Friday, October 30, 2020

Newspaper accounts chronicle the haunting of Rock Creek

By Brian Irby, archival assistant

Arkansas is a supernaturally rich state, one with many legendary ghosts and mysteries. After the long, hot summer months, when the air turns cool and there is a bit of a chill snap in the evening,  people around the state gather by fireplaces or around campfires under the stars and retell these tales. One is the mysterious disappearing hitchhiker on Woodson Lateral Road; another is the ghost of a beheaded railroad worker who haunts a set of abandoned railroad tracks in Gurdon. The spirits of cancer patients who died at the hands of a quack doctor at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs form a ghostly legion of their own.  And for every well-known ghost tale there are others, once known in their locales but which have faded from memory over the years. A search through the newspaper holdings at the Arkansas State Archives, however, can yield many of these obscure ghost stories. 

For instance, there is the strange story of a haunting that occurred in the 1870s in the Rock Creek area of Little Rock.  According to surviving newspaper accounts, Capt. Dan O’Leary, contractor of a project to extend the turnpike into the Rock Creek area in southern Little Rock, was witness to the ghost. In February 1888, O’Leary made his camp on the end of the unfinished road.  His fellow workers were encamped along Rock Creek. As the construction commenced, every morning O’Leary’s employees told him stories of strange noises they heard during the night.  These noises continued during the construction project.

O’Leary initially dismissed the stories, believing that the men were simply “hearing things.” On the other hand, he knew the area had been the scene of a grisly murder several years before, one that had been sensational enough so that O’Leary remembered it clearly, even 15 years later. The Richardson family had traveled from Missouri and were on their way to Texas. On a chilly evening in November 1873, Mr. Richardson, his wife and daughter camped on the banks of Rock Creek just south of Little Rock. As the family slept a man crept up and murdered the family, stealing their horse and wagon and then disappearing into the woods. The next day, the bodies were found. 

Investigators located the stolen horse and wagon in the possession of one Charles Matlock. After his arrest, detectives asked where he had obtained the property. Matlock told police detectives that he had bought them in Texas and had been on the way home to Little Rock when he was arrested. After a two-week trial, a jury found Matlock guilty of murder and sentenced him to hang. Matlock maintained that he was innocent of the crime to his dying day. He was hanged on June 19, 1874.

O’Leary decided that perhaps his employees might be telling the truth. There was no other way to investigate but to stay up and listen for the sounds that his work crew had been reporting for weeks. The night began peacefully, with only the roar of the nearby creek breaking the silence. As time passed and nothing happened, O’Leary began to think that there was nothing to his men’s claims. Around 11 p.m., O’Leary decided to call it a night, deciding his crew had obviously mistaken common night sounds for ghosts. As he laid his head down in his bedroll, however, he heard a sudden sound: a woman’s scream.  The scream repeated a few times, then all fell silent. Then, O’Leary heard the distinctive sound of a child begging, “Don’t kill mamma!  Don’t kill mamma!” repeatedly. The voice faded with each plea until silence returned to the valley. O’Leary slipped out of his bedroll and started walking in the direction of where he had heard the sounds. Venturing toward the creek bank, he found … nothing but the rushing waters. 

After O’Leary’s experience became widely known, J.M. Lowrey, a teamster who often hauled lumber into the city, reported that he had often heard those same sounds while camping in that area. Eventually, the mysterious noises had caused him to choose a different spot on which to camp if he was in the area.  Reinforced by Lowrey’s story, interest in “the Rock Creek haunting” increased. In the spring of 1889, several prominent people in Little Rock society, including a county judge, decided that they might camp in the area and see if they could also hear the mysterious sounds. At around 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, the party heard screaming, coming from the surrounding woods. Overcoming their fright, the group decided to investigate further. As they tromped through the brambles in the direction of the creek, they found a wild cat to be the source of the scream and quickly killed it. They heard nothing further that evening. O’Leary’s crew finally finished the project, leaving behind Rock Creek and its mysterious sounds. Eventually, the story faded and was forgotten. 

Another forgotten story is that of the mysterious black-clad figure that caused an uproar in Jackson County. Witnesses began reporting the strange figure wandering the streets of Newport in October 1878. Witnesses described the ghost as resembling a portly woman wearing a black veil. She usually made her appearances around 9 p.m. One witness reported that while he was walking from Jacksonport (the county seat, located five miles north of town) to Newport along the railroad tracks, the mysterious woman came up behind him. Thinking the woman was no more than an ordinary traveler, the man greeted the woman. Instead of returning his greeting, she jumped up several feet in the air onto a telegraph wire and then started walking on the wire, keeping pace with the man as he walked.  Then the woman vanished. The ghost was also spotted near Newport’s post office. As the sightings increased, Newport’s streets became increasingly deserted after dark. Eventually, the ghost scare in Newport died down after the mysterious female made fewer and fewer appearances and eventually disappeared entirely. 

She was not, however, finished with her nightly strolls. Two years later, on Sept. 26, 1891, a group of people were enjoying an early autumn evening on their front porches in Jacksonport when they spotted the mysterious woman, dressed in a black veil with long black hair, walking down the middle of the street. When citizens attempted to talk to her, she suddenly fled from the area. For the next several weeks, she continued making nightly visits through downtown Jacksonport, frightening all who saw her. Alarmed about the woman in black, several of Jacksonport’s citizens decided to arm themselves and lie in wait for her. Luckily for the black-clad specter, the armed vigilantes never caught sight of her. 

