Greene County, Arkansas
Hanging Day, 1904
Thursday, July 1, 1976
Paragould Daily Press
This was a reprint from an earlier newspaper for the Centennial Celebration Paper. It was printed from various papers and people donating pictures and information.
Caption Reads :
Hanging Day 1904
|Justice at the end of a rope was swift and sure, as three persons learned in Greene County, AR in the early 1900's. All three trials, however, were brought here from other counties. On Oct. 30, 1885, William H. Harper was executed for a murder committed in Randolph County. In 1904 N. H. Brewer and Mart Vowell, both of Clay County, were convicted and hung for murders committed there.|
On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 12, 1903, Mart Vowell shot
and killed William F. "Bill" Lovejoy near the town of Rector
in Clay County. Reports say that Lovejoy was shot twice with a shotgun
and once with a pistol. Both were residents of Blue Cane township.
Lovejoy having lived in Phillips and Monroe counties in the past. Mart
was the former city marshal of Rector. Lovejoy had the reputation of
being a tough citizen, having killed almost a dozen men in the past.
He and Vowell had trouble several years earlier and more trouble had
been expected ever since. This was apparently due to Mart arresting
him and Lovejoy resisting the law.
Mart was arrested and before a justice of the peace he was admitted to bail in the sum of $2000. A shortly after the killing circuit court opened in Piggott, Clay County, with Judge Allen Hughes presiding. Mart was at once ordered into the custody of the sheriff and the action of the justice of the peace was set aside. Mart made application for bail but this was overruled by the court. The case was taken up by the grand jury and they returned "a true bill charging Vowell with murder in the second degree." Judge Hughes who had heard the evidence in the case on the application for bail, refused to accept this action of the grand jury and sent them back to reconsider it. Again the grand jury returned an indictment for second degree murder, only to be told by the court to go back and try once more. When they came back in the third time with the indictment the same they were discharged by Judge Huges who then ordered the sheriff to summon a new grand jury. On Aug. 20, 1903, the new grand jury was sworn in and within an hour returned a indictment against Vowell for murder in the first degree. The trial was set for Monday, Aug. 24, 1903. The dismissal of the grand jury caused quite a stir among the legal community since it was a very unusual course. Mart then secured a change of venue from Clay Co. to Greene Co. The case came before the Circuit Court at Paragould, Greene Co. Mart was convicted sometime during the first week of September 1903 of murder in the first degree for killing William F. Lovejoy. On September 14, 1903, attorneys for Mart made a motion before judge Allen Hughes for a new trial. The motion was based upon a remark made by a juror in the case shortly after the killing to the effect that Vowell should be hanged. The juror denied having made the remark. Other jurors said that he was the last man to vote for the death sentence. After considering the question "carefully" the court overruled the motion. And he was sentenced that evening to execution on November 13 along with another man Nathan Brewer. Vowell appealed to the state supreme court and the supreme court upheld the verdict of the lower court. Appeal was then made to Governor Jeff Davis for clemency. More than 1,200 citizens of Clay and Greene counties signed a petition asking the governor to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment. At the same time 1,500 other citizens of the same counties signed a petition to the governor entering a remonstrance against interference with carrying out the verdict of the jury. In addition strong counsel pro and con appeared before the governor.. Gov. Davis gave attentive hearing to and went exhaustively into the case. Mart's defense argued that he was justified in killing Lovejoy and that the latter had threatened to kill Vowell. They also argued that one of the jurors in the trial was incompetent since he had expressed the opinion that Vowell ought to be hanged for the crime. The prosecution argued that the verdict of the jury fortified by the support of the supreme court should be carried out. Appearing in May 1904 before Gov. Davis were Bony Vowell, (some records call him Pony) Mart's brother, Alfred Huckett, a cousin, Mart's wife and two daughters. Also appearing were John and Al Lovejoy, William's brothers, and Mrs. Mollie Bradford, William's daughter. Gov. Davis decided not to interfere and on Sat., May 7, 1904, he set June 9, 1904, as the date for Mart's execution. Continued efforts were made to get the governor to reverse his decision--arguments were made that in the Confederate army Mart was a soldier with a good record. Being a member of the Twenty-first Cavalry, Wilson's regiment, Bell's Brigade, Forrest's command participating in the Battle of Brice's Crossroads where he suffered severe sunstroke. Also brought up was the fact that he was 61 years of age. In what appeared to be a "violent departure from his record in this line", having pardoned others for lesser reasons*, the governor still refused to interfere. In a letter dated Little Rock June 9, 1904, Gov. Davis said "You don't know how I have fought my own inclinations in this case. It has been a struggle between sentiment and duty. ...stern duty and exact justice demand that my course should be as it is."
