"The new gallows is put up in a more neat and substantial manner than the old one was. The platform is 16 x 20 feet, supported by solid oak columns 12 x 12 inches square; the cross beam is of solid oak 9 x 11 inches 16 feet in the clear and rests on two upright columns of oak sixteen feet high, and about 12 x 12 inches square. The beam is braced on top by heavy timbers, the ends of which rest on the upright columns. The trap door is sixteen feet long and three feet wide. The drop is fully six feet."
The new gallows was reportedly built by well-known Fort Smith craftsman, Martin Luther Stoufer. There is a wide spread tradition that the earlier gallows had a capacity of six men executed at one time, and that the new gallows was designed with a capability of executing twelve men at one time. The dimensions established for the 1886 gallows tend to dispute this, if a spacing of two feet per man is used.
On the night of April 24, 1886, the fence that enclosed the gallows was blown down and entirely demolished in a severe wind. U.S. Marshal Carroll not being opposed to public hangings, there was some doubt that the enclosure would be rebuilt. However, by the next execution the enclosure was back in place. When Marshal Carroll left his post in May 1889, it was noted that he "left to his successor a brand new gallows enclosure and new roof." The article did not specify whether or not this was the first roof, or merely a replacement. A photograph of the courthouse and grounds taken prior to 1887 does not seem to indicate the presence of a roof on the gallows.
During the time in-between executions the gallows was used by the jail and court staff as a corral for horses and cattle. In fact, the official records of the federal court hardly make notice of the gallows structure, except in passing.
In the summer of 1896 the crossbeam of the gallows was replaced. A local newspaper described the event:
"Last Monday, Jailer Berry had the old cross beam of the gallows, on which so many men have been hung, removed and a new on(e) substituted in its place. The old beam upon removal was found to be rotten through and through, and it is a matter of wonder that it did not long ago break under one of the many strains to which it has been subjected. The condition of the beam was discovered by Mr. Eoff, the turnkey, about the time of the last execution, but not in time to replace it. When it was removed Monday it broke into several pieces as it fell to the ground. One end was sound, but the remainder was rotten to the core."
Eric Leonard, Park Ranger
Did You Know?
Fort Smith National Historic Site has records of over 1,770 people employed by the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas from 1872-1896. The majority of these employees were U.S. Deputy Marshals.