"Sanford, Son of W. A. & M. E. Foote, Born in Hamburg, Ark., September 13, 1870. Murdered in Hamburg, Ark. November 23, 1899" reads the inscription on a tall obelisk in the Hamburg Cemetery. That enigmatic epitaph certainly puts the imagination to work, but probably no one will know for sure all the facts behind the inscription.
There are at least two theories as to the death. One was that the murder was a simple revenge killing while the other was that Sanford Foote died as the result of a feud between him and the members of the local Sawyer family. There is also the third possibility that some other reason led to the murder.
Sanford Foote was a member of a local family with ties to the area dating back to the Civil War. His father, William A. Foote, Jr., at age 33 enlisted in the Third Arkansas Infantry of the Confederate army in the Berlin community on June 9, 1861, and advanced to the rank of captain less than a year later. He served with the Third Arkansas in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. After his discharge in 1863 because of paralysis, he returned to Ashley County and farmed first in the Berlin area and then the family moved to just south of Hamburg on the Berlin Road. It is not clear where the family was living when Sanford was born, but Miller Ludlam believes that Sanford Foote lived east of the Hamburg Cemetery along what is now Highway 8 when he was killed.
The Arkansas Democrat carried an full account of Foote's death by shooting, taken from the Hamburg newspaper, in its issue of December 6, 1899. That account said that about ten o'clock in the evening of November 23, some unknown person, "whose identify yet remains as great a mystery as if the earth had opened and swallowed him from sight the moment the fatal shot was fired," killed Sanford Foote.
While there was no obvious perpetrator of the crime, apparently Sanford Foote was not the best liked of men. The initial report of the shooting, published in the Arkansas Democrat of November 24, termed him "a desperate character [who had] killed six men in the vicinity of Hamburg in as many different encounters." Also, the account stated, "It is known that Foote had more enemies than any other man in the room."
Foote had been gone from the Hamburg area for over a year and had returned only a few weeks before he was shot. He was reputed to have seen service with the United States forces in Cuba, serving as a private soldier, which may have been the reason for his absence from Hamburg. However, he is not listed as a veteran of that war in Desmond Walls Allen's Arkansas Spanish American War Soldiers.
The Democrat's account of the shooting was that Foote was sitting in the pool room on a bench along the north side of the room which was filled with young men and boys when someone fired a load of buckshot from outside, through the front door, "the entire load entering the right breast of the young man at who it was aimed, though the distance was about twenty-four feet, and it seems a miracle that the shot did not scatter and strike others in the crowded hall."
R. E. Hanson was seated on Foote's right and Fred Watson on his left, with both of them touching Foote, but the buckshot hit neither of them. The local newspaper said that several citizens were inside the pool hall, but no one admitted that they had seen anyone approach the door and fire the fatal shot. Mayor Guise summoned a jury of inquest after the shooting, but did not find any clues pointing to the identify of the killer.
Miller Ludlam, who was born in 1924, remembered hearing stories about the shooting of Sanford Foote. One of those stories came from an eyewitness. Ludlam said that someone came to the back door of Elite Restaurant and fired from there into the pool hall. He said that five or six pool tables were in the pool hall, along with a five pin bowling alley located on the west side of the building. According to the story told to him, Foote was sitting in one of the chairs next to the bowling alley when he was shot.
"I don't know who did the shooting," Ludlam said. "Jeff's (Jeff Sawyer Foote) granddaddy would not say who did the shooting, but he saw it."
Ludlam also had another Sanford Foote story. He recalled being told that Foote was riding his horse by the Hamburg Cemetery and noticed something different. At that time, the cemetery was surrounded by a hedge. Ludlam said that Foote pulled out his pistol and fired it several times, with the bullets all hitting in a close pattern on one of the tombstones. He said that he remembered as a child looking at the bullet marks on the marker. He said that Foote, who was known to drink, apparently believed that someone was after him, and so he fired his pistol, hitting the tombstone.