Many speculated that she was not a ghost at all, but instead was a clever scheme by robbers to scare citizens to keep them off the street and leave the local shops vulnerable to robbery. Others saw the lady in black’s appearances in 1891 as a political scheme to sway the election over whether Newport should become the new county seat of Jackson County. This theory held that the supposedly spectral appearances would so frighten people that they would be reluctant to go to Jacksonport to the courthouse, since the town seemed to be haunted. According to the theory, people would vote for Newport merely to keep from having to go to haunted Jacksonport. Whether it was an actual ghost, a political ploy by Newport supporters or a clever scheme to aid robbers, the mysterious lady in black only stayed around for a couple of weeks, then disappeared again. Surviving newspapers from the era from Jackson County do not mention another appearance from her.

Arkansas’s folklore is full of strange stories such as these. The historic material collected at the Arkansas State Archives is a great place for exploring the richness of Arkansas folklore. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Historical records leave clues for solving the mystery of Millie (Part Three)

 By Jane Wilkerson, archival assistant

Sometimes, genealogy research is a process of “two steps forward and one step back” — but for me, in 2003, deep in my quest to ferret out the truth about my third great-grandmother Millie, that one step back was more like a brick wall. In 2003, online genealogical sources were relatively new: had launched in December 1998 under the name (which became in November 1999), and followed in May 1999. Both featured digitized census records, International Genealogical Indexes (IGI), Social Security Death Index and family trees created by members. also featured some digitized newspapers and a message board for queries. Both services were interesting and useful, but what they offered was not enough to help me unlock the mystery that was Millie. That year, work and my living family were my highest priorities: My nephew Michael, born in 2002, and my mom, who was fighting cancer, became the center of my attention. For the time being, finding the answers about the much-married Millie, her husbands and her children could wait.

As it turned out, however, the wait was not all that long. In July 2005, I attended the Deshields family reunion, held at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale, Arkansas. Even though I am not descended from the Deshields family, my grandfather’s brother married one. Uncle John Wilkerson married Cuma Deshields on May 1, 1941, in Marion County, Arkansas. They spent most of their married life living in Bentonville, Arkansas. Therefore, the reunion was open to connecting families from the East Sugar Loaf and Lead Hill area in Boone County, Arkansas. My parents, my brother’s family and I went to see everyone and introduce young Michael to this crazy clan. The reunion turned out to be the last time I would be around my grandfather Wilkerson’s sisters, my great aunts Olivet, Lillian and Mary Alice. It was a long day of talking and playing “tackle Aunt Jane” with my nephew and my Cousin Becky’s children, Andy and Jennifer. However, “Aunt Jane” did get some time to talk to the grownups. As a good genealogist, I attended the reunion with notebooks filled with all my research. My plan was to find the perfect time to approach my great aunts and bring up what I thought would be the sensitive subject of their great grandmother, Millie.

The time came as the day slowed down and families began to leave. My father dragged me over to the congregation of my aunts in the middle of the room. We ended standing by Aunt Olivet. [1] Dad started the conversation telling her I had questions about the Millers. I discussed with her my research on the Miller family, hoping it would possibly jar something from her memory or those of her sisters Lillian or Mary Alice. When I mentioned the name of Prather and that an O. George Miller was on the census with his family in 1870, Olivet said, “Well a Prather raised George.”

I shot, I scored: Here was confirmation that I might be on the right track. Olivet went on to confirm that “Yes, Millie did marry him” and that her grandmother, Millie’s daughter-in-law Laura Miller, did not like her. Aunt Olivet told me Laura had been close to Prather’s wife, whom he left in order to take up with Millie! Also, I found out that Millie had encouraged her son George to come to Kansas and work in the lead and zinc mines there. Laura had told him that if he went, she would not be following him.

After the reunion, it was clear that my research needed to be continued over in Kansas, but getting there proved to be an issue. Reader, I’ll bet you are thinking something along the lines of “Kansas is not that far away — so why not just go there?” The answer lay in prioritization: there were other, more pressing, things with which I dealt. I still had work — a paying job, and in history, to boot —  and family. My mother was still battling the dreaded “C” word and, to make things just a little more complicated, I started graduate school in 2006. Therefore, I reasoned, Millie could, and would, wait until another day.[2]

In 2007, Mom lost her battle with cancer, and it took everything for me to finish graduate school. My dad, who was a great support, kept me focused and I kept working at the Arkansas History Commission and, in 2009, finished my master’s degree. After this, you might imagine I would have time and energy to refresh Minnie’s cold trail; after all, working at the commission, I was assisting and learning from experienced and enthusiastic family historians on a daily basis, and enjoyed access to one of the best genealogical collections in the region. But remember what they say about plumbers’ houses; they’re the last ones to get running water! I was working in genealogy, but my own personal genealogy had to go on the back burner … and for a while, my enthusiasm cooled off.

With time, though, my passion slowly came back. In 2015, I dusted off my old notebooks and began going through my research. In 2017, I decided to focus on picking up Minnie’s trail where I had left it, vowing to myself that “this was it.” My nephew Michael was getting older, after all, and he now had two sisters, Amanda and Kayla; I wanted to be able to tell them the whole family story, including the tale of the mysterious Millie. So, I started poring through things I’d previously collected. I found where I had found a “Millie Miller” living with one William Liner in Labette County, Kansas. She had been born in Tennessee, and William was a teamster. Early on I had suspected a connection but could not find documentation. A family rumor had identified “my” Millie as having worked as a cook on wagon trains hauling between northwest Arkansas and Kansas, so living and keeping house with a teamster would certainly fit what I knew about her. Another possible lead was a certain Millie Tyner who appeared on the 1900 Census in Baxter Springs, Kansas. With that in mind, I decided to try to find a marriage license for Edward Sweem and Millie. Over the years, had put several states’ marriage licenses online; so my search started there. To my amazement, after several hours searching I found a marriage in Jasper County, Missouri for… E.J. Sweem and a Millie Tyner! With my heart racing, I kept reading. Their residence was listed as Baxter Springs in Cherokee County, Kansas; they were married there on Nov. 16, 1902.

