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The Murder of Oscar Chitwood in Hot Springs, Arkansas: An Interview with co-author Christopher Thrasher Pt 1

The Murder of Oscar Chitwood in Hot Springs, Arkansas: An Interview with co-author Christopher Thrasher Pt 1

On December 26, 1910, Oscar Chitwood lay lifeless on the courthouse lawn in Hot Springs, his wrists shackled together and his body torn by bullets. The deputies on the scene claimed that masked men had lynched their prisoner and that the lawmen were innocent bystanders to the carnage. Newspapers everywhere proclaimed this killing another example of vigilantism run rampant. Within days, however, the official story fell apart, and these deputies were charged with coldblooded murder. Authors Guy Lancaster and Christopher Thrasher tell the little-known story of accused outlaw Oscar Chitwood, the authorities he dared defy and the mysterious resort town of Hot Springs, a place where the Wild West met the epitome of civilization and where the boundaries between lawman and outlaw were never all that clear.

Christopher Thrasher earned his doctorate in American history from Texas Tech University. In 2015, Thrasher published his first book, Fight Sports and American Masculinity: Salvation in Violence from 1607 to the Present. He published his second book, Suffering in the Army of Tennessee: A Social History of the Confederate Army of the Heartland from the Battles for Atlanta to the Retreat from Nashville, in 2021. Guy Lancaster holds a PhD in heritage studies from Arkansas State University and currently serves as the editor of the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System. He has authored, coauthored or edited several books on the history of violence in Arkansas, including American Atrocity: The Types of Violence in Lynching (2021).

Purchase the book HERE

[00:07:29.370] - Ben

Christopher, thank you so much for joining us on Crime Capsule. We are so delighted to have you.

[00:07:42.110] - Christopher

It's my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.

[00:07:45.090] - Ben

For those of our listeners who may not be familiar with you and your previous work, would you just introduce yourself a little bit to us and tell us about some of your previous books?

[00:07:56.210] - Christopher

Sure. I can tell you a little bit about some of my work. So I am a historian. I have a PhD in American History from Texas Tech University. My first book was on the history of American fight and sports. So I talked about boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, how that changes, why that changes, what that tells us about the evolution of American masculinity and how men see themselves and how they struggle with things like violence and their ethical or moral duties and things like that. My second one, which came out last year, was a Civil War book. It was called suffering in the army of Tennessee. It's a social history of the Confederate army of Tennessee from Atlanta to Nashville. So the last major campaign in the Western theater of the Civil War. And the thing that I try to emphasize with that book was that idea of suffering. Because that's something that came up so often the primary sources, both in terms of the men talking about their own suffering and the pain that they were feeling, but then also talking about their conflicted kind of manhood and their acknowledgment that they were also causing suffering and how that gave them pause and sometimes made them wonder if they were doing the right thing.

[00:09:09.340] - Christopher

And so that kind of conflicted, Southern masculinity, Southern manhood was something that I really tried to trace out. And then this is my third one. My co author, Guy Lancaster, of course, did this with me. And then I have a fourth one which is going to come out next year, which is going to be another Civil War book. It's going to be a similar book to Suffering in the army of Tennessee, but it's going to be about the Port Hudson campaign in Louisiana. So that's kind of my progression.

[00:09:40.960] - Ben

Yeah. We hear a lot about the Fort Hudson campaign down here in New Orleans. It is still very much alive in public memory. Very interesting one. Let me ask you this before we get into Oscar Chitwood. Your first book about American fight sports was this book that was informed as much by theory as by practice. Were you a boxer, a wrestler, an NMA fighter yourself before getting in the intellectual arena?

[00:10:10.310] - Christopher

It's always interesting. People with good reason always ask when you publish a book, they try to figure out why you picked a topic, which is a great thing to know and reflect on. So, yeah, so when I was working out, people would ask me, they would say, oh, are you a fighter? And my joke was, no.

[00:10:27.960] - Ben


[00:10:32.440] - Christopher

Yes, I dabbled a little bit in fighting. I did some karate, I did some mixed martial arts. I was never any good at it, but I did enjoy spending time in those spaces and taking classes and jiu jitsu and boxing and doing a little bit of everything. So a little bit, but not to any significant or meaningful you know, it's.

