Intro

…there was to be a triple hanging at the Federal Courthouse in Fort Smith and people from as far away as east Texas and north Louisiana were going up to see it. It was like an excursion trip.

“True Grit,” by Charles Portis, 1968

For 21 years after the American Civil War, Federal Judge ISAAC C. PARKER hanged 86 men on gallows nicknamed the "government suspender" in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Legend is those gallows could strangle a dozen men at a time.

This is the story of how desperadoes, depending on your interpretation of history, were either tamed or tortured by a man some historians call a megalomaniac, while others choose to believe the judge was nothing more than a civil servant doing his job.Parker’s lawmen were said to have been as mean and deadly as the fugitives they captured and shackled in a dungeon known as Hell on the Border, in sight of the nooses that would often be their ultimate fate.

I remembered standing one evening at the entrance of the United States Jail, when an old Arkansas gentleman passed and, looking in, for a moment, paused and listened to the ribald songs and coarse, brutal jests that fell from the lips of the prisoners; he heard the demoniacal yells, saw the prisoners, Indians, whites and negroes, all mingled together in a heterogeneous mass, and turning to me, with a look that spoke the anguish he felt, remarked:

“If this is not hell, I do not know where hell is.”

“Yes,” replied a bystander. “And it is right on the border.”

“Hell on the Border,” by S.W. Harman, 1898

Characters will include BASS REEVES, a former slave who was one of Parker's best marshals. Over time, the Reeves folklore has grown epically, and a statue now stands proudly near the US Marshal’s Museum. He was a master of disguise who is said to have arrested 3 thousand men, killing more than a dozen in the line of duty.

GEORGE MALEDON was known as the “Prince of Hangmen.” He wove his ropes with pitch to prevent slippage. Late in life, he toured the country lecturing, demonstrating how he executed killers and horse thieves, in the name of the law. A central figure will be Parker, the former US Congressman from Missouri, commissioned by President U S Grant as the all powerful judge over the Western District of Arkansas, with jurisdiction over Indian Territory. In those days, if Parker sentenced you to death, that was it. There was no appeal process.

"Cruel they have said I am, but they forget the utterly hardened character of the men I deal with. They forget that in my court’s jurisdiction alone, 65 Marshals were murdered in the discharge of their duty.”

Judge Isaac C. Parker

the interview

On September 1, 1896, by act of Congress, the Federal Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas was stripped of its jurisdiction into Indian Territory. A 29-year old newspaper reporter, ADA PATTERSON, was assigned to write about this event. She interviewed Judge Isaac Parker, the infamous “Hanging Judge,” who was in the last stages of Bright’s disease, which would soon take his life.

Patterson's interview, and colorful description of the gallows (Government Suspender) and jail (Hell on the Border), serve as the foundation for this film.

"The guard threw open the great whitewashed door as we stood almost beneath the famous gallows. Weather beaten, except as to the stout new beam, the heavy scaffold rose to a height of 20 feet in front, and at the rear the roof sloped to half that distance from the ground. The stonewall against which the gallows rested….strayed into the presence of death."

Ada Patterson, 1896

listen to an audio sample

“He is the gentlest of men, this alleged sternest of judges... The features that have in them the horror of the Medusa to desperadoes are benevolent to all other human-kind.”

Ada Patterson

"George Maledon, ‘old man Maledon,’ as he is known at Fort Smith, has hanged more than 80 men….Maledon was appointed hangman at about the same time that Judge Parker laid his strong young hands upon the judicial reigns of the wild border country, and his was the last face that many a red-handed murdered saw before he opened his eyes upon the mysteries that are said to await us in a world beyond earthly vision.”

Ada Patterson

When Parker died, townspeople were so sick of the infamous notoriety of the Hangin’ Judge’s reign, they burned down the gallows outside the federal courthouse. But over time, legends have grown into myth, and much of the truth has been spun into fable. This film will tell real stories, shedding new light on what really happened in those turbulent days, while “busting” myths of some of the farfetched tales that have appeared as fact in books and movies since the time of Parker’s passing.

“People have said to me, ‘you are the judge who has hung so many men,’ and I always answer: ‘it is not I who has hung them. I never hung a man. It is the law.”

Judge Isaac C. Parker

The film

VIEW PHOTO GALLERY

The Actors

BILL ROGERS

Bill will play the role of... JUDGE ISAAC C. PARKER.

Bill is currently the director of development for Trike Theatre and a Fayetteville, AR resident. He has appeared at TheatreSquared in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Detroit, All The Way, Amadeus, The Quest for Don Quixote, Superior Donuts, Sons of the Prophet, and Sundown Town. Other regional credits include Krapp’s Last Tape (Block St. Theatre), Nice Work If You Can Get It (Tent Theatre), Unnecessary Farce (Tent Theatre), The Jefferson Bottles (Block St. Theatre), the Dupont series (Ceramic Cow Productions), Alley 38 (Artist’s Laboratory Theatre) and other productions. Film and TV credits include Sweet Inspirations, Chase the Lion, Parker’s Anchor, Your Local News, Neapolitan and Gordon Family Tree. He received his MFA in Acting from the University of Arkansas in 2016.

Jennica Schwartzman

Jennica will play the role of... ADA PATTERSON.