Also among the Sanford Foote stories is one that, at gunpoint, he helped a friend escape from Texas authorities. While no one was able to provide specifics as to the time and place, the stories allege that one of Foote's friends, possibly a Morschheimer man, was being held on some unspecified charges in Texas. The stories are that Foote went into the courtroom where his friend was being tried, and at gunpoint, held up the court so that his friend could escape Texas justice.
Conner Morschheimer of Pine Bluff, however, who was born in Hamburg in 1935, said that he had never heard any stories of any members of the Morschheimer family being in trouble. He also did not have any knowledge of the Foote incident mentioned above.
Whether Sanford Foote had killed as many men as the Democrat's article suggested remains unclear, but it is almost certain that he was involved with at least one killing.
About 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 30, 1897, a number of Hamburg citizens saw Sanford Foote and R. M. "Bud" Barnett, age 37, sitting on a bench inside the open doors of the livery stable kept by Elbert Sweeney on the west side of the square. A few minutes later, the citizens heard three pistol shots, and by that time the doors to the livery stable were closed.
Witnesses said Foote ran out the back door and mounted a horse hitched nearby and rode away. Within a few minutes, almost 200 citizens assembled to look at Barnett's body, lying face down in a pool of blood, with more blood still gushing from two wounds to his head. One shot had entered his mouth and another had entered the left temple.
With the coroner out of the county, Magistrate Tyler White impaneled a jury of inquest composed of Mayor E. D. Bays as foreman, J. L. Hudspeth, T. W. Ramey, J. R. Neel, L. E. Hayden, F. S. Bradford, J. H. Gallaway, F. T. Bass, Jack Whetstone and a Mr. Willis. Even though there were no witnesses to the shooting and no evidence of conflict between the two men, the jury of inquest apparently felt that there was sufficient reason to believe that Sanford Foote was responsible for the shooting to refer the matter to the grand jury.
Accordingly, when on January 17, 1898, the Ashley County Grand Jury met, the jurors considered the killing of R. M. Barnett, but took no action. "In the case of Sanford Foote, for killing R. M. Barnett, no bill was found," the Ashley County Eagle reported. Given the statutory secrecy of grand jury proceedings, there was no explanation of self defense or any other reason for the ruling.
Yet, according to a story told to former Hamburg postmaster Roger Nutt, Sr., the grand jury's action may not have been correct. The former postmaster recalled a story told to him by "Cub" Bunckley while they were at the post office. According to that story, Foote and Barnett had gone into the Hamburg livery stable, and only Foote came out.
Nutt said that one of the tales he had heard was that the son or brother of R. M. Barnett was responsible for the Sanford Foote shooting. According to that story, the Barnett relative hid under the steps of the Hamburg Methodist Church until the commotion after the shooting died down and then got on his horse and rode away. "The most logical tale is that a Barnett family member shot him," the former postmaster said. He added that Bunkley was reluctant to discuss the particulars of the case because some of the people involved were still living at that time and he did not want to implicate them.
Yet there are also other stories about the killing.
Jonathan Portis recalled what his father, former Hamburg Superintendent of Schools S. P. Portis, told him about the death. His recollection is of a kind of "dark and stormy night" story. "It was early evening with a heavy rain coming down. A buggy pulled up in front of the poolroom. A man in the buggy yelled at a loiterer to go into the poolroom and fetch Sanford Foote. Foote came out and approached the buggy; there was a brief conversation, then gunshots and Foote fell over backward, dead by the time he hit the board sidewalk. The buggy bolted and vanished into the rainy night.
"My father said that everyone, including the authorities, knew that the man behind the killing, if not the actual trigger man, was ‘Old Man Bob Sawyer.' Sawyer was a planter from the Parkdale/Portland/Wilmot area. It's possible that my father told me the specific motivation, but all I remember is that it was the result a feud between the two families. The newspaper accounts seem to describe a revenge killing at the least, even if it doesn't rise to the level of feud. In any case, no one was ever arrested. My father said the authorities were too afraid of Bob Sawyer.