After several minutes of staring at this amazing document and thinking, I realized how this made sense. Joplin, Missouri, is in Jasper County; it is on the way from Boone County to Baxter Springs. Then, I ran down the stairs of the house yelling, “Dad I found her; I found her.” He listened to what I had discovered patiently and then told me to go back to looking. The marriage license confirmed my suspicion that Millie Tyner was my ancestor. My next step was to consult the newspapers for Baxter Springs, Kansas. Luckily, and Genealogy bank both had them online. Now, I could justify subscriptions to both.

What I then uncovered in the papers was an interesting story. My first discovery was in the Aug. 16, 1902, Baxter Springs News: Apparently, E.J. Sweem filed suit in district court of Cherokee County, Kansas, against Millie Sweem. The publication summons stated that he was seeking a divorce on the grounds of abandonment, extreme cruelty and gross neglect. The advertisement ran until Sept. 13, 1902. Now, according to the marriage license I found they were in fact . . . not yet married. What was going on here (or, rather, there)? Who could tell? Did I want to keep going? Of course! After hours of searching, I had not yet found proof of a first marriage, so I was not sure about why Sweem was filing for divorce from a woman who he had not yet married! Something was irregular about this; I wondered if this might have been one of the things that caused Aunt Kate, Millie’s granddaughter who originally tried to gather information about her, to suddenly stop the search.

With no definitive answer, I carried on with my quest of discovering who Millie Tyner really was. Returning to the 1880 census schedule page, I concluded that the name I had thought, years before, was “Liner” more than likely was “Tyner.” It was confirmed when I discovered a marriage license for one William Tyner and Millie Miller in Labette County, Kansas. The couple married on Sept. 12, 1881. All documents showed the couple lived a normal life; through local papers, I discovered that William had engaged in the grocery business. He ran shops in Chetopa and Baxter Springs, Kansas, from 1878 until his death in 1899. At the same time, Millie herself was working in a trade. She became known as a seamstress and weaver, skills which must have proved valuable for survival after Tyner’s death. My discoveries gave me Millie’s life between 1880 to her death in 1916, but what about before 1880? The last document — paradoxically, the earliest that I found for Millie is a Labette County, Kansas State census for 1875. In the record, it shows she was born in Tennessee and lived in Arkansas before coming to Kansas. Even better: Millie was listed along with her oldest daughter, Nancy. The only other time Nancy appeared with Millie was on the 1860 United State Census in Madison County, Arkansas. 

So, I now had discovered Amelia (Millie) Seals. Born to Zealeous and Elizabeth Seals on May 11, 1839, in Tennessee, she came to White County, Arkansas, before 1850. Her family then moved to War Eagle Township in Madison County, Arkansas. It was there she met her husband George Washington Miller Sr. and had four children: Nancy, Susan, James and George Washington Jr. Sometime around 1863 or after, she was widowed and forced to give at least her youngest child, George, to the family of Phillip P. Prather to raise. Millie then went on to work as a cook on a wagon train from Arkansas to Kansas. It was then she met her second husband William Tyner. In 1875 Millie made Kansas her home and married Tyner in 1881. Their marriage lasted nearly 20 years, both being respected members of the community. After Tyner’s death Millie married Edward Sweem. It was a marriage of convenience; she was to be his caretaker. Their marriage was short lived and played out in the local media. Millie’s last marriage, to the Rev. Phillip P. Prather appears to have been as loving as her first two. Millie Seals Miller Tyner Sweem Prather passed away on June 14, 1916, in Baxter Springs, Kansas, and is buried in the city cemetery.

For the time being, my research on Millie has come to a halt. The period between 1860 and 1875 remains a mystery. Was it at this time she ran, as the family folklore suggested, a brothel and saloon? Through my journey, I had discovered she worked as a cook on a wagon train. But, was she only a cook? When I showed my Gary the photograph of Millie, he told me the medal visible on Millie‘s chest had been from her “girls.” What girls? I still have questions and have resigned myself to the fact I may never know the whole story. I can conclude, though, that Millie was, above all else, a survivor in a tough world. Some mysteries remain, but I have a clearer image of who Millie was. Whether she ran a brothel like the legendary "Miss Kitty" or not, Millie was a fighter and survivor.

[1] For those who do not know me well, I was shy as a child and it still comes out at times. This was one of those times, so my dad had to encourage me.

[2] When I started seriously doing genealogy, my mom and I would discuss what we had found. She worked on her side, and I would do both hers and dads.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives is accepting submissions for research award

POWHATAN, AR – The Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA) is accepting original, unpublished manuscripts through Feb. 1 for the 2021 NEARA Award for Exemplary Archival Research.

Participants are eligible to win a $1,000 cash prize. A framed certificate will be presented for the best manuscript that uses NEARA’s archival records, particularly the Lawrence County territorial papers of 1815 to 1836. The winning paper will be considered for publication in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly journal.  

