Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Researchers from varied backgrounds compete for the NEARA Award for Exemplary Research

Scholars. City planners. Architects. Arkansans from a wide variety of backgrounds have won the prestigious NEARA Award for Exemplary Archival Research. Every year, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA) and the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) host a competition for the best research paper that draws from NEARA’s archival records. Past winners have included college instructors and students, as well as many whose training and occupations had little to do with academic history.

“All of these people are very passionate about history, but they have a specific perspective on history that comes from their training and professional background,” said Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager for NEARA. “They had a personal interest in that aspect of history.”

Mark Christ, past president of the AHA, presents
the NEARA Award to Robert Myers (right).
The most recent winner, Robert Myers, is a city planner. His paper, “The Davidsonville Debacle: Land Title and the Demise of Lawrence County’s First County Seat, 1815-1830,” focused on the failure of Arkansas’s first platted town, Davidsonville. Davidsonville was the county seat of Lawrence County, which covered most of the northern Arkansas territory and part of southern Missouri territory at the time. In less than 15 years, though, the town was mostly abandoned.

Myers drew his research from the Lawrence County Records collection, which contains about 500 cubic feet of court cases, marriage records, probate records and pension records, as well as other sources, to identify why the town failed. 

Davidsonville was also the topic for the research paper that won the first NEARA Award in 2014. In that instance, author Steve Saunders examined the town’s failure from the perspective of having been an architect for more than 30 years. Other winning papers have described and analyzed the perceptions of women’s roles in territorial Lawrence County, religious conflict in early Arkansas and relationships between slaves and slaveholders.

Choosing a topic the writer is passionate about comes into play because the evaluations, which are done by a three-person panel from NEARA and AHA, take into consideration whether the writer has demonstrated the value of his research.  

“We are looking for a well-written, well-presented story, and we want to know why the story is important,” Myuhtar-May said. “Did the author explain why the story matters?”

The evaluators also want to see that the writer presents a strong argument and well-founded conclusions based on a good balance of primary and secondary sources. At least some of the sources must come from NEARA’s collection.

Some of NEARA’s records are available online at, including documents dating back to Arkansas’s territorial period. Researchers can also visit NEARA in person Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. No more than two visitors are allowed at a time in accordance with social distancing protocols, and masks must be worn.

The NEARA Award was first established in 2013 to honor Lawrence County Historical Society volunteers who saved the territorial records for future researchers when the county seat was relocated from Powhatan in 1963. The award is funded through the Sloan Family Initiative in honor of Eugene Sloan, a successful lawyer and landowner who was born in Powhatan, where NEARA is located. Through this funding, the winner receives $1,000, along with a framed certificate.

Entries for the competition must be submitted by Feb. 1, 2021, and the winner will be announced during the Arkansas Historical Association’s annual banquet. The winning paper will be considered for inclusion in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly journal. For more details about guidelines and how to enter the competition, please click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

SARA honors the memory of founder and supporter

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

The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives recently lost a dear friend, supporter and founder.

From left to right: Dr. John Ferguson, Mildred 
Smith, Charlean Etter and Mary Medearis
Mildred Johnson Smith passed away Oct. 11, 2020, after a long illness and is both fondly remembered and greatly missed by numerous friends and family. Smith was born in Washington in Hempstead County, Arkansas, in 1925. With a strong work ethic and a lifelong love of learning and history, she worked hard to gain knowledge for herself and to pass her love of learning on to others. Educated at Oak Grove School near Rosston,[1]she later attended AM&N, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. She earned her Master of Education from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as a Specialist Degree in Education from Henderson State in Arkadelphia.

Prior to starting her career in education, Mrs. Smith worked in Little Rock at Ottenheimer Brothers, which became one of the largest women’s garment factories in America. The company made history in the 1940s by hiring African American workers during a time in which the workforce was diminished due to World War II.[2]Both fashion and beauty were great interests in Mrs. Smith’s life, and she also became a licensed cosmetologist as a graduate of Velvatex College of Beauty in Little Rock.