"I'm not sure where my father heard this account. Being something of a politician, he spent much time visiting various offices at the courthouse," the younger Portis said. He added that it was probable that the elder Portis heard the story from either Judge Y. W. Etheridge or from Cecil Portis.
"By the 1950s, Judge Etheridge was no longer a judge, but had a little law office in the back of Mercil Bankston's insurance building. My father often visited Judge Etheridge in his tiny, cluttered office. It's likely that Etheridge was in Hamburg at the time of the shooting," he said.
Cecil Portis was married to "old man" Bob Sawyer's daughter, Catherine Sawyer. "That's a whole different family saga. I do remember Aunt Catherine as being a rather tempestuous woman," he said.
According to the Portis story, Sanford Foote's distraught mother, Margaret Eveline Foote, outraged at the lack of justice, ordered the tall stone with the words "Murdered in Hamburg, Ark." She, like everyone else, was convinced that Sawyer was behind the murder, and she knew he had relatives buried in the cemetery, with the possibility of more to come, and wanted him to have to see the tall stone with words "murdered" every time he entered the cemetery, Portis said.
"This all sounds very novelistic and embroidered, and it probably is. But the unsolved murder of a prominent citizen of the day is still intriguing to me, as well as the strange tombstone," the younger Portis said.
Jeff Sawyer Foote of Hamburg said that he did not know the reason for it, but there was "a lot of tension between the Footes and Sawyers." When his mother, Mildred Sawyer, married his father, William Eugene Foote, Jr., "it was like the Hatfields and McCoys," he said. He also noted that he had heard stories that his great-grandfather, John L. Foote, a city marshal and later mayor of Hamburg, had warned Sanford Foote, his brother, not to come back to Hamburg because there were bad feelings about him.
Dr. Dewayne Haynes of Wilmot, a descendant of the Sawyer family, recalled, "I have heard a story that he (Bob Sawyer) killed a man and the sheriff was after him." Sawyer went out to the area around Gaines, "which was kind of an unsettled place and dense and not very well maintained as far as the law was concerned." Sawyer eventually bought the place, which is at Montgomery Bend in the Bayou, near where Fred Montgomery now lives, and, in Haynes' words, "became a recluse."
In regard to the reason for the killing, "My father was of the opinion that if you didn't already know it, you didn't need to know it," Dr. Haynes said. However, he said, he faintly remembers something about someone stealing horses. Whatever the reason, he said that Bob Sawyer always carried a gun with him. The Sawyers, he said, "were always shooting somebody or getting shot at."
Earnestine Sprinkle of Parkdale, age 84, said, "They were kind of a tough crowd around here." She said that somebody in the Sawyer family "was kind of an outlaw," but added that she did not remember the specifics because "I wasn't really that interested at the time," and "It was just before my time."
Nancy Davis of Hamburg, whose mother was a Foote, said that she never heard any reason for the shooting and never heard the names of anyone responsible for the killing. Gail Thomas of Crossett, a descendant of the Sawyer family, said that from a story told by the late Leroy Haynes, Bob Sawyer and Sanford Foote were good friends. She said that Haynes believed that Bob Sawyer had killed Sanford Foote, "but he was provoked." She did not know a reason for the provocation.
John William Spivey of Hamburg also recalled hearing stories about the shooting, but could not provide specifics. From what he had heard, he described Sanford Foote as "overbearing," which may have been a factor in the killing.
Willene Stinson of Crossett recalled hearing the stories about the shooting of Sanford Foote. Asked who she had heard was responsible, "Bob Sawyer," she replied emphatically. However, she could not provide any specific reason.
