Monday, November 2, 2020

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.

[34] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 19 May and 22 May 1887, 2; Daily Arkansas Gazette, 21 May 1887; Memphis Avalanche, 18 May 1887, 1, all in, accessed August 24, 2019.

[35] Memphis Avalanche, 18 May 1887, 1,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[36] See Footnote 6. See also Memphis Avalanche, 18 May 1887, 1,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[37] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 22 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[38] Argus-Leader, 26 May 1887; Courier-Journal, 23 May 1887; Times Democrat, 23 May 1887, all in, accessed August 24, 2019.

[39] Memphis Avalanche, 22 May 1887, 5,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[40] St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 22 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[41] Arkansas Democrat, 30 May 1887, 7 (referencing Evening Share Record of May 26, 1887),, accessed August 24, 2019.

[42] Argus-Leader, 26 May 1887,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[43] Daily Arkansas Gazette, 29 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[44] Palmyra Spectator, 27 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[45] Saunders, interview.

[46] Daily Arkansas Gazette, 29 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[47] Memphis Daily Appeal, 23 May 1887, 4; Palmyra Spectator, 27 May 1887, 2; Public Ledger, 23 May 1887, 2; Clinton Eye, 28 May 1887, 2; The Tennessean, 23 May 1887, 1, all in, accessed August 24, 2019. 

[48] Daily Arkansas Gazette, 29 May 1887, 2; Duncannon Record, 27 May 1887 (quoting Evening Shade Record, 26 May 1887), both in, accessed August 24, 2019.

[49] “1880 United States Federal Census,”,%20Greene,%20Arkansas,%20USA&msrpn=28217&MSAV=1&uidh=9n7&gl=&gst=&hc=20, accessed October 8, 2019.

[50] Duncannon Record, 27 May 1887,, accessed August 24, 2019. The discovery was probably made when the authorities were fist trying to establish Springer’s identity upon arrest.

[51] Daily Arkansas Gazette, 29 May 1887, 2,, accessed August 24, 2019.

[52] Saunders, interview.