Trial of John H. Mosely


                              EARLY SKETCHES,                                
In August, 1837, while the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Cherokee Indians    
were migrating to their new homes in the north of Arkansas; west of Missouri 
the Choctaws and Chickasaws homes were in the northern part of Arkansas, and 
their direct road to their new homes was the old military road, commencing   
at Old Jackson Mission, passing through Missouri and Arkansas via Little     
Rock, to Fulton on Red River, near the then western boundary of Arkansas.    
During their moving they were frequently troubled with horse thieves,        
stealing their ponies worth from five to ten or fifteen dollars, and         
complaint being made by the Indians to their agents about the loss of their  
ponies along the road in Clark and Pike counties, their agent(s) used some   
energy to arrest and bring the thieves to justice.                           
One party was captured in Pike county, convicted, and executed by the name   
of Tyre O'Neal. A man by the name of John H. Mosley, then residing on the    
said military road at Clear Springs, in Clark county, was arrested as        
accessory before the fact for horse stealing (indian ponies), examined       
before a justice's court, thought guilty and committed to jail to await      
his trial in the circuit court; it being a capital offense was not permitted 
to bail. Mr. Thomas McLaughlin acted as constable and James L. McLaughlin    
was the then justice of the peace (two noble men never lived) in Antoine     
township, near where Okolona now stands. Hon. L.I. Handy was judge of the    
circuit court, James S. Ward was clerk of Clark county and Dr. Willis        
Smith (the writer) was sheriff. Mr. Stevenson was state's attorney, but      
resigned before court convened. Court in course met, but Judge Handy was in  
feeble health, and adjorned for the space of three or four weeks. During     
this time, the sheriff was compelled to keep a standing guard of twelve men  
to prevent the prisoner making his escape by the help of outside friends,    
the jail being nothing but a log house. This was the most trying and         
exciting time that the writer ever experienced in this county in forty-nine  
years; it tried the hearts and souls of men. It drew the lines of            
demarcation between honest men and thieves and counterfeiters. "Birds of     
the same feather ganged together."                                           
Court met pursuant to adjornment, his honor, L.I. Handy, presiding. There    
being no attorney for the state, his honor appointed John Fields prosecuting 
attorney pro tem, assisted by Samuel Hempstead. Both had just commenced the  
practice and were men of marked ability. Samuel Moore was called to their    
assistance during the trial, a man of law and judgement. The prisoner was    
indicted and arraigned before the bar, defended by George Conway, J.W. Coke, 
Albert Pike, Grandison D. Royston, Thomas Hubbard, John Taylor, Judge Hall   
and Childress. This drew men from every part of the state. The little town   
(Greenville, the then county seat of old Clark) was crowded with both        
strangers, not too many, only their special friends, and so remained.        
About this time the county was flooded with raised bank notes; for instance, 
the addition of a cipher to the right of the figure on a five dollar bill,   
raised it to fifty, and on a ten dollar bill, to a hundred dollars, and so   
on to a thousand, and were so well executed, that none but a close observer  
could detect the fraud. But I will now return to the trial of said Mosley.   
The grand jury returned a true bill against Mosley for being an accessory    
before the fact for stealing Indian ponies.                                  
                              State of Arkansas                              
                               John H. Mosley                                
                               Horse Stealing.                               
George Conway, Grandison D. Royston, Thomas Hubbard, J.W. Coke, Albert Pike, 
Judge Hall,  J.S. Taylor, _________ Childress, A. Fowler and Chester         
Ashley for the defense, the most talented bar (I) ever had the good luck to  
meet in Arkansas. The jury being made and empaneled, the prisoner was        
arraigned before the bar and the examination commenced. The state seemed to  
leave nothing undone and pushed forward with skill and ability, criticizing  
every law point, while on the part of the defense, escaped the attention of  
the lawyers (not) noticing every gap left down, if any. The case lasted      
about two weeks, when it was closed and the jury retired, was out 24 hours   
and returned a verdict of guilty as charged in the bill of indictment. The   
defense moved for a new hearing but his honor, L.I. Handy, refused to grant. 
The defense moved for an arrest of judgement.                                
The case was ably argued by the contending parties, and lasted five or six   
days, but motion for arrest of judgement was overruled, and (when) the       
prisoner was asked by his honor if he had anything to say why the sentence   
of death should not be passed on him, plead not guilty. The judge then       
passed the sentence of death. After asking the prisoner if he desired to     
have the 30 days alloted him, and receiving an affirmative answer, his       
honor passed the sentence of death, to hang by the neck until dead, dead,    
dead, on the ninth day of December, 1837, (the Arkansas Gazette says,        
"... the tenth day of December" ...) The guard was now increased to 24 men.  
Many exciting scenes occurred during this time and on the day for his        
execution. From all appearances various plans were tried for the rescue of   
the prisoner from the sentence of the law by his party, but none succeeded.  
Money was offered freely for his release.                                    
During this interval, petitions were sent up to James S. Conway (Governor)   
for his pardon, but all proved abortive until the day of his execution, when 
the prisoner was shrouded and seated on his coffin, the prison door was open 
and the wagon standing ready to carry the prisoner to the gallows and the    
adjusting of the rope around the prisoner's neck. John S. Taylor, attorney,  
came with a respite for 20 days for the convict, just in time to rescue the  
prisoner. In a few more minutes he would have gone to that bourne from       
whence no traveler returns.The prisoner was then placed in jail to await     
the expiration of the twenty days. On the eleventh of December, at night,    
Judge Hall came with a pardon in full from Governor Conway, on condition     
that the party pay all legal fees except guard hire, and quit the county in  
10 days and the limits of the state in 40 days, and not be found again in    
the state, and if so, to suffer death as the sentence was pronounced on him. 
