The last execution by hanging in the State of Arkansas took place in my hometown, Paris. I find the story very interesting and wanted to share it with you. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. Special thanks to Sonja (Parker) Fletcher for her 8 months of work that went into "High Points In The History Of Logan County", and her permission in using her story. David D. Spicer ~ email@example.com
In 1914, this whole area was thrown into turmoil resulting from the murder of a young girl at Delaware (Arkansas). This young girl, Amanda Stevens, disappeared from her home, (was found) about eight days later in a well on the farm of Ambrose Johnson, partly submerged in water with a large stone attached to her neck by a telephone wire, a bullet through her head and approximately a wagon lead of rock covering it as an additional precaution of the body's rising. It is believed that the girl was not dead when she was put into the well because her hands were filled with dirt that was probably acquired either trying to get out or as she was put in.
A letter found at the home of the Stevens girl's parents was from a young man named Arthur Tillman requesting that she meet him at their usual place on the night of her disappearance.
According to her parents, the girl left home on the evening of March 10th telling her parents that she was going to a dance with Tillman. When she did not return, it was thought she was persuaded to leave the county because of her approaching motherhood.
A damaging statement was made by Tillman's mother. She said she thought the girl had driven from the country and that she was positive that Arthur had nothing to do with it. To back her statements she said that with the exception of a few hours, Arthur was at home the entire night. The time he was away from home was when he left about six o'clock carrying a .22 caliber rifle. He returned, she said, between eight and nine o'clock. The girl was shot with a rifle of that caliber. So suspecion was already pointing to Tillman.
In the meantime a report was current a warrant charging with sudetion had been issued for Tillman, and he went to Knoxville to consult his uncle who was an attorney. On advice from his uncle, he returned home and his action led to his arrest on a more serious charge.
The well in which the girl's body was found was located on the farm of Ambrose Johnson. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson returned home Sunday, March 6. Noticing that the wooden curbing had been entirely removed from the well and a greater part of the stone curb was missing, they knew something was wrong--very wrong. While discussing the strangeness of it, the noticed Arthur Tillman approach the well and peer intently into the depths. When questioned regarding this, Tillman said he too had noticed the changed condition of the well and looked inside it for this reason.
Johnson, knowing of th intimanty of Tillman and the girl and noticing the strangness of the boys acts, immediately collected several neighbors and the following day they began removing the rock from the well. It took several hours to remove the rocks, and it was late afternoon when the girl's body was removed and taken to the Johnson home for an inquest.
Arthur was later arrested at his uncle's home in Knoxville and escaped. A man was arrested in Fort Smith a few days later and thought to be him. The Sheriff of Johnson County went there and failed to identify him. While going to his hotel however, he met the real Tillman and placed him under arrest. He was delivered to Sheriff Cook and placed in jail in Paris. While enroute to the penitentiary for safe keeping, Tillman again escaped by jumping from the train as it sped through Perry County at the speed of thirty miles per hour. Tillman had two trials and was granted an appeal. An appeal to the governer like wise failed to save him Prominent Little Rock people took a hand in behalf of the boy and it is said that Governer Hayes received a thousand letters asking for commutation.
"I did'nt want to get away, I wanted to kill myself." Thus, Arthur Tillman addressed three stalward deputy sheriffs who stood gripping him, one of them holding his coat as the train sped away. A few minutes before, Tillman tried to leap from the open door of the baggage car in which he was being brought here.
Tillman was tried by Judge Evans and was sentenced to be hanged, at Paris (Arkansas). Since he learned that Governer Hayes offered no hope of respite, Tillman suffered much mentally. When early morning he set out from Little Rock for Paris, his attitude was of deep dejection.
Once on the train, with chains and handcuffs holding his arms tightly and with fetters about his ankles, the prisoner was an object of curiosity. Owing to the wide publicity given his case, Tillman was seen recognized by the passengers. He was taken to the baggage car. His escort sought to save him from embarrassing gazes and occasional remarks of the morbidly curious.
About five miles from Paris the railroad climbed a steep grade. Suddenly, with a terrific kick, Tillman broke the chain abouth his ankles before the offficers could stop him, he rushed to the car door. There he turned momentarily for a last look at his escort. The glance cost him his escape from the gallows. One of the deputies quickly reached almost hsi full length and caught the youth's coat. Tillman was dragged back from the door and after his word's of explanation, was rechained to continue the trip. None but the officer and one baggageman knew of the incident until Paris was reached at 6:30 o'clock. This was Tillman's third and last escape.
On July 10, Tillman addressed a letter to Governer Hayes to which he made affidavit, implicating anohter man whose name was given, with many attendant circumstances, and asseting his own innocence. The affadavit concluded:
"I would make this statement again, and swear to it, if I had only one more minute to live, and all on God's earth I ask of you, your excellency, is that you give me a fair impartial investigation of my case, something I know I did not have, nor could have gotten at my trial, on account of strong prejudice against me in Logan County."
In Paris, Arkansas July 14, 1914, Arthur Tillman calmly awaited death in his cell here being fully resigned to his fate. This followed a visit from the minister of the Methodist Church.
Everywhere there was a spirit of unrest for repeated rumors of attempts to rescue reached there.
It was reported that Tillman's father purchased a high power rifle and a supply of ammunition and this gave credence to the report that a sharp-shooter would attempt to pick the lad off the scaffold.
On July 13, 1914, holding him at arm's length the better to see his face, Mrs. J.F. Tillman bade farewell that afternoon to her son Arthur, condemned to die. Neither mother nor son expected to see each other alive again.
"My son," the mother sobbed as she looked through tear dimmed eyes, "my little boy. You were never sweeter or dearer to your mother than you are today. I'll always know you are innocent," and unable to restrain herself, the mother flung her arms abouth Arthur's neck.
