buren County
o    84. Washington County
o    85. White County
o    86. Woodruff County
o    87. Yell County
·         Schedule/Itinerary
o    88. 1970 May 25: Announcement day (Box 8)
o    89. 1970 June
o    90. 1970 July 1-14
o    91. 1970 July 15-31
o    92. 1970 August
·         General correspondence
o    93. A-C
o    94. D-G
o    95. H-L
o    96. M-N
o    97. O-Z
o    98. Out-of-state correspondence
o    99. Memos and form letters
·         Speeches
o    100. Undated: Ashdown Chamber of Commerce, "The Seventies" (Box 9)
o    101. Undated: Blytheville Rotary Club
o    102. Undated: Brinkley Rotary Club
o    103. 1969 May 28: El Dorado Kiwanis Club
o    104. 1969 November 12: Forrest City Kiwanis Club
o    105. 1970 January 15: Fort Smith Exchange Club
o    106. 1969 November 20: Hot Springs Association
o    107. 1969 June 17: Hot Springs Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association
o    108. 1969 June 4: Jonesboro Kiwanis Club
o    109. 1969 March 27: Little Rock Chamber of Commerce Managers
o    110. 1970 July 14: Arkansas Education Association
o    111. 1969 December 1: Little Rock Burial Association
o    112. 1969 March 7: Little Rock County Bar Association
o    113. 1969 October 18: Little Rock Democratic Research Committee
o    114. 1969 April 1: Little Rock Downtown Kiwanis Club
o    115. 1969 May 15: Little Rock Downtown Rotary Club
o    116. 1969 April 1: Little Rock Home Builders Association
o    117. 1969 January 13: Little Rock House of Representatives
o    118. 1969 March 11: Little Rock House of Representatives
o    119. 1969 December 18: Little Rock Jaycees
o    120. 1970 February 9: Little Rock Pulaski Heights Lions Club
o    121. 1969 January 21: Little Rock School Board Association convention
o    122. 1970 January 11: Little Rock Soil Conservation
o    123. 1970 June 27: Little Rock state campaign headquarters
o    124. Undated: Malvern Chamber of Commerce (Box 10)
o    125. 1969 October 7: Russellville Lions Club
o    126. 1969 October 16: Searcy Kiwanis Club
o    127. 1970 May 25: Announcement of candidacy for Governor
o    128. Undated: "Our Quest for a Better Society: The Governmental Function"
o    129. Undated: "The Seventies"
o    130. Undated: "State Government Reorganization"
o    131. Undated: Television appearance
o    132. Undated: Miscellaneous speeches
o    133. Undated: Miscellaneous handwritten notes
o    134. Undated: News release, Arkansas Loan and Thrift
o    135. Undated: News release, Cummins Prison Farm
·         Topics
o    136. Census
o    137. Constitutional Convention
o    138. County organization
o    139. Marion Crank
o    140. Democratic Committee
o    141. Elections with maps
o    142. Employment
o    143. Financial plight of our cities
o    144. Labor
o    145. Hayes McClerkin's voting record on selected topics
o    146. Medicaid and welfare
o    147. Pollution control (Box 11)
o    148. Poll watchers
o    149. Prison reform
o    150. Bob Riley recommendations
o    151. Steering committee
o    152. Poll on taxes regarding special session
o    153. Voting (bills, constitutional excerpts, handwritten notes, and publications)
·         Lists
o    154. 1970: Membership list, Arkansas Bus and Truck Association, Incorporated
o    155. 1969-1970: Arkansas Democratic State Committee
o    156. 1970: Arkansas Liquefied Petroleum Gas Dealers' Directory
o    157. 1969: Arkansas Newspaper Directory Ratebook, (handwritten list and publication)
o    158. 1969: Arkansas State Council on Economic Education
o    159. 1969: Arkansas State Dental Association membership roster
o    160. 1970: Arkansas Veterinarian Medical Association
o    161. 1969: Chambers of Commerce in Arkansas, executive roster
o    162. 1968-1970: County Democratic Central Committees, chairmen and secretaries
o    163. Undated: Judges and sheriffs
o    164. Undated: Miscellaneous lists
o    165. Undated: Post offices and postmasters
o    166. 1961, 1963-1964, 1967, 1969, 1970: Senate and House members
o    167. Undated: Young Democratic clubs, state executive committee mailing list
o    Reports
§  168. 1968-1969: Arkansas county and regional personal income estimates, (reprinted from Arkansas Business and Economics Review, 1970 November)
§  169. Undated: Arkansas's needs for consideration prior to an extraordinary session of the legislature
§  170. Undated: Mandate for Reform, a Report of the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection to the Democratic National Committee
§  171. Undated: Arkansas issues survey preliminary report
§  172. Undated: Senatorial and representative analysis
§  173. 1961-1969: Summary of action on selected subjects 5 reports
o    Newspaper clippings
§  174. Candidates and possible candidates for governor (Box 12)
§  175. Democratic Party
§  176. Drugs and child abuse
§  177. Education
§  178. Environment, parks, pollution
§  179. Legislature and legislation
§  180. McClerkin
§  181. Miscellaneous
§  182. Miscellaneous
§  183. Nowotney, George W., Jr.
§  184. Nursing homes
§  185. Prisons, prison reform, and Robert Sarver
§  186. Purcell, Joe
§  187. Racial issuses
§  188. Rockefeller, Winthrop
§  189. Special session
§  190. Taxes and financial matters
§  191. Thomasson, Jerry K. (racing)
§  192. Voting, eighteen-year-olds
·         Publications
o    193. 1972: Centrex, state offices telephone directory (Box 13)
o    194. 1969-1970: Directory of Arkansas Lions Clubs
o    195. 1969: Directory of the Sixty-Seventh Legislature
o    196. 1970: Johnson County Peach Festival
o    197. 1970: The Montessorian, centennial year
o    198. 1969: Rules of the House of Representatives, 67th General Assembly
·         Financial matters
o    199. Account authorization
o    200. Billboards
o    201. Car cards
o    202. Car insurance
o    203. Checkbook
o    204. Employee withholding exemption certificates
o    205. Expense receipts
o    206. Overdue bill
o    207. Print quotes
o    208. Receipts, invoices and records
o    209. Speech on salary, bank statements
·         Miscellaneous
o    210. Blank forms
o    211. "Current Issues of Campus"
o    212. Handwritten notes
o    213. Magazine articles
o    214. 1968 December 6: Press release
·         Audio-visuals
o    215. 1970 May 15: Audio tape, announcement of candidacy (Box 14)
o    216. 1970 June 10: Cassette, press conference
o    217. McClerkin cards and stickers
o    218. 1970 May 25: Color silent 16mm film, announcement of candidacy
o    219. Slides, McClerkin and family