The Murder of William Riley Seaboalt, Jr.

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The Murder of William Riley Seaboalt, Jr. (1851-1874)

Copyright 1994, 2004 by William D. Gorman.
Reprinted with permission.



William Riley Seaboalt, Jr. was the oldest son of W. R. and Sarah Jane Seaboalt He was known as "Riley" to members of his family. He was married to July Elizabeth Holt in Newton County, Arkansas on March 3, 1867 when he was 17 and she was 14 years of age. This marriage was later annulled. Riley was enumerated with the rest of the Seaboalt family in the 1870 census with no record of July Elizabeth. That same year July Elizabeth was being married to Marion Armstrong.

The Seaboalts were descendants of Pennsylvania Dutch emigrants from Germany during the 1750's. During the first half of the 19th century, the family migrated into Tennessee, then to Arkansas in the late 1830's. William Riley Sr. served in the Union Army during the Civil War followed by two years as a reconstruction Sheriff of Newton County, Arkansas (1865-1867). In the early 1870's, the family moved to Texas. They initially settled in Van Zandt County and eventually bought a farm and settled in southern Ellis County 2 miles SE of Avalon.


Shortly after arriving in Ellis County, Riley decided to go back to Arkansas for a visit with relatives in Johnson County. Wearing a new pair of fancy high-heel boots and riding a fine white mare, he set out for Arkansas in November of 1874. His planned route carried him through Dallas, McKinney, and Denison, Texas before crossing the Red River into Indian Territory where he would follow a trail through the Creek Nation to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Sometime before reaching the Red River he met another traveler, Daniel Evans, who was returning to Oklahoma after visiting relatives in Bosque County, Texas. They rode together "for protection" as they crossed the Red River and entered the Indian Territory.

Unknown to Riley, Daniel Evans was a member of one of the most notorious outlaw gangs of the "Old West." Two years earlier Evans had assisted Jim Reed (first husband of Belle Starr) and W. D. Wilder in the torture and robbery of $30,000 from old Matt Grayson in the Oklahoma Territory. Evans was present when Read was later shot and killed by a U.S. marshal while resisting arrest During the melee, Evans jumped on Reed's horse and escaped.

John F. Simpson, U.S. Marshal in Eufaula, Creek Nation, received word that a local Indian had discovered the body of a young white man at a campsite along the North Canadian River not too far from town. Upon investigating, Simpson found the body to be wearing socks, but no boots, lying face down with a bullet hole in the back of the head. The body had a black patch over the left eye and carried a pocket book with the name "SEABOALT" inscribed within. Further investigation nearby uncovered a pair of freshly discarded worn-out shoes, obviously left by the killer who had taken young Riley's boots, horse and saddle. Further detective work by Simpson found witnesses who provided descriptions of Riley's horse and the man they had seen riding with him prior to the murder. Simpson tracked Evans to his brother's house near Eufala and arrested him without incident and bound him over to Fort Smith, Arkansas for trial. Other than the name of SEABOALT found in the pocket book, Simpson was unable to determine the identity or location of his family.

Evans was given a quick trial at Fort Smith (probably in late December 1874 or early January 1875). After a hung jury could not agree on a verdict, Evans was returned to his jail cell in the basement of the Fort Smith courthouse to await a new trial. William Riley Sr. learned of his son's death from a story in the Dallas Morning News and wrote to Simpson in Eufaula on 22 January 1875 to inquire about his sons burial and to regain possession of his horse and saddle (see footnote). Apparently the letter was mislaid for some time and Simpson was not aware of its existence until sometime in March. On April 9 Simpson responded to the father's request, informing him that the saddle was at Eufaula but could not be shipped to him right then because of a lack of an express company office there. The horse apparently was recovered at Fort Smith from Evans attorney and sent back to Texas; Simpson asked in his letter if the horse had been received. Simpson went on to say that Evans' trial was set for early May with Col. W. H. Clayton, U. S. District Attorney for Fort Smith, acting as the prosecutor. It was suggested that the father get in touch with Col. Clayton at once since he might be an important witness.