[00:10:56.530] - Ben

Funny, I'm not at liberty to say anything beyond what I'm about to say, but Southern boys, we've been known to get into some scraps sometimes it's good to know just one or two things about what to do when you get into one. But beyond that, I'd have to have clearance from my attorney to say anymore. It sounds like a very interesting trajectory you've had there, Christopher.

[00:11:24.940] - Christopher

I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed it.

[00:11:26.550] - Ben

Let me ask you this. You said that this is your first collaboration, the Oscar Chitwood book with Guy Lancaster. First of all, how did you and Guy come to the story of Oscar Chitwood? And then secondly, what was the nature of the collaboration. What did the writing process look like?

[00:11:47.510] - Christopher

Sure. Well, I've got to give all the credit in the world to Guy Lancaster. He's really the brains of the operation. He's the mastermind. I think he's very much the lead author. So the way we began working together is I was struggling with suffering in the army of Tennessee, and I was going through that editorial process and going through university presses. You have a lot of peer reviewers, and I'm sure you and many of your listeners understand you can kind of get caught in editorial purgatory there for a while. Yeah. But I wanted to write, and I wanted to publish. And thankfully and I say that with no disrespect to University of Tennessee Press, they were very good to me. It takes time to get a book published, and I wanted to write, I wanted to publish, and I want to keep refining those skills. And so I was looking for kind of smaller pieces that I could do. And I stumbled across the Encyclopedia of Arkansas online, which, if any of your listeners have any interest in doing a little bit of historical writing, if you want a very supportive environment, you can go to their website.

[00:12:55.270] - Christopher

They have a section on there for people that may want to contribute to the encyclopedia. They have really good guidelines about what they're looking for. They have topics that they would like to have authors for. You can contact them. I think they'll give just about anybody a shot. I've even had a couple of my students, undergraduate students, have written articles for them. So I thought, well, this would be a nice thing. I'll write an article or two on this, and I can kind of keep myself limbered sure. And keep my writing muscles active while I'm hoping that the big project comes to fruition. And Guy Lancaster is the editor for the Encyclopedia, so I wrote a couple of articles there, and he and I had a good relationship by email, and he appreciated my work, and I appreciate him as an editor. He's an absolutely wonderful editor and to be a great author. And then he asked me about writing a journal article, a couple of other things. And then eventually he came to me and he said, hey, I've got an idea for a book. And he says, I want to write a book on lynching in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

[00:13:59.890] - Christopher

And he says, there's three incidents that I'm interested in. So there's kind of three sections to the book as I envision it. He says there are two that are very typical kind of lynching stories, tragic and horrible, of course, but there's two that he had researched pretty well that were both cases of young African American men that had been accused of crimes against white people. One was accused of a sexual assault of a young white girl, and one was accused of sexual assault on a young white man or excuse me, not sexual assault, but a murder of a young white man. And pretty straightforward but very tragic stories that we see all too often. He goes, but there's this other one. There's this Oscar Chipwood guy, and he said, and I've kind of got just a little on him, but there are reports that this was a lynching, and I want to investigate that, but I've got other things going on. He goes, how would you feel about coming on as my co author? You live in Hot Springs. You've got better access to the sources. Guy lives in Little Rock, which is about an hour and a half away.

[00:15:07.090] - Christopher

He says, how do you feel about doing that? And then you can help me kind of smooth things out and kind of be a second set of eyes. He says, I've already got a publisher. We're good. And I said, yeah, absolutely. Delighted to work with sky, delighted to get what I was hoping would be kind of a win.

[00:15:23.590] - Ben

There aren't very many of those.

[00:15:28.390] - Christopher

That is a laughter of the man that knows where the story is going.

[00:15:33.040] - Ben

We're still hunting for those easy ones, aren't we? We're still looking.