During the 1950s, she began her teaching career in the Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts, in addition to being a devoted wife and mother of three children. By the early 1970s, Smith returned to her hometown of Washington and continued to teach in the Hope School District and eventually in Washington. She served as principal and subsequently the first black female school superintendent of the Washington School District. Not only was she a groundbreaker in the education field, she also actively engaged in politics, where she was the first black female Democratic delegate in the area.

Amid the fervor of the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in the mid-1970s, Hempstead County residents reflected on their role in the nation’s celebration. The Washington (Arkansas) Bicentennial Committee formed, and committee members decided to purchase research books for a local library. The Hempstead County Historical Society also formed during this time, and Smith became an active volunteer. She initially sought the advice of Arkansas History Commission Director Dr. John Ferguson about starting a library. Instead, Ferguson encouraged her to think even bigger: Why not start a regional archive?

Smith took Ferguson’s suggestion to heart; she served as a founding board member of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA) when it opened in 1978. It was a project of the Hempstead County Historical Society which had support from the Arkansas History Commission (now the Arkansas State Archives), Historic Washington State Park and the Pioneer Washington Restoration Foundation, along with a board of directors made up of members from its 12-county focus area. Part of the 1874 Court House at the state park housed SARA until the early 1990s when the archives were relocated to the former Washington Elementary School where Smith had taught.[3]

In addition to SARA, Smith founded the Black History Museum in Washington, which opened in 1986. As a teacher, she wanted her students to know about the role African Americans played in the history of her hometown and to give her students a sense of pride in their heritage. In recent years, illness forced Mrs. Smith to shutter the museum. The building and its sign remain, though, as reminders that three are many Washington stories yet to be told.

Mildred Smith accomplished many things during her life; the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives owes much to her vision. Our condolences go to her family, even as we celebrate her legacy and the example she set of working to preserve what otherwise might have been lost.

Director's Letter for November

By David Ware, director and state historian

As I write this, November has just begun, and with it, we leave behind one observance associated with excess (leftover Hallowe’en treats, anyone?) and commence the run-up to another, Thanksgiving, with barely a stumble in between to mark Election Day. This year, Hallowe’en was far from the holiday that we have come to know over the decades: The combination of contagion, caution and communications technology wrought changes that left many (particularly those of us who bought too much trick-or-treat candy) pining for something like “the good old days.” The same will surely be true for the holiday to come. In the case of Thanksgiving, tradition would probably mean staging a huge dinner for family and friends, usually based on turkey with abundant trimmings, hearkening back in spirit, if not in specific ingredients (I’m looking at you, cranberry jelly!), to the harvest home dinners of centuries past.

Or, one might prefer to eat out. Hotels’ Thanksgiving dinner menus give a good idea of the caloric excess promised by the day over the decades. This one, shared in 1924 by the Knott family’s hotels of New York City, is fairly modest by the standards of the day but still gives off a warm glow of overload:

Relish tray (celery, salted almonds, olives)

Lynnhaven Oysters on the half shell

Cream of Corn or Clear Consommé

Boiled Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce

Filet Mignon

Roast Vermont Turkey

Cranberry Sauce, Chestnut Stuffing

Mashed or Boiled Potatoes, Candied Sweet Potatoes

Boiled White Onions, New Spinach

Thanksgiving Punch

Florida Salad

French Vanilla Ice Cream, Assorted Cakes

Mince Pie, Hot or Cold Pumpkin Pie

Nuts and Raisins

Cheese and Crackers

Café Demi-tasse


Mints, anyone?


The obvious downside (or attraction, according to one’s taste) of eating out on Thanksgiving, then or now, is that one would be spared the task of facing the leftovers … particularly, that endless supply of turkey. Happily enough, there were — and are — ways to work off the surplus bird. One is that staple of many a frugal Southern household, turkey hash. Many Arkansas church and civic group cookbooks contain variations on the theme of compounding chopped or ground cooked turkey with something to stretch it, something to bind it and something to give it savor. Turkey hash is not haute cuisine, but it certainly is comfort food, suitable for stomachs recovering from a day, or two, or three, of caloric excess. Here are a pair of such recipes, suitable for making the turkey disappear long before it is time to roast the Christmas goose:

Turkey Hash:

Ingredients: 2 cups cooked turkey, ground, 2 cups of cold mashed potatoes, 1 teacup of cream, 1 kitchen spoon of butter, pepper and salt to taste. Mix well, put in baking dish to cook, sprinkle bread crumbs on top with bits of butter. Cook in a hot oven until a light brown.

