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United States v. Waddell et al. is a U.S. Supreme Court case that arose from an 1883 incident of nightriding (sometimes called whitecapping) in Van Buren County, in which a group of armed white men attempted to drive off a black homesteader. The case centered upon the question of whether or not an individual, having settled upon a piece of property for purposes of obtaining a federal homestead, enjoyed the protection of the federal government in attempting to exercise his rights in the face of conspiracies to intimidate.
On December 13, 1882, Burrell Lindsay, an African American, made a homestead entry for a tract of land in Bradley Township in southeastern Van Buren County. On the night of January 10, 1883, a group of disguised men (later said to number ten) proceeded to Lindsay’s house “with the intention of making him leave the [area],” beginning by knocking on the door and shouting. Lindsay and a group of neighbors, who had gathered there in anticipation of trouble on account of demonstrations the night before, barricaded the door, and the masked party began firing their guns into it. The Lindsay group managed to flee out of a back door, but, pursued by the vigilantes, they turned and fired upon them, seeing one man (later identified as Harvey Holland) fall dead. They then “traveled all night through the mud, and landed at Conway [Faulkner County] worn out and nearly frightened to death.” The Arkansas Gazette reported that this violent attack upon the black group was not unexpected, as it had been preceded by the posting of a warning, found on August 30, 1882, more than four months before the attack and three months before Lindsay made his homestead entry. The warning read: “Notice is her by giving That I sertify you, Mr. Niggro, just as shore as you locate your Self her death is your potion. the Cadron is a ded line. your cind cant live on this side a tall and this is all you air going to git And I dont know what cind the next warning will Bee.” (This was an era when many such expulsions were occurring, creating what are known as “sundown towns,” or communities in which white citizens forbade African Americans from residing.)
On January 23, 1883, deputy marshals arrested four men near Pinnacle Springs (Faulkner County) for the attack upon Lindsay and the others. David Waddell, Samuel McDaniels, James Holland, and Anderson Hutto were brought before U.S. commissioner Ralph L. Goodrich to be charged under Section 5508 of the Revised Statutes of the United States: “If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution and laws of the United States, they shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars and imprisoned not more than ten years.” However, during the preliminary examination, charges against Anderson Hutto were dismissed, and he became a witness for the state. Other witnesses testified that threats had been leveled against black residents for some time. Deputy Marshal Weigel later secured warrants for the arrest of Benjamin F. (Frank) Palmer, R. M. “Parson” Evans, and Joseph Hubbard, as well as subpoenas for a number of witnesses, but when he took his posse into the area once more, he found that not only had the three men for whom he had writs had left the area, but also ten other men living in the neighborhood had fled the area for the purpose, as their families said, “of avoiding arrest.”
Among those who absconded was David Lloyd, justice of the peace for Bradley Township in Van Buren County, where the attack originally occurred. However, before he vanished, he issued arrest warrants for Lindsay, John Wiley, and Henry Clemmons, charging them with the murder of Harvey Holland. Lindsay and Wiley were arrested in Conway but later discharged on a writ of habeas corpus, while Clemens, a man reportedly not even present at the homicide, was arrested and lodged in the Van Buren County jail in Clinton, though later discharged, with the local constable finding the proceedings against him “not confessedly utterly frivolous and malicious.” This was not the only instance of legal harassment levied against Lindsay and his friends, for James Holland, one of the accused vigilantes, later entered suit against Lindsay, accusing Lindsay of assaulting him upon his premises and firing into his house.
The case raised in the April 1883 term of the Circuit Court of the Eastern District of Arkansas hinged upon the homesteading issue at the center of Section 5508 of the Revised Statutes, namely whether, “during the period that the settler is required by the laws of the United States to reside upon the land in order to protect his title, he is in the enjoyment of a right guarantied [sic] to him by those laws, so that a conspiracy to deprive him of that right is a crime under the act of congress.” The court, in this case, proved reluctant to decide this question of law, instead certifying it for the final determination of the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the questions on which the Court was asked to rule were: “(1) Whether section 5508 of the Revised Statutes is a constitutional and valid law. (2) Whether the information in said cause charged and offence [sic] under said section 5508 of the Revised Statutes of the United States or against any statute of the United States.” The Court, in November 1884, answered these two questions in the affirmative, finding Section 5508 constitutional as per the unanimous opinion on a previous case while asserting, with regard to the second, that it would be strange to claim that the United States “cannot make a law which protects a party in the performance of his existing contract for the purchase of such land, without which the contract fails, and the rights, both of the United States and the purchaser, are defeated.” The case was therefore remitted to the circuit court.
However, the circuit court seems not to have taken up the matter, for no mention of the case appears in later volumes of The Federal Reporter or subsequent issues of the Arkansas Gazette. This is likely due to the fact that, at the time the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, Lindsay was then serving a term in the state penitentiary for having allegedly shot at Hosea Edwards, a brother-in-law of vigilante James Holland (who had brought suit against Lindsay), and therefore was charged with assault with intent to kill. Seeking to avoid a twenty-one-year prison sentence, Lindsay pleaded guilty to the charge at the advice of his lawyers after Charles Montgomery, indicted for the same crime, was tried and found guilty; however, he maintained his innocence in an interview with the Arkansas Gazette and insisted that this charge “is but a malicious continuation of the persecution wrought upon me last spring.” Though Lindsay did not reap any benefits from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Waddell remains relevant for court cases related to the protection of the federal rights of citizens from conspiracies of intimidation, as with management intimidation of labor unions, for example.
For additional information:“Brought to Justice.” Arkansas Gazette, January 25, 1883, p. 4.
“The Fate of Burrell Lindsey [sic], Who Was ‘Bulldozed.’” Arkansas Gazette, August 29, 1883, p. 5;
“Land Troubles.” Arkansas Gazette, January 16, 1883, p. 5.
Lancaster, Guy. “Nightriding and Racial Cleansing in the Arkansas River Valley.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 72 (Autumn 2013): 242–264.
Meriwether, Bob. “‘Bulldozing’ on the Cadron (1883).” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 41 (Fall/Winter 1999): 67–70.
“The Night Riders.” Arkansas Gazette, February 2, 1883, p. 4.
“An Old Case.” Arkansas Gazette, November 26, 1884, p. 4.
United States v. Waddell and others, 112 U.S. 76. Online at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/112/76 (accessed April 12, 2012).
United States v. Waddell and others.” In The Federal Reporter, Vol. 16, Cases Argued and Determined in the Circuit and District Courts of the United States, June–July 1883 (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1883). Online at http://openjurist.org/16/f1d/221 (accessed April 12, 2012).
Guy LancasterEncyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 12/4/2015
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