Arkansas Court


Transcribed by : Tina Easley


Source - Centennial History of Arkansas - 1922

Circuit Court

Passing over the provisions relating to the courts in the constitutions of 1861, 1864 and 1868, as all were of short duration, the constitution of 1874 provided that "The circuit courts shall have jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases, the exclusive jurisdiction of which may not be vested in some other court provided for by this constitution. The state shall be divided into convenient circuits, each circuit to be made up of contiguous counties, for each of which circuits a judge shall be elected (for four years), who, during his continuance in office, shall reside in the circuit for which he shall have been elected."

Under this provision the state was divided into sixteen circuits. A seventeenth was added in 1894 and the eighteenth was created in 1911. The counties composing each circuit, as given in Crawford & Moses Digest of 1921, with the judges in the several circuits at that time, were as follows:

First—Lee, Phillips, St. Francis, White and Woodruff, J. M. Jackson, judge, residence, Helena.

Second—Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett. This circuit is divided into two divisions. R. E. L. Johnson, of Paragould, is judge of the first and R. H. Dudley, of Piggott, is judge of the second.

Third—Independence, Jackson, Lawrence and Stone. Dene H. Coleman, of Batesville, judge.

Fourth—Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington. W. A. Dickinson, of Bentonville, judge.

Fifth—Conway, Johnson, Pope and Yell. A. B. Priddy, of Danville, judge.

Sixth—Perry and Pulaski. This circuit is divided into three divisions, presided over by John W. Wade, Guy Fulk and Archie House, respectively. All the judges live in Little Rock.

Seventh—Grant, Hot Spring and Saline. W. H. Evans, of Benton, is judge in this circuit.

Eighth—Clark, Hempstead, Lafayette, Miller and Nevada. G. R. Haynie, of Prescott, judge.

Ninth—Howard, Little River, Pike, Polk and Sevier. James S. Steele, of Ashdown, judge.

Tenth—Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Dallas and Drew. Turner Butler, of Hamburg, judge.

Eleventh—Desha, Jefferson and Lincoln. W. B. Sorrells, of Pine Bluff, judge.

Twelfth—Scott and Sebastian. John Brizolara, of Fort Smith, judge.

Thirteenth—Calhoun, Columbia, Ouachita and Union. C. W. Smith, of Camden, judge.

Fourteenth—Boone, Cleburne, Marion, Newton, Searcy and Van Buren. J. M. Shinn, of Harrison, judge.

Fifteenth—Crawford, Franklin and Logan. James Cochran, of Paris, judge.

Sixteenths-Baxter, Fulton, Izard, Randolph and Sharp. J. B. Baker, of Melbourne, judge.

Seventeenth—Arkansas, Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe and Prairie. George W. Clark, of Conway, judge.

Eighteenth—Garland and Montgomery. Scott Wood, of Hot Springs, judge.


The first chancery court in Arkansas was created in 1855, mainly for the purpose of handling the litigation growing out of the old Real Estate Bank. H. F. Fairchild, afterward associate judge of the Supreme Court, was the first chancellor. The court was located at Little Rock and was known as the Pulaski Chancery Court. In the constitution of 1874 it was provided that the court should continue in existence until abolished by law, or the business then pending should be disposed of or transferred to other courts. The same constitution also provided that until the General Assembly might deem it expedient to establish chancery courts, the circuit courts should have jurisdiction in matters of equity, etc.

Arkansas in 1921 consisted of twelve chancery districts. These districts, with the chancellors then in office, were as follows:

First—The counties of Lonoke, Pulaski and White. Chancellor, John E. Martineau.

Second—The counties of Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Desha and Drew. E. G. Hammock, of Dermott, chancellor.

Third—The counties of Garland, Grant, Hot Spring, Montgomery and Saline. J. P. Henderson, of Hot Springs, chancellor.

Fourth—The counties of Arkansas, Cleveland, Jefferson, Lincoln, Monroe ;md Prairie. Chancellor, John M. Elliott, of Pine Bluff.

Fifth—Cross, Lee, Phillips, St. Francis and Woodruff counties. A. L. Hutchins, of Augusta, chancellor.

Sixth—The counties of Clark, Hempstead, Howard, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Pike, Polk and Sevier. James D. Shaver, chancellor.

Seventh—The counties of Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Lafayette, Ouachita and Union. J. Y. Stevens, of Magnolia, chancellor.