Creamed Turkey Hash:

Take 2 pints (4 cups) of cooked turkey breast, 1 pint (or a little less) of cold water, 1 cup of cream, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 dessert spoon flour, a dash of onion juice, plus pepper and salt. Cut or chop turkey in small blocks and put in saucepan with the water, onion juice, pepper and salt. Add a little more water if needed; cook about 20 minutes. Then add butter, cream and the flour made into a smooth paste with water; boil a few minutes. Serve on thin slices of hot toast or in a dish for breakfast or luncheon.


Elsewhere in the newsletter, readers will find the final installment of a fascinating and important article by Dr. Fatme Myuhtar-May, manager of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan. Sometimes, history may be pressed into serving as “comfort food” for the soul, but in this instance it has a sharp, uncomforting point. The article gets to the truth, or as much of it as can be ascertained, of a sordid episode of 1880s Arkansas history, the lynching of an accused rapist. The story of the lynching itself is horrible but would not be unique, if not for a twist of its retelling. Within a few years after the event, the press and popular memory performed a feat of racial reassignment: The accused man had been white, but within months after his lynching was referred to as a Black man, contrary to the facts in the case but in accord with racial and cultural stereotyping of the day. It may be too late to render justice to the lynched man, but Myuhtar-May’s scholarship uses solid archival research and scholarship to refute this instance of deliberate racial mischaracterization. She tells a tale that is far from comforting, but one that is worth reading, and remembering.

Monday, November 2, 2020

October Accessions

 By Stephanie Carter, archivist

Our recent accessions include a map of Arkansas showing the distribution of forests from 1881 and printed materials about Sevier County, among other treasures. 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

A black and white photograph of the builders of Argenta High School, 1912, was donated by Sonja L. Reed of North Little Rock, Arkansas. Reed’s grandfather, George Caldwell, is pictured in the photograph.

Arkansas postcard collection, includingtwo postcard booklets titled “Greetings from Arkansas” and “Greetings from Little Rock,” were donated by Tammy Vanveckhoven of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This is an addition to a collection of 10 postcards and 21 photographs that Ms. Vanveckhoven donated in 2019. The postcards belonged to her mother, Grace Jackson Hays.

Scott Howerton collection, was donated by Scott Howerton of Conway, Arkansas. The collection includes newspapers, magazines, campaign and inaugural material, and items related to Petit Jean State Park.

Map of Arkansas Showing the Distribution of the Forests, 1881, was transferred by Theo Witsell at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. This map is from the 10th U.S. Census.

Arkansas Governor’s Mansion collection, includes one box of material related to the Governor’s Mansion. The collection contains a poster, CD-ROMs and other items related to events at the mansion, and items related to the U.S.S. Arkansas, transferred from the Governor’s Mansion. This is an addition to material related to the Governor’s Mansion that we received in July.

Arkansas Department of Agriculture records, includes four boxes of records related to the Century Farm Program up to 2018. The records were transferred by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.


Printed Materials

Sevier County Arkansas Railroad Memories (2 copies)

Sevier County Arkansas and Their Part in the Civil War (2 copies)

Sevier County in WWII (2 copies)

All were compiled and published by the Sevier County Museum in 2020 and donated by the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Pocahontas’ Descendants (2003), was donated by Barbara Lewis and Aisa Watson of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Jack the Shooter terrorizes Little Rock (Part Two)

 By Brian Irby, archival assistant

This is a continuation of last month’s story about Jack the Shooter, a man who terrorized the City of Little Rock in 1912. To read Part One, click here.

