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Baxter County Patrol Vehicle
Eugene  Mooney
Sheriff Eugene Mooney
Term: 1904 - 1907

1874 - 1907


By Mary Ann Messick [1995]

Oct. 5 marked a tragic anniversary - the death of the second of three Baxter County sheriffs to be killed in the line of duty.

My great uncle, Eugene Williams Mooney, was killed Oct. 5, 1907, on the train at Holdenville, Okla., while returning an escaped prisoner to Baxter County. (The first sheriff killed was A.G. Byler in 1892; the last was Emmett Edmonds in 1965.)

Eugene Mooney was born Jan. 30, 1874, at the Mooney Plantation Home on what is now known as Rainbow Drive, near White River. He was the son of Confederate Major Jesse Mooney and his third wife, Olivia Williams Mooney. His father died when Eugene was 10, leaving Eugene and his two brothers and four sisters to be raised by their mother, assisted by the guiding hands of their older half brothers.

On Jan. 31, 1891, one day past his 17th birthday, Eugene Mooney and Miss Melinda Anglin, 18, of the Whiteville community, were united in marriage. The Anglin family was another prominent pioneer family in the Whiteville/Gassville area and dozens of Anglin/Mooney weddings occurred around the turn of the century. I have been told that Eugene was engaged to another girl - an Anglin cousin of Linnie's - but Eugene and Linnie's love, though destined for tragedy, was not to be denied.

Major Jesse Mooney was the father of 16 children from his three marriages and it was family tradition that each of his children received as a wedding gift 40 acres of land. Eugene and Linnie's heritage was to be the Mooney home place with the agreement that his mother could make her home there as long as she lived.

In 1904, at age 28, Eugene was elected High Sheriff of Baxter County, following a longtime family tradition of lawmen. David Mooney, his great uncle, was the first sheriff in Arkansas, around 1810, when all of the state was a part of Missouri Territory. Jesse Mooney served as sheriff of Marion County several terms during the mid 1800s. Eugene served as constable of Whiteville Township and was a deputy sheriff prior to being elected sheriff. At that time, Baxter County was still "wild and wooly." The railroad had just come to the area and the town of Cotter was suffering all the loud and lusty birth pains of a boomtown. Boomtowns love saloons, gambling and wild women - but the town of Cotter was legally dry. Sheriff Mooney promised to uphold the law and he immediately went to work. Old court records of both the Baxter County Circuit Court and the Whiteville Township Justice of the Peace Court record time after time Sheriff Mooney requesting search warrants for gaming devices and illegal liquor sales in the town of Cotter.

There was at the time also an "anti" law element in the county. In 1892 Sheriff Byler had been gunned down (according to today's standards, I would have to insert "allegedly") by Jesse Roper when attempting to make an arrest. Because of the anti law sentiment, Roper was able to escape and was never captured again - although the search for him was very active for many years. A few years later, a mob mostly from out of the county had overpowered Sheriff Eatman and his jailers and lynched and killed two prisoners awaiting trial for murder. Quoting now from The Baxter Bulletin, dated Oct. 11, 1907: "The loss of Sheriff Mooney to Baxter County is great, as he was the best sheriff the county ever had. His record as an officer was as clean as a piece of linen and he knew nothing but his duty. His first term started at the time when the county sorely needed the services of a good officer and a cool head, and one who knew his duty and would fulfill it. It was just after the building of the White River road when all kinds of characters were continually coming and the bootlegger reigned supreme. Sheriff Mooney took the bull by the horns and quietly went to work. It was not long before this class knew that it was licked."

Sheriff Mooney was re-elected in 1906. In September of 1907, a local character named William "Wild Bill" Estes was arrested on charges of carrying a weapon. At that time, it was illegal to carry a pistol but many diehards still did. In fact, the infamous Jesse Roper's first attempted arrest was for carrying a weapon. The case against Estes was carried over from the September term of Circuit Court to October. In the meantime, Wild Bill ran afoul of the law again. When a posse of deputies went to bring him in, Estes escaped from their custody. A few days later, Sheriff Mooney received word from the authorities in Albuquerque, N.M., that they were holding a fugitive from Baxter County they believed was Jesse Roper, using the alias of Bill Estes. According to them, the fugitive's physical appearance matched the wanted poster on Jesse Roper to a "T." The sheriff immediately made plans to go to New Mexico. He was almost positive the prisoner was Estes but, to be on the safe side, Deputy Sheriff John Conley (who was also his first cousin) was to go with him. Just before leaving, the sheriff prepared and signed his annual sheriff's report to the county court. (I have been given this document for safekeeping.)

Sure enough, the prisoner was Bill Estes. Estes had hopped a freight train at Buffalo City and rode the rails (lying flat under the frame of a railroad car) and, the next thing he knew, he was in New Mexico.

On the trip back Oct. 5, just before noon, their train was pulling into the station at Holdenville, Okla., Indian Territory. Because Estes had escaped once, for security they were seated at the front of the coach, and Estes was handcuffed to an iron pipe attached to the wall of the coach. He was by the window with the sheriff on the aisle, facing the door. The seat facing them was vacant. Deputy Conley was seated directly behind the prisoner, keeping an eye on the rest of the passengers. The train was slowing down and about 300 yards from the depot. Sheriff Mooney leaned over the seat facing them to look out the window - an act he performed each time the train neared a station because Wild Bill would begin to crane his neck, like he was looking for something to happen. The report of a gun was heard and Sheriff Mooney dropped to his knees.

