Sunday, June 17, 2018

Arkansas Bald Knobbers Arise to the Occasion.

As I have written before, the saga of Ozark vigilante groups extracting retribution in the latter 1800’s did not occur within one local community exclusively. It occurred throughout the Ozarks, and the common moniker for these anonymous, self-appointed citizens became known as Bald Knobbers. As every county assumed the assemblage of their own league, some groups, it seemed, were ensconced as a permanent league within a community. Yet, some leagues were formed for a determinate amount of time in order to rectify a "wrong." Examples of these excursions in Arkansas occurred in Baxter, Boone & Marion Counties. When vigilante groups operate outside the restraints of the law, circumstances seem to scamper out of normal boundaries and propel a group or community into a situation rarely conceived. I was reminded of this earlier this year when I decided to stroll through small Ozark cemetery to survey a crumbling monument to a tragic event.
   Jones, W. R. “James Hamilton Murdered,” Mountain Echo, Oct. 22, 1886 (Yellville, AR). 

"Worthy Citizen Assassinated," Arkansas True Democrat, Little Rock, AR, p.8 on October 26, 1886.
 In the Oakland Cemetery, a small & cracked obelisk pays tribute to James N. Hamilton (Feb. 28, 1851- Oct. 18, 1886), a citizen who was murdered after the culprit purportedly broke into the Hamilton cabin in Oakland, Arkansas.1

 Monument of James N. Hamilton at the Oakland Cemetery in Baxter County, Arkansas. Photo by Vincent S. Anderson/Ozarks’ History

James N. Hamilton came from Bear Creek area of Searcy County, Arkansas, and he was the son of one of the original pioneers of Searcy County. James previously served as the Searcy County Sheriff in his native county from 1876-1878 and County Clerk from 1878-1880.2 Next, Hamilton served a tour of 4 years as a Deputy Collector for the United States Department of the Treasury - Office of Internal Revenue. Yes, Hamilton was a Revenuer, and he was not a novice to law enforcement. In 1884, Hamilton raided an “illegal still in Johnson County, [Arkansas,] but the operator of the still escaped and remained in hiding.”3
During his service as a revenuer, James N. Hamilton married Nora Hensley.4 By 1885, James’ older brother, Jerry Hamilton, moved from Searcy County and relocated in the Oakland, Arkansas, near Cane Bottom Bluff on Yocham Bend on the White River. James followed suit and lived nearby his brother, Jerry, in Oakland, Arkansas.5 Subsequent to his move to Marion County, Arkansas, James filed to run for sheriff on the 1886 Republican ticket in his new Marion County residence. Additionally, as the Hamilton family settled on their new tracts of land, James hired men, James Page & James Stewart, to help cut lumber and clear bottom land for farming.5
Location of Cane Bottom Bluff from plat map of Marion County & the White River on June 5, 1848. Land Description: AR - 5th PM, 021.0N - 016.0W.  United States Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management-Government Land Office Records at
Location of Cane Bottom Bluff from 1885 survey by the U. S. Corps of Engineers: Lithographed on Plate #7 of “Map of the White River from Forsyth, Missouri, to the Mouth.” Published July, 1, 1888. Under the direction of Capt. Henry S. Taber, by James C. Long and Charles E. Taft. Reduction by A.E. Beadle July 1, 1888. Scanned & modifications by Vincent S. Anderson with permission from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District Archives on September 18, 2014.
Location of Cane Bottom Bluff from Google Earth. Accessed & Modifications by Vincent S. Anderson June 01, 2018.
About 4:00 am on October 18, 1886, James N. Hamilton was sleeping in bed with his wife and small son, Jasper S. Hamilton, and a murderous bullet was plunged through the young farmer’s skull. As the report from the pistol rang out in the small cabin, the last cry from Hamilton’s lips that his wife and assassin heard was: “Oh, Lord!” The next day, James’ family, including his wife, Nora, and three children, laid his body to rest in the Yocham Cemetery, a local Oakland cemetery.6

The news spread throughout the small White River village, and speculation ran wild as neighbors ascertained the impetus to another heinous offense. In many cases, crimes are attributed to love or money. According to speculation, an incentive for this crime was due to passion and spurned love. For many citizens of that time and region, murder had become a common wholesale commodity. Just across the Stateline in Missouri, the Bald Knobber saga in Christian & Taney Counties were also beginning to gain its bluster, and Northern Arkansas seemed to follow in a familiar similitude, along with vigilante justice. According the Mountain Echo in Yellville, Arkansas, James N. Hamilton was “…the fourth man murdered within a radius of six or eight miles [of Oakland] within the last four years, and no one [was] ever brought to justice until Judge Lynch took it to his head to avenge the death of Mr. Hamilton by hanging the murder.”7

The North Fork Township Justice of the Peace, Mr. William. L. Due, Esqr., also locally known as “Uncle Billy,”8 convened an inquest the next morning, and the quorum was convinced “that one James Page did the killing. He was arrested and brought for an examining trial”9 Along in the inquest, it was determined James Stewart should also be held as an accessory in the murder, and his testimony would be valuable for the prosecution of the case.