[00:15:39.040] - Christopher

So I've now learned the hard way, with no disrespect at all, the guy, he's absolutely great to work with. But learn anytime I walk into something seeking, it's going to be an easy win, something will go wrong. So we had an idea. We wrote it, we sent it to the publisher. Part of the problem we had was it was going to be a book about lynching in Hot Springs. Well, the conclusion that we came to is Oscar Chip wasn't lynched. And so they said, you've got a story on lynching in Hot Springs. You're talking about three men, and your whole argument is that one wasn't lynched. So how is this how does this make it's three interesting stories? But how does this make any sense as an academic book, which is a perfectly fair criticism? And so we said, all right, well, maybe let's rethink this. Maybe this isn't really about lynching. Maybe this is about violence and vigilanteism and about this really fascinating place called Hot Springs, Arkansas. And so we said, let's expand it and let's look at and I forget that the next iteration of that. I think we had something like ten stories we looked at.

[00:16:47.790] - Christopher

We had a federal agent that had been murdered by bootleggers, and that crime was never officially solved. There were several others kind of mysterious or kind of problematic killings and crimes. And so we sent that back and try to make an overarching argument about violence and vigilanteism in late 19th, early 20th century hot Springs. So the publisher came back and said, we feel like you haven't really connected the dots here. You've got a lot of interesting stories. This isn't really an academic book. There's not really a scholarly sees this here. So we're going to pass. We appreciate it, but no thanks. So we lost our publisher. So what I thought was going to be an easy win was now starting over, almost. And it would have been really easy. Guy and I talked about maybe we just need to throw in the towel, maybe we just need to give up. But we both kind of came to the conclusion, no, we've got something interesting here. There's lots of interesting stuff here. We're just struggling with the frame. We've done the research. We're telling stories. Well, we just need to make our argument. And so we said, well, maybe our problem was that we went too big. And maybe what we need to do is find the one story in this that's the most interesting and the most helpful to people that are trying to understand the past and the most unique, and let's just tell that story. And so we said, of all the stories that we looked at, the story of Oscar Chitwood was by far the most interesting and the most unusual and the one that had really not been touched at all by anybody.

[00:19:02.310] - Christopher

And so we said, let's try that again. And so we focused and we wrote a draft of what eventually did get published focusing on Oscar Chitwood, the man who was not Lynched, and sent that to History Press. And they've been wonderful to work with. They've been very supportive and really appreciated what we were trying to do. So that's kind of how it came together. The other question you had about how does that work? Well, we decided, of course, there's been multiple iterations of this project, but in general, I think the idea is that Guy is the brains of the operation. He is the guy who really understands these big historiographic issues and that I hopefully am a little bit of a storyteller and that I was living in Hot Spring, so I was the guy that was finding sources that people didn't even know were there. And we're kind of digging through some of this stuff, which was probably the most fun part of the project for me, was digging through things that nobody knew existed. And so I think you can even kind of tell if you look at the table of contents, there's two chapters that were mostly my writing, and they're the ones that are like in quotation marks because that's kind of my style.

[00:20:16.630] - Christopher

And then the others are ones where Guy kind of took the lead, and so he kind of wrote his chunks, I wrote my chunks, we put them together, and then he went through it all, and I went through it all. And when we both felt like we felt good about how everything was connected and everything flowed from one section to the next, then we felt like we.

[00:20:34.750] - Ben

Had something that back and forth is very creatively, productive, isn't it? And you definitely get that.

[00:20:41.610] - Christopher


[00:20:42.670] - Ben

Two different perspectives on one story enables just a lot more vitality than you might otherwise get. Now, I want to ask you to understand what happened in 1910. In August 1910, we do have to understand where it happened. And you write that Hot Springs, from very early on was a place where peoples and languages and cultures and in particular ideas of law and order and justice collided. And you say that this is true more so in Hot Springs than in other parts of Arkansas. And why was this the case?

[00:21:28.410] - Christopher

It all comes down to the water, I think. You have this very unique natural resource. And so unlike most places in the south where the economy is dominated by agriculture or maybe by trade or even by manufacturing, you have this very unique natural resource. And so people are coming here very early on. It becomes a tourist town, becomes one of the first tourist towns in the country, and then it develops an identity kind of based around the idea of this is a place where it's very rural and very isolated in some ways. It's a place where people from all over the region, all over the country, all over the world are going to come. And that causes the development of a very unique culture.