Anyone is eligible to submit a manuscript. A three-person panel, which is comprised of representatives of NEARA and the Arkansas Historical Association, will pick the winner. The association reserves the right not to award a prize in a given year.

Entries must not have been submitted elsewhere or published previously and must be no longer than 35 pages. Papers must contain citations from documents housed at NEARA to qualify. NEARA documents posted online are acceptable.

The manuscript’s text, including quotations and notes, must be double-spaced. Footnotes must be numbered consecutively. Because manuscripts are evaluated anonymously, only the full title of the article can appear on top of the first page of the manuscript. Please include title, author’s name, complete physical mailing address, telephone numbers and email address on a separate page.

Submit three copies of the manuscript that are clear and readable. No copies will be returned but will be added to NEARA’s collections and to the Special Collections at the University of Arkansas Libraries in Fayetteville. Submission of an entry assumes permission for researcher use.

Please mail manuscripts postmarked by Feb. 1 to: NEARA Award – Arkansas Historical Association; Department of History, Old Main 416, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701. The winner will be announced in April, during the Arkansas Historical Association’s conference in Conway.

The Arkansas Historical Association sponsors the award, which was established in 2013 to honor Lawrence County Historical Society volunteers who saved the territorial records for future researchers when the Powhatan County seat was abandoned in 1963. Volunteers also lobbied for a regional archives, which was established in 2011. The family of Eugene Sloan, a Jonesboro lawyer who was born in Powhatan in 1892, funds the award.

NEARA staff are available to help researchers locate topics or delve further into works in progress. For more information about the award or for submission guidelines, visit the Arkansas Historical Association at To learn more about the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives visit

Accessions for September

By Stephanie Carter, archivist

Our recent accessions include genealogical research and tourism brochures. The Arkansas State
Archives preserves two centuries of Arkansas history and more, ready for you to explore. Visit our digital collections or consult our research services at   

Archival Collections

John Michael Walsh donated genealogical research into the origins of the Walsh-Welsh family. This is a digital collection that includes more than 80,000 documents related to the Walsh family, who lived in Pulaski County some time before the 20th century.

The Teresa Hastings collection of Arkansas Tourism publications, 1977-1979, includes 13 brochures/pamphlets about Hot Springs and other locations around Arkansas. They were donated by Teresa Hastings of Lewes, Delaware.

Six miscellaneous Arkansas brochures/pamphlets/flyers, 1926, about Springdale, Fayetteville and Siloam Springs were transferred to us from the collections of History Nebraska (the Nebraska State Historical Society) in Lincoln, Nebraska. They promote Arkansas agriculture, particularly its fruit growing potential, and highlight the Ozark Grape Festival plus other topics.

How a White Rapist Came To Be Regarded as Black: The Lynching of Andrew Springer (Part Two)

 By Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager for Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives

Last month, NEARA embarked on a journey of discovering who Andrew Springer was -- the only man to be ever lynched in Lawrence County for the crime of rape – and why this white rapist was "remembered” as Black. Click here to read the first part of the story.

Who was Andrew Springer and how did he commit the crime for which he was ultimately lynched? As widespread as the coverage of Springer’s crime and lynching was – newspapers from Pennsylvania to South Dakota reported it there are precious few details about Springer himself or his victim in these news reports, or outside of them. Many researchers have become intrigued by Springer over the years, including Vesta Smith of Black Rock, who first discovered hard evidence (a newspaper article) about his racial identity.21 Incomplete and inaccurate documentation has also probably helped discourage extended investigations of this case. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas has an entry on Andrew Springer,22 and he has also become the subject of ghost stories at the Powhatan State Historic Park,23 but substantial research on his case is altogether missing.

The most reliable source about Springer’s story that remains are several court documents preserved at the NEARA branch of the Arkansas State Archives in Powhatan. These documents date back to the time when the events unfolded and were produced by first-hand witnesses, including officers of the law. The documents include an order for Springer’s jailing on May 14, 1887,24 a coroner’s report, two witness testimonies and an “affidavit to county account” (i.e., a cost report).25 As important a factual record of the story as these documents are, they contain only a barebones description of what took place and do not even mentioned the rape victim by name or anything about Springer’s background. The documents neither reference Springer’s racial identity, nor provide any clues as to where he came from or what he did for a living. What the records do show is that the Powhatan jailer was ordered “to receive into to [sic] jail of Lawrence County Andrew Springer and him safely keep until discharge by due course of law[,] he having been held by me [F.M. Lee] as an examining court for trial in the Western Lawrence County Circuit Court on the charge of rape.” Sharp County Justice of the Peace F.M. Lee issued and signed the order. Sharp County was a new county at the time with no jail of its own, and a justice of the peace in those days was an officer who fulfilled the functions of a constable as well. The order was issued on the same day that Springer committed the rape: May 14, 1887.26

Another set of three documents – issued and signed by Lawrence County Coroner J.M. Barlow,  and Lawrence County Clerk C. Harvy,– provide a cost summary of the “inquisition held over the dead body of Andrew Springer,” as well as a list of jurors taking part in the inquisition. Accordingly, it cost Lawrence County $10.25 to summon and depose witnesses, to “summariz[e] … incoming claims and return inquisition,” and to pay for “mileage going & returning.” A jury of 12 members separately cost the county $1 each, for a total of $12.00, while two witnesses commanded a$1 (0.50 cents each). The expenses for the coffin and burial of Springer’s body amounted to $10.00.27

The inquisition took place on May 21, 1887, in Powhatan, the same day Springer was lynched. The inquisition report simply states: “Upon the view of the dead body of Andrew Springer by the oaths of Fill Wayland, W.S. Watson, F.C Stuart, Wm [William] Matthews, Jno. [John] W. Martin, J.R. Wells, W.D. Ragsdale, J.H. Doyle, H.F. Sloan, J.R. Eudaily, A.J. Hedrick, John Darter, good and lawful jurors of said County who being in due form sworn said that the said Andrew Springer came to his death by hanging and pistol shot by parties unknown to the jury about one o’clock this morning.”28 In other words, the jury of  “good and lawful” citizens examined Springer’s body and testified that he died as a result of being hanged and then shot around 1 a.m. Saturday by a party of men, none of whom were allegedly known to any members of the jury.

