The historical Isaac C. Parker (1838–1898) has been overshadowed by his legend--the notorious “hanging judge” of the Wild West. In his time as district court judge, he did sentence over 160 people to execution, but Parker’s reputation as a bloodthirsty monster is unfounded. In reality, Parker assigned the penalty mandated by law but had personal reservations about capital punishment.
Born in Belmont County, Ohio, Parker served as city attorney, circuit attorney, and circuit judge in Missouri during the 1860s. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1871 to 1875. However, his most famous tenure, from 1875 to 1896, was as judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas and nearby Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). There, he quickly gained a reputation for swift, stern justice. In 1889, the U.S. Congress allowed appeals from Parker’s court and reversed many of his convictions, outraging Parker and furthering his reputation for dispensing angry, rough-hewn justice.
Parker presided over civil cases far more often than criminal cases. However, his jurisdiction included territory so lawless that several deputy U.S. marshals had to be appointed just to cover it. Of the 160 people Parker assigned the death penalty for murder or rape, 79 were actually executed.
In this biography, Michael J. Brodhead tells the life story of this man obscured by the sensationalism of his criminal court cases. Brodhead has based much of his account on Parker’s published opinions and jury instructions, thereby allowing the judge’s own words and rulings to testify on his behalf. Furthermore, this is the first book to consider Parker’s civil cases in any detail.