There is also the possibility that yet another member of the Sawyer family was involved in the death of Sanford Foote. In a letter provided by a member of the Sawyer family, Harvey Irvin McLeod recalled living on the banks of Bayou Bartholomew south of Wilmot, across the stream from Lucian Sawyer, Bob Sawyer's brother.
According to his account, both the Sawyers were "tush hogs," as he said his grandfather described them, with Bob Sawyer always carrying a long six shooter.
As an example, he cited an instance where Bob Sawyer had gone to Monroe, LA, on a bayou boat for "a supply of booze and items." A Hall man, who lived up the bayou from Bob Sawyer, was on the boat. When Bob Sawyer boarded the boat, Hall offered him a left hand, which he apparently considered an insult. "Sawyer refused his offer (of the left hand) and went on in the boat cabin. Bur he did not forget Hall's actions. And later on they were involved in a gun fight and Sawyer killed Hall," McLeod wrote. McLeod was also related to the Hall family by marriage.
Another account, as told by the late Leroy Haynes of Wilmot, said that Bob Sawyer was hunting and crossed the corner of his neighbor's property. According to that account, someone shot and killed Bob Sawyer's dog. Sawyer then told the neighbor that he would kill him the next time he saw him. The Haynes story said, "Some time later he saw this man coming down the gang plank of a river steamer, near their property, drew his gun and shot him dead, right off the gang plank."
Apparently, according to the McLeod account, Lucian Sawyer was also a violent man. He recalled one incident in which a Herrod (Note: possibly Herren) man was alleged to have stolen hogs. McLeod's account was that Lucian Sawyer went to the man's house and shot through a window with his shotgun. "He shot so close to a girl's head that he shot her roll of hair off of her head," McLeod said, and then Lucian Sawyer started walking home, not knowing whether he had killed the alleged hog stealer or not. According to this story, Lucian Sawyer met a black man while going home, and when the man spoke to him by name, Lucian Sawyer killed him so that the man could not say that Sawyer had been in the vicinity of the Herrod shooting. The next day, McLeod said, Lucian Foote watched the Berlin Road to see if anyone brought Herrod's corpse by on the way to the Mount Zion Cemetery.
The McLeod account of the Sanford Foote shooting is that the owner of the livery stable also owned the pool hall, which had domino tables as well. He said, "There was a ‘tush hog' lived there in Hamburg by the name of Foote that wore a long six shooter and he made some remarks that Lucian Sawyer didn't like one evening." He said, "Lucian Sawyer got his shotgun, saddled his donkey, and rode out to Hamburg." After arriving in Hamburg, Lucian Sawyer tied the bridle to the saddle and slapped the donkey so that he would head home.
"When it got dark and the men gathered at the pool hall, Lucian crept up to a window and shot Stanford (sic) Foote through a window and walked 12 miles to my grandfather's house and slept some. My granddad didn't ask any questions and Sawyer didn't tell hm, but the news was spreading that Foote was shot a certain night," McLeod wrote.
According to McLeod's undated account, which is not supported by the available news stories, "There was another ‘tuff nut' there in Hamburg, and he was accused of shooting Foote as he wasn't present at the pool hall that night. And he was arrested and put in jail, and the Footes and their clan broke in the jail and murdered him, and his name was Mallows."
While some of those mentioned above have listed Bob Sawyer as the possible culprit, there is a very believable reason why he could not have shot Sanford Foote. Robert Rushing "Bob" Sawyer died February 25, 1899, in Ashley County— eight months before the Foote shooting. That date is the one found on his tombstone in the Mount Zion Baptist Church Cemetery on the Berlin Road, showing that he could not have been around to carry out the November murder.
One thing is certain. The era of the 1890s and early 1900s was a violent one. And the Foote shooting was only one example of that violence.
On November 24, 1899, Ben Hawkins, son of ex-circuit judge Marcus Lafayette Hawkins, killed Bob Nevalls after a dispute in Hamburg. Nevalls, a Negro who had only recently been released from the penitentiary, and Hawkins had been in a dispute earlier in the day. In an altercation between the two, the Negro drew a knife and started toward Hawkins, who fired four shots at him, killing him instantly, the Arkansas Democrat reported on November 25.