Mart was taken from the penitentiary in Little Rock to Paragould on Tuesday night, June 8, 1904, by his personal friend Sheriff Grayson of Greene Co. & deputy sheriff, Pony Vowell, Mart's brother. After a speech to the crowd of over 2000 and "Farewell to this earth and good-bye to all" and hearty cries of "Good-bye, Mart!" from the crowd, Mart Vowell was hanged at 5:40 pm on Thursday, June 9, 1904, from a scaffold erected on the south side of the Greene Co. jail in Paragould. "Death ensued in eighteen minutes". "Vowell remained cool to the end and died game." Even joining in the singing of songs at the religious services conducted before the scaffold. His body was returned to Rector, Arkansas, and he was buried on Friday, June 10, 1904, at the Woodland Heights Cemetery, in Rector, Clay Co., AR.
Gov. Davis was hung in effigy at Rector, Arkansas, on Saturday, June 11, 1904, for not commuting the sentence of Mart Vowell.
Also interesting to note is the following item that appeared on the same page as the article noting the ordering of the new grand jury--"Piggott Correspondence. Circuit court convened here Monday, with Judge Allen Hughes, State's Attorney S. R. Simpson and other court officers present. The following cases had been disposed of, up to Tuesday evening: ...State vs. W. F. Lovejoy; liquor, twenty-three cases; nolle pros. entered, because of defendants death."--The Courier, Clay Co., Corning, Ark., Aug. 21, 1903
Mart and William Lovejoy are both buried in the same cemetery. Their graves are in plain view of each other. His friends and neighbors erected a large stone monument for Mart
The Courier, Corning, Clay Co., Ark.--Fri. Aug. 14, 1903; Fri. Aug. 21, 1903; Fri. Sept. 18, 1903; Fri. May 13, 1904; Fri. June 10, 1904 The Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Ark., Fri. June 10, 1904.
The Drew County Advance, Monticello, Ark.--Tues. May 17, 1904, Tues. June 14, 1904, Tues. June 21, 1904.
The Monticelloian, Monticello, Ark.--Thurs. May 12, 1904; June 16, 1904.
A History of Greene County Arkansas, by Myrl Rhine Mueller, 1984, p. 224--"The Legal Hangings" The Greene County Historical & Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 6, Fall 1993, No. 4, p. 120.
The Greene County Historical & Genealogical Society Newsletter, July 1990, p. 3. FOOTNOTE: *Gov. Jeff Davis "pardoned outright Dr. Lee Johnson...because he could not bear to let an old white man died in the pen. (The old man wasn't sick at all.) He pardoned Simmons, the king of the Blind Tigerists, because he was an old confederate soldier (though he wasn't). He pardoned Stucky because he was a good fiddler. He pardoned others because of long petitions and others because women cried and blubbered around him. These were the reasons as signed by himself for granting pardons in the face of opposing petitions...."--Drew County Advance, Monticello, Ark. June 14, 1904.
More About MARTIN VAN BUREN VOWELL Burial: 10 June 1904, Woodland Heights Cemetery, Rector, Clay Co, AR Cause of Death: Hanged
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