[00:22:14.420] - Ben

It's funny because you also write that with this confluence of people surrounding folks taking the waters and indulging in the restorative effects and so forth, there's something which most folks may not realize, which is that the terrain itself was also antithetical to traditional agriculture.

[00:22:35.110] - Christopher


[00:22:35.330] - Ben

It's a more rugged terrain. It's a little bit more isolated. And one thing that kind of led to some of the personality or character that Hot Springs developed in its early years was that this remoteness, isolatedness isolation and sort of ruggedness allowed the outlaws and the gangsters and the bandits to sort of come in and take advantage of that and enjoy that just as much as the law abiding folks. And I got to say, Chris, I was so delighted when, for the second series in a row, we had some highway robbery in our last series up in Salem, Massachusetts, not a week or two ago. And now we've got more actual highway robbery by the James Gang taking place. And we use that metaphor so often, but it's rare that as we're reading these books that we actually get a taste of the real thing. So I just wanted to thank you for a second helping. It's like the Thanksgiving leftovers of highway robbery. So we're very grateful. We're very grateful.

[00:23:43.260] - Christopher

Well, good.

[00:23:44.840] - Ben

I'm glad that you write that one of the things that was interesting about Hot Springs is that it had a major growth period, in particular right after the Civil War during the Reconstruction era. What factors fed into the growth of Hot Springs at this time?

[00:24:07.410] - Christopher

The biggest thing is that Hot Springs going back, arguably to prehistory, certainly to the Andrew Jackson administration in the 1830s, when Hot Springs was set aside as a federal reservation, not a Native American reservation, but it's like a natural reservation, that it's a place of healing. The idea was that this was a place where you come for healing. Hot Springs was sometimes referred to as the last resort, kind of a double.

[00:24:34.120] - Ben

Entendre that's nice to it.

[00:24:42.660] - Christopher

I wish I could claim credit for that, but I've heard that many times. I couldn't tell you who said it first. I'm sure it occurred to a lot of people, but I love it, as so many people do, because it's the double entendre of it's, the last resort, in the sense that if you are dying, if you are in pain, if you are suffering and if nothing else will cure you, if the doctors back home in Ohio or Mississippi or Montana can't cure you, this is the place of last resort. Because maybe this curative water, maybe this can help you. Maybe this can be it. And then it's also kind of the last resort in the sense going back to that geographic isolation that it's kind of for a lot of people, you really felt like with good reason, wherever you were from, you had kind of come to the literal end of the line. You had come to the most isolated place you could really get to. So, of course, at the end of the Civil War, we have tens of thousands of men and some women as well, who have suffered horribly in the war, either from illnesses, from injuries, from wounds in battle.

[00:25:54.810] - Christopher

And so these people need healing. They need some way to cure or to at least alleviate their pain. And so they heard stories about Hot Springs and so many of them, many of them came here. And then we also have an increasing transportation revolution because one of the things that the particular Union Army did as they fought the war across the Confederacy in places like Arkansas is that as they came, they built railroads and they built highways and they built bridges. And so they are exposing a lot of these men, particularly these northern men, these Western men, to the south. For the first time, there is word that is spreading of this kind of mythical place in the mountains where they have this hot water that will cure you. And it is a more accessible place to get to than it's ever been because we have this kind of additional transportation revolution largely built on the back of the unit.

[00:26:54.080] - Ben

This is all taking place. Of course, they're building the railroads during the campaigns, but the major growth of the hospitals and the hotels that you write about, these are very famous hotels. This is all mid 1870s, 1880s. You write that there's a fire or several fires which sort of consume much of downtown Hot Springs, and then that sort of serve as a catalyst for sort of building back bigger and better, so to speak.

[00:27:21.590] - Christopher

Yes, absolutely. So there were a series of fires. There was a big one in 19 five, another one in 1913, I think. I've written articles on both these for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. I think that was actually the first I think the 1913 fire may be the first article I wrote for them, actually. But yeah, so what happened was in Five and 13 was one a little before that as well. It was a little smaller, but came through and kind of ravaged much of Hot Springs. And that's why the federal government, which is operating a lot of these facilities, they pass these new regulations and they say, okay, if you're going to build a bathhouse, if you're going to build any of this stuff on federal land and get a federal lease, to do that, you're going to have to build it out of fireproof materials. You're going to have to have stone and brick and things like this. And so that's part of why today, if you ever get a chance to go to Hot Springs not yet.