Nevalls was no stranger to trouble. He along with a man named Jack Turner had been sentenced to the penitentiary at Little Rock in 1896. However, before they could be transferred, Marshall Hoy discovered a plot to release the prisoners in the jail and perhaps murder him. Two of the prisoners who were chained together broke the chain and soon after, Nevalls' wife appeared at the jail and asked to see him. Marshall Hoy at first made a move to admit her, but happened to see something in her hand and asked her what it was, and it proved to be a razor. The woman said Nevalls wanted to shave himself with it. She was hustled out, after which the prisoners were re-chained. "The supposition is that the prisoners had planned to escape and that the razor was to be used to that end, possibly to cut down Marshal Hoy or anyone who stood in the way," the Eagle reported.
In 1900, Miller Ludlam said, two of the hotels in town were engaged in a strong competition for business. One of those hotels was operated by his grandfather, Charles Bradley. Both Bradley and his competitor, a Morschheimer man, would send porters to the train station to meet incoming passengers, with the porters calling out the names of the hotels they represented in order to attract arriving customers, Ludlam said. His grandfather went into the post office, and when Bradley reached into his pocket to get a handkerchief, Morschheimer shot him, Ludlam said. He added that the shooting was the direct result of their competition for hotel customers.
The account of the January 1, 1901, shooting in the Ashley County Eagle said that Bradley, who owned the Bradley House Hotel, was "shot and instantly killed in the hallway of the court house by Charley Morschheimer, both parties to the sad affair being good citizens and well liked by the entire community."
The Eagle's account said that Bradley had been told that Morschheimer had earlier made derogatory comments about the Bradley House, which Morschheimer denied. Then on Tuesday, January 1, Bradley heard "the same story or a similar one, and made up his mind to attack Morschheimer." Bradley armed himself with a piece of iron window weight an inch or more in thickness and two or three inches long. When Morschheimer came into the courthouse, the two had words, and Bradley struck Morschheimer "a terrific blow" with the hand containing the window weight.
Morschheimer staggered back from the force of the blow, and then responded by pulling out his pistol and firing four shots. The first shot hit Bradley in the right breast. Then, as Bradley turned to go into the office of Sheriff Henry Stillwell, Morschheimer shot Bradley in the back. The two other shots entered the wall, but Bradley had been fatally injured.
The Ashley County Circuit Court should have considered the shooting in its January term, but the court did not meet. The court began its postponed session in August, but the Eagle's accounts do not list any disposition in the case.
Charley Morschheimer may have been related to Henry Morschheimer. The Eagle noted that Charley had been raised in Hamburg, and "no young man ever enjoyed the high esteem and good will of more true friends from his boyhood up." Gail Morschheimer, Conner's wife, said that she believed that Conner's great-grandfather, Henry Morschheimer, did live in Hamburg, but he was a musician and piano builder, not a hotel owner. She noted that he had been a concert pianist and emigrated from Germany and taught music in a girls' school in Mississippi. In addition, she said, he built pianos and wrote music, including a pair of selections called Hamburg Moonlight Picnic and Arkansas Serenade Waltz.
In Hamburg, on January 7, 1902, night watchman L. L. Lindsay was shot and killed on a sidewalk by Bailey's Saloon, located near the northeast corner of the square. A pistol and walking stick was found on the sidewalk by his body. "No one ever knew who killed him. Little effort was made to find out," Judge Etheridge wrote.
In the same era, early in 1902, Frank Barnes and T. L. Atkin fought a "duel" on the streets of Parkdale. Atkin tried to arrest Barnes with the assistance of G. P. George. George fired three shots at Barnes, and George was hit in the leg by return fire. Barnes emptied his gun firing at George and then threw it at him. Barnes also wounded Atkin. After G. P. George emptied his gun, his brother, Norwood George, gave him another gun, and he shot Barnes as he turned to ride off.
