Murder in the County

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair.

Excerpt from Chapter 39 — The Death of Joe Rich

“A hint of fall had come into the air as September heralded the change of season. Blood stirred by cooler air and lubricated by alcohol rarely bodes well in a gathering of young men intent on proving themselves. On the evening of September 21, 1890, just such a scenario unfolded amid the busy streets of Prairie Grove.

“No doubt some wags later remarked they could have predicted violence between Mack Rollans and Joseph Rich. Both families had seen their share of trouble. Just a month earlier, on August 10, 1890, Joseph’s younger brother David Lee Rich was indicted for selling “ardent spirits” to a minor without a license. The previous year in June 1889, Mack Rollans had been indicted for wearing a pistol but later found not guilty…

“…That evening, Mack Rollans got in over his head. Some minor skirmish erupted within the gathered group, perhaps a question of the price, quality, or quantity of the liquor or a slurred insult about a woman, a family member, or some other trifling matter. In the ensuing fight, weapons entered the fray. Rollans pulled his knife. As such events have a tendency to develop, Rich soon fell dead.

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