It is beyond unlikely that not a single juror knew any of the “20 to 25 men” that snatched Springer from the Powhatan Jail and lynched him a short distance away, even though they were not trying to hide their identity by wearing masks, for example (according to Angle’s testimony below). It is also not hard to imagine that, in the case of rape, jurors would have been reluctant to tell on anyone who partook in the lynching of a “rapist.” Indeed, it was expected of “good and lawful” citizens to dispense a Judge Lynch-style justice to any rapist, rather than allow the rule of law to play out. Several newspapers covering Springer’s case reported as much: “[P]redictions that Judge Lynch would settle the case were freely made [in the community regarding Springer].”29

Only two recorded witnesses testified as to Andrew Springer’s final hours: Lawrence County Jailer Andrew J. Angle and Thomas Parrott, status undetermined, but apparently someone who helped the jailer. Angle’s statement is brief and unrevealing, not at all what would behoove the testimony of the most vital witness in the case. After all, Angle had custody of Springer and witnessed the mob law being leveled against him. Even drier than the most laconic newspaper account of the case, Angle simply stated:

[A]bout half past – 12 oc [o’clock] this a.m.[,] 20 or 25 men came to my house under pretension of having a prisoner to be put in jail and compelled me to go open the

jail. The men took said Andrew Springer out of jail and hung him. After hanging him they shot at him five times. The men were not masked. I did not know any of them. The men went away on Springfield road west [toward Sharp County] [emphasis added].30

Whereas Angle’s testimony is recorded in the first person singular (“I”), possibly written by the witness himself,  Parrott’s account of events appears to have been put to paper by someone else (it starts in the third person singular/plural, “he/they”), likely indicating that Parrott was illiterate. Both witnesses gave statements the same day that Springer was lynched – May 21, 1887. Parrot essentially repeated the same things Angle said:

[H]e was awakened at about half past 12 oc [o’clock] this a.m. and went with Andrew J. Angle and the men to help put their prisoner in jail and as we got to the jail the men stated that they wanted Andrew Springer and compelled us to open the jail and took said Springer out and hung him and then shot at him 5 times. The men went away on Springfield road west.

A list of sordid details that are missing in Angle and Parrott’s accounts are supplied by newspaper descriptions, some more detailed than others, some simply reprinted from earlier publications. In a nutshell, the story of the rape and lynching can be summarized as follows: On May 14, 1887, a Saturday, Andrew Springer called at the home of William R. Montgomery, who lived near Opposition in Sharp County, Arkansas, to ask for a drink of water. At the time of Springer’s visit, Mrs. Montgomery was at home alone with her six-week-old baby (gender undetermined).31 Whether Springer already knew his victim and was simply on a reconnaissance mission before committing the crime may never be known, but it is certainly a distinct possibility. It is also likely that he stumbled upon an opportunity, which his twisted mind would not allow him to miss, completely by chance.

According to the Daily Arkansas Gazette of May 21, 1887, Springer received a drink of water from Mrs. Montgomery, then left, and returned sometime later to commit the rape. In this version of events, he may not have had a prior knowledge of his victim, but he saw an opportunity when he found her alone and later returned to commit the rape. As the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of May 22, 1887 put it, he “called at the house of William Montgomery, and finding Mrs. Montgomery alone in the house with a 6-week-old child, he drew a knife and threatened to kill her unless she submitted to his desires. She endeavored to escape from him by running, but he caught and overpowered her, and succeeded in his purpose.”32

The detail missing in this description, but supplied by other newspapers, is that Springer snatched Mrs. Montgomery’s infant from her arms, threw the infant to the ground, then raped and left her in “precarious condition.”33 There is no information as to what happened to the child, if anything. However, had the infant died as a result of Springer’s actions, it is my assumption that newspapers would have reported that information for a more dramatic effect of the story, if nothing else. Based on the available newspaper coverage, though, one can safely assume that the child survived the crime, and so did Mrs. Montgomery. Andrew Springer would not be so lucky.

Next month, the series concludes with a description of Springer’s lynching and death, as well as some speculations as to his background and identity.


[21] As indicated earlier, Vesta discovered the microfilm newspaper article that called Springer a “white tramp,” and she provided me with a copy of the article. However, the copy did not contain the source or date of the article. In Vesta’s memory, there are two contenders for the source, the Memphis Avalanche (or another Memphis-based newspaper) of May 18, 1887, and the Sharp County Recorder of May 19, 1887. Blake Perkins cites the Sharp County Recorder of May 18, 1887, as the source (see Footnote 3; also see Perkins’s Note 39). 

[22] Guy Lancaster, “Andrew Springer (Lynching of),” CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas, last updated March 2, 2018,, accessed September 18, 2019.