“Jack the Shooter,” an armed burglar who had stalked Little Rock’s residents through the spring of 1912, attacking them in the safety of their bedrooms at night, remained elusive. He had confounded police  breaking into homes in the small hours of the night, shooting at the homeowners and then fleeing into the darkness. Since his first break-in at the home of C.R. Smith is April 1912, no one knew who he was, but everyone was on edge wondering where he would appear next.

For most of his spree he had remained a hapless burglar, brandishing a pistol to little effect, but with the May 19 death of the Coulter child, he was now a murderer. This latest violence caused panic throughout the city. Local pawnshops reported runs on pistols and shotguns as citizens, male and female alike, armed themselves. A gun dealer in Little Rock reported that he had sold 400 revolvers in the previous month. With so many people armed, mistakes were bound to happen. R.W. Keith, an incurable insomniac who lived on Broadway, grew frustrated at a loud barking dog who was keeping him awake. Around 2:30 in the morning on June 14, he went to the house of the dog’s owner to complain. The dog’s owner, fearing that Keith was “Jack the Shooter,” immediately opened fire, causing Keith to flee back to the safety of his home. Meanwhile, neighbors also arrived armed, and began firing at each other indiscriminately. Police were able to restore order after arriving at the scene.

Police Capt. T. M. Clifton remarked about the incident, “The fact that nearly everyone in the city is armed, and that so many people are prone to shoot first and investigate afterward creates a serious condition of affairs. There is not one man in a hundred who can shoot a pistol with any degree of accuracy.” His concluding advice was, “Be sure you are shooting at a burglar before you fire.”

People became suspicious of each other. Residents pointed fingers at suspicious neighbors. Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Taylor summoned the city to attend a public meeting on May 20. During the meeting, the mayor announced that they would be taking volunteers to help police patrol the city. The police station was subsequently flooded with volunteers. Chief Fred Cogswell told the volunteers that there was not a clear description of the killer, only that he was a white man of medium build who knew the layout of the city well.

The murder of Coulter’s son added a note of urgency to the growing alarm. City Hall sprang into action and offered a $300 reward for the capture of Jack the Shooter. Matching rewards from other organizations soon expanded the reward to over $1,000. On the evening of May 21, as many as 50 armed volunteers patrolled the city. Around 10 p.m. that evening, Deputy Constable Will Stein was patrolling on Broadway when he spotted two men lying on the ground. When Stein shined his flashlight on the men, they both jumped up and bolted. As Stein began to chase the suspects, townspeople quickly gathered on the street to watch the spectacle.

Due to the crowd, Stein was only able to capture one of the men, a man who identified himself as George Parker, who was visiting the city from Texarkana. As Stein was escorting Parker to the police station, the crowd grew more agitated. Several in the crowd demanded that they lynch Parker. Parker told police that he been trying to beg for money on the street but got scared of the growing armed police presence and chose to hide in the garden by lying down on the ground.  He claimed to have run only because he feared he would be arrested for vagrancy. Once again, police had many of the eyewitnesses come in to identify Parker. Many of them stated that he resembled Jack, but none were positive. Within hours of his arrest, police released Parker for lack of evidence.

On May 29, police arrested and charged Sam Brassfield, a former policeman who had been fired recently for dishonesty, with the murder of the Coulter child. There was little evidence connecting Brassfield to the crime, yet police still suspected that he might be worth the investigation. Many of his former colleagues suspected that he had been the man involved in the attacks. Police brought Brassfield to Marion Smith, the nanny who was caring for the Coulter child at the time of his murder, who identified him as the murderer.

Unfortunately for police who thought they had captured Jack the Shooter, the attacks seemed to continue, even while Brassfield remained in jail. On May 30, May Nolan, a nurse living on Sixth Street, awoke to a man entering her room through a window. She awoke her friend Daisy Andrews and then reached over and turned on the bedroom light. They both screamed at the intruder, who in turn fired two shots at them, both of which missed their targets, and then leaped out the window. E.M. Pfeifer, living on Gaines Street, a few blocks over, awoke to the sound of gunfire and then went outside to investigate. He saw a man running through his yard and fired two shots at him. The stranger ran off into the night, apparently unwounded by Pfeiffer’s pistolry. Soon after the incident at Nolan’s home, Minnie Cauley, living on 11th Street, reported that a man entered her home and assaulted her.

