Saturday, January 22, 2011

February 1861 - A Gunfight in Fort Smith

Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith
As citizens from across Arkansas debated whether the state would join her Southern sisters in seceding from the Union, a violent situation of a different sort broke out in Fort Smith.

There was an old saying that there was "no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith," and the events that took place there in February of 1861 gave some real meaning to the quote. A gunfight broke out in a local grocery and citizens swarmed into the streets with vengeance on their minds. The situation was so bad that soldiers from the post of Fort Smith had to intervene and even then they were not able to save the lives of all of the suspects involved:

Fort Smith National historic Site
A terrible tragedy occurred at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Thursday night. A party of five overland mail and Little Rock coach drivers entered the grocery of a German, named Hagge, and commenced quarreling; pistols were drawn on both sides; the barkeeper, named Butcher, was shot through the heart and died instantly; Hagge received a shot in the forehead and died at eight o’clock Friday morning. Three of the drivers, George Bennett, Matt Ellis and Pony Farmer, were arrested, and guarded by a company of military. The other two escaped. Intense excitement was created; a mob entered the justice’s office for the purpose of lynching them. – Farmer, one of the prisoners, broke from custody and attempted to escape. He was fired upon and instantly killed. The crowd then secured the remaining prisoners and made for a place of execution, but before they could carry out their designs the authorities interfered and secured the prisoners, and lodged them in Greenwood jail. The excitement in regard to the affair still continues intense. - Pittsfield Sun, February 28, 1861.

Accounts of the outbreak were carried in newspapers across both the Union and Confederacy, interrupting temporarily the drums of war being beaten by newspaper editors North and South.

You can read more about the history of Fort Smith at

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