[23] Jeanni Brosius, “Haunted History,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 22, 2009,, accessed September 18, 2019.

[24] MSNE.0069 Lawrence County Inquests, Box 1, Folder 52, Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, Arkansas State Archives, Powhatan, Arkansas.

[25] MSNE.0070 Lawrence County Court Records, Box 23, Folder 36, Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, Arkansas State Archives, Powhatan, Arkansas.

[26] MSNE.0069 Lawrence County Inquests, Box 1, Folder 52. (The folder contains a single document.)

[27] MSNE.0070 Lawrence County Court Records, Box 23, Folder 36.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Memphis Daily Appeal, 23 May 1887, 4; Clinton Eye, 28 May 1887, 2; The Tennessean, 23 May 1887, 1; Duncannon Record, 27 May 1887, all in, accessed on August 24, 2019.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Daily Arkansas Gazette, 21 May 1887,, accessed August 24, 2019; St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 22 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Memphis Daily Appeal, 23 May 1887, 4,, accessed August 24, 2019

Friday, October 2, 2020

Lands records may help solve genealogical problems

By Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager for the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

Often novice genealogists say, “I don’t want to search through land records. It’s too time consuming and complicated. Can’t I just stick with the Census?” Yes, and no. To a point, genealogists can stick to searching census records for their ancestors, but this will only tell a small part of the story. Land records are vital to genealogical research. Frequently, genealogical problems may be solved through researching land records.

In the United States, one first needs to know the type of land records being searched. Is the land located in a “state-land” state or a “public-land” state, and what’s the difference? State-land states are those in which most of the land was granted to individuals either by the state or, prior to the creation of the United States, the colony. Public-land states are those in which land was granted to individuals by the federal government.

The two sorts of state differ in the nature or style of land descriptions. In the state-land states, descriptions usually begin at a certain point (often a creek, boulder, tree or some other landmark) then progressing to the next point in a line, then to a certain point and so forth until coming back around to the original survey point. This type of description is also known as the metes-and-bounds system.

On the other hand, in the public-land rectangular survey system, land is described by section, township and range starting from a principal meridian, which for Arkansas is the 5th Principal Meridian located in the eastern part of the state. When driving along Baseline Road in Little Rock, one is driving along the baseline which divides the townships between north and south and which intersects with the 5th Principal Meridian. The meridian divides the ranges between east and west. A township is approximately six square miles, and sections within the township are approximately one square mile. Land can further be divided within the sections by quarters, halves, etc. This renders a description of land such as the following for the patent of James Black just outside of Washington, Arkansas: “the southwest quarter, of the southwest quarter, of section twenty-three, in township eleven south, of range twenty-five west.”

Title abstract companies deal in researching the legal documentation of land parcels back to the original landowner. A title abstract, or chain of title, helps potential buyers ensure that there’s a clear title to a property. For genealogical researchers however, abstracts of title are useful for knowing how long an ancestor owned property and when and from whom property was purchased and/or subsequently sold.

Recently, Daniel Bramlett of Hope donated 20 ledgers to SARA. He had obtained them from the Hempstead County Abstract Company. The ledgers record the history of many Hempstead County properties. Because they list the deed books and pages for real estate transactions throughout a property’s history, they can help researchers save time by viewing these prior to scanning through the deed records. If a property’s section, township and range are known, the property’s history can then be easily obtained in the tract books. There are also ledgers containing lists of delinquent lands sold to individuals for non-payment of taxes. All of these types of records can help genealogists and historians further their research and give a clearer picture of an individual’s or family’s history.

SARA is fortunate to have donors like Bramlett who care about Arkansas’s history and want to see it preserved. For more information about this collection or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at or by calling 501-682-6900.


Suggested resources for further learning:

Patricia Law Hatcher, Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records (Betterway Books, 2003)

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records (

Nineteenth century politicians settle dispute by (illegal) dueling

By Brian Irby, archival assistant

In the 19th century, dueling was a common practice for settling quarrels or disputes, particularly ones arising from insults or slights to one’s character. If challenged to a duel, an honorable person would have to accept or risk losing his honor. Since duels were formal challenges, there were rules to be followed. Those involved would meet at a predetermined place, often outside of their territory or state in order to lessen their chances of being persecuted. At dawn, the men would stand a measured distance from each other and shoot when ordered. If the gun shots missed their targets, the men had the option to continue with a second shot or agree to end the duel. If one of the combatants managed to hit his target, it was considered that the winner of the duel had his honor completely restored.

The problem of dueling in Arkansas had been recognized as early as 1820 when the territorial legislature enacted a law prohibiting dueling. They went further than mere prohibition, however, requiring public office holders to take an oath that they had not participated in, or sent a challenge for, a duel at any time since the passage of the law. This law was later codified into state law when Arkansas gained statehood in 1836.

The law notwithstanding, some of Arkansas’s most prominent politicians in the early 1800s took part in dueling. One notable duel took place in 1827 between Henry Conway and Territorial Secretary Robert Crittenden. The men had been political rivals. Conway had defeated Crittenden’s favored candidate for Congress, Robert C. Oden. During the bitter campaign, Crittenden had considered his honor damaged, so he challenged Conway, and the two men met in Mississippi to fight the duel. Crittenden shot Conway, killing him.  

