Woodland Heights Cemetery
Clay County,

1848 - 1904

Husband of Georgia Anna Keller Vowell

On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 12, 1903, Mart Vowell shot and killed William F. "Bill" Lovejoy near the town of Rector in Clay County. Reports say that Lovejoy was shot twice with a shotgun and once with a pistol. Both were residents of Blue Cane township. Lovejoy having lived in Phillips and Monroe counties in the past. Mart was the former city marshal of Rector. Lovejoy had the reputation of being a tough citizen, having killed almost a dozen men in the past. He and Vowell had trouble several years earlier and more trouble had been expected ever since. This was apprently due to Mart arresting him and Lovejoy resisting the law.

Mart Vowell was a 32nd degree Mason, an ordained minister, and the retired sheriff of Paragould. While sheriff he had several run ins with Lovejoy. Lovejoy was a trouble maker. Lovejoy would ride his horse on the walkways in town, fight, and bully people. Lovejoy had killed people, unsure how many. Lovejoy had a trick that he used to kill people. When engaged in a gunfight he would pretend to be hit, roll over onto his stomach, while hiding his gun underneath him. When the person would turn him over to see if he was dead he would shoot them. This also provided him with a self defense
After Mart retired as sheriff, Lovejoy would stalk him, take shots at him from a distance, and threaten to kill him. One afternoon Mart was returning home from a church function with several children in his wagon. Lovejoy took a shot at him. Mart fired back and Lovejoy fell out pretending to be dead. Mart knew of his trick from when he had been sheriff. Instead of turning Lovejoy over he shot him twice in the back as he lay on the ground. Because Lovejoy had been shot in the back Mart could not claim self defense.

Mart was arrested and before a justice of the peace he was admitted to bail in the sum of $2000. Shortly after the killing, circuit court opened in Piggott, Clay County, with Judge Allen Hughes presiding. Mart was at once ordered into the custody of the sheriff and the action of the justice of the peace was set aside. Mart made application for bail but this was overruled by the court. The case was taken up by the grand jury and they returned "a true bill charging Vowell with murder in the second degree." Judge Hughes who had heard the evidence in the case on the application for bail, refused to accept this action of the grand jury and sent them back to reconsider it. Again the grand jury returned an indictment for second degree murder, only to be told by the court to go back and try once more. When they came back in the third time with the indictment the same they were discharged by Judge Hughes who then ordered the sheriff to summon a new grand jury. On Aug. 20, 1903, the new grand jury was sworn in and within an hour returned a indictment against Vowell for murder in the first degree. The trial was set for Monday, Aug. 24, 1903. The dismissal of the grand jury caused quite a stir among the legal community since it was a very unusual course. Mart then secured a change of venue from Clay Co. to Greene Co. The case came before the Circuit Court at Pargould, Greene Co. Mart was convicted sometime during the first week of September 1903 of murder in the first degree for killing William F. Lovejoy. On September 14, 1903, attorneys for Mart made a motion before judge Allen Hughes for a new trial. The motion was based upon a remark made by a juror in the case shortly after the killing to the effect that Vowell should be hanged. The juror denied having made the remark. Other jurors said that he was the last man to vote for the death sentence. After considering the question "carefully" the court overruled the motion. And he was sentenced that evening to execution on November 13 along with another man Nathan Brewer. Vowell appealed to the state supreme court and the supreme court upheld the verdict of the lower court. Appeal was then made to Governor Jeff Davis for clemency. More than 1,200 citizens of Clay and Greene counties signed a petition asking the governor to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment. At the same time 1,500 other citizens of the same counties signed a petition to the governor entering a remonstrance against interference with carrying out the verdict of the jury. In addition strong counsel pro and con appeared before the governor.. Gov. Davis gave attentive hearing to and went exhaustively into the case. Mart's defense argued that he was justified in killing Lovejoy and that the latter had threatened to kill Vowell. They also argued that one of the jurors in the trial was incompetent since he had expressed the opinion that Vowell ought to be hanged for the crime. The prosecution argued that the verdict of the jury fortified by the support of the supreme court should be carried out. Appearing in May 1904 before Gov. Davis were Bony Vowell, (some records call him Pony) Mart's brother, Alfred Huckett, a cousin, Mart's wife and two daughters. Also appearing were John and Al Lovejoy, William's brothers, and Mrs. Mollie Bradford, William's daughter. Gov. Davis decided not to interfere and on Sat., May 7, 1904, he set June 9, 1904, as the date for Mart's execution. Continued efforts were made to get the governor to reverse his decision--arguments were made that in the Confederate army Mart was a soldier with a good record. Being a member of the Twenty-first Cavalry, Wilson's regiment, Bell's Brigade, Forrest's command participating in the Battle of Brice's Crossroads where he suffered severe sunstroke. Also brought up was the fact that he was 61 years of age. In what appeared to be a "violent departure from his record in this line", having pardoned others for lesser reasons*, the governor still refused to interfere. In a letter dated Little Rock June 9, 1904, Gov. Davis said "You don't know how I have fought my own inclinations in this case. It has been a struggle between sentiment and duty. ...stern duty and exact justice demand that my course should be as it is."

Mart was taken from the penitentiary in Little Rock to Paragould on Tuesday night, June 8, 1904, by his personal friend Sheriff Grayson of Greene Co. & deputy sheriff, Pony Vowell, Mart's brother. After a speech to the crowd of over 2000 and "Farewell to this earth and good-bye to all" and hearty cries of "Good-bye, Mart!" from the crowd, Mart Vowell was hanged at 5:40 pm on Thursday, June 9, 1904, from a scaffold erected on the south side of the Greene Co. jail in Paragould. "Death ensued in eighteen minutes". "Vowell remained cool to the end and died game." Even joining in the singing of songs at the religious services conducted before the scaffold. His body was returned to Rector, Arkansas, and he was buried on Friday, June 10, 1904, at the Woodland Heights Cemetery, in Rector, Clay Co., AR.

Gov. Davis was hung in effigy at Rector, Arkansas, on Saturday, June 11, 1904, for not commuting the sentence of Mart Vowell.

Also interesting to note is the following item that appeared on the same page as the article noting the ordering of the new grand jury--"Piggot Correspondence. Circuit court convened here Monday, with Judge Allen Hughes, States's Attorney S. R. Simpson and other court officers present. The following cases had been disposed of, up to Tuesday evening: ...State vs. W. F. Lovejoy; liquor, twenty-three cases; nolle pros. entered, because of defendants death."--The Courier, Clay Co., Corning, Ark., Aug. 21, 1903

Mart and William Lovejoy are both buried in the same cemetery. Their graves are in plain view of each other. His friends and neighbors erected a large stone monument for Mart.
More About MARTIN VANBUREN VOWELL Burial: 10 June 1904, Woodland Heights Cemetery, Rector, Clay Co, AR Cause of Death: Hanged

Fact 5: Greene Co, AR: Confederate Marker Military service

Contributed on 8/24/08 by tiredtech3
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Record #: 47556


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Submitted: 8/24/08 • Approved: 10/13/09 • Last Updated: 8/20/12 • R47556-G0-S3

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