• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Parker's Sentence of Robert Massey, 1883

According to evidence in the trial, Massey killed Clarke, his business partner, on December 1, 1881. The men had driven a herd of cattle from Dodge City, Kansas to the Dakota Territory and were en route to their homes in Texas when they camped on the South Canadian River, 200 miles west of Fort Smith. Massey shot Clarke in the back of the head and buried the body in a hole near the camp site. Clarke's father proved instrumental in the arrest of the suspect, traveling from Texas to investigate his son's disapperance. The chain of evidence linked Massey to the crime and he was apprehended in April of 1882. Convicted in December of 1882, Massey died on the gallows on April 13, 1883. He is buried in Fort Smith's Oak Cemetery.


The law of the United States says: Whoever is convicted of the crime of murder shall suffer death. The court is but giving voice to the law and speaking its commands when it proceeds to pass the sentence upon you. Have you anything to say why the sentence should not now be passed?

Anything the court may say in the performance of this most responsible and disagreeable duty is not said with the intention of wounding your feelings or of adding one pang to your overburdened soul, but in the hope that it may cause serious and solemn reflection by you on your past life, on your present condition, your duty to yourself, your own soul and your God. The crime of which you have after a fair trial and an able defense been convicted by a jury of your countrymen, has been clearly proven against you. Indeed the fact of the killing was admitted by you while upon the stand as a witness, and all the circumstances of the case established as clearly and as fully as a fact can be proven that the killing of Edwin P. Clarke by you was coolly, deliberately, premeditatedly and maliciously done. That the man you killed was your friend, and had been for long, weary days your traveling companion, and when the journey was almost at an end and the young man you killed was but a few days travel from his home and friends, as the evidence strongly shows, in the dead hour of night, while Edwin P. Clarke was wrapt in slumber--it may be dreaming of mother and home--you slew him, concealed his body and endeavored to hide all evidence of the crime and to destroy all traces of your guilt. Dreadful mistake! Fatal delusion! You may have thought no eye saw you, no ear heard you. Such a secret can be safe no where. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor corner where the guilty can bestow it and say it is safe, not to speak of the eye which pierces the darkness of night and beholds everything in the splendor of noon. Such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection even by man. Generally speaking "murder will out." God hath so ordained for the safety of his creatures and He doth so govern things that he who breaks the great law of heaven by shedding man's blood seldom succeeds in avoiding discovery. In your case even the wild animals were used to lay bare the terrible and bloody secret.

The young man was not permitted by you to reach his home. You slew him and went to your home, not with an innocent, light and cheerful heart, rejoicing in the midst of friends and acquaintances on your safe arrival home, but as one with human blood upon his hands and guilt on his soul. You slew him and from that time your mind has not felt one moment's peace. You then commenced to live in a new world, a world of guilt and crime. You have been shut out from that world permeated by the grand and glorious sunlight, and you have from the moment you slew your victim lived beneath the somber, dark and terrible shadows of guilt which overhang the man of crime.

Conscious guilt has hung like the pall of night over you. Go where you would nothing but quiet has stared you in the face. This conscious guilt weights down your soul today. This fearful, terrible reality will not down at your bidding. The only way you can dispel it is by sincere, contrite and heartfelt repentance. You have taken human life. You have sent a human soul unprepared to its maker. You have cut off one in the very bloom of youth, in the very morning of his young life. You have broken a mother's heart. You have brought mourning and agony to the heart of a fond father of an only son. You have cast a shadow of gloom and sadness over the dismembered family circle by the hearthstone, and the shadows will not depart from the friends and kindred of Edwin Clarke.

You have robbed society of one of its members. You have set at defiance God's law which says: "Thou shalt not kill." You have trampled upon the law of your country, which says that human life at all hazards and at any cost must be protected.

Still, there is repentance and consequent mercy for you. There is forgiveness for you. There is eternal salvation for you. But you must seek of Him whose government is so far above ours that He has mercy for all who will in sorrow and with contrition ask it.

Your life now is but a feeble and fitful taper that has burned almost to its socket. But a thin fibre separates you from the hereafter. You will soon pass through that dread gate which never opens outward. You are even now standing on the very brink of time and looking out into eternity. With a full consciousness that I am, in the great hereafter, to be held responsible for every act done and every word spoken, I solemnly and sincerely admonish you to prepare to meet your God. In this supreme moment of your existence realize all the glory and emptiness of this life, the vanity and nothingness of its ephemeral achievements and ambitions, and the immeasurable worth of the fitting preparation for the shadowy and fathomless beyond in which the eternity of life is wrought and perfected. Recognize that crime is crime and its stain must be washed from the guilty soul before it can pass into the threshold of a higher life, filled with the noblest aspirations and enjoyments, heightened and deepened with the ages by an ever increasing glory, such as not even the wildest imagination when laden with the fetters of the flesh can comprehend.

You have not a moment's time to lose. The moments of life to you are more than ever golden. You should improve them.

Call to your aid those who can advise and assist you. Seek to wash your soul of the crime upon it. Ask an all merciful God to forgive you of your great sin. Implore him in sorrow and with a repentant heart to grant you that mercy and forgiveness which we are taught can be obtained by all so that "after life's fitful fever you may sleep well."

Listen now to the sentence of the law as pronounced by the court. And it is that you, Robert Massey, for the crime of murder in killing Edwin P. Clarke in the Indian country and within the jurisdiction of this court, of which crime you stand convicted by the jury in your case, be deemed, taken and adjudged guilty of murder, and that you be, therefore, for said crime against the laws of the United States, hanged by the neck until you are dead; that the marshal of this court, the district court for the western district of Arkansas, by himself or deputy or deputies, do, on peril of what may befall them, at some convenient place within the western district of Arkansas, cause execution to be done in the premises upon you on Friday, the 13th day of April, A.D., 1883, between the hours of 9 o'clock in the forenoon and 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, and that you now be taken to the jail from whence you came, there to be safely and securely kept until the day of execution, and thence on the day of execution appointed as aforesaid, there to be hanged by the neck as aforesaid until you are dead.

And may God, whose laws you have broken and before whose dread tribunal you must then appear, have mercy on your soul.


From the Fort Smith Elevator, February 9, 1883

Did You Know?

Trail of Tears Routes

The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, (Muscogee) Creek and Seminole Indian tribes were forcibly moved to Indian Territory on what became known as the Trail of Tears. The Arkansas River served as a water route to Fort Smith where they received supplies before crossing the river into Indian Territory.