Another major duel in Arkansas history was between John S. Roane and Albert Pike. The dispute between the two men began while they were in army service during the Mexican-American War. While organizing a regiment of Arkansans to go fight in Mexico, former United States Sen. Archibald Yell was appointed colonel of the Arkansas Mounted Rifles with John Roane as lieutenant colonel and Solon Borland serving as major. Albert Pike served as captain. From the beginning, there were squabbles among the command of the unit.

Pike trained his soldiers well, but the other officers did not. Pike, observing the actions of his fellow officers’ commands, became disgruntled at the lack of discipline in their poorly trained companies. For instance, following the murder of an Arkansas soldier, Arkansans from the unit stormed a Mexican village and murdered several Mexican civilians. In reprisal, the Mexican army captured group of soldiers commanded by Borland.

Pike’s anger came to a head at the Battle of Buena Vista on Feb. 23, 1847. Yell called for the Arkansas soldiers to charge the Mexican army. The Arkansans, disorganized and confused, fell into a retreat, leaving Yell alone and vulnerable. Mexican lancers cut the colonel down, and he died on the battlefield. Disgusted, Pike wrote to the editor of the Arkansas Gazette on March 7, complaining about Roane’s leadership and the lack of discipline among his soldiers. Roane, defensively, sent a letter to the same paper stating that Pike was not involved at all in the battle. An anonymous writer countered in the Arkansas Gazette that Pike was certainly there and that his command was defending the artillery.

When the soldiers arrived back in Little Rock, Roane and Pike were still simmering over the letters. They decided to settle their dispute with a duel. Who issued the challenge is debated, but in late July 1847, the men traveled to northwest Arkansas to resolve their differences. Roane stayed at the home of Col. Elias Rector, where he spent hours practicing shooting.

On July 29, Roane and Pike met on a sandbar on the territorial side of the river. The morning was clear and balmy. Pike seemed relaxed, chomping on a cigar. The men agreed that they would fire at 10 paces. They then got into position and announced that they were ready. The first round passed without either being hit by gunfire. Roane demanded another round. This, too, resulted in neither man hitting his enemy. Either Roane or Pike (sources disagree) then called for another round, but Henry Rector, who was serving as Roane’s second, declined, arguing that the matter had been settled. Eventually, all agreed to end it at that point. The feud was now settled. They all agreed to patch up their problems, and that evening they attended a banquet together. According to Henry Rector, “Pike and Roane were afterwards friends and companions.” Such were the rules that governed dueling.

But problems were not over for Roane. When Gov. Thomas Drew chose to resign the governorship of Arkansas, the Democratic Party nominated Roane to fill the now vacant office. Almost immediately, the Whig Party opposed Roane’s nomination in favor of Cyrus W. Wilson. The main opposition to Roane was that he had participated in a duel. After all, the law prohibited those who had been involved in dueling from holding office, and the duel between Roane and Pike was not a secret. The duel had been covered feverishly by the state press. Democrats defended Roane’s nomination, arguing that Pike had been the one who issued the challenge and that Roane was honor bound to accept. Further, they argued that the law prohibiting anyone who took part in dueling from serving in elected office was not constitutional, since, the legal theory went, the legislature could not impose new qualifications upon an officeholder that was not prescribed by the state constitution. Additionally, the act did not specifically apply to the office of the governor. The editor of the Arkansas Banner argued that if the legislature could pass laws prohibiting a man from holding office on the basis of criminalities, it could certainly impose qualifications that would prevent citizens of their rights to represent the people. “They may even extend it to all immoralities,” the editor concluded, “and make it very difficult for the people of Arkansas to find a man among them qualified for governor.”

Many state Democrats began to leave the party in favor of the Whig candidate. Most of them objected to Roane’s nomination on the basis of the dueling law. Democrats in the state legislature attempted to repeal the law, but the attempt failed. Another problem was that the governor was required to state an oath that he had not participated in dueling. If Roane were to win the election, he would have to commit perjury in order to take office.

The election was held on March 14, 1849. The results took weeks to tabulate. Wilson and Roane ran neck and neck through most of the vote counting. In the end Roane won the election by 163 votes. He took the oath in April. It is not recorded whether the dueling section was in the oath or whether everyone, in typical fashion that marked 19th century politics in Arkansas, simply winked at the law and ignored it. Regardless, Roane became the fourth governor of Arkansas.

Jack the Shooter terrorizes Little Rock (Part One)

By Brian Irby, archival assistant

This is the first in a two part story about Jack the Shooter.  The second part will appear in next month’s newsletter.

Few things make the blood run colder than the mention of a serial killer. One of the most well-known serial killers was the never-identified, never-apprehended murderer and mutilator of 1880s London who identified himself as “Jack,” better known as Jack the Ripper. Twenty-one years after his crimes seemed to stop, Little Rock experienced a rash of attacks. The community dubbed the attacker “Jack the Shooter,” a seeming homage to the earlier serial criminal, even though the moniker wasn’t a perfect parallel. For one, the Little Rock “Jack” was only modestly homicidal: He seems to have to only murdered one person. Also, despite being called “the Shooter,” it seems that he was a ridiculously bad shot: Shooting at close range, he was usually able to miss his target. However, his series of assaults on citizens over the space of several months in the spring and summer of 1912 threw the city into a frenzy.

The attacks began on April 14, 1912. At his house in Little Rock, C.R. Smith was sound asleep in bed with his wife. At around 1:30 in the morning, an intruder crept in through the bedroom window. He woke the couple, knocked Mr. Smith down and then attacked Mrs. Smith before leaping through the window and running off into the darkness. Puzzled, police had no suspects and soon forgot the case of an average nighttime break-in.

