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

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Parker's Sentencing of Mary Kettenring, 1895

Mary Kettenring was the third woman to be sentenced to death by Judge Parker during his tenure (out of a total of four during his twenty-one years at Fort Smith). Her case attracted a great deal of attention in the local newspapers, including front page articles and the publishing of her death sentence. Mary was spared by the gallows through an appeal to the Supreme Court which led to a later retrial ending in an acquittal after Parker's death.


Judge Parker -
Mrs. Mary A. Kettenring, you have been by a jury of this court convicted of the crime of murder, for having willfully and with malice aforethought killed your husband, Andrew J. Kettenring, it becomes the duty of this court, under the law, to pass upon you the sentence the law says shall follow a conviction for this crime. Have you anything to say why that sentence shall not be passed?

Mrs. Kettenring -
Yes, sir, I have.

Judge Parker -
What is it?

Mrs. Kettenring -
I am innocent of the charge. I still have my honor, my husband's grave and a broken heart.

Judge Parker -
Is that all?

Mrs. Kettenring -
Yes, sir.

Judge Parker -
No duty can be more onerous or painful to a court than to be called on to pass the death sentence on a woman, but while the duty is a painful one we are not to forget that in the interest of innocent human life the law must be upheld. That it may be upheld courts must have the desire and courage to do their duty. We must also remember that the terror of the punishment of the law to evil doers gives the only safety the innocent and unoffending man or woman has against the contemplated crimes of the vicious and the wicked. The law looks upon men and women as standing on the same plane as to their duty to protect and not destroy human life. Woman in her innocence and weakness is more in need of the law's full protection than man. She cannot obtain this protection without the law's vigorous enforcement against all criminals. From the efforts of those who faithfully enforce the law, men and women have afforded them that measure of safety which the law can give. While woman is entitled to the very fullest measure of the law's protection, and the sympathy of all, to the very highest degree, when she unsexes herself and becomes a criminal, by having recklessly and wantonly and with malice aforethought deprived a fellow being of life, she stands before the law as far as legal liability is concerned, as the equal of man. And for the safety of innocent human life it becomes necessary that the heavy hand of the law should be laid upon her. It is a pleasure to know that this is seldom necessary, as the great and atrocious offences are less frequently committed by her than by men. Because of this, and of her better nature, and of the high regard for her by civilized men, when she does commit a heinous offense all are horrified and shocked, and many are incredulous under any and all circumstances as to her guilt. Because of my duty to the people and to the law I am compelled to speak to you what I believe to be the truth in regard to your case as shown by the evidence in it. Speaking that truth, I must say, In my judgment, the evidence adduced at your trial shows your guilt beyond a question. The proof shows your guilt of the terrible crime which robbed your husband of his life. It not only shows guilt, but it, as well, shows the most wicked guilt, because it was of a most deliberate character. It did not spring from a mere impulse, but from a cool, calculating, deliberate purpose to kill your husband for gain, to get the twenty thousand dollars of insurance on his life. This alone stamps the murder as among the most wicked in the annals of crime, but there is still another badge of wickedness connected with it, and springs from the fact that you caused the other defendants, Washington and Calhoun, and perhaps others, to become participants in this terrible and bloody crime. You were the party to be largely benefited. These men were but instruments in your hands to do your criminal bidding.

The details of the terrible crime are shocking in the extreme. They show such wickedness, such brutality, and such total disregard of human life as to shock and sicken the stoutest heart. These details all point in one direction, and that is towards your guilt, as well as the guilt of your associates. In the interest of your own soul, and for its eternal welfare, I gravely admonish you to first try, if you can, to fully appreciate the enormity of the crime of which you stand convicted, and the deep depravity of your guilt. You must first do this before you can begin to seek that mercy from a just God you so much need. In your own interest I suggest that you endeavor to be forgiven by the God whose law you have most wickedly offended. Ask mercy at His hands. We are taught that you can only obtain it by sorrow and repentance for having taken upon your soul the stain of the terrible crime springing from your having, for gain, most cruelly and most wickedly robbed your husband, Andrew J. Kettenring of his life; of an innocent and unoffending life.

What I have said to you I believe to be the truth as shown by the evidence in your case, and so believing my duty compels me to be thus honest and candid. That I should be so is due to the law, to the cause of justice, to the people, and to you as well.

[This was followed by the formal sentence, setting Tuesday, the first day of October, as the day for execution. The execution was scheduled to take place between 9 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the afternoon.]


As reported in the Fort Smith Elevator, July 19, 1895.

Did You Know?

reproduction of keelboat on Arkansas River with first fort soldier reenactors

Fort Smith was established on Christmas Day, 1817. Approximately 70 Rifle Regiment soldiers arrived by keelboat after a long journey on the Arkansas River.