Diagram of the James N. Hamilton cabin published in the Mountain Echo November 5, 1886.
As evening started to approach in Oakland, the rumors of mob & vigilante valance began to circulate throughout the village. Therefore, it was settled upon to move James Page to Yellville and keep him in the Marion County Jail that Tuesday evening. Nevertheless, once Page was placed under guard in the county jail, Pace was forcibly taken from Deputy Sheriff Lawson, Col. Orcutt, and other jail guards “by a large body of armed men.” As the hooded men absconded with Page, many had little doubt that Page would soon reap his just deserts. Col. Orcutt testified that the mob brandished “…pistols four feet long.” As the vigilante group expedited James Page to the backwoods of Marion County, a separate posse pursued the vigilantes the newspapers called Bald Knobbers. Once the posse overtook the Bald Knobbers, Page took advantage of the melee, made his escape, and headed toward the Boston Mountains.10 Fortunately, Page was recaptured on Saturday, October 27, 1886, by a posse lead by Mr. Jasper Wayne Hensley. 11 Interestingly enough, Mr. Hensley, the father-in-law to James N. Hamilton, had also moved to Oakland the year prior, and was the former Searcy County Treasurer 1872-1874 and the County & Circuit Clerk for Searcy County from 1880 to 1884; Hensley had extensive knowledge of the mountain region into which Page fled.  With James Page’s recapture, it finally disclosed that Page was an alias name for Andrew Jackson Mullican.12

While a trial to determine the guilt of James Stewart ensued, Andrew Jackson Mullican was compelled to testify as to Stewart’s involvement in the murder. At first, Mullican refused to testify, but the judge insisted on the testimony or Mullican would be held in contempt of court. As Mullican gave his testimony, the Mountain Echo described the assassin, A. J. Mullican, measuring:

…5 feet 8 inches high, has light hair and light mustache, light complexion, and is of stout build and well muscled, and is about 22 years of age. He is illiterate and has a particular brogue in his speech occasioned by the omission of syllables and words. He says he broke out of jail at Clinton, this State, a year ago, and adopted the name Page to avoid detection. He claims his mother lives on the Boston Mountain.13

"Giving the Murder His Quietus"
The Mountain Echo observed that Mullican “seems to have a peculiar horror for jail and the rope, then took the stand and retracted so much of his former statement” implicating Stewart.” Additionally, Mullican stated the true cause of the murder was the “great attachment” he possessed for Hamilton’s wife. To his chagrin, Hamilton said he “thought he would have died rather than have made known the fact-but that he loved Hamilton’s wife, and that he conceived the idea that he would kill him and get him out of the way; that this was the sole cause of the murder.14
Seeing the nature of the situation of how many citizens in the region detested what Mullican had done, it was thought it would be best to transport him to Harrison, Arkansas, jail for safe keeping on November 4, 1888. The Harrison Times affirmed the sentiment reasoning that since the murder, “there has been rumors to the effect that, in view of the atrocious character of the crime and the fact that Mullican made a full confession regarding it, there was little doubt but that a mob from Marion and Searcy counties would eventually accelerate justice by giving the murderer his quietus.” 15

[Quietus qui·e·tus Noun - a finishing stroke; anything that effectually ends or settles: Discharge or release from life.]16

A week later, on November the 11th, two guards paced the gloomy confinement where Mullican was restrained. As the rain starting blowing through the bars in the window, nighttime settled over the Boone County Jail. About 12:30 in the morning, a large mob of veiled & hooded men arrived at the jail “holding their guns in a manner which was calculated to inspire the boys with a sudden desire to obey whatever order might be given.”17

Marion County Bald Knobbers

The Harrison Times details the rest of the fracas:

Ascertaining that the keys of the jail were in the possession of Deputy Sheriff J. P.  Johnson, one of the guards was forced into service and a committee of the lynchers repaired to Mr. J.’s house, aroused him from bed, and by vigorous use of a shotgun argument induced him not only to furnish the keys to the jail, but to accompany them to the same and see the opening thereof was satisfactorily accomplished. It took little time after this committee had returned to enter the jail, sever the shackles which bound Mullican to the floor and tie a rope around his neck; after which the pickets which had been thrown out in various directions were withdrawn and the party departed, crossing the creek near Bellefonte. They did not go far, however, as a tree with strong branches just south of Esquire Andrew’s residence suggested itself as suitable for their purpose and preparations were at once made to string him thereto. But by this time many of the people of town [Harrison] had been aroused, and the ringing of bells, shouting crowds and general racket created by excited citizens perhaps frightened the lynchers into completing their work without further delay; so several gathered about the unhappy man who was begging piteously for his life, a dozen pistols rang out upon the air, and leaving Mullican struggling in his gore, they remounted their horses and rode hurriedly away.18

