Saturday, September 28, 2013

Riding With Isaac Parker: Deputy Marshall RM Fry

In the 1980’s I made a trip, along with other family members, to Fort Smith Arkansas.  We were in pursuit of stories about our Clarkson and Fry ancestors, who had lived in Fort Smith during the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.  One of our exciting finds was the name of my 2xgreat-grandfather, Reuben Macon Fry, on the list of Deputies that “Rode With Isaac Parker”, the noted “hanging judge” of the US District Court of Western Arkansas.  It was an intriguing find, but it has taken me almost twenty-five years to set about learning more about this interesting grandfather. 

To give a brief biographical account – Reuben Macon Fry was born in 1847 in Orange Court House Virginia.  As a student of the Cadet Corp of Virginia Military Institute he may have participated in some minor skirmishing during the Civil War.  After the war years, as he moved into young adulthood, he removed with his older brother to Lake Village in Chicot county Arkansas.  There he served as county clerk, operated a retail business, and married Eliza Brooks Hutchins, a “refugee” from Natchez Mississippi.  Business losses probably induced him to move on, and in 1880 he settled his family in Fort Smith Arkansas. 

Reuben Macon Fry’s obituary, twenty-five years later, gives an account of his career in Fort Smith:
. . He followed mercantile pursuits for several years and then became connected with the revenue service.  He afterward served as deputy circuit clerk during the incumbency of AA McDonald [circuit court clerk] and was also chief deputy sheriff during the six years' administration of Sheriff William Bugg.  After Captain Bugg retired he was elected justice of the peace, which position he held until he died. 

Reuben M Fry was commissioned as a Deputy Marshal of the Western District Court at Fort Smith in February 1884, and again in November 1887.  These were the years that he served as a Revenue Officer, and one of his occupations was to incapacitate “moonshiners”.  In the summer of 1888 he participated in an operation in Montgomery county Arkansas, during which one of his fellow officer, John Trammell, was killed.  I have come across several accounts of this 1888 event in newspapers and biographies. 

A report in the St Louis Post Dispatch (St Louis Missouri); 28 June 1888, begins:

Hot Springs, Ark., June 28: News of a desperate fight between revenue officers and moonshiners; which took place near Black Springs, Montgomery County, yesterday, has just reached this city. Internal Revenue Collector R. M. FRY, in charge of a posse, was in that vicinity raiding moonshiner's camps and destroying illicit distilleries. They had succeeded in ferreting out and destroying three. Shortly after they had destroyed the last one they were attacked from ambush by a band of moonshiners armed with Winchester rifles when a desperate battle ensued,. . .

Reuben Fry was accompanied by Deputy Marshals, John D Trammell and Otis K Wheeler.  Trammell was killed in the ambush.  An inquest was held which revealed that two of Trammell’s killers were relatives, a brother and cousin, of Bill Cogburn who was being held in custody.  The primary characters in the bootlegging scheme were Carter Markham, Matthew Pervine, Joseph Pepper, J.D. Hollifield and several members of the Cogburn family.  Community fear held back any witnesses, and the murderers were never convicted. 

A detailed account of this incident can be found online in Brett Cogburn’s recently published book, Rooster:
The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired True Grit, 2012; beginning on page 52.

 For more details on Reuben Macon Fry, visit his individual page at Family Stories,

To learn more about the Deputy Marshals of Isaac Parker’s court:
Law West of Fort Smith; Glenn Shirley, 1957.
Larry McMurtry's 1997 novel Zeke and Ned tells the story of Zeke Proctor, one of Parker's deputy marshals.
Loren D. Estleman's 2009 novel The Branch and The Scaffold relates to Parker's tenure at Fort Smith.
Charles Portis features Judge Parker in his novel, True Grit, which has twice been adapted as films of the same name.
Movie – Rooster Cogburn, 1975, based on Charles Portis novel; starring John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...