Police questioned Nolan and Andrews the next morning. Andrews claimed that she had clearly seen the intruder, describing him as a tall, slender man of dark complexion with a heavy mustache. Minnie Cauley gave a similar description of the man who entered her home soon after the suspect fled Nolan’s home. Curiously, Cauley reported that during the struggle with her attacker, his mustache came off and he seemed to be wearing a disguise.

As the attacks continued, local merchants saw an opportunity to advertise their wares on the back of the attacks. Fred Arthur, real estate agent in Hillcrest took an advertisement in the Arkansas Gazette, claiming, “Jack the Shooter has never invaded the peaceful quiet of Hillcrest. That is only one of the numerous advantages of a quiet, refined neighborhood.” Refined Hillcrest residents needed not worry about the madman running the streets only a few miles away.

As the month of June waned, the Pulaski County prosecutor convened a grand jury to investigate suspects. They ultimately indicted no fewer than six individuals on charges of breaking and entering in connection with the “Jack the Shooter” cases. Among those indicted was a Mexican national, David Birones. Birones had been arrested previously for prowling. Due to the recent “Jack” cases, police began watching Birones with the suspicion that he was behind many of the crimes. Specifically, he was charged with being the perpetrator of the break-in at the home of Mary Nolan on May 30. Andrews also positively identified Birones as the man who had invaded her home.

Meanwhile, Brassfield was charged with the murder of Paul Coulter. With the two main suspects in custody, police began developing a theory of the crime. Perhaps it was not several perpetrators, but possibly just two? Were Birones and Brassfield working together, with one operating on the east side of town, while the other worked the west? They found it curious that “Jack’s” crime spree seemed to stop once the two men were in custody.

On July 4, Birones was convicted of assault with the intent to kill and sentenced to 21 years in the penitentiary. While Brassfield awaited his trial, which was scheduled for September 1912, the prosecutor’s theory of the crime was destroyed when another attack occurred. On July 25, one Maud Summers discovered a man crawling through her window at 900 Center Street. She screamed and the suspect shot and wounded her. He then fled the scene. Meanwhile, police heard her screams and ran to the scene to catch a glimpse of the attacker running away. They quickly chased him into the home of Samuel Collins on 10th Street, who upon seeing the attacker coming into his house shot and killed the man. Detectives identified the attacker as James B. Brown, an attorney and businessman. Police found that Brown was disguised and was wearing women’s stockings and heavily perfumed clothes, and in his pocket was a pack of newspaper clippings about the Jack the Shooter cases. When looking into Brown’s background, detectives discovered that he had been picked up several weeks before and charged with prowling and breaking and entering but had been released due to a lack of evidence.

A search of Brown’s house revealed a trunk full of material from previous robberies: it held silk sashes, women’s handbags, jewelry, hosiery, numerous bottles of perfume and other materials that he used to disguise himself. Detectives also discovered “lewd pictures and questionable literature,” including several articles about recent crimes. Dr. G.W.S. Ish, a doctor who had previously treated Brown, came forward to tell detectives that he had treated Brown for several gunshot wounds over the previous months. Now, he recognized that the wounds were likely the result of victims defending themselves from his attacks.

Gov. George Donaghey pardoned Birones who had been convicted of some of the crimes now attributed to Brown and set him free. Meanwhile, Brassfield’s trial in the death of Paul Coulter came to an end when the prosecutor convened the jury and instructed them to return a verdict of not guilty. Brassfield was a free man, if only for a moment: he was immediately rearrested on the charge of impersonating an officer.

