The Charley Joplin Story
WRITTEN BY BILL
Printed in The Key 1976
Submitted here by Curtis A. Hannah
About one hundred yards southwest of the water tower at Old Jenny Lind, there is a high bluff
and close to the bottom of the bluff, there is a large hole ...a grave, dug by some irate men who realized that even a murderer is entitled to a burial.
The unoccupied grave was for Charley Joplin, who had killed five people then ended his own life. The date was December 11, 1890. His body was returned to DuQuoin, Ill., and even the coffin box made of pine was left under the coffin house close to the Company Store at New Jenny Lind. It served a purpose, I suppose, as the kids, especially the girls, steered clear of that building.
The story about Charley Joplin served as a conversation piece for years and years. The more it was recalled, the bigger it got. Dr. Stewart's store could not have held as many men as they claimed there were in there when Joplin walked in. I'm sure "Cobb" Jarrard was there. He never bragged about it, all I ever heard him say was that he made an excuse to go back into the store to give Dr. Stewart a chance to defend himself. It almost worked. Dr. Stewart grabbed his rifle, aimed it at Charley Joplin, and the gun snapped. He had killed a hog the evening before and failed to reload, otherwise this would have been a different story.
The following article appeared in the December 19,1890 issue of the Fort Smith Weekly Elevator. I can't vouch for its authenticity, as to the gun Joplin used and just where his victims were when he shot them. Any how, here is the news item... you can draw your own conclusions,
CHARLEY JOPLIN SLAUGHTERS FIVE PEOPLE THEN KILLS HIMSELF
Details of the Deeds of a Demon at the town of Old Jenny Lind On Thursday evening of last week, Mr. R.G. Caldwell, who resides on Massard Prairie, about seven miles from this city, was on his way home with a load of corn. When near the Degan Nursery, about four miles out, he was interrupted by a footman, armed with a breech loading shotgun. According to Mr. Caldwell, he said: "Will either of them mules ride?" "No," replied Mr. Caldwell, "they will both buck like the devil." "How far is it to Jenny Lind?" said the stranger. "They call it seven miles," said Caldwell, "but you'll think it's eight before you get there". About this time a traveler came riding along on a jaded pony, when the man with the gun left Caldwell and headed him off, demanding his horse. Before the traveler had time to dismount, the man shot him in the right side, following up that shot with a second one, blowing the poor fellow's brains out. This occurred right in the presence of Caldwell, who was driving on as the first shot was fired. As the man fell to the ground, Caldwell heard the murderer say, "G—D--- you, you ought to have got off when I told you to" and then he made for the pony, which had started back the way it came. He caught the animal some little distance from where the murder occurred, and mounting it, started off in the direction of Jenny Lind, beating the animal with his gun, yelling and cursing like a mad man. He rode it about three miles and then abandoned it. A little further on he caught up with Lide Collins driving a span of mules with an empty wagon. He stopped the young man at the muzzle of his gun and getting into the wagon told Lide to drive for his life or he would kill him; he took the whip and lashed the team into a rapid gait, threatening to shoot every man they met who did not give the road. As they flew along he told Collins that he had killed a man back on the road, and was sorry he had done it, but the fellow did not get off his horse quickly enough:
He also told Collins that he was going to Jenny Lind to kill two men and three women, meaning Dr. N.H. Stewart, John Miller, Mrs. Miller, Lula Miller, and Mrs. Key. Lide suggested that they would be arrested for driving so fast but his captor replied that there were no officers in the country who could arrest him now.
During the wild ride, Lide's passenger gave him some good advice and told him that he had an uncle named George Hatter at Springfield, Ill., and that he wanted him telegraphed about the trouble he was in, interspersing his remarks with belaboring the mules, occasionally hitting them with his gun.
When they came to the creek just this side of Jenny Lind he said to Collins: "Now I will turn you loose." He alighted from the wagon, shook hands with Collins, gave him two dollars for the use of the team, and with the parting advice never to let his temper run away from him, started for Dr. Stewart's store. There were eight men in the store besides Stewart. One of them, Cobb Jarrard, saw him coming and recognized him as Charley Joplin, a miner who had been at work there some time. It was known to Jarrard that Joplin
had threatened Stewart's life, and he said: "Doc, here comes Charley with his gun." Stewart was telling some joke to the crowd and paid no attention until he was warned again and by this time Joplin stepped up on the porch in front of the store. Shoving the muzzle of his gun in the door, he said, "Get out of here G--D--- you, or I will shoot every last one of you."