Another example came from the Cypress area, just north of the Louisiana state line near Wilmot in 1896. In that case, G. B. Segars, a Jones, LA, saloon keeper, moved part of his stock to the Cypress area and opened a "blind tiger" to sell his liquor. While in Jones, Segars hired Will McLeod of Ashley County as his assistant and placed him in charge of the "blind tiger" at Cypress. According to Segars, he furnished all the whiskey, and McLeod was supposed to sell the whiskey and turn the proceeds over to Segars. What happened was that McLeod sold all the whiskey, and when Segars demanded the money, he received curses instead.
Segars then got his shotgun and went to the cotton house at Cypress, where he slept in one end of the building and McLeod in the opposite end. About daylight the next morning, the two got up, shared several drinks from the same bottle, and about 6 a.m. on June 2, 1896, Segars again demanded his money. When McLeod refused, Segars brought out the shotgun, loaded with buckshot. McLeod ran, at the same time pulling his pistol, and Segars shot him in the back
Deputy Sheriff J. T. Carnahan arrested Segars at Jones about twelve hours after the shooting and returned him to the Ashley County Jail to await trial.
In its August term, the Ashley County Grand Jury returned a true bill indictment charging that Segars "did feloniously, willfully and with much malice… with premeditation and deliberation kill and murder one William McLeod… by shooting the said William McLeod with a gun… loaded with gun powder and leaden bullets." Judge M. L. Hawkins ordered Segars held without bail in the county jail.
Segars, however, did not like the accommodations that the county afforded him, and with the aid of friends, he escaped from jail about two weeks after his arrest. "Lawyer Foster and Mr. Segars, of Pine Bluff, came down last week to apply for the release of Mr. G. B. Segars under a writ of habeas corpus, but the prisoner had become tired of the law's delay and dissatisfied with Ashley county's dilapidated old boarding house and had left for parts unknown," the Ashley County Eagle reported. A few weeks later, Segars wrote to the Eagle. In that letter he said that he did not escape because of any apprehension of the results his trial. Instead, "While in the Ashley county jail, I was secured to my cell by a chain fastened about my neck as well as one around my ankles. My position was not only cramped but very painful. The jail is considered insecure and hence such extraordinary precautions by the jailer."
Segars said that his friends heard of his condition and decided to release him. He also said that he planned to be at court and stated, "I acted in self defense, and on this plea confidently expect a verdict of acquittal from the jury, and of exoneration from the Public," Segars wrote. Neither the newspaper nor the county records indicate whether Segars was exonerated as he predicted or if he was convicted.
In April, 1896, a man the Ashley County Eagle termed "an impudent Negro of the Parkdale neighborhood, known by the double barreled Confederate name of Beauregard Gordon," was shot and killed by Mr. Percy George on a Sunday morning. The Negro entered the residence of Mr. George and was in the act of attacking him with a drawn knife when the shot was fired, the Eagle reported, without giving any other specifics.
These are only some of the examples of a violent era. Hardly a month went by that the local newspapers did not report a killing of one kind or another.
Returning to the primary story, there will certainly never be a legal accounting as to who killed Sanford Foote. Certainly one of the most-named culprits, Bob Sawyer, was not responsible because he was dead by that time. Whether the responsible person was Lucian Sawyer, a member of the Barnett family or some other person no longer matters because they are all long dead.
Ashley County Circuit Clerk Bob Rush said that his records do not reflect anything relating to the case or of any grand jury deliberation relating to Sanford Foote, his supposed victims or his killer. Nor does his office have any criminal records pertaining to Lucian Sawyer or Bob Sawyer. There remain the various possible explanations, but given the passage of over a century, the complete story remains like the tombstone– an enigma from a long time ago.