Collection of FOSM
The Prince of Hangmen. George Maledon earned this title while serving as executioner for the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas during Judge Parker's time.
Maledon was born in Germany on June 10, 1830 and with his parents migrated to the German Catholic community in Detroit, Michigan. When George reached adulthood, he headed west, eventually working as a officer on the Fort Smith police force. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Arkansas Light Artillery. According to his military records, Maledon was five feet, eight inches tall, and had dark eyes, auburn hair and a fair complexion.
Immediately after the war, Maledon returned to law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in Fort Smith and then worked as a guard, special deputy and executioner for the federal court. It is said that Maledon worked for the court for a period of twenty-two years, and during that time, executed over sixty criminals and shot two to death in escape attempts. If those numbers are accurate, he executed several times as many men as any officer in America and more than any know legal executioner of modern times with the exception of a French man who reportedly decapitated 437 persons.
Just before he left Fort Smith, Maledon was asked if his conscience ever bothered him about the hangings or if he feared the spirits of the departed. He replied, "No, I have never hanged a man who came back to have the job done over."
In 1894, Maledon retired from the federal court and opened a grocery business in Fort Smith. Three years later, he took a show of relics from the hangings on tour. He had ropes, pieces of the gallows' beam and photographs of the most noted desperadoes on display in a tent. "People of all classes flocked to the show grounds, crowded about the lecturer and filled the tent, viewing the gruesome relics and listening to the old hangman's recital of soul-stirring events as he pointed out the...instruments of his vocation." Maledon died from dementia on June 5, 1911 in a home for old soldiers in Tennessee and is buried in the Johnson City Cemetery in that state.
This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.