Eighth—Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Izard, Independence, Jackson, Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp and Stone counties. Chancellor, Lyman F. Reeder, of Batesville.

Ninth—Conway, Faulkner, Johnson, Perry, Pope and Yell counties. Jordan Sellers, of Morrillton, chancellor.

Tenth—The counties of Crawford, Scott, Sebastian, Franklin and Logan. J. V. Bourland, of Fort Smith, chancellor.

Eleventh—The counties of Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Searcy, Van Buren and Washington. Chancellor, Benjamin F. McMahan, of Harrison.

Twelfth—Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett counties. Archer Wheatley, of Jonesboro, chancellor.


In each county of the state there is a county court, which has jurisdiction in the matter of levying taxes, and in all matters pertaining to the construction i-r repair of roads, bridges, etc., the operation of ferries, the care of paupers, the apprenticeship of minors, the punishment of vagrants, and in the disbursement of money for county purposes. The court is presided over by the county judge,who is elected by the people for a term of two years. This judge is also the judge of probate and has exclusive original jurisdiction in matters relative to the probate of wills, the settling of the estates of deceased persons, and in all matters pertaining to executors, administrators, guardianships, and the care of persons of unsound mind.

Justices of the peace are elected in the several townships of the state—one justice to every 200 qualified voters—but each township is entitled to at least one justice. They have jurisdiction in matters relating to contracts, where the amount involved does not exceed one hundred dollars, and in certain other cases Justices are required to sit with the county judge in the levying of county taxes, and in making appropriations for county expenses. Such courts are called "quorum courts."

In addition to the county and quorum courts, municipal corporation courts have been established in a number of cities. They have concurrent jurisdiction with justices of the peace in civil and criminal matters, etc.


When Arkansas was admitted into the Union in 1836 a Federal District Court was established at Little Rock. Benjamin Johnson was appointed judge by President Jackson. He was born in Scott County, Kentucky, on January 22, 1784, studied law and was admitted to the bar in his native state. Soon after Judges Jouett and Letcher left Arkansas Territory, Mr. Johnson was appointed to a place on the bench of the Territorial Superior Court by President Monroe. He held this position until Arkansas became a state, when he was appointed Federal district judge, as above stated. He continued in that position until his death on October 2, 1849. Judge Johnson was a man well grounded in the law, sincere in rendering his opinions, and was not too proud to reverse a decision when he found out he was wrong. This occurred only once, however, during his long career as judge in Arkansas. That was in connection with some Spanish land grant cases, when in 1831 he overruled his decision of 1827.

On September 8, 1811, Judge Johnson married Miss Matilda Williams of Scott County, Kentucky. One of his sons, Robert Ward Johnson, was a member of Congress from 1847 to 1853, and 1855 was elected to the United States Senate. Another son, Richard PI. Johnson, was for years prominently connected with Arkansas journalism, and a daughter, Juliette, became the wife of Ambrose H. Sevier. Judge Johnson was a brother of Richard M. Johnson, who served with distinction in the War of 1812 as colonel of the Kentucky Mounted Riflemen and was elected Vice President of the United States in 1836.

Upon the death of Judge Johnson, Daniel Ringo was appointed Federal district judge by President Taylor and served until the breaking out of the Civil war. In 1864 Henry C. Caldwell was appointed to the office by President Lincoln. Judge Caldwell was born in-Marshall County, Virginia, December 4, 1832. When four years of age his parents removed to Iowa, where he grew to manhood and acquired a good, practical education. He was admitted to the bar in 1851. When the war began he was commissioned major of the Third Iowa Cavalry and was promoted to colonel. It was while in command of his regiment that he came to Little Rock with General Steele's army in September, 1863.

Coming upon the bench while the war was still in progress, it can readily be imagined that his lot was not a happy one. He was looked upon as a carpetbagger, but his straightforward course, his ideas of justice and right, overcame all prejudices in time and he became a popular judge, both with members of the bar and the general public. It was Judge Caldwell who gave to a certain class of mortgages the name of "Anaconda mortgages"—a name which stuck to them. In one of his decisions he upheld the right of working men to organize for their protection, a decision which so pleased the trades unions that labor leaders wanted to nominate him for President.