He repeated this demand and all of them walked by him except Jarrard, while Stewart rushed to the back of the store. Jarrard attempted to act as peacemaker but Joplin told him to get out, and he gathered up some bundles he had just purchased and started. By this time Stewart had got his Winchester, and taking a position behind the counter, said: "Let him come. I am ready for him," As Jarrard passed out, Joplin darkened the door and Stewart pulled the trigger but unfortunately the gun had in it an empty shell instead of a load. Joplin then shot Stewart in the right arm, tearing it all to pieces. He then stepped on the porch, reloaded the empty barrel, and returning to the door, shot Stewart a second time. He retired again to reload, went back to the edge of the porch and fired a third shot. Walking off a short distance, he again reloaded and returned as if to fire a fourth shot but did not do it. It will be observed that he was shrewd enough not to empty his gun but kept one barrel loaded so no one could take advantage of him.
When shot, Stewart evidently fell forward on the counter where he was found shortly after and carried out on the porch, where he died in a few minutes. Before dying, he asked for Mrs. Key and put his hand on his hip pocket, where he had something over one thousand dollars in cash. He also said: "What did you let him murder me for?"
After finishing up his bloody work at the store, Joplin started for the home of John Miller, a short distance away, ranting and cursing like a maniac as he went along. On approaching the house, he saw Miller at the woodpile cutting wood and said: "Now D--------- you your time is up.” And at once fired on him. Miller ran, and as he went around the corner of the fence, he was shot a second time in the back and fell.
Lula Miller, fourteen years of age, and her nine year old sister Mittie, heard the
shots and ran out of the house. Joplin shot at the younger girl but did not hit her and
He then ran around the house and met Lula in the hall. She threw up her hands and he shot her in the face, killing her instantly.
He then entered the house where Mrs. Miller was seated in the rocking chair and shot her twice, one load tearing the chair up pretty badly and the other entering the side of the woman just above the hips. She was found lying on the bed by those who entered the house first after the tragedy.
Joplin then went out on the porch, walked the length once or twice, raving and cursing, and then stopping near the prostrate body of the girl he had just murdered, sat the butt of the gun on the floor leaned over and put his forehead on the muzzle and pulled the trigger. The discharge blew the entire top of his head off, from the eyebrows up. the brains and blood splattering the roof of the porch and were scattered around. Mrs. Miller lived in a conscious condition till the next morning about 7:00 o’clock.
John Miller struggled to his feet after receiving the second shot and made his way to a neighbors house, of about a quarter of a mile distant, where he died about 11 o’clock that night.
To make this horrible narrative complete, we must return to the murder of the stranger on the prairie. Mr. Caldwell hurried on home after witnessing the atrocious deed took the harness off of one of his mules and arming himself went off in pursuit of the murderer. At John Reyes’s he secured a horse and with Truss Rye and John, continued the pursuit. They were near enough to Jenny Lind to distinctly hear the shots that killed John Stewart. Riding up to the store after the killing they were told that Joplin had just gone to Millers. They hurried on and reached the house just as Joplin had killed himself, and on seeing him Mr. Caldwell at once recognized him as the man who killed the stranger on the prairie. They had ridden hard but arrived to late to save any of the doomed people.
WHAT LED TO THE TRAGEDY?
The affair caused intense excitement, not only in Jenny Lind, out in this city (FT SMITH) and rumors were about as to the cause of it. After diligent inquiry we produce the following, he became infatuated with Lula Miller, who was a handsome girl, and unusually well developed for her age. Last February he left and went to Texas but returned again in August and went to work for Enoch Petty, boarding with the Miller family.
