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William Jayson Waggoner, a lifelong resident of Lonoke County, served for forty-one years as circuit judge. Elected state representative in 1914, he served in that role until resigning to take a commission in the U.S. Army in 1917. Upon his return, he was elected prosecuting attorney and continued to serve in elected office for the rest of his life.
Bill Waggoner was born near the community of Needmore (Lonoke County) on November 12, 1889, to Thomas J. Waggoner and Nancy Munsch Waggoner; he was one of ten children. After Waggoner’s father’s death in 1898, the family lived in Carlisle (Lonoke County) and Lonoke (Lonoke County). Waggoner’s mother remarried in 1911 to William Henry Stout.
After graduating from the Law Department of the University of Arkansas (UA), located in Little Rock (Pulaski County), in June 1913, Waggoner was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives for the 1915 term. He represented Lonoke County, serving as temporary speaker of the house during his second term, and was also elected to the state constitutional convention before resigning from the Arkansas General Assembly in order to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War I. He had previously served three years in the Arkansas National Guard as a sergeant, Company K at Lonoke.
Seriously wounded on October 7, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, he was hospitalized in Prum, Germany, and remained for a time in the occupation forces. Upon his return in 1919, he was elected prosecuting attorney for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, serving six years starting in 1921. On January 1, 1927, he began service as circuit judge for the Seventeenth District, an office in which he served until his death in 1968. At that time, he was recognized as the longest-serving circuit judge in the state. In 1944, a citizens’ group put his name forward for the office of governor, but he declined to be considered.
During his time as circuit judge, he served as the chairman of the first Highway Audit Commission during the term of Governor Harvey Parnell. In addition, he drafted the Criminal Reform Bill for Governor Junius Marion Futrell, which later became an initiated act. In 1932, he participated in the Democratic National Convention, supporting the vice-presidential candidacy of Joe T. Robinson. In 1937, he presided over a trial that brought national attention to his court. The man on trial was Lester Brockelhurst, who murdered Victor Gates of Little Rock, as well as people in Illinois and Texas, before being arrested in New York and returned to Arkansas following an extensive crime spree.
Waggoner was a member of the American Legion for fifty years, having been an organizer of the Lonoke post; a Mason; a member serving in state and national positions of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; a charter member of the Lonoke Lions Club; and a member of the Lonoke Christian Church.
Waggoner married Ruth Eagle Bradford on Valentine’s Day of 1920 in Hot Springs (Garland County). She had been a teacher in Hazen (Prairie County) and at Lonoke High School, and they had maintained contact through the war. They had no children.
Waggoner served on the draft board of Lonoke County from 1940 to 1947, and he and his wife sent boxes of cookies to Lonoke’s young men who went off to World War II service (including Maurice Lee “Footsie” Britt, then a trainee). For some years, Waggoner owned the movie theater in Lonoke, where he arranged shows for school classes. When the theater closed, he arranged for buses to take the school children to the theater in Carlisle.Waggoner Park in Lonoke was his July 1967 gift to the City of Lonoke, including land originally owned by Joe T. Robinson. It was the first park area donated to the city since 1869.
Waggoner died on October 25, 1968, and is buried in Lonoke Cemetery.
For additional information:
“Death Claims Noted Judge Waggoner.” Lonoke Democrat, October 31, 1968, p. 4.
Jordan, Wayne. “Dean of State Judges Presents Lonoke with Surprise (City Park).” Arkansas Gazette, July 24, 1967, pp. 1–2.
“Judge Waggoner Is Honored.” Lonoke Democrat, May 12, 1955, p. 1.
William J. Waggoner Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
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