A Picnic at the Hanging

By Larry Horton

I had a search on my site for "hanging tree" in Bentonville. I don't know of such a tree, but I can recount the story of the last legal hanging in Bentonville, through the writings of J. Dickson Black in his "History of Benton County" paraphrased for length:


The last legal hanging held in Bentonville turned out to be the biggest get-together the county had ever had to that date. Many people started to town the day before, so they would be there in time for the hanging. By daylight of January 14th, 1876, there was a big crowd in town. The stores all opened early and did a good business.

The excitement all started on August 4th, 1875, when Columbus Hancock was found murdered near his home in White Hollow near White River in Benton County. Sheriff J.H. McClinton soon arrested Cornelius Hammon and Grisham P. Hoyt. They were indicted for the murder of Handcock. The both pleaded not guilty. Hoytt asked for a change of venue and was later tried in Washington County and found not guilty.

Hammon was tried in Bentonville in October, 1875. The courthouse had been in use only about a year, and this was the first big trial to take place in it. People filled the courtroom and the halls for the trial.

Col. Sam Peel was the prosecuting attorney and John M. Peel represented the defense. They were both well-known attorneys.

The trial didn't last very long, and the jury was out a very short time. John W. Floyd was the foreman of the jury. They returned a verdict saying, "We the jury find the defendant, Cornelius Hammon, guilty of murder in the first degree as charged by the indictment."

Hammon was sentenced by Judge J.M. Pitman to be hanged by the neck until dead, on the 14th day of January, 1876, between the hours of 10:00 in the morning and 2:00 in the afternoon, at some point selected by Sheriff McClinton within two miles of the courthouse.

The scaffold was erected just west of the Razorback Inn on the south side of the road on one of the knolls, about where 71 bypass leaves Highway 71. (This would be in the area of the current post office, more or less, although I have heard accounts that it was erected somewhere in Razorback Subdivision, which is the area north of the current intersection of Walton and SW 14th, where Razorback Street is located)

Hammon was taken from the courthouse in a wagon, riding astride his coffin, at about 10:30 that morning to take his last ride. There was a big crowd at the courthouse, and they followed the wagon out to the scaffold.

As they made the trip out of town, people kept passing the wagon as they wanted to be sure they got to see the whole show. Hammon called out to some of them, saying, "There's no use to be in a hurry for nothing's going to happen until I get there."

His last words were, "You are hanging the wrong man," and afterwards some people got to thinking maybe they did, but it was too late.


The story of the hanging has been told and retold by those who saw it. They all seemed to think it had been a day well spent. Many of them brought their lunch or bought food at one of the stores. It was one of those warm days in January, so a large number sat down for a picnic lunch not far from the hanging. And many were still in sight of the scaffold on which Hammon had hung.

The scaffold stood for over fifty years as a reminder of what took place there but the scaffold and the Razorback Inn are both gone and most of the people have forgotten that there ever was a hanging or a picnic here at one time. But to this day it is not known for sure if they hung the right man or not.

Back to the hanging tree, I have never heard of it if there was one. The hangings in Bentonville were few, as evidenced by the one so detailed in the preceding article. I'm sure that there were several cases of frontier justice prior to Bentonville being "civilized" but these have long been forgotten.