[00:28:14.270] - Ben

It's on my list. It's on my list, actually.

[00:28:15.880] - Christopher

Yes, it needs to be on everybody's list. Anybody with the interest in history certainly has to have that on their list. But you can walk downtown, walk down Bathhouse Row, and you can see these bathhouses from the 1890s and from the early 20th century that survived the fire, and they still survived today because they just built them like they build them like tanks for many reasons, one of which is to survive, survive the fires. And they've had the whole adaptive reuse program and all that. So only two of them are bathhouses now. But yeah, so that kind of causes it to kind of clean out almost like with these with forest fires. Forest fires are very devastating to the forest, but they are required for growth, and they are required to bring forth something new. And so you see that that constant renewal in Hot Spring.

[00:29:04.880] - Ben

It is interesting, as our listeners will probably remember, one of the great gangsters of the 1920s and 30s, Alvin Karpis, he Hut, like many gangsters of the day, he sort of hit out there for a little while while he was on the run. And I'm sure most folks are very aware of the whole Bonnie and Clyde saga and their time in Hot Springs, too. It has a reputation, doesn't it?

[00:29:29.240] - Christopher

It does, it does. It absolutely does. And a reputation that continues in some ways. I don't know that you see the same members of the Mafia there today that you would have seen 100 years ago. But Hot Springs, I think, still has this legacy. And some of the things I find fascinating about it, of being in some ways, a talent of healing and a very conservative kind of faithbased community in some ways, but then also a community where they have Oak Lawn, which is a racetrack in a casino, they have gambling. They have, I believe, the largest marijuana dispensary in the south is in hot Springs. Certainly they have several. They have the euphemistically titled clubs and things like that. So there's still some bikes there. There's still some of that. But then you also see these very large charts.

[00:30:23.830] - Ben

Christopher, as I was reading y'all's book, I started collecting adjectives to describe this sort of city of my imagination that I do want to go to hot Springs, but I started sort of taking down a little list of descriptors, and I'm just going to share a couple. They come from your book. I didn't make them up. Children, close your ears. We've got violent, we've got sentient, we have philammon, you have a very flammable city. Yes, gambling prone was on the list. But I think my favorite out of all of the descriptions of hot Springs, my favorite had to be it was a syphilitic city. I mean, good heavens, man. I tell you what, children, you can open your ears again. It's fine. But what on earth led to these massive outbreaks of syphilis, if you can describe it in such a way that isn't going to offend too many folks here?

[00:31:27.960] - Christopher

Yeah, I think I can, actually. There's a book that just came out, or is just about to come out, and I believe it's called the Mecca of the American Cyphletic. Yeah, double check. I believe that was the working title. There was a scholar that came. Yeah. And so what happened was, in defending hot Springs, as I do, because it's near and dear to my heart, I don't think there was any more syphilis being spread in hot Springs than in other places. What happened was syphilis, of course, is a horrible, horrible disease. And before we have the rise of antibiotics in the 1930s and 1940s, there's really no cure for it. Antibiotics really are the only thing even today that will cure syphilis. And so if you are suffering from syphilis, maybe because you have made some questionable choices, maybe through things that are no fault of your own, because, of course, it can spread in ways that are not morally they didn't, quote, unquote.

[00:32:37.790] - Ben

Seem like a good idea at the time.

[00:32:41.690] - Christopher

Yeah. So what they were trying to do from the time of the civil war up until the rise of antibiotics in many cases, is they were giving people doses of things like mercury, which of course, is really bad for you and people at the time, it will absolutely kill you. And people, certainly by the late 19th century, I'm a civil war guys, so I've even seen comments from civil war surgeon saying, well, be careful. Don't give too much of this, because this is dangerous stuff. I think smart doctors in the 19th century probably saw mercury kind of the way we see chemotherapy. Like, we acknowledge it's really bad, and it can be very harmful, but you've got to kill the disease that's killing you somehow, and maybe this is kind of a last gasp. So the idea in hot springs was people that were suffering from syphilis all over the country, all over the world would come to hot springs to try to cure the syphilis, because nothing else would cure it. And then in hot springs, they would treat you with mercury, which they knew was dangerous, but then they would bathe you with the hot water, and they would have you drink the hot water.

