On this date in 1874, colorful outlaw Sid[ney] Wallace was hanged for murder in Reconstruction Arkansas.*
The legend has it that his family’s slave, Missouri Blackard, kept the identities of the killers from the youth until he turned 20 or 21 … whereupon Wallace served his revenge cold, tracking one of them as far as Kansas to murder him.
How Sid learned that one of the killers had relocated to Kansas is never explained, but the account describes him traveling to Kansas, finding the murderer, and staying the night with him and his family, claiming to be a peddler. He even displayed his wares to the family to make his story convincing. Only in the morning, as he was taking leave of the family, did he identify himself as the son of Vincent Wallace, as he drew a pistol and shot his host dead. No charges were ever filed against Sid for this cold-blooded act, nor was it mentioned during his trials for the killings that happened in Johnson County. (Unvarnished Arkansas: The Naked Truth about Nine Famous Arkansans)
Back in Clarksville, Wallace carved out a niche (with his brother George, until the latter got shot) as a colorful James Gang-like populist criminal with a knack for escaping actual or would-be jailers: the most charming adventure attributed him is dodging a posse by hiding under Missouri Blackard’s (evidently quite capacious) skirts while the latter took a casual stroll to the well. We’re not vouching for this story, just reporting the allegation.
To return to Unvarnished Arkansas, Clarksville
was shattered by a pair of murders in the last days of August 1873. Constable R.W. “Doc” Ward was the first victim to be assassinated. Doc Ward had first come to Arkansas with the Federal army during the Civil War; like some other northern soldiers, Ward had stayed in the South after the war to make his fortune. Such men often were described as “carpetbaggers,” suggesting that their only motivation to remain in the South was to profit at the expense of the defeated and demoralized southerners. Carpetbaggers had rebuilt the government of Arkansas and other southern states, even representing these states in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, as well as in state legislatures and in governors’ offices. Carpetbaggers had opened banks, built railroads, started businesses, and constructed houses for themselves and their famlies. Many carpetbaggers, like Doc Ward, had been appointed or elected to positions of local authority. Ward does not appear to have been generally disliked in Johnson County; he was just a man doing his job, like so many other men around the county. Still, as constable, he had a responsibility to arrest criminals, and anyone pursuing a life of crime could expect to profit from the elimination of the local enforcer of the law.
Doc Ward was sitting on a wooden sidewalk in front of W.P. Rose’s drugstore one fine summer evening — August 20, 1873 — when a single gunshot rang out, and the constable fell, mortally wounded. He did not die until September 12, however. The shocked witnesses reported that a gunman had fired a double-barreled shotgun at the constable and then ridden away on horseback. No one was arrested for the crime. Exactly one week later, county judge Elisha Mears was walking home for his noontime meal after a pleasant visit to Blind Bob’s Saloon in Clarksville when, once again, a single shot rang out. Mears fell, badly injured — he died an hour after midnight. Witnesses said that the gunman had been concealed, but no one claimed to know who had fired the shots. Tongues began to wag, though, and fingers of blame were being pointed at Sid Wallace. Even in Little Rock, the Arkansas Gazette took notice of the crimes, grumbling that no effort was being made to bring the assassin to justice.** Citizens of Johnson County were not as blind to criminal behavior, however, as the Little Rock journalist suggested. More than a century later, one writer would characterize their attitude with these words: “The killing of Judge Meers [sic], a progressive Johnson County native, turned the tide of public opinion in Clarksville against Sid Wallace. Sid was the prime suspect, and most thought he should not have shot the judge, even if he was a Republican.”
But even under sentence of death, the roue got a pass to escort the prison warden’s daughter to a dance. Unsurprisingly, she returned home begging for her date’s life.
He was hanged publicly in Clarksville on March 14, 1873, with the manful last words, “I have no confession to make to man, but whatever I have to confess must be to God. I die in defense of myself and friends, and I regret not having a dozen deaths to die.” He had only the one, but that hasn’t hindered his rich posthumous life in folk hero-dom, regional class, including a highly dubious rumor that he survived his execution and lived on to rob and murder again on western trails.
* The very tail end of that post-Civil War era: in Arkansas, the terminal event was a factional bush war that broke out in April 1874 and brought about a new state constitution followed by nearly a full century of Democratic governors.
** Arkansas, which was out on the frontier at this point in America’s march across the continent, had a national reputation: the New York Times threw it some shade while reporting Wallace’s hanging: “The determination which has been shown during the past year by the decent citizens of Arkansas to bring murderers to justice will eventually result in making the State a desirable place of residence. For many years it has been heard of almost entirely in connection with the reports of dark deeds.”
On this day..
- 1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth - 2019
- 1964: Jack Ruby condemned - 2018
- 1824: John Smith - 2017
- 1808: Thomas Simmons - 2016
- 1610: Henry Paine, shipwrecked mutineer - 2015
- 1908: Massillon Coicou and the Firminists - 2014
- 1726: William "Vulcan" Gates, Black Act casualty - 2013
- 1719: Mary Hamilton, lady in waiting - 2012
- 2009: Four Iranians - 2011
- 1757: Admiral John Byng - 2010
- 1551: Alice Arden, husband killer - 2009
- 1957: Evagoras Pallikarides, teenage guerrilla poet - 2008