After winning the top prize at Geena Davis' 3rd annual Bentonville Film Festival, leading actress Jennica Schwartzman stole audience's hearts across the country in the romantic drama PARKER'S ANCHOR (SP Releasing) in theaters in 2017. In the Spring of 2018, this break-out indie powerhouse has led 3 streaming/VOD releases including the sex-trafficking crime drama RIDGE RUNNERS (LionsGate), the social justice film winning top awards before it's limited box-office run, as well as the multiple award-winning music-centered indie drama BEFORE THE LIGHTS COME UP

About

Larry Foley

Larry is producer, director and writer. He is a 7-time Emmy winner and member of the Mid America Emmy Silver Circle for a distinguished 40 year career as a documentary filmmaker, college professor and journalist. Foley has been visiting the National Historic Site and reading about Fort Smith history since he was a boy.

Dale Carpenter

Multiple Emmy winning filmmaker Dale Carpenter will serve as a videographer and chief editor.

Hayot Tuychiev

Hayot Tuychiev, an Emmy award winner, serves as Director of Photography.

Mike Brown

Media professional Mike Brown serves as our Digital Media Director.

Original music by National Park Radio, including the theme, "Blood."

NATIONAL PARK RADIO

“Come this time tomorrow, they’ll be blood upon my hands. Judge, prepare the gallows. Lord, I have come to meet my end...”

Blood, National Park Radio

CREDITS

Producer: Larry Foley Host: T J Holmes Written by Larry Foley and Ada Patterson Editor: Dale Carpenter Director of Photography: Hayot Tuychiev Director of Reenactments: Ed Eaves Special Assistant to the Producer: David House Costume Designer: Michele Hunter Additional Camera: Dale Carpenter Sean Carpenter Trey Marley Chris Nunez Ethan Sam Shane White Still Photography: Jim Brewer Drone Photography: Susan Edens Original Musical Score: James Greeson Special Music: National Park Radio featuring Stefan Szabo Illustrations: Paul Herrera Animation: Bryan Campbell Sign Art: Debi House Business Manager: Marti Thomas Distribution: Eric Parkinson Digital Media Director: Mike Brown ACTORS: ADA PATTERSON -- Jennica Schwartzman ISAAC PARKER -- Bill Rogers GUARD JOHN ARMSTRON -- Harold Trisler JAILER J.D. BERRY -- John Hagen GEORGE MALEDON -- Floyd Robison MARY PARKER -- Michele Hunter BASS REEVES -- Reginald Moore HECK THOMAS -- Roger Carter OUTLAW SHOOTIST -- Eddie Ward VOICES Mathew Moore as... CHEROKEE AGENCY Steven Marzolf as... PRESIDENT GRANT Frank Thomas as... WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON CLAYTON Jerry Hennis as... DEFENSE ATTORNEY Ray McCaffrey as... NEW YORK TIMES Dave Edmark as... ARKANSAS GAZETTE Mike Brown as... MARSHAL JOHN CARROLL Steve Narisi as... D.C. GIDEON Robert Huston as... FORT SMITH ELEVATOR Denzel Jenkins as... BASS REEVES Bret Schulte as... MUSKOGEE PHOENIX Ryan Schwartzman as... RED LUCAS Kerry Gilbert as... HECK THOMAS Drew Smith as... GLENN SHIRLEY Hugh Kincaid as... SAMUEL W. HARMAN Scott Flanagin as... BENJAMIN BREWSTER Lydia Fielder as... ANNA DAWES Rick Stockdell as... HOMER CROY Susan Foley as... BELLE STARR Larry Foley as... J. WARREN REED Production Assistants: Xin Yi Chen Jerry Hennis Robert Henson Geoshan Kaikien Lee Dylan Radcliffe Max Roeder Ethan Sam Brandley Thompson Humanities Advisors: Carole Adornetto Julia Coates Jay Jennings Jim Spears Patrick Williams Tom Wing Archival Images: Arkansas State Archives Central Arkansas Library System Fort Smith Museum of History Fort Smith National Historic Site Gilcrease Museum Library of Congress Micky and Marion Osmond: Edward Dale Collection National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Oklahoma Historical Society National Archives Shiloh Museum of Ozark History University of Arkansas Special Collections UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture University of Oklahoma Libraries University of Tulsa Special Collections Special Thanks: Jerry Akins, Molly Boyd, Central Arkansas Library System, Rojeana Cooksey, Judy Costello & Washington County Historical Society, Mona Dixon, Leisa Gramlich, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Cody Faber, Lisa Frost, Cliff Ivy, Jim Lance, Aniel House,Hayley Maynard, Ronny Mobley, Samantha Peko, Phillip Pascoe, Beth Powell, Rick Powell, Geoffery Stark, Robin Roggio, Ryann Schubert, Jackie Reese, Amy Unruh, Diane Wasser, R.A. Young, University of Arkansas-Mullins Library UNDERWRITERS Donald V. Allen Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism Arkansas PBS Foundation Arkansas Humanities Council Dwight Curry Lawson and Debbie Hembree Morris Foundation First National Bank, Fort Smith Hanna Oil & Gas Robert D. Smith III Phil White Propak Inc. University of Arkansas Office of Economic Development Additional Funding provided by the following: Frank Thomas Fred Williams © COPYRIGHT 2020 Foley Productions

SUPPORT

Made possible by the generous support of the following:

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Arkansas Educational Television Network Foundation
Arkansas Humanities Council
Morris Foundation
First National Bank, Fort Smith
Frank Thomas
Fred Williams
Hanna Oil & Gas
Phil White
Propak Inc.
University of Arkansas Office of Economic Development
Dwight Curry
Lawson and Debbie Hembree

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