[00:33:53.900] - Christopher

The idea was and unfortunately, it doesn't work but the idea was that you could ingest the mercury, or you could have a topical treatment of the mercury, and that would kill the syphilis. They hoped it doesn't, but they hoped it did. They thought it did. And then you could use this hot water, this amazing curative water, and that would purge the mercury out of your system, and that would clean you out in that way. And so that was the hope. The hope was this special water is good enough to purify you of the horrible, dangerous medication you're using to try to kill the thing that's killing you. And you could even go now, if you ever have a chance, to hot springs, and go to the visitor center, which is in the old fort ice bathhouse and something. And I used to do lead tours for the park service in the fort ice, and I would point out a blue tint on some of the tubs and on some of the equipment that was used. And I would ask people, what do you think stained it blue? Do you have any idea what might stain it blue?

[00:34:59.390] - Christopher

And the comment that I would occasionally get in the correct comment is, well, that's the mercury, and it was staining.

[00:35:09.220] - Ben

As long as you guys aren't handing out free samples, I think you're probably in the clear. Hot springs city of a thousand charms. Let me tell you this. The crux of your story, Christopher, the crux of this story about Oscarshipwood for all of the wildness and the kind of entertainment that were taking place in hot springs at the time, the crux of your story really hinges on this event that took place, this encounter on August 17, 1910. And what is interesting is that in some ways, our conversation mirrors the one we had two weeks ago with Andrew Emmelinks, in that we have two separate events, which are one takes place a little earlier in the year, and then the second takes place during the actual holidays. And so we need to talk about what happened in August today so that we can understand what happened in December, the day after Christmas next week. But this encounter took place and it changed not just one man's life, several men's life, but it changed the entire structure of law and order and justice in Hot Springs at that moment. And I'm just going to ask you to tell us this story because it really reads like it could have fallen right out of the celluloid of a film, like Unforgiven or Tombstone or any of these.

[00:36:46.370] - Ben

It is one hell of a shootout and it is one hell of an aftermath. So would you just take us to that day and to the Hot Springs versions of the OK. Corral?

[00:36:59.390] - Christopher

Yeah, it's a really fascinating day in the history of Hot Springs. And you're right, I think it is something that somebody someday should make a movie out of because I think it has all the great cinematic elements. So it was kind of a day like any other. To start with, we have a sheriff, said Hopped, who is kind of holding court in the Garland County Courthouse in his office. He has his brother with him as well, and he's his deputy. And so the two Hot brothers get a notice from a sheriff in a neighboring county that they should be on the lookout for the Chitwood brothers, who are accused of stealing horses, and that there had been a report that the Chitwood brothers were in town in Hot Springs. And the Hops, and I love this idea of the Hops and the Chitwoods being kind of different versions, different visions of masculinity. You've got the Hops and they're clean cut. You think about to draw a comparison to shoot out the OK. Corral, the law man, and they're wearing the proper suits and they go to the right church and they're members of the Mason's Lodge and they're very clean cut and they are law and order but very dangerous characters in their own right.

[00:38:26.530] - Christopher

And then you have the Chitwood brothers who look like guys out of a Wild West movie, and they wear the Tom Mix, the pigs hats and the kerchiefs, and they carry their pistol on their hip and very much kind of see themselves in that model. So the sheriff tells his brother, the deputy, I think that the Chip was maybe next door, just next door to the courthouse camping out at the wagon yard. Why don't you go over there and see if you can bring them over? And so the deputy goes and chats with them and says, hey, my brother wants to have a word with you. It's a small town. Everybody kind of knows who everybody is. The brothers agree. I'm not sure why, but they agree to come to the courthouse and they tie up their horses on the courthouse. Long they're at the Hitching Post, and they go upstairs and they want to know what the sheriff wants with him and the sheriff. Of course, there's different versions of this story. There's some conflicting sources I get into in the book, that guy and I get into in the book. But if I'm just giving you an off the cuff kind of retelling, essentially they say, what do you want with us?

