Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cane Hill Murders of 1839

There have been a handful of notorious mass murder cases in the Ozarks over the years. Bill Cook's murder of the Mosser family at Joplin in the early 1950s and Jodie Hamilton's killing of the Parsons family in Texas County in 1906, both of which I've mentioned previously on this blog, come readily to mind, for instance.
One of the earliest, if not the earliest, mass murder that occurred in the Ozarks after the area was settled by whites happened at Cane Hill, Arkansas, in 1839. On the night of June 15, at least three men came to the cabin of William Wright, and one of them called out, asking if the men could spend the night. When Wright went to the door, the men immediately killed him. Aroused by the commotion, Wright's wife, Nancy (or Frances as some sources identify her), ran outside and hurried to a neighbor's cabin to tell what had happened. Her oldest daughter was also able to flee, but after Mrs. Wright and the daughter were gone, the intruders entered their house and killed four of the remaining Wright children: a baby, two young girls, and a boy. Another boy was also badly injured. The murderers stole what money they could find and then set fire to the cabin and fled. Three Wright children who were still alive pulled the bodies of their father and two of their siblings out of the fire.
Speculation in the immediate wake of the tragedy suggested that the perpetrators of the crime had been Cherokee Indians, but suspicion quickly turned to some local white men, who, it was thought, had committed the crime for money. A "Regulating Company" of prominent local men was quickly formed to investigate the matter, and seven men were soon arrested as persons of interest in the crime. They were released after furnishing alibis, but one of them, Asbury Richmond, was later overheard supposedly accusing his brother and some other men of having killed the Wrights and damaging his (Asbury's) reputation. John Richmond and two other men were arrested and, after a hearing conducted by the Regulating Company, were hanged on July 29, 1839. A fourth suspect was later apprehended and also hanged in December of 1839. Later critics have claimed that the executions amounted to little more than lynchings and that the men who were hanged were innocent. Such, however, was the justice system on the early frontier--swift and severe but often lacking in due process.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

That's a grim little tale. Like your earlier post on Springfield murder rates, it really points out that horrible crimes are nothing new in American society.

March 1, 2012 at 12:39 AM  
Anonymous Nancy Brown said...

Larry - enjoy your stories very much. This caught my eye as this was about the same time that my gr-gr-gr-gr grandfather, Major Ridge, was shot from ambush near Cane Hill by other Cherokees for signing the Treaty of New Echota. His son was killed near where I live on the same date, and Elias Boudinot, his nephew, was killed near Park Hill, I.T. This was all on Jun 22, 1839.

March 2, 2012 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Yes, Nancy, and they tried to kill Stand Watie (who, I believe, was another nephew, wasn't he?) on or near the same date.

March 3, 2012 at 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Nancy Brown said...

That's right - but Stand Watie was warned and got away from them. He later killed one of the assassins, I think his name was Foreman, in Maysville, Arkansas.

March 9, 2012 at 7:51 AM  

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