Cane Hill Murders of 1839
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.