Pandemonium broke out on the train and the prisoner was immediately pinned to the floor. But the shooting was an accident, witnessed by Estes and verified by Deputy Conley.

It was the practice in those days for holsters not to be used. Jesse Roper had carried his pistol in the cuff of his pants. Mooney had his gun stuck in his braces (suspenders). When he leaned over, the gun slipped out and struck the pipe on the side of the railroad coach. The bullet went in just over the heart and lodged in his right shoulder.

Conley, assisted by a frantic Estes, tried to help the sheriff. When the train stopped, Dr. Jesse Mooney was sent for from Old McGhee, Indian Territory, and arrived at 8:00 that night, too late to help his brother, who was already dead. In the meantime, word had circulated around the town that Estes had killed the sheriff and a lynch mob was formed. As the mob approached the jail, Deputy Conley stepped out into the street and bravely averted trouble by explaining what had happened - a speech he would have to repeat back in Arkansas.

Word of the sheriff's death was received by telegram at the Cotter depot about midnight. His body was taken to a funeral home and prepared for shipment back home. Dr. Mooney, Deputy Conley and a very subdued Wild Bill rode in the baggage car with the casket. When they arrived at the Cotter depot Monday afternoon, they were greeted by a milling, surly crowd and Conley again had to explain that the death was an accident. Dr. Mooney did not join in the explanation. Many years later I found out why. He was quoted as telling Estes, "I have to believe John. But God help you if I ever find out you killed my brother!"

At the time of his death, Sheriff Mooney was 33, his wife was 34 and they were parents of seven children - Nell, Myrtle, Lura, Lula, Lela, Floyd and Redus. Nell was 15; baby Redus was 6 months old. The sheriff had laughingly remarked that "Linnie has her five daughters. Now we're working on my five sons." When her husband was elected sheriff, Linnie had moved the family from the Mooney home place at Whiteville to Mountain Home. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had any time together.

In those days the deceased lay in state at home, but it was felt the ordeal would be too great for his young widow and children. So Sheriff Mooney's body was taken to the home of his youngest sister, Alma Mooney Messick, and husband, William Alfred, at Gassville. The sheriff's sisters and mother reluctantly accepted the "store-boughten" casket, although they would have preferred a pine box crafted by the menfolk of the Messick family, who were master coffin-makers. But they would not have his body prepared for burial by strangers. My Aunt Beatrice, who was 6 years old at the time, remembered her mother, aunts and grandmother putting on rubber gloves and tenderly bathing and dressing the body.

The funeral was held on Wednesday at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (now First Baptist) at Gassville, where Eugene had been a member since he was a young boy. To date, it is still the largest funeral service ever held there. Lawmen came from all over Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to pay tribute to their fellow officer and his family. To honor the handsome and popular sheriff, area housewives literally stripped their gardens and the casket was banked with a wall of bright, fall flowers. Mooney was buried at what was then the west end of the Gassville cemetery. Within a few days, Linnie had an obelisk engraved with a verse she had composed put on his grave.

Leon Mooney, Eugene's younger brother, was appointed sheriff to fill out his term. Oct. 12, 1907, William Estes was put on trial on the charge of burglary, and found innocent. But on the charges of larceny, Wild Bill did not fare so well. He was ordered to serve two years hard labor at the state penitentiary at Little Rock. Estes had one consolation: The court ruled that he had no funds, so the county was ordered to bear all the expenses for the trial. What happened to Estes when he got out of prison, I don't know.

Linnie Mooney continued to live in Mountain Home so her daughters could attend Mountain Home Baptist College. In old school pictures, they look like typically happy, carefree schoolgirls, but the next 10 plus years were sad ones for the Mooney family. Lura died in 1912; Nell in 1913; Myrtle in 1920; her 2-year-old daughter, Lela Lorena Teague, in 1919. Dr. Jesse Mooney died in Oklahoma in 1916; his sister, Lorena Mooney Henley, in 1918. All except Dr. Jesse are buried near Sheriff Eugene, under the giant trees of Paradise.

After her mother-in-law's death in 1928, Linnie sold the Mooney home place and moved to Oklahoma to be near her youngest son, Redus, and his family. She died in 1952, outliving her husband by 45 years. She is buried beside him, and her children purchased a double granite marker for their graves. The old tombstone was simply set aside.

Sheriff Mooney is honored with a memorial plaque in the lobby of the Baxter County Courthouse. In October 1994, the Arkansas Lawmen's Memorial on the lawn of the state capitol was dedicated. Lori Mooney Graham of Tulsa, a great-granddaughter of Sheriff Mooney, and her mother, Mary Sue Mooney, along with my nephews, Airl and Jesse Cheek, and I attended for the reading of the roll call of honor. Afterwards, we lovingly traced the name of Eugene W. Mooney.

Recently, I visited Uncle Eugene's grave and traced the words Aunt Linnie had written for his first tombstone. The best I can make out, they read:

"Here lies the one I've loved in trust.
"But the immortal, not the dust.
"The one on earth to me most dear.
"Who learned in youth his Lord to fear."

And what greater tribute could any man - be he president or peasant - desire?

Source: Focus On History by Mary Ann Messick, published by Baxter County Historical & Genealogical Society, 2003.