Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Hanging Judge

Two areas in the Wild West became especially notorious as being outside  the rule of law were Deadwood and the Indian Territories, which later became Oklahoma.  As most white settlements in this area were illegal and there was little in the way of local justice, this was literally a lawless region. The only real law came from Judge Charles Parker, who presided over the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas out of Fort Smith. His tenure was unique in the history of the federal judiciary; while most U.S. district judges toiled away on civil cases, Parker heard thousands of criminal complaints involving disputes and violence between Indians and non-Indians. He served on the bench for 20 years.  Lacking any other rule of law, he deputized federal marshals and sent them into the Indian Territory to arrest and bring back literally hundreds of criminals.  Although he often claimed he was trying to rehabilitate these men, he sent 160 people to their deaths. This is more executions by far than any American judge, ever. Most of those executed had no right of appeal--there was no appellate court claiming jurisdiction over the area.
 Parker's efforts led to major changes in how the justice system operates. In Fort Smith he tried to create, in his own words, "the moral force of a strong federal court." He did this singlehandedly with little help or guidance from Congress or any other court. He deputized blacks as well as whites as marshals at a time when marshals were under the supervision of federal judges.  Some of his marshals arrested got so good at what they did they would arrest hundreds of criminals a year and bring them back to stand trial by the wagonful. 

And this concludes Hanging Week.  I hope you've enjoyed it,

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