As the Boone County citizens arrived at the melee, some estimated about 50 Bald Knobbers made up the mob. Once the shots rang out, about 22 of the Knobbers headed south on the Valley Springs Road, also known as the Marshall branch of the road, most likely towards Searcy County.  The remaining Knobbers headed back towards Marion County.
"Harrison, Arkansas, Oct., 1905," Arkansas Historical Topographic Maps, University of Texas at Austin-Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection, Accessed June 01, 2018.
On the next morning, the Boone County Corner assembled an inquisition, and it was stated:

The 12th day of November, 1886, at Harrison, in the County of Boone, before J. K. Young, coroner of said county, upon the view of the dead body of Andrew Jackson Mullican, we, twelve good and lawful persons of said county, who being in due form sworn, say that the said Mullican came to his death by seven pistol shots in the hands of unknown persons, in the town of Harrison, county of Boone, State of Arkansas, on the night of the 11th day of November, 1886.19
64 Years Later
On March of 1948, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers approved & surveyed the old Yocham Cemetery in Oakland, Arkansas. The cemetery was scheduled to be inundated by the future Bull Shoals Lake, subsequent to the construction of the dam.
Amongst the wooded area of the old cemetery stood a small stone obelisk giving evidence of another era, an era of vigilante lawlessness & Bald Knobbers. The small monument commemorated a fallen father, citizen, and lawman: James N. Hamilton.

Mr. Hamilton's grave was plotted as #165., and it was slated to be moved to plot #515 at the new Oakland Cemetery on Hwy. 5 North, near the Arkansas/Missouri Stateline.20

Though many may drive by this small cemetery without knowing the circumstances of those who lie beneath the sod, the influences of those of the past, though remote, have shaped our lives into who we are today. Yet in my reflection, I believe my Father in Heaven reminds me that if not for His mercy, I would be in a sorry state of affairs. For myself, raised in the Ozarks, I have always believed justice would be meted out. If not in this life, the World to Come will distribute justice & mercy in righteousness.

Today, I can still see remnants of vigilante aspirations arise in hearts of those who I know…even in myself. It happened last week when a group of young men pulled up beside me going down the highway, and they began flipping fingers & shouting out their window concerning the appearance of my old car. In the heat of the moment, I just gripped my steering wheel and wished I was a member of the law. Not really, because I really wanted to slap a few knots on their skulls. It’s amazing how quick the vigilante/Bald Knobber can arise in one’s heart. Honestly, when I see corruption, inequality, intimidation, and perverse judgments in our society & nation, I am tempted to think it is only in our generation that unrighteousness reigns in our country. When I look back on our history, I am often reminded we have more in common with our past than many realize. I recall the same circumstances in scripture where the Lord pleads:

“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
    maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.21

Yet, in our self-righteousness, we seem to forget:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.
But who are you to judge your neighbor?22

For those who are exasperated over what is happening in our world, take hope. There is One who is watching. Enjoy your Ozarks’ History.

Bald Knobber Genre
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1. James N. Hamilton, 1886; Burial, Baxter, Arkansas, United States of America, Oakland Cemetery; citing record ID 79906664, Find a Grave,
2. Searcy County Arkansas: A History of Searcy County Arkansas and Its People, Searcy County Retired Teachers Association, Marshall, AR, 1987.
3. “Deputy Collector James N. Hamilton,” Officer Down Memorial Page,
4. Nora Hensley Reeves, 1924; Burial, Maricopa, Arizona, United States of America, City of Mesa Cemetery; citing record ID 65210954, Find a Grave,
4. Nelson, Gary, Oakland, Arkansas: Prehistory & History. Oakland, AR: 2010, 59.
5. Jones, W. R. “The Hamilton Murder,” Mountain Echo, Nov. 4, 1886 (Yellville, AR). Microfilm AR462. Mountain Home, AR: Baxter County Library Archives.
6. Ibid.
7. Jones, W. R. “James Hamilton Murdered,” Mountain Echo, Oct. 22, 1886 (Yellville, AR). Microfilm AR462. Mountain Home, AR: Baxter County Library Archives.
8. William L. "Uncle Billy" Due, 1915; Burial, Baxter, Arkansas, United States of America, Oakland Cemetery; citing record ID 79906083, Find a Grave,
9. Jones, “James Hamilton Murdered,” Mountain Echo, Oct. 22, 1886.
10. ———. “The Hamilton Murder,” Mountain Echo, Nov. 4, 1886.
11. Jasper Wayne Hensley, 1893; Burial, Searcy, Arkansas, United States of America, Marshall Cemetery; citing record ID 9011108, Find a Grave,
12. Jones, “Local Echoings,” Mountain Echo, Oct. 29.
13. ———. “The Hamilton Murder,” Mountain Echo, Nov. 4, 1886.
14. Ibid.
15. ———. “Mullican Mobbed,” Mountain Echo, Nov. 19, 1886.
16. “Quietus,” Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2018,
17. Jones, “Mullican Mobbed,” Mountain Echo, Nov. 19, 1886.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, "Yocham Cemetery: 1950" Cemetery Relocation Files: Bull Shoals & Norfork Lakes, Apr., 2010. Mountain Home, AR: Baxter County Library Archives.
21. Psalms 82:2-4, ESV.
22. James 4:12, ESV.