Every person in the penitentiary hospital, where Mrs. Tillman talked with her son for the last time, unless some unforseen interference prevent his execution witnessed a tearful goodbye. The said none may critize when he attempted in a last talk with his mother who gave him life to comfort her on the eve of giving up that life.
Mr. Ray, the Methodist circuit rider was with Tillman during his last hours. The only statement prectically that that Tillman made was in a conversation with his spiritual adviser when he protested his innocence.
"Arthur, for God's sake," said the minister, "tell the whole truth right now. Are you innocent or guilty? I want to know if you are guilty so I may pray and have you join me in sincere prayer for forgiveness. If you are innocent, I want to hear the whole truth."
"I am innocent," was the young man's reply, uttered in a firm tone of voice.
"But," the minister said, "suppose you are not telling the truth. Are you going to die with that thing on your head?"
"Brother Ray,", said Tillman, "I am not guilty. If I should confess to that crime when I did not do it, I would die with a lie on my lips. You don't want me to die that way, do you?"
"The courts condemned you," continued the minister, "and everything is against you. Can you produce proof of you innocence? Is there not something you can say at the last minute? If you are innocent, who is the man?"
Then Tillman mentioned the name of a relative of the murdered girl. He tried to shift the blame on him at the trial, but failed to furnish convincing proof.
"How do you know that man is guilty?" said Ray.
"He was the first man to meet the girl," answered Tillman. "Why once he proposed to me that I swap Amanda Stevens to him for his wife. I would not do it, and then he told me one day that he was going to kill her."
"Arthur," said the circuit minister, "that is a mighty serious thing for you to say if you have no proof."
"I can't help it, I can tell you nothing else. I am innocent," answered Tillman wringing his hands.
"I want to impress on you that you embrace relition and then make a false statement, you are in danger of going to hell."
"I can't help it, I tried to tell all at the court and they would not let me," wailed Tillman.
Several pathetic scenes took place when relatives of the boy called to bid him goodbye, but throughout it all it seemed that the lad's thoughts wer of his mother and two little sisters. His last night on earth was sleepless and he failed to eat the chicken supper Sheriff Cook had ordered expecially privided. At one o'clock he asked members of the death water for watermelon. This was secured and he ate avenously. He afterwards requested that he be allowed to sleep until four o'clock and laid down, but rest was broken and he was awaken before the appointed time.
When Sheriff Cook called at the jail, the boy's condition seemed to be weaker and one of the physcians told te sheriff that the boy would have to be given morphine. This was done and Sheriff Cook told Ray that the services would have to be held in the death cell. At the request of Tillman the minister sang "Shall we Gather at the River" and "God be with You Till we Meet Again". In both these songs Tillman joined. Afterwards he told the minister he wanted to pray, in a voice of emotion he said"
"I know my time for this earth is short. I am being taken away while I am a young man. I can't grow up to take care of my good old mother. Oh Lord, I know she is crying for me now. Oh Lord, I wish I could be with her and I know you are with me. And then my two little sisters--look after them when I am gone, Oh Lord. Let them grow up to be good little girls. I am prepared to go. I believe strongly in salvation and repentance. My master told me I might be saved if I throw myself on the mercy of the court. So to thou mercy mercy I throw myself on thee and cling, but I ask thee also not to forget those I love here on earth. I love everybody and I forgive everybody. I do not want to leave any enemies on earth."
After the prayer Tillman said to Sheriff Cook, "I'm ready, but you will have to carry me." It is not known whether this was intended as a threat of defiance or a reference to his physical conditon. Without regard to the intent of the remark, Sheriff Cook motioned to his deputies. Wayne Cook and Sam Kincannon took Tillman by the arms and the march began. When he reached the scaffold, Tillman turned to the waiting crowd and said: "I want everyody here when I am gond away to read the twenty-fifth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Deuteronomy. It says, 'Cursed be that taketh reward to slay and innocent person.'"
Afterward Arthur asked permission to pray a last prayer which was granted and he said: "After I am gone, I ask Oh Lord to show mercy to those who have persecuted me. I ask that you be merciful to those who did not treat me right."
"I love Judge Evans," cried Tillman. "I love everybody. God knows I love everybody. Lord forgive this sheriff if this is an unjust step he is taking. Bless those who are going to kill me. I know I haven't long on this little platform where I am kneeling. Soon the trap door will spring and then death will claim me. When that takes place, Lord, I ask thee to take me by the river where we shall gather."
"Lord I am making a long prayer. It's hard to die so young. It's hard to leave my dear old mother. I know my mother will fill an early grave, Lord. She is too worried over this, and when she fills that early grave, I want those people to see that her body is buried by mine for I love my mother and my mother loves me. I ask thee again to watch over my little sisters and consecrate them to the Lord Jesus Christ and let them grow up to be good women. There isn't anything more I aske except I commend my souldto the care of the Lord. Amen."
After the prayer Sheriff Cook in a trembling voice read the death warrant and the ropes and straps were adjusted. He (Tillman) then asked someone to wipe the perspiration from his face and his uncle stepped forward. "Thanks Uncle Jim," said the youth. "Tell Mama I'm certainly going to Heaven this morning."
At the site of the black cap, Tillman said, "Goodbye people." The cap was adjusted, Sheriff Cook stepped back, pulled the trigger, and the boy shot down. This ended hanging in the State of Arkansas. A law was passed stating that the death penalty would thereafter be paid in the electric chair at the penitentiary. This law came into effect before Tillman was hanged, but he was to have killed the girl before this law was passed. On the same day of the hanging, an electric chair sa at Little Rock.
Whether good or bad, Paris has the distinction of being he sie of the last public hanging in the State of Arkansas.