Missouri and 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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lynching of Canada Bill

During the summer and fall of 1886, a half-blood Indian named Jack Barrett worked as a hired hand for various farmers in the Roark neighborhood on Buffalo Creek in northwest McDonald County near the Newton County line. Usually called Canada Bill because he was supposedly born in Canada, Barrett "had a bad reputation," according to a contemporaneous newspaper report, and was described in Sturges's History of McDonald County published 13 years later as "a man of vicious habits and of rather inferior mental faculties."
On Wednesday afternoon, December 15, Canada Bill went to the home of William Robert Roark and found his wife, 28-year-old Samantha, home alone except for one or two small children. When his indecent proposals toward the woman were rebuffed, he attacked her, tearing her clothes partially off, choking her, and badly bruising her. During the struggle, Samantha managed to flee the house but the assault continued until she reached the road about twenty or thirty yards away. Here Mrs. Roark's screams and those of her small children finally "alarmed the scoundrel," according to the Neosho Miner and Mechanic, "and he abandoned his fiendish purpose and fled."
Mrs. Roark immediately ran to the nearest neighbor and gave an alarm, and a posse quickly formed and gave chase. The villain was pursued into nearby Indian Territory and was captured later the same day. Either a U.S. marshal or an Indian policeman (reports differ) made the arrest, and the fugitive was brought back to Missouri and lodged that night under guard at the home of P.P. Rinehart in the Roark neighborhood. Not long after dark, a mob formed and surrounded the house, demanding that the prisoner be turned over to them. Rinehart went outside and pled with the men to leave. Apparently convinced by Rinehart's argument, the men left. Shortly afterward, Canada Bill was started on foot in the company of several guards toward Pineville, the seat of McDonald County. The party halted at the base of a big hill, near where the Seneca to Pineville road crossed Buffalo Creek, and they built a fire to keep warm while two young men named Lager who were among the posse went home to get a team and wagon for the completion of the journey. After waiting in vain for some time for the Lager boys to return, the rest of the posse members resumed the trip on foot. They had gone but a short distance when the mob reappeared and forced the posse to hand over the prisoner.
According to the McDonald County History, Canada Bill freely admitted his crime and said he ought to be sent to the penitentiary, but, sensing the fate that awaited him, he protested that he didn't deserve to be lynched. Nevertheless, he was taken down the road a ways to the edge of a field owned by Sam Owens and hanged to the limb of a black oak tree. The county history said that Canada Bill, in his last moments, "proved himself worthy of the stoical race to which he belonged. Seeing that his captors were devoid of mercy and protests were in vain, he resigned himself to his doom and met death in a spirit worthy of any hero." The guards, who witnessed the hanging, reported that Canada Bill "never uttered a groan or moved a muscle" when the rope was placed around his neck but instead was "drawn up like a log of wood and died as quietly as though he had lain down to a peaceful sleep." He had been guilty of a grievous offense, said the county history, "but grievously did he answer for it."
The body was left hanging throughout the night and was finally cut down late the next day. An inquest was held over the body, but the jury concluded, according to the Neosho newspaper, that "Nothing is known of the parties who executed this act of summary vengeance."
Canada Bill's body was placed in a crude coffin and buried at the top of the nearby hill.

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