When he first came to the position of Federal district judge he was required to hold court at Little Rock and Helena. Arkansas had not then been divided into two districts and he was likewise ex-officio judge of what is now the western district, which required him to hold court at Fort Smith until the western District was organized in 1871. After that he continued as judge of the eastern district until 1891, when President Harrison appointed him judge of the Eighth United States Circuit Court, including the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Utah and the Indian Territory. He continued to reside in Little Rock until 1900. In 1903 he retired from the bench and died in Los Angeles, California, February 15. 1915.

Judge John A. Williams succeeded Judge Caldwell in the eastern district. He was a man of ability and filled the position creditably for nearly ten years, or until his death at Pine Bluff in 1900. Shortly after his death Jacob Trieber, the present (1921) incumbent, was appointed. He is too well known to need further comment here.


Sessions of the Federal District Court in the western part of the state began as early as 1851. In May, 1871, Arkansas was divided into two districts and Judge William Story was appointed judge of the western district. Prior to this time the sessions of the court had been held at Van Buren. Judge Story continued to hold court there until 1875, when Fort Smith was made the judicial headquarters of the district. About that time Judge Story retired from the bench and was succeeded by Isaac C. Parker.

Judge Parker was born in Belmont County, Ohio, in 1838. In 1859 he located at St. Joseph, Missouri, where he began the practice of law. In 1863 he was elected circuit judge and the next year was a presidential elector on the Republican ticket, although orginally a Democrat. Early in 1875 he was appointed chief justice of Utah Territory, but at the request of Senators Clayton and Dorsey, President Grant transferred him to Arkansas. He entered upon the duties of judge on the 10th of May and remained upon the bench until his death at Fort Smith on November 17, 1896, a period of a little more than twenty-one years.

The building of railroads into the Indian Territory brought to the frontier a multitude of lawless vagabonds and adventurers, to whom Judge Parker gave the name of "criminal intruders." During the time he occupied the bench no fewer than sixty-five deputy United States marshals were killed by this turbolent element. Judge Parker's court acquired the reputation of having convicted and executed more murderers than any other court had ever done in the history of the world in a like period. This gave the people who did not know him reasons for charging him with unnecessary cruelty, though he was just the opposite. In the discharge of his duty he found it necessary "to hew to the line," even though it was not always a pleasant duty. His firmness bore fruit, for when he laid down the burden of life after twenty-one years of constant effort to improve conditions, there were few persons in his jurisdiction who did not have a wholesome respect for the law.

John H. Rogers succeeded Judge Parker. He was born in North Carolina on October 9, 1845. In 1852 his parents removed to Mississippi, where he was educated. When only sixteen years of age he enlisted in the Confederate army and served until General Johnston's surrender at Greensboro, North Carolina, in April, 1865. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar at Canton, Mississippi, in 1868. In January, 1869, he located at Fort Smith, where he later became a partner of William Walker. In 1877 he was elected circuit judge and in 1882 was elected to Congress. He was three times reelected, declining a nomination in 1890. In the fall of 1896 he was appointed district judge by President Cleveland and remained on the bench until his death on April 17, 1911.

Frank A. Youmans, a native of Missouri, was appointed to succeed Judge Rogers. He graduated at the University of Missouri in 1884, when he was twenty-three years of age, studied law with Judge Battle at Little Rock, and was admitted to the bar in 1885. The following year he began practice in Fort Smith and was for eight years United States district attorney before being appointed to the judgeship.


At the first session of court held at Arkansas Post on November 1, 1819, William O. Allen, Henry Cassidy, Samuel C. Roane, Alexander S. Walker and Perley Wallis, all of whom had been admitted to practice in the Territory of Missouri, were admitted to the bar. This was the beginning of the Arkansas Bar and from that time to the present it has occupied a prominent place in the legal annals of the nation. The names of R. C. S. Brown, James P. Clarke, Augustus H. Garland, W. P. Grace, J. N. Cypert, A. B. Greenwood, Robert C. Oden, and a host of others are known to lawyers everywhere as strong, able men. These men are mentioned in detail on other pages of this history.

Luke E. Barber, who came to Arkansas from Maryland in 1841, had been admitted to the bar in his native state. In 1838 he was elected to the Legislature and in 1845 was appointed clerk to the Supreme Court, which position he held until his death in June, 1886, at the age of eighty years, except during the reconstruction period.

William Cummins, born near Louisville, Kentucky, in 1800, came to Little Rock in 1824 and began the practice of law. He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1836. At one time he was a partner of Absalom Fowler and later of Albert Pike. He died in 1843. His brother, Ebenezer Cummins, was also a lawyer of high standing.