When the Civil War came on, Isaac Murphy, a state legislator and prominent citizen from the Huntsville area, was the only delegate to the Arkansas Secession Convention to vote against secession. Although the Madison County area had been largely sympathetic toward the Union at the outset of the war, this changed as the war wore on, especially after the Southern defeat at Pea Ridge in March of 1862. The feeling around Huntsville against Murphy (who later became Arkansas's first Reconstruction governor) grew so strong that he was forced to flee to Pea Ridge in Benton County, although his daughters stayed behind in Huntsville. In the fall of 1862, the daughters made a trip to Pea Ridge to visit their father. On their return trip, they were escorted by a party of 25 Union soldiers, who, when the group reached the outskirts of Huntsville, allowed the young women to continue into town on their own as the soldiers set up camp. Still at the camp, the soldiers were attacked by a party of Confederate guerrillas, and all but seven were killed.
Apparently, Murphy's daughters somehow came under increased censure from Southerners because of the attack (although it's not quite clear why Southern sympathizers would have been upset with Murphy's daughters for being connected to a guerrilla attack on Union soldiers). The daughters were supposedly still being harassed by Confederate-sympathizing local citizens when portions of the Union Army passed through Madison County after the Battle of Prairie Grove in December of 1862, and a number of prominent Southern-sympathizing citizens were rounded up and imprisoned. On the morning of January 10, 1863, nine of them were taken from the prison; including a son-in-law of Murphy, several current or former Confederate soldiers, and a couple of prominent Masons; and shot by members of the 8th Regiment Missouri Volunteer Cavalry just outside Huntsville (presumably near the site where the Union soldiers had been killed the previous fall). Eight of the nine were killed, while the ninth man survived his wounds and left the area after he had recuperated.
Lieutenant-Colonel Elias B. Baldwin, commanding the 8th Missouri Cav, was arrested by Union authorities, charged with murdering prisoners, and taken to Springfield, Missouri, for court martial. He was never tried, however, partly because some of the witnesses scheduled to testify against him didn't show up. Instead, he was forced to resign his commission and left the army under less than honorable conditions. About the only other repercussion the Union side suffered as a result of the murders was that two colleges at Huntsville that had been supported by Masons, one of them run by Murphy and the other by his wife and daughters, were forced to close because the Masons, angered by the deaths of their brothers, quit funding them.
The deaths of the eight citizens were commemorated locally for many years by the laying of flowers, but over time the incident was virtually forgotten until a historian who was researching Murphy's life wrote a series of articles about it in 1974. In 2006, a monument was erected in memory of the murdered prisoners.