[00:39:38.720] - Christopher

And he goes, Well, I've got a warrant for your arrest. And then they decided that they did not want to be arrested. And so they pulled their guns. They were armed at that moment. The lawmen were not armed. They pulled their guns. They instructed the lawmen to walk down the hallway. They walked down the hallway. They were up on the second floor of the courthouse. They got to the stairway. When they got to the stairway, they made a break for it, went down the stairs, got their horses. The sheriff and its deputy followed, went, retrieved guns, and then followed them out. Once again, there's endless debate and the sources about who fired first, but a gunfight did erupt. The sheriff shot, as did the deputy. When the smoke was cleared, one of the Chipwood brothers was dead. The older Hops brother, the sheriff was badly wounded, ultimately died.

[00:40:40.640] - Ben

That was Jake, right?

[00:40:43.560] - Christopher

Yes, the older and the deputy was unwounded, but he was able to wound the second brother, Oscar Chitwood, who's the primary focus of the book. Oscar was wounded and took off into the countryside. The deputy actually went and retrieved the older brother's dead body from the carriage that he was trying to escape in, actually pulled out his courts, threw him aside and then used that wagon to go off in hot pursuit. Other townsfolk immediately joined the pursuit and tried to help. Oscar eventually got to his family homestead out in the countryside, found that nobody was there because his mother and his sister were actually by that time in town identifying the dead body of their deceased family member. He eventually oscar eventually decides that he will surrender rather than die of a wound out in the countryside by himself. And so he ends up surrendering to authorities and is taken into custody. So I do a much better job in the book, but off the cliff.

[00:41:59.160] - Ben

I tell you what, one of the things that really struck me as I was reading was just the level of detail that you had. You described how the sheriff is a crack shot, and he shoots the horse's bridle and saddle. So it's not to wound the horse, but he wants to sort of spook the horse and kind of get the Chitwoods. They're using the horse as cover. And so he wants to get the horse out of the way so he can get a clean shot at the guys who are shooting at him because he's out in the open. And these sort of these little moments, these little tiny, precise moments that really give you a sense of the drama of what is happening out there on these city streets. It's very compelling. Christopher is just remarkable stuff.

[00:42:43.710] - Christopher

Well, that's kind of and I apologize to the listeners that I know off the cuff. I don't remember all the exact details and all that. It took some time to kind of sort it out and lay out the different sources and all that. But yeah, hopefully and it sounds like you agree, hopefully the book, I did a pretty good job of kind of explaining the details and explaining the action.

[00:43:04.010] - Ben

What's interesting about this is that, as you say, Oscar, who is on the lamb for a couple of days and hiding out in the backwoods, he turns himself in. But you have this really fascinating sort of shift wherein, because Oscar is taken into custody, he is able from his jail cell to start the spin. Right. You're right that Oscar did not come from a very highly educated background. He was kind of a country boy who got into some trouble in his earlier years and so forth. But he is quick witted enough to know that if he can start his version of the story soon enough, then he has a chance, at least. So in doubt in people's minds that, number one, he wasn't actually under a warrant for anything because there's no proof of a number two, well, it wasn't his gun that killed the sheriff. Number three, they shot first. Right. And this sort of really interesting I couldn't help but think of, like, late 20th century political campaigns where it's like, we got to get our messaging out first and set the tone or whatever. Well, Oscar is doing this from a dang jail cell in southern Arkansas.

[00:44:22.420] - Ben

And he's doing that he's running the exact same game. I mean, it's fascinating to see him at work even as he is wounded, vulnerable, and now on the way to incarceration.

