St. Charles, Arkansas

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St. Charles is a town in Arkansas County, Arkansas, United States. The population was 261 at the 2000 census. It is best known for the Battle of Saint Charles having been fought there on the White River, and the St. Charles Lynchings of 1904.

Contents

History

St. Charles is the site of the most deadly single shot of the American Civil War. On 17 June 1862, at the Battle of Saint Charles, 8 Federal vessels including the ironclad gunboat USS Mound City attempted to pass Confederate shore guns here, on the banks of the White River. A single shot from a Confederate cannon entered the Mound City and penetrated her steam drum. The resulting explosion and release of scalding steam killed most of her crew, approximately 129 men.

In the spring of 1904, St. Charles became the scene of what would become known as the "St. Charles Lynching of 1904". Over the course of four days, a succession of white mobs terrorized black families in the area, and lynched or otherwise murdered thirteen black persons. The killers or mob members were never identified. The incident began on March 21, 1904, when Jim Searcy, a white man, began arguing with a black man named Griffin over a game of chance. The two men began to fight, and a local police officer arrested Griffin for assault, telling him he would be hanged. Whether the police officer was simply saying that to cause fear, or whether that was their actual intention, has never been known for certain.

In any event, having been told he would be hanged, Griffin struck the police officer, grabbed the officers pistol, then fled. Griffin went into hiding, but angry white mobs were determined to located him. By March 23, 1904, white mobs on horseback were accosting black citizens on sight, shooting those who resisted. Between sixty and seventy black men, women and children were driven from their homes and penned inside a warehouse. That night, members of the mob were intent on burning the warehouse with all inside. Some mob members began to argue to spare the lives of certain black persons who they personally knew, then other mob members began arguing for caution, believing the thing had gone too far.

Around 3:00am on March 24, 1904, angry white men stormed the warehouse, and dragged six black men outside. They were marched to the highpoint on the highway between St. Charles and De Witt, Arkansas, made to stand in a line, then all six were shot dead. On March 27, 1904, the most detailed newspaper report of the killings, posted in the Arkansas Gazette, listed those who had been killed. They were Abe Bailey, Mack Baldwin, Will Baldwin, Garrett Flood, Randall Flood, Aaron Hinton, Will Madison, Charley Smith, Jim Smith, Perry Carter, Kellis Johnson, Henry Griffin, and Walker Griffin. The latter two were brothers, Walker Griffin being the man originally arrested. Their killings brought the total to thirteen. The investigation into the murders was all but nonexistent, with no one ever being arrested, tried, or interviewed. To this day it remains little known, but in fact it was one of the largest murders of this sort, given the population of the town at the time, in Arkansas history.

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