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CIRCUS AT THE CROSS: THE NATURE OF EXECUTIONS

During his 21 years on the bench at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Judge Parker sentenced 160 men to die and hanged 79 of them. It didn't take Parker long to get going. On May 10, 1875 -- only 8 days after he arrived at Fort Smith -- he opened his first term of court. Eighteen persons came before him charged with murder, and 15 were convicted. Eight of them were sentenced to die on the gallows on September 3, 1875. One was killed trying to escape, and a second had his sentence commuted to life in prison because of his youth.

The hanging of the remaining 6 became an extraordinary media event for its times. Newspapermen came from Little Rock, St. Louis and Kansas City. Many of the large Eastern and Northern daily newspapers sent reporters to cover the event. Even strangers from abroad filtered into the city a week before the execution. More than 5,000 persons saw the condemned men marched from jail to the gallows. Many times the hangings would be a circus, drinks would be served and food sold.

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