On May 4, Police Capt. T.M. Clifton was patrolling at three in the morning on Spring Street when he noticed a man talking to a woman through a window in a nearby house. Suspicious, Clifton ducked behind a pile of logs and listened to their conversation. From the conversation, Clifton believed the man was a resident of the house and was leaving for work. Clifton left his hiding spot and approached the man, ordering him to move on, at which point the man pulled out a revolver and shot at the officer. Luckily for Clifton, the shot missed him; the mysterious man fled down Spring Street, leaping over fences with the officer on his trail. The assailant maneuvered through the streets with ease and escaped.

Victims often agreed on Jack’s appearance. He was dark complected, often wearing what was described as a floppy hat and a mohair suit. He also seemed to wear disguises during his attacks. His weapon of choice was a .32 caliber pistol. Reports suggested that he was fond of women’s perfume, apparently dousing his clothes with scent before an attack.

On May 6, at around 4 in the morning, the prowler crept into the house of O.E. West on Thirteenth Street. Inside, he startled West’s daughter. When she screamed in alarm, he shot at her, inflicting a superficial flesh wound, then leaped out of the window and fled.

Twenty minutes later, the attacker broke into the Douglas residence on Rock Street. Mrs. Douglas awoke to see the man walking down her hallway. She screamed, and “Jack the Shooter” shot at her, again missing his target. He rapidly retreated from the house.

Minutes later, H.B. Sloan on Thirteenth Street awoke to the smell of smoke. He rushed out of the house to find his back porch on fire. Clifton accompanied the fire engine to the scene of the fire. He quickly concluded, based on evidence that was not shared with the press, that the arsonist was the same man who had terrorized the city over the last several nights.

The next morning, May 7, a trespasser attacked 14-year-old Virginia Howell in her bedroom. The assailant locked the door to keep the frantic parents out. When her father was able to kick in the door, the attacker fled through a window.

The rash of break-ins and shootings caused panic throughout the city of Little Rock. Police officers stepped up their nightly patrols. An informant told them about a young man, L.H. Keeling, who had arrived in town to work on paving Little Rock’s streets. Suspicious, detectives put the young man under surveillance. On the evening of May 12, Constable Charles Jones received a complaint claiming that there was a man who was accosting passers on Second Street, claiming to be an officer of the law. Law enforcement arrived to find Keeling. In his possession was a .32 caliber pistol. He was also dressed much like the attacker as described by his victims, wearing a dark mohair suit and the same type of hat.

After briefly questioning him and charging him with impersonating an officer, the officers took him to the home of C.R. Smith, the victims of the April 14th attack. Smith identified Keeling as the person who attacked him and his wife. Further, Smith’s mother-in-law, Hattie Burke, claimed to have heard the attacker that night and identified Keeling’s voice as that of the attacker. The next morning, Virginia Howell came to the jail to identify the shooter. She said Keeling resembled her assailant, but she could not be certain. Keeling’s response to the charges was that he had been in Benton, in neighboring Saline County, at the time of most of the break-ins. The police checked into his alibi, found that it was true and released him. The Smiths, when confronted with the fact that Keeling was not in town on the morning of the attack, retracted their stories.

Law enforcement wondered if older unsolved cases could be attributed to “Jack the Shooter.” In one instance, Penelope Temple Parker came forward to tell police that she was attacked by a man she knew on Feb. 4. At the time of her attack, she said she feared that her attacker would return and kill her. Months later, Parker decided that her attacker was likely Jack the Shooter. She told detectives that his name was Lawrence Redcliffe, a nurse at the Hotel Marion who had earlier boarded at the Parker house. She claimed that Redcliffe entered her room at 1 a.m. where she and her daughter Junie Jamison were sleeping. Jamison woke up first and screamed, awakening Parker. The two women fought the villain. He produced a knife and slashed Parker across the cheek and hit her over the head with his revolver. He then escaped through the window.

Based on Parker’s testimony, Sheriff Norman Beller arrested Redcliffe. Redcliffe had a long arrest record.  Most recently, he had been charged with perjury for lying in order to get to serve on a jury. It was also learned during the investigation that he had kidnapped his son from his estranged wife. Nevertheless, the spotlight quickly turned elsewhere when, on May 15, the attacks resumed while Redcliffe sat in a jail cell. On that date, a prowler broke into the bedroom of one Amy Campbell, who was living in a boarding house on Spring Street. Campbell saw the man entering into her bedroom and, just as she was about to scream, the intruder shouted for her to not make a sound “or you will hear from this,” indicating the pistol he pointed at her. He stole about three dollars from her purse, then dumped the contents of a perfume bottle onto his clothes and exited the room the same way he came in.

This latest attack baffled detectives who began to wonder if there was not just one “Jack the Shooter” but multiple men who were prowling the city in the early morning hours. The city remained quiet for a few days after Redcliffe’s arrest. On the morning of Sunday, May 19, however, an intruder crept into the bedroom of D.P. Coulter on Rock Street. Also in the room were Coulter’s wife, their nine-month-old son and 15-year-old Marion Smith, who the Coulters had hired to care for their child. Coulter awoke to the sounds of gunfire and, then, a man fleeing the bedroom through a window. Tragically, Coulter discovered that his son, who had been lying next to him, was dead from two gunshots to the heart. The violence had escalated; “Jack the Shooter” had finally killed someone.

In Part II: With the murder of a child, Little Rock’s unease turns into full-fledged panic and suspects emerge. Look for the conclusion to this story in next month’s newsletter!