On June 29, 1883, Martin Joseph, a Texas horse thief, was executed on the Fort Smith gallows for the double murder of Bud Stephens and his 16-year old wife. Joseph had convinced Stephens to accompany him on a horse stealing expedition. It was while the two were roping some horses that Joseph killed Stephens with a gunshot to the head. He then returned to the Stephens home and told Mrs. Stephens that her husband had been thrown from his horse and was badly injured. She got on the horse behind Joseph and started, as she supposed, to where her husband was. Instead, Joseph abducted Mrs. Stephens, raped and killed her, and threw her body into a cave in the Arbuckle Mountains. Joseph might have got away with his crime had he not confessed the details to a drinking companion who in turn notified Deputy Marshal J. H. Mershon.
References: Law West of Fort Smith by Glenn Shirley; Fort Smith Elevator.
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.
Did You Know?
The U.S. Army selected a spot overlooking the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers for the site of a fort. Soldiers from the Rifle Regiment arrived in 1817 and named the site Fort Smith after their commanding officer, Thomas A. Smith.