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William H. H. Clayton -- Ft. Smith National Cemetery, Ft. Smith AR
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Benchmark Blasterz
N 35° 23.058 W 094° 25.746
15S E 370200 N 3916599
Quick Description: The US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, Clayton served as Chief Prosecutor in Judge Isaac Parker's court in Ft. Smith. Clayton went on to secure a federal judgeship of his own in Indian Territory in 1896.
Location: Arkansas, United States
Date Posted: 1/13/2015 2:28:22 PM
Waymark Code: WMN7MX
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Manville Possum Hunters
Views: 0

Long Description:
William H. H. Clayton was the longtime US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, serving for 14 years (1874-1885; 1889-1893) as Chief Prosecutor in Judge Isaac Parker's court in Ft. Smith. During that time, he successfully prosecuted outlaw Belle Starr for horse theft.

After he left the US Attorney job, he practiced law in Ft. Smith, serving as defense counsel for US Marshal Bass Smith, who had been accused of murder. In a trial before Judge Parker, Clayton was able to convince a jury that his client was innocent, a rarity for black defendants in Arkansas.

In 1896 Clayton was appointed as Federal Judge in the Central District of Indian Territory at McAlester. Clayton served for ten years, losing his judgeship when Indian Territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oklahoma. Clayton stayed in Oklahoma. serving on the committee that wrote the state's first constitution. He remained in McAlester practicing law until he died in 1920.

William H. H. Clayton and his wife are buried at the Fort Smith AR National Cemetery, not too far from his friend and former colleague Judge Isaac Parker.


"William Henry Harrison Clayton best known as W.H.H. Clayton (October 13, 1840 – December 14, 1920) was a prominent lawyer and judge in post-Civil War Arkansas and Indian Territory Oklahoma. He was the United States Attorney for the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas and the chief prosecutor in the court of "hanging judge" Isaac Parker for 14 years.

Clayton and his twin brother John Middleton Clayton (Arkansas) were born in Bethel, Pennsylvania . . . and saw action as members of Co. H of the 124th Regiment, PA Volunteers. . . .

Clayton served as a lieutenant in Company H, and saw action at the Battle of Second Bull Run, and at the battle of Antietam . . The next day, Clayton and his colleagues in the 124th Regiment had burial duty and the unenviable duty of helping clean up the carnage and slaughter [after the battle].

The 124th Regiment was involved in [Burnside's] Fredericksburg campaign and later . . . was involved in [Hooker's] spring campaign . . . and the Battle of Chancellorsville. . . . [After mustering] out of service on May 17, 1863, . . . [A month later] Clayton and most of the members of the 124th were hastily assembled into the newly formed 29th Emergency Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia. The new 29th remained in Chester and Delaware counties during the Battle of Gettysburg. . . [and] after the battle,[pursued] the defeated Confederate troops. This ended W.H.H.'s active involvement in the Civil War.

Life and career in Arkansas

When the Civil War ended, W.H.H. Clayton . . . purchased 2,000 acres of land on the Arkansas River. . . . In 1868, W.H.H. Clayton, while studying law, was appointed circuit superintendent of public instruction for the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Arkansas and helped organize an education system for the newly freed slaves.

In 1871, W.H.H. Clayton was admitted to the bar and was appointed prosecuting attorney for the First Judicial Circuit of Arkansas. In 1873, Governor Elisha Baxter appointed him a judge of the same Circuit Court, but, in 1875, he resigned this position to accept an appointment, offered by President Ulysses Grant as United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas had recently moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and W.H.H. Clayton moved to Fort Smith when he took the U.S. Attorney position. . . .

Service in Judge Parker's court

In 1875, the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas had jurisdiction over one-third of the state of Arkansas and all of the Indian Territory to the west that eventually became the state of Oklahoma. . . . President Grant appointed Isaac Charles Parker, a Republican office holder from Missouri with an impeccable reputation, to the Court in order to clean up the prior stain of corruption and to bring law and order to the Western District. At the time of his appointment, Judge Parker (35 years old) was the youngest judge on the federal bench and served on the court from 1875 until his death in 1896. During this period, the Western District of Arkansas was one of the busiest federal courts in the entire country.