It is said he became criminally intimate with Lula, and ex-pressed himself as desirous of marrying her if he could get a divorce from his wife in Illinois. It seems that Dr. Stewart was also on intimate terms with the girl, or at least Joplin was led to believe he was, and when her condition became known to the parents, the blame was laid at Joplin's door, and there was talk of prosecuting him. This state of affairs so worked on Joplin’s mind that he drank considerably, Tis said for about three weeks prior to the killing, and became convinced with the belief that Stewart was more guilty than he, and was endeavoring to shield himself by shifting the entire responsibility on his (Joplin's) shoulders.
His love for the girl, under the circumstances, caused him to detest Stewart, and then the girl is said to have rejected his suit, also as did her parents, on account of him being a married man. At least, he told a young relative of Lula's that she (Lula) had gone back on him. In this state of mind, he made threats against Stewart and the family. Tuesday night prior to the killing he came to Ft. Smith at eleven o'clock and went to Werner's saloon, where both the barkeeper and proprietor were friends of his. He remained there until Thursday just before noon and spoke freely of his troubles to Pete Bolinger, the barkeeper, who had been friends with him for three years, saying Stewart had ruined the girl and was trying to lay it all on him. His friends advised him to leave the country for a time, which he said he would do, and he would leave Bolinger a note to deliver to the girl and an order to Mrs. Miller for his trunk and other effects, also an order to Enoch Petty for a small amount of money due him for work, instructing Bolinger to pay his board at Miller's.
Here is the note he wrote to Lula,
"Ft. Smith, Ark, Dec.
Miss Lula Miller I am on the road and it is all your fault. If you had done the thing that was right, this trouble would never have been, and you will think often of what I have done for you for your own good and this is the thanks I get. So Goodbye and try to do better from now on. I will send money to pa, in, board and I mean to get my things and I want you to give all the things to him.
P.S. You have lost your best friend on earth. I always wanted to do the thing that was right but it appears you didn't."
In place of leaving the country, however, he took his gun and with a belt full of fresh cartridges evidently prepared by himself in the city and heavily charged, he started out the Greenwood road on foot. Leaving this road about the time he reached Mazzard Prairie he cut across to the Jenny Lind road and intercepted Caldwell as related above, and after killing the stranger, seems to have merged into a maniac with no thought in his mind except the murder of these people whom he believed had wronged him.
WHO THE KILLED WERE
The stranger killed on the prairie was brought to this city the same night and placed in the morgue at Birnie Bros., undertaking establishment. Letters and papers on his person indicated that his name was L.A. Duti of Kansas and that his wife was at Cooney in that state and his mother at Carleton. He was poorly clad and had only one dollar and twenty cents on his person. He was buried at the expense of the county.
Dr. Stewart came here eleven or twelve years ago and had established himself in business at Jenny Lind, where he became very popular in many respects, being a liberal and accommodating man in his transactions with his neighbors. He is said to have left a wife in Indiana, but not long since married a widow at Jenny Lind from whom he has been separated for some months. She is now at Jenny Lind establishing her claim to Stewart's estate.
John Miller had been a resident of Jenny Lind for ten or twelve years also and was an industrious and respected citizen. Mrs. Miller was a sister of Mrs. Key, who also resides at Jenny Lind, and we are informed that Miller's father lives in Yell County. Lula Miller was the belle of the neighborhood and the pride of her parents.
Joplin came from Duqaoin, Ill, where his parents still reside and are highly respected people. His uncle is a prominent railroad official. He was an expert wing shot and has taken part in some famous shooting in them. He was popular with his acquaintances in this section and all speak highly of him, expressing their astonishment at his unwarranted conduct believing that he was temporarily insane... torn with love and jealousy.
The Miller family and Dr. Stewart were all buried Saturday but the body of Joplin remained where it fell until Sunday. The people there declining to have him buried in the village cemetery, and land owners in the county not wanting him laid to rest on their lands. He was finally taken to New Jenny Lind by the miners who were preparing to bury him Sunday evening when his brother-in-law, John Conroy, arrived from Duquoin, Ill, and took charge of the remains. They were brought to this city Sunday night by Birnie Bros., and were delayed till Tuesday noon, Mr. Conway having to wait for money being telegraphed from home
Thus ends the narrative of one of the most bloody and heinous crimes that ever blackened the history of Arkansas.
The friends of Stewart declare his innocence of any undue relations with the girl, Lula, and the girl's relatives assert that she herself was innocent of the charges that were made against her character.