The party soon settled all costs and the prisoner was discharged. When the   
door was opened to discharge the prisoner, a crowd of his friends were       
present, and the first words uttered by the prisoner, was: "Well, boys, all  
of you come up to the grocery and take a drink."                             
This looked strange to me, a man just escaping from the sentence of death,   
who had his shroud on, sitting on his coffin, (and) should think of whiskey  
instead of prayer and thanksgiving to God. Thus ended one of the most        
important criminal trials ever held in Arkansas. On the day for the          
execution, there were more people present than I ever saw in Arkansas at one 
time, before or since, ... excitement ran high. I thought the prisoner would 
be taken from my custody and hung anyhow. At that time horse stealing was a  
capital offense by special act of the legislature. All of the attorneys for  
each side are dead, except, Grandison D. Royston and Albert Pike. Judge L.I. 
Handy and James S. Ward, clerk, are dead. Dr. Willis S. Smith, the then      
Sheriff, is yet living. Copy of the respite and death warrant:               
              James S. Conway, Governor of the State of Arkansas             
                  To whom it may concern and especially to                   
                   The Sheriff of Clark county, Arkansas:                    
Know Ye That, Whereas, John H. Mosely has been condemned and sentenced by    
the Circuit Court of said county of Clark, to suffer death by hanging on     
the ninth day of the present month.                                          
Now Therefore, I, James S. Conway, governor of the aforesaid, grant to said  
John H. Mosley a respite from the sentence of the said circuit court of      
Clark county. For the time and space of 20 days, from the date fixed for     
his execution. And you the said sheriff of Clark county, are commanded to    
suspend the execution of said sentence, of the said court on the said John   
H. Mosley, for the said space of 20 days from the date fixed ... for his     
In Testimony Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of     
the state to (be) (af)fixed, this seventh day of December, 1837, and of      
the Independence of the U.S., the sixty-second year.                         
(Seal of State)          J.S. Conway, by the Governor                        
                       R. H. Watkins, Secretary of State.                    
In (this) case of the State of Arkansas vs. John H. Mosely, the following    
named persons were summoned by the sheriff of Clark county as guard to keep  
the said Mosely secure day and night, as the jail was not secure, having     
been made of logs; and the county site being then Greenville, was then       
sparsely inhabited, the county was new and not settled much at the time.     
The guard was one half on duty at a time while the other half was resting.   
I remember well, at one time, Col. Bozeman and I sat on guard most of the    
night: Col. Bozeman, Joseph Gray, David Morrison, Frank Russell, Thomas      
McLaughlin, John Crow, J.H. Crow, B.F. Crow, James R. Crow, Abner Hignight,  
George Horner, Abraham Newton, William Jones, Jesse Skinner, William         
Pettyjohn, Col. Jacob Wells, A.A. Wells, G.W. Wells, James Sloan, Joseph     
Hoofman, Elias Hoofman, Jesse Hoofman, Thomas Wingfield, Jacob Wingfield,    
John Wingfield, Charles Wingfield, William Wingfield, Willis S. Smith, Dr.   
J.T. Hayden, Hendrix White, Richard Wilson, Sam Kelley, John Stephens,       
William Gentry, Jack Gentry, James Gentry, M. Ward, Jacob Logan, Benjamin    
Logan, George Overbaugh, Abraham Weir, Z. Weir, Charles Franklin, William    
Franklin, William Jones, Jr., John Lisenby, Lemuel Lisenby, Peter            
Leatherman, J.S. Stuart and A.E. Thornton; A.J. Thornton, Moses Guice, B.F.  
Wyatt, Enoch Frier, Peter McCain, _________ Prewit, F.C. Lisenby, Thomas     
McNeely, Richard McNeely, William McNeely, Robert McNeely.                   
The guard would certainly have to be relieved by others. The average of the  
guard was twelve men. There were many persons on guard, no doubt, not named  
above. I write from memory altogether. It is nearing 40 years (1877) since   
the transaction of the above occurrence took place, and but few are now      
living who took part in this great trial. It is now one of the past events   
of our county history, and but very few of the above name(d) are now living  
to relate those trying times and talk them over when we meet. The memory of  
those veterans should never be forgotten by those who live in the future.    
Those who have departed this life and gone to the spirit land, I sincerely   
hope, are gazing on those joyful scenes in that "Happy Land" and visiting    
around the throne of God, or seated by some silver fount of life recounting  
over their toils and trials whilst imprisoned here.                          
Scrapbook of Dr. Willis S. Smith, Arkansas History Commission, Little        
Rock, Arkansas.                                                              
                           JOHN H. MOSLEY PARDONED                          
GOV. CONWAY has granted a pardon to JOHN H. MOSLEY, convicted of horse       
stealing, at the last session of the Clark county Circuit Court. It appears  
to have been a fair case for executive clemency, as he was believed have     
been not the principal, but the accessory to the crimes. The punishment,     
also, was considered disproportional to the crime. As the new code will      
make an essential change in the part of our criminal jurisprudence, there    
can be no question, we presume, of the propriety of extending mercy to the   
convict, who will, in all probability, abandon the country.                  
Arkansas State Gazette, December 12, 1837, page 2 column 1.

David Kelley 1996