In Judge Parker's 21 years on the bench, 13,490 felony charges were docketed, including 344 charges carrying the death penalty. Since there were no state courts in the Indian Territory (only tribal courts), the United States District court had original jurisdiction over murder charges, an oddity for the federal courts. Judge Parker sentenced 160 defendants to the Fort Smith gallows, and 79 of these defendants were actually hanged to death. In another oddity, no federal court had appellate jurisdiction over Judge Parker, and the only avenue for relief from a death sentence in his court was through presidential pardon; Congress remedied this in 1889 and gave the United States Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction over death sentences from Judge Parker's court.

W.H.H. Clayton served as the United States Attorney in Judge Parker's court from 1874 until 1893, with the exception of the four years comprising the first non-consecutive term of Democratic President Grover Cleveland. During his 14 years in this position, Clayton had charge of over 10,000 cases (including misdemeanors) tried before the court and, during that time, he convicted 80 men of murder—a number greater than any other prosecutor in the United States—and 40 of these men were executed. Clayton was known as "the ablest prosecutor in the Southwest." During Judge Parker's eventful first year with the Court, Clayton obtained capital convictions in 15 out of 18 murder cases. On September 3, 1875, Judge Parker ordered a mass hanging of six men at once on the Fort Smith gallows.

During his time with Judge Parker, Clayton had many interesting cases involving some of the most notorious criminals of the time. Clayton sent the infamous Belle Starr and her husband to federal prison for horse theft, and, upon her release, Starr plotted but failed to carry out an assassination attempt on Clayton during a Wild West Show at the Sebastian County, Arkansas Fair. This incident was later dramatized in 1961 on the television show Death Valley Days in an episode entitled "A Bullet for the D.A." Clayton was also the original prosecutor in the famous case of United States v. Allen, which was reported in the United States Supreme Court reporters as Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 17 S.Ct. 154 (1896). The Allen case is well-known to present-day trial attorneys for its discussion of the Allen charge, given to deadlocked juries in an attempt to avoid a hung jury.

W.H.H. Clayton also enjoyed a very successful legal career in Fort Smith during the years that he was not serving as United States Attorney. Clayton handled both civil and criminal cases while in the private practice of law, including cases in front of the United States Supreme Court. One of Clayton's most famous cases involved his defense of legendary U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves against charges of murdering his posse cook. Reeves, one of the only black U.S. Marshals in the United States, had worked closely with Clayton while Clayton was still the U.S. Attorney, and Clayton was able to convince a jury to acquit Bass in a trial in front of Judge Parker.

Life and career in the Indian Territory and Oklahoma

When William McKinley was elected President in 1896, he appointed W.H.H. Clayton as a United States federal judge for the newly created federal court for the Central District of the Indian Territory. Clayton moved to McAlester, Oklahoma, the site of the new federal court for the Central District. Congress had created this court in an effort to relieve the overworked Western District of Arkansas of some of its huge caseload, although Judge Parker was upset with this stripping of his authority. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Congress created a new set of federal District Courts and dissolved the old Indian Territory District Courts, causing Clayton to lose his federal judgeship. During his 10 years as a federal judge, Clayton had issued important decisions defining Indian rights, which had long term effects on the future history of Oklahoma.

Clayton had been involved in a scandal relating to an alleged Oklahoma land grab in 1889. The charges were made by Democrats in 1889, after President Benjamin Harrison had nominated Clayton for re-appointment to his United States Attorney position, following the Grover Cleveland interregnum period. No formal action was ever taken on the charges, and the United States Senate confirmed President Harrison's nomination of Clayton.

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Clayton to serve on the Oklahoma Districting and Canvassing Board. Clayton had also been a delegate selected to write the new constitution for the State of Oklahoma. After his retirement from the federal bench, Clayton resumed the practice of law in McAlester with his son. Clayton died in McAlester on December 14, 1920, and is buried in the national cemetery at Fort Smith."
US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas Chief Prosecutor in FederAL Judge Isaac Parker's court Federal Judge for the Central District of Indian Territory

Date of birth: 10/13/1840

Date of death: 12/14/1920

Area of notoriety: Law Enforcement

Marker Type: Headstone

Setting: Outdoor

Visiting Hours/Restrictions: dawn-dusk

Fee required?: No

Web site: [Web Link]

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Benchmark Blasterz visited William H. H. Clayton -- Ft. Smith National Cemetery, Ft. Smith AR 1/14/2015 Benchmark Blasterz visited it