One particular legal case was affected by the death of James B. Brown. Robert Armstrong had been sentenced to death for the attack and assault on Ella Hardcastle in October 1911. After the crime, Hardcastle’s parents received a letter from an anonymous writer claiming “credit” for the rape. Police arrested Armstrong and charged him as the letter writer and Hardcastle’s attacker. Armstrong’s attorney, when examining Brown’s handwriting, thought it looked very similar to that of the anonymous writer. Could Hardcastle’s attacker have been James B. Brown? The strong possibility created serious doubts as to Armstrong’s guilt, so Donaghey also pardoned Armstrong. Was James B. Brown the infamous Jack the Shooter, or were there a series of perpetrators? The answer has been lost to history. It is likely that Brown was the perpetrator of at least a few of the crimes, but whether he can be held responsible for all of them must remain up for debate. It is notable that with Brown’s death, the attacks ended. For the time being, Little Rock residents could breathe a sigh of relief. They were safe. Armed to the teeth, yes, but safe.

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

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

In September, 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. Last month, the series continued with reviewing the documents related to his arrest and lynching. Click here to read part two.

According to newspaper accounts, as soon as the husband came home and found out about the rape, he went after Springer, with a number of Opposition residents joining him.34 As the Memphis Avalanche put it, “[a]s soon as her husband returned and was informed of the outrage, he started in pursuit. He was joined at Opposition by a number of citizens, and they finally succeeded in capturing the inhuman fiend. Springer was handed over to the officers, who took him immediately to Powhatan and lodged him in jail.”35 

Sharp County’s Justice of the Peace F.M. Lee’s order to Andrew J. Angle to “receive” and “keep” Springer in the Powhatan jail was signed on the same day that the rape occurred, May 14, 1887. The authorities, it seems, acted very quickly knowing that Springer was in immediate jeopardy of death by lynching, as well as being anxious to remedy a crime deemed so heinous. It was, therefore, a party of men other than those led by William R. Montgomery (or other family members) that first found Springer and brought him to the authorities. Had it been otherwise, as one newspaper put it, “there would have been an execution by Judge Lynch” on the very spot he was found. Indeed, as the Sharp County Record of May 18, 1887, wrote, “[a]n attempt was made by the lady’s husband and brother to shoot the prisoner, but they were disarmed and the tramp was hurried off to the Powhatan jail.”36

Between the time he committed the rape and his lynching, Springer spent a total of six days in the Powhatan Jail, not counting the days of his crime and his execution. In the small hours on May 21, 1887, as the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported, the Powhatan jailer Andrew J. Angle “was called up by a party of men who said they had a prisoner for him.” “The jailer observed that they had a man along with them with his hands tied,” continued the newspaper, “and therefore suspected nothing wrong.”

He unlocked the door to receive the supposed prisoner, but no sooner had he done so than a mob of about 50 armed men rushed in from the back of the jail, where they had been concealed. They overpowered the jailer and then, going to Springer’s cell, put a rope around his neck and dragged him out. 37

According to Angle’s court testimony, however, he was called at his house to go and unlock the jail, so that a supposedly captured criminal might be booked in. Thomas Parrott then accompanied him, although it is unclear where Parrott lived and what his position with the county jail was, if any. Both Angle and Parrott also testified that there were about 20 to 25 men when they unlocked the prison, not 50, as the St. Louis Globe-Democrat claimed (other newspapers put that number between 40and 50 men).

Once the lynchers placed a rope around Springer’s neck; they dragged him a short distance away from the jail and hanged him on an oak tree. Steven Saunders, a local historian, believes that an old oak tree, growing in a clearing (a homestead once stood there) in the woods immediately behind NEARA, is the very one on which Springer was lynched. This location makes sense if one accepts that the tree stood about 300 yards from the Powhatan Jail, in a direct uphill line from it.38

According to other newspapers, however, the location varied from a quarter of a mile39 to a half a mile from the jail,40 or even further. The distance between the jail and the place where he was lynched could not have been very long, though, because Springer fought back ferociously as he was dragged away. With a captive that was “struggling, kicking and biting” all the way, it would have been difficult to walk a long distance without too much effort and noise, as the “quiet mob” apparently did.41

One newspaper described Springer’s walk to his death as follows:

He begged piteously for mercy and then asked the mob to shoot him rather than hang him. Several members of the mob were disposed to do this, but the leader checked them and Springer was pushed and dragged to a tree three hundred yards from the prison. He fought like a tiger. It is said that the sight of the doomed wretch struggling, kicking and biting as he was dragged onward to meet death was a fearful one. The end of the rope was thrown over the limb of the tree and he was hauled up and left suspended in midair and four pistol shots [five, according to Angle and Parrott] were fired into his quivering body [emphasis added].42

