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John Farmer (Lynching of)

On July 19, 1891, an African-American man named John Farmer was lynched in Chicot County for allegedly murdering a prominent local planter named C. C. Buckner.

John Farmer may be the same person who was living with his grandmother, Lou Gibson, in the household of another African American, Jack Gillis, in Mason Township of Chicot County in 1880; his grandmother was a servant, and fifteen-year-old Farmer was a farm laborer. This would mean that he was twenty-six at the time he was lynched. According to Paul R. Hollrah’s History of St. Charles County, Missouri (1765–1885), C. C. Buckner was Charles Creel Buckner, born in Kentucky in 1850 to George Roberts Buckner and Harriet Creel Buckner. C. C. Buckner graduated from medical school in Louisville, Kentucky, and received a dental degree in St. Louis, Missouri. He eventually relocated to Chicot County, where he and his younger brother, Luther Arthur Buckner, grew cotton on their 800-acre plantation.

According to the Arkansas Gazette, on July 15, 1891, Buckner was sitting alone on the porch at his home near Dermott (Chicot County) when a man, who had been hiding, shot him with a double-barreled shotgun and killed him. Buckner’s black cook, who had been visiting a neighbor, found his body half an hour later. There were no clues as to the perpetrator, but there were tracks leading from the scene.

On July 14, the county sheriff arrested Farmer and put him in jail in Dermott under a strong guard. According to the Arkansas Gazette, Dermott was in “a great state of excitement” due to the fact that “at Dermott the negroes number about seven to one white man, and they are determined that no harm shall befall the prisoner.” On July 18, the Arkansas Gazette reported that the whites were agitated, “and a lynching is greatly feared.” Since both Farmer and the weapon were missing, it was “thought to be…conclusive proof that he did the bloody deed,” but although the members of the coroner’s jury suspected Farmer of committing the crime, they returned a verdict stating that Buckner “came to his death at the hands of an assassin unknown to the jury.”

P. K. Savage wrote a report for the July 19 edition of the Gazette that added more details of the alleged crime. According to Savage, Farmer was employed on the “Bell place,” about twelve miles south of Dermott on Bayou Bartholomew, and had been abetted by three other African Americans: Collie Marion, Eliza Russell, and Horace Wade. This report also seems to contradict the information about the coroner’s jury. According to Savage, Justice of the Peace William Glover, who was also black, convened a coroner’s jury of “eight of our best and most substantial white citizens and four as respectable colored men as there are in the community.” The verdict was that John Farmer was the murderer, and he, Marion, and Wade were charged with first-degree murder and bound over for the grand jury. A July 21 report in the Gazette more clearly explains the jury’s verdict. Savage asserted that area’s black residents were not trying to protect the accused, and while “it is possible though not probable that violence may be done…I am safe in saying, many negroes here will take an active part.”

Newspapers across the country then reported that at 2:00 a.m. on July 19, an armed mob composed of both blacks and whites stormed the Dermott jail, removed Farmer, and hanged him. According to later reports in national newspapers, Farmer supposedly confessed before his death, saying that he wanted to marry Collie Marion, who was Buckner’s cook, and that “Buckner was in the way.” He allegedly asserted that Marion instigated the shooting, which Farmer carried out with a gun belonging to Horace Wade. Whatever the case, Wade and Marion, also in jail at the time, were spirited away for their safety to the jail in Lake Valley.

The Washington Bee had what was perhaps the last comment on this incident. On August 1, it quoted the following headline from the Nashville Tribune: “The Negro Murderer of a Prominent Arkansan Meets a Deserved Fate at the Hands of a Mob.” According to the Bee, the Tribune “thus encourages such outrages.”

For additional information:
“At a Rope’s End.” Arkansas Gazette, July 21, 1891, p. 1.

Hollrah, Paul R. History of St. Charles County Missouri (1765–1885), Chapter 12. Available online at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mostchar/history12.htm (accessed December 29, 2018).

“A Mob’s Work. A Negro Assassin Strung High.” Sedalia Weekly Bazoo (Sedalia, Missouri), July 28, 1891, p. 3.

Savage, P. K. “That Dermott Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, July 19, 1891, p. 1.

“Think He’s the Right Man.” Arkansas Gazette, July 18, 1891, p. 3

“Three Bloody Deeds.” Arkansas Gazette, July 17, 1891, p. 1.

Untitled. Washington Bee, Aug. 1, 1891, p. 3.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina

Last Updated 12/29/2018

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