by Jerry Akins

For twenty-one years, Judge Isaac C. Parker ruled in the federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the gateway to the wild and lawless Western frontier. Parker, however, was not the "hanging judge" that casual legend portrays, says author Jerry Akins in his new book – Hangin' Times in Fort Smith: A History of Executions in Judge Parker's Court.

According to Akins's book, just released by Butler Center Books, the guilt or innocence of those tried in Parker's court really was not in question once their stories were told. These horrible crimes would have screamed our for justice in any circumstance.

Akins arrived at his conclusion about Parker and his court by comparing newspaper accounts of the trials and executions to what had been written and popularized in other books.

The U.S. District Court for the Western district of Arkansas between 1873 and 1896 executed eighty-six men. Under Judge Parker's twenty-one years with the court, seventy-nine men met their fate on the gallows. Capitol crimes actually were only a small part of the 13,000 total cases heard by Parker, but federal law at the time specifically stated that a jury conviction for rape or murder would result in a sentence of death.

"In this book, the author uses first hand sources from the Parker Court era to document fascinating and altogether human stories of crime and punishment on the southwest frontier, notes Arkansas historian and author Billy Higgins. "Anyone out to read authentic accounts of nineteenth century bad men and law men in Arkansas and Oklahoma territory will be quite happy with Akins’s book."

6 x 9, 268 pages
$22.50 paper