Springer’s final moments in life were truly horrific, as evident from newspaper accounts. He begged to be shot in order to die quickly, rather than endure a slow, painful death by lynching. Did his crime merit his punishment? According to the prevalent moral sensibilities of the day as to what constituted a suitable punishment for rape, he did. Were he not lynched, but allowed to receive a trial in the Lawrence County courthouse in Powhatan, just a stone’s throw away from the jail, he would have probably met the same fate: death by hanging, minus the mob torture, for the apparently brutal rape of Mrs. Montgomery that rendered her in “critical condition.” Did he actually commit the crime? From the description of events in newspaper accounts and court documents, as well as from the prevalent public opinion reflected in newspapers, there was never any doubt as to his crime or its viciousness. After all, he had seemed like an “an honest, obliging and unassuming young man of rather good intellect,” according to the opinions of Powhatan residents, given to the correspondent of the Arkansas Gazette of May 23, 1887 (reprinted in the Daily Arkansas Gazette of  May 29,1887).

The same newspaper article also indicates that he was a widow’s son from Salem, Arkansas, who had been “for a number of months previous to his crime employed by Mr. J.N. Bates [of Powhatan?] … as mail-carrier.”43 Certainly, local residents would have had little incentive to malign the character of one such upstanding citizen, or sully the reputation of “a respectable woman” like Mrs. Montgomery, as one Missouri-based newspaper described her, without a good cause.44 In addition, Springer made full confession to the crime and was recognized by Mrs. Montgomery as the perpetrator. 

Other newspaper accounts indicate Springer was a young man from Illinois, possibly from a large family with both parents and four siblings, so pinning down Springer’s identity is problematic today.This uncertainty reduces historic knowledge of the real Andrew Springer to just a few basic facts: He most likely committed the grievous crime of rape, was caught and was lynched for it before he could be found guilty by a due process of the law. The sordid line of events, which unfolded in a mere eight days, transformed Andrew Springer from an anonymous individual to a newspaper villain – and perhaps also a victim – from South Dakota to Pennsylvania to Louisiana, and beyond. Yet, almost nothing is known for certain about him beyond the basic facts of his crime and lynching.

The most striking thing in this story, however, remains not so much the lack of information, but the subsequent historic muddling of Springer’s racial identity. Only two years after his lynching, in the Goodspeed’s publication, he was transformed from a “white tramp” and a “white man,” as two newspapers described him at the time of the crime, to a “negro” rapist without any evidence to this effect. The prevalent stereotypes of the “negro criminal” and particularly the “negro rapist” – undoubtedly played a role. A white rapist might be seen as not just a criminal, but also something of a “racial traitor;” characterizing Springer as Black played into cultural stereotypes and may have been a more comfortable ‘fit’ for white readers. 

In fact, the lynching of African Americans for the purported crime of rape was so pervasive at the time (and later) that it came to be discussed as a “negro problem” in the U.S. press. Rape invited assumptions of immorality, brutishness and “vile” sexual appetite, all characteristics conveniently ascribed to Black males to justify the politically fueled and racially motivated violence against them. Historian Steven Saunders suggests: “[it] is a racial prejudice that has to do with people associating the word ‘lynching’ with Blacks. And I would assume that that’s generally justified, because most lynchings were racially motivated. [So when people hear about lynching in historical perspective,] they immediately think that a Black person was lynched.”52 In that sense, the characterization of Andrew Springer as Black in both Lawrence County lore and Richard Buckelew’s list of “Lynchings in Arkansas” is, while erroneous, understandable and even predictable.

Ultimately, the record on Andrew Springer is more than clear and it needs to be: He was white, and he was – by all accounts – a rapist. His posthumous racial reassignment has “passed” for fact, for over a century; happily, scholarship made possible by the preservation of the historical records offers us the opportunity to, even at this remove, set the record straight.