Our Home Boy Outlaw - Bent Taylor
Although the readers of The Courier relished the exploits of Jesse James on the last issue of the paper, this week they will take pride in the deeds of Bent Taylor, a home town laddy buck who made it big as an outlaw. The hero of this tale was born in the South part of Corning in 1859 and ended a career of crime in the Goose Pasture on the gallows, on Friday, April 21, 1882, only a few yards from his birthplace. Cut down in his prime, only 23 years of age, the victims of his gun would do credit to an octogenarian.
The story begins with the return of Luther Bent Taylor to his native county, in 1879. He had fled Randolph County in the early seventies to escape punishment for misdemeanors and had joined Captain Maks and his band in Howell County, Missouri. The Allen Band ruled Douglas County, and Bent switched from side to side, joining which ever offered the most opportunity to shed blood and was credited with more killings than the leaders of either side. When the border wars ended, he returned to Corning, married Ella Poe of Palatka and planned to settle down. The Ku Klux or Southern Defenders, had organized in the community and young Taylor was an ideal leader! The county seat had been moved to Boydsville, leaving J.P.'s as the only enforcers of the law. Judge John B. Kilgore was bushwhacked in 1877 but the killer was never brought to justice. More tar and feathering, more night whippings of citizens and in 1880 the bush-whacking of J. P. Elias Cunningham and Franklin Hale by the Ku Klux terrorized West Clay from Cache to Current Rivers. Success brought pride and pride brought downfall. Bent killed Riley Black, a member who was threatening to turn state's evidence. December 30, 1887, a coroner's jury indicted Bent and a fellow klansman, Wm. Mulhollen. for murder and they were jailed at Boydsville to await trial in the new courthouse built in Corning in the Spring of 1881.
The old wooden courthouse opened to a capacity crowd. Bent pleaded innocent but the evidence to convict was too plain and he was sentenced to death and jailed in the Corning Calaboose to be sent to the state penitentiary for safe keeping until the date of his execution. The Klan had vowed to free their leader and that night Corning became battleground. So many deputies had been sworn in that the Klan feared to make an open assault, so the morning train to Little Rock had a famous passenger.
Bent was returned to Corning on the eve of the hanging, and spent the night in the courthouse in chains. A reception the next morning took on the aspect of a revival meeting with exhortations and the young ladies marching down the aisle to, shake hands with the handsome young outlaw. The traditional last meal at noon featured whiskey and Bent was several sheets in the wind when he rode on his coffin to the gallows. Armed guards were stationed all along the route and Bent urged all to get down to the Goose Pasture as quickly as possible. Leg irons, loosened so he could climb the scaffold steps, were re-welded by hangman Bill Downs. Bent had made a statement to the Arkansas Gazette reporter in the morning session at the Courthouse, so said only that he was innocent of the murder of Riley Black. The black cap was put over his head, the noose adjusted while a woman's choir sang, "Oh, Come Angel Band"! The trap was sprung and he was soon pronounced dead and his body cut down. His remains were buried outside the gates of the Corning Cemetery and later moved to a burial site in Black Cemetery.
A full account of both hangings, the execution of Lafayette Melton in 1885 for the murder of Allen Hale, is available in a Courier scrapbook in the Corning Library. Keep the memory of our Corning Boy who made good by reading his story.