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William Woodward (Lynching of)

William Woodward, a white farmer, was lynched by a mob in Searcy County in June 1900 for killing his step-daughter, Lurena Thomas, after she apparently charged him with sexually assaulting her.

At the time of the 1900 census, William Woodward, age thirty-five, was living in Richland Township with his wife, Margaret J. Woodward (thirty-nine), two daughters and four sons ranging from two to eleven, and step-daughter Lurena, then eighteen. (The census rendered the family name as Woodard, but all news reports give the name as Woodward.) According to the Marshall Republican, in a report reprinted in the Arkansas Democrat, Woodward was a farmer known for the ill treatment he afforded his wife and step-daughter, having reportedly whipped both on several occasions.

Lurena Thomas swore out a warrant charging Woodward, in the words of the Arkansas Gazette, with “forcing her into improper relations with him,” a phrase likely indicating that he had raped her. Woodward was subsequently arrested and, following a trial, bound over to await the decision of the grand jury. On the way to the county jail in Marshall (Searcy County) with his prisoner in tow, bailiff George Hale stopped to borrow a saddle from a neighbor. Woodward managed to escape and fled home. Along the way, he freed himself from his handcuffs and acquired a Winchester rifle. He did not find his wife and step-daughter at home and so proceeded toward the nearby creek, where they were working a small cotton patch. Woodward had reportedly threatened to kill the two women, and upon finding Thomas, he fired several shots at her as she fled, two of them hitting her; she died at 3:00 the following morning.

Following the act, Woodward placed the Winchester in his wife’s hands and tried to goad her into shooting him. His wife refused, so Woodward pulled the trigger himself. The bullet went through his breast and, according to reports, would likely have proven fatal eventually. As he lay dying, he reportedly expressed regret for the murder and love for his step-daughter.

At 4:00 a.m., a mob estimated at fifteen men, according to the Gazette, “entered his house and with clubs, beat his head almost to a jelly.” Some sources state that they continued beating Woodward even after he had died, while others hold that Woodward died immediately after their departure. No one was ever charged for the murder, and the Marshall Republican reported that “no sympathy is expressed for Mr. Woodward.”

For additional information:
“A Horrifying Crime.” Arkansas Democrat, June 20, 1900, p. 3.

“Killed by a Mob.” Arkansas Gazette, June 19, 1900, p. 2.

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 3/2/2018

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