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Oh, the stories in those books

So you start out reading a statute book of some of the very first laws in a jurisdiction, and practically the first thing you come across is a special law authorizing the movement of some prisoners awaiting trial for murder from one county to another.

Maybe you can resist going on to find out more, but The Legal Genealogist can’t. That’s just too tempting.

SaltworksThe laws were those of the Territory of Arkansas, and this particular law was one of the very first laws ever enacted there — before the new territorial legislature could even meet.

So it was passed at what was then the capital — Arkansas Post — by the secretary and Superior Court Judges of the Territory of Arkansas, and not by the yet-to-meet lawmakers: four men — Robert Crittenden, Charles Jouett, Robert P. Letcher, and Andrew Scott — exercising the government of the territory.1

It was called an act respecting certain prisoners, it became law on the third of August, 1819, and here’s what it said:

Whereas, it is represented to the governor and judges of the territory of Arkansas, that John Bounyon, David Earheart, and William G. Childers, stand charged with the murder of Jonston Campbell, and that they are delivered to Hewes Scull, sheriff of the county of Arkansas, and that the jail of the said county is unsafe and unfit for the confinement of the said prisoners :

Be it therefore enacted by the Governor and Judges for the territory of Arkansas, That the sheriff of the county of Arkansas, either by himself or deputy, shall summons a sufficient guard for that purpose and forthwith convey the prisoners aforesaid to the jailer of the county of Lawrence, to be there safely kept to be dealt with according to law.2

And that wasn’t all. The same day, another law was enacted by these same folks, for the relief of Samuel Lemmons:

Whereas it is represented, that Samuel Lemmons, has upon his own individual responsibility, kept and guarded three prisoners from the fourth of July last, up to the second of August, two of whom, (to wit ; ) David Earheart and William G. Childers, charged with the murder, and the other John Bounyon a witness, who is unable to give security for his appearance upon the trial of the said David Earheart and William G. Childers, and whereas it is just and right that the said Samuel Lemmons should be paid for his great trouble and expense in securing and guarding the prisoners aforesaid :

Be it therefore enacted by the Governor and Judges for the territory of Arkansas, That the said Samuel Lemmons is hereby permitted and authorized to draw from the territorial Treasury, upon the warrant of the territorial Auditor, the sum of one hundred and thirty-two dollars, for which sum the territorial Auditor is hereby authorized to draw.3

So… we know there was a murder. We know Earheart and Childers were charged with murder and that John Bounyon was a witness, that Hewes Scull was the sheriff but his jail was lousy, and that Samuel Lemmons was out $132 for keeping, guarding and, presumably, feeding the three.

Now tell the truth: you didn’t really expect to find a story like that in a dusty old law book, did you? Even though I keep saying those dusty old law books are just chock full of stories like this. And if you were a descendant of any of these people — the victim, the alleged killers, the witness, the sheriff, the guard or the politicos — you’d want this for your family history, wouldn’t you?

Bottom line: statute books are astoundingly good resources for genealogical research. Not just because we have to understand the laws in order to understand the records — but precisely because, so very often, we come across stories like this.



What, you’re expecting the rest of the story?

Sigh… okay.

It turns out that around 1815 the first salt works was set up under license from William L. Lovely, Cherokee agent, in what was about to become the Arkansas Territory and would later become part of Oklahoma. It was located on the Grand River, now the lower part of the Neosho River, close to what is modern day Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. 4

The license was issued to Bernard R. Mouille, but by early 1818, the works started to be called Campbell’s Salt Works, and it was managed by Johnson Campbell and his partner David Earhart.5

Exactly what happened between Campbell and Earhart (or Earheart), we don’t know. We do know that “partner David Earhart, … with employee (or partner) William Childers murdered Campbell in 1819. This ended the operation.”6

Cool story, isn’t it?

What, you want more?

Sigh… Never satisfied, are you?7

So… we can learn from a contemporary account that Childers, with his accomplices, allegedly “shot and barbarously scalped Mr. Campbell, for the purpose of obtaining his little property, and in spite of the friendship which he had uniformly received from the deceased.”8

Another contemporary account by one Timothy Flint reported, as to Childers and Earheart: “Never were seen more diabolical countenances. I spoke seriously to them, but they held all council, reproof, and fear, in utter derision.”9

Flint and other sources all note that the defendants were captured, and taken to the nearest court in Arkansas Territory for trial.

And they all agree on what happened then.10 In Flint’s words: “They were imprisoned, and would undoubtedly have been executed, but they contrived in a few days to escape.”11

So what happened to them afterwards?

I have absolutely no idea.

Can’t find a single reference or document.

If you know, or if you find out, let me know, will you?

I too would love to know the rest of this story.


  1. There is some historical question as to whether Jouett and Letcher ever actually served as judges in Arkansas. See “Supreme Court of Arkansas,” Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), Little Rock, Arkansas ( : accessed 13 Dec 2015). If true, then either Crittenden alone or Crittenden and Scott were signing off for the others. Questionable legality there for the lawmakers…
  2. “AN ACT respecting certain prisoners,” 3 August 1821, in Laws of the Territory of Arkansas, Comprising the Organic Laws of the Territories of Missouri and Arkansas (Arkansas Post, Ark.: State Printer, 1821), 80-81; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 13 Dec 2015).
  3. Ibid., “AN ACT for the relief of Samuel Lemmons,” 3 August 1821, at 81-82.
  4. Grant Foreman, “Salt Works in Early Oklahoma,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 10 (December 1932): 474, 481.
  5. Salt and Salt Works,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society ( : accessed 13 Dec 2015.
  6. Ibid.
  7. No, of course, I wouldn’t be either.
  8. Thomas Nuttall, A Journal of Travels Into the Arkansas Territory: During the Year 1819 (Philadelphia: Thos. H. Palmer, 1821), 178; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 13 Dec 2015).
  9. Timothy Flint, Recollections of the Last Ten Years, Passed in Occasional Residences and Journeyings in the Valley of the Mississippi… (Boston: Cummings, Hilliard & Co., 1826), 270; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 13 Dec 2015).
  10. See e.g. Grant Foreman, “H1storical Phases of the Grand River Valley,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 25 (1947): 141, 142.
  11. Flint, Recollections of the Last Ten Years…, 270.
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