[00:44:34.560] - Christopher

Yeah, we've got that great picture from the newspapers, the only picture of Oscar Chickwood, as far as I know, that exists anywhere, and it's a picture of him propped up in his bed. He's actually in Little Rock because one thing that happened was after he got turned in, there was a concern that there was going to be a lynching. There was a concern that the people would be so outraged with us, where they would murder him. And so they actually took him to Little Rock about an hour and a half away for safekeeping. So he's sitting there in his bunk. We've got the picture, of course, in the book, he's sitting up there and he's naked from the from the waist up. But, yeah, he's telling his story. It's interesting to talk about him putting his spin on it, and maybe that's the case. Maybe that's what he's up to. I think it's also possible that he was being honest and he really felt like he was not the bad guy in this. He certainly, even though, you're absolutely right. He was not an educated guy. The fact that he's wanting to argue forensic details yes.

[00:45:40.490] - Christopher

And maybe that's because he knows that his gun so he's arguing about his gun versus his brother's gun and about I want to see the autopsy report, and I want to know I want the authorities to prove it was a bullet for my gun that did it. The fact that he's willing to make that kind of forensic argument, which seems very out of place to me for a country boy. 1910, I think, goes to the idea that he was pretty clever. Either because he's doing spin, like you suggest, or because he really feels confident that he didn't do it. And he thinks the evidence will support that.

[00:46:12.520] - Ben

As we know, the deck is pretty well stacked against him for reasons we will explore shortly. But you have this really interesting moment in that all takes place in November excuse me, in August, and it happens very, very quickly. And then in November, you have this sort of interesting moment when sid goes, the surviving hawk brother. He goes to little rock, where oscar is in jail because they couldn't keep him in hot springs. I thought that was going to be a bad idea. He's vulnerable.

[00:46:49.690] - Christopher


[00:46:50.500] - Ben

Sid goes to little rock to bring the indictment to Oscar personally and to read him that indictment and the drama of this. At the beginning of the day on August 17, 1910, you had these two pairs of brothers, and they were both alive and well. By the end of that day, one of each of those brothers lay dead in the dirt. And in here, you have the surviving brother, who is the sheriff going to the other surviving brother, who is the alleged killer, to encounter him in this jail cell, I mean, that is cinematic storytelling at its finest. I mean, it's really kind of hard to wrap your mind around what that must have been like.

[00:47:45.290] - Christopher

Yeah. And we found some wonderful sources, and there's a lot of things we have good direct quotes, and that's one of those encounters where, unfortunately, nobody has left us a record. I would absolutely love to know what that exchange was. I would love to know. And I think it's yes. The fact that he went all the way from Hot Springs to Little Rock, which is not a quicker and easy trip to deliver, that when he could have very easily sent it by other means. I think it indicates that he wants to personally say something to the man that he argued was responsible for the death of his brother.

[00:48:20.460] - Ben

Oscar is eventually moved back to hot springs as far as part of the pretrial arrangements, and after some wrangling, his trial is actually set for march of the forthcoming year. It's supposed to be March 1911. We're going to pick up the story next week, but I want to just end it here the next thing that we know is on December 26, the day after Christmas, oscar, who is awaiting his trial, is shot dead himself.

[00:49:10.560] - Christopher


[00:49:12.060] - Ben

Who pulled the trigger that time?

[00:49:18.660] - Christopher

That's an interesting question. Officially, the murder remains unsolved. Officially. If you're asking for my opinion on what I think the evidence indicates, it's that two deputies not the brother who was away on vacation, but two other Garland County Sheriff's deputies who were on duty that night, that they conspired. And they decided to take the law into their own hands. And they decided to not give Oscar Chip would to stay in court. They decided to not trust the jury would find him guilty because there were concerns that would actually had a really good defense, at least against the murder charge and they decided that they were going to murder him. So, yeah, I think members, I think two Garland County Sheriff's deputies murdered Oscarship with that night and then tried to COVID it up by suggesting that some unknown, anonymous lynch mob had committed the murder.

[00:50:20.090] - Ben

Well, we're going to get into all of those lies, fabrications and webs of deceit this time next week. So join us again everybody, on next Thursday and we are going to travel back in time to December 26, 1910 again with Christopher Thrasher. Thank you so much for joining us this week, Christopher. Appreciate it.

[00:50:41.160] - Christopher

Thank you so much. It's been delightful.

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