Evans re-trial came off on May 10, 1875, just 10 days after the arrival of Judge Isaac C. Parker, "The Hanging Judge", in Fort Smith. At the trial, William Riley Sr. took the witness stand and testified that Evans, sitting in the defendant's chair, was still wearing the very pair of boots, which he had given his son. He said that at the time he purchased the boots for his son, he had a similar pair made for himself. Where upon, he raised his pants leg revealing the boots he was wearing to be identical to those on the defendant. When challenged by the defense attorney to prove that Evans boots were indeed the same pair of boots he had given to his son, William explained that shortly after receiving his son's boots, a heel had come off of the left boot and he had used three horseshoe nails to drive it back on. Col. Clayton asked the bailiff to have Evans remove his left boot and sure enough, the three horse shoe nails were revealed to the jury. Evans was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged from the gallows on September 3, along with seven others of the first eighteen outlaws tried by Judge Parker during his first session on the Fort Smith bench. Before the hanging, one of the eight was shot and killed while trying to escape. Another, because of his youth, had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.


The hanging of the remaining six called the attention of the world to the court and its judge. Newspapermen came from Little Rock, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Many of the great Eastern and Northern daily newspapers sent representatives to cover the event. Even strangers from abroad, reading the announcement of the unusual "attraction", began filtering into the city a week before the execution. On the morning of September 3, men and their families living within forty to fifty miles of Fort Smith, began pouring into the city. More than five thousand packed the jail yard and clung from the tops of the old fort's stone walls to view the event. The gallows had been especially built to Judge Parker's specifications. The sturdy platform was six feet above the ground, constructed of six-inch timbers with two-inch planking. A twelve-by-twelve inch overhead beam supported the noose ropes. There was sufficient trapdoor space and beam width to hang twelve men at one time! To ensure that hangings could come off on schedule, even in bad weather, a wall protected the north side of the gallows stand from cold winds and a slanted roof was placed immediately above in case of rain.

Judge Parker's Gallows

After the condemned felons were led to the stand, Judge Parker commented briefly on each case and then addressed them as a group saying: "Farewell forever until the court and you and all here today shall meet together in the general resurrection." When asked if he had any last words to say, the handsome blue-eyed Daniel Evans stared defiantly at the marshal and shook his curly brown head. One of the condemned men, William Whittington, had a long and touching pre-written speech read by a minister in which he confessed his sins and evil ways, and blamed his failed life on liquor and an un-religious father. When the preliminaries were over, there were prayers and the singing of hymns and farewells. Then the six felons were lined up on the scaffold with their feet across the crack where the planks forming the death trap came together. Their arms were bound securely, the black hoods pulled over their faces shut out the light from their eyes forever, and George Maledon, the hangman, adjusted the nooses about their necks.

"Jesus save me!" cried William Whittington.

The trap door fell, and the six men met their maker at the end of the hangman's ropes. This eventwas enacted, with some amount of Hollywood freedom, in the Clint Eastwood movie, "Hang'em High".

FOOTNOTE: According to John Edgar SEABOLT, his Aunt Evie (1892, niece of W. R. Jr.) learned to ride as a young girl on a colt produced by W.R. Jr.'s white mare.

1) "Law West of Fort Smith", by Glenn Shirley,  University of Nebraska Press, 1968, pp  36-40.
2) Personal papers and correspondence of William Riley Seaboalt, Sr.
3) "Hell on the Border", by S. W. Harman,  Univ of Nebraska Press, 1992 (reprint of original 1898 book).
4) Stories told to me about 1943 by my great-grandfather, Stephen Roland Seaboalt,  one of Riley's younger brothers.

PREPARED BY: William D. Gorman (great-great nephew of William Riley Seaboalt, Jr.)
2529 Heather Hill Lane,  Plano, Texas 75075


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