TORTURE AND DEATH
By S. C. Turnbo
An old timer of Boone County, Arkansas, is Hiram Harden, son of Thomas Presley Harden and Manervia (Starky) Harden. He was born one mile east of Bellfonte, May 27, 1853. His father and mother were born and reared in Jiles County, Tennessee, and were married there and came to the vicinity of where Bellfonte is now in the year 1846. "My grandfather and grandmother, William Harden and Agness Harden, came with my parents to Arkansas. My father died many years ago and was buried on the old homestead one mile east of where Bellfonte now is. My mother died In 1886 and her body received interment in a graveyard near Russellville, Arkansas. In reference to the early settlers of that part of Boone County at Bellfonte and neighborhood Mr. Harden gives the names of the following men that he said lived there from the time he could first remember until the days of the war set it. "The early dave settlers were very scattering. There were Matthew Bristow, who served one term as County Judge; Salem Hudson, who was a brother of the man that the panther attacked in the Buffalo Mountains. This man Salem Hudson was a son-in-law of Mr. Bristow. Mrs. Nancy Starky lived near Hurraw Creek 8 miles below Bellfonte. Tom Bones lived northeast of Bellfonte. William Smith lived near Bellfonte. And Jim Carroll, John Poplin and Billy Smart were all old time people in that locality. Mose and Sam Holmes who were brothers were also pioneer settlers there. John Roberts and his brother, Andrew, lived several miles east of Bellfonte and the Judge Bristow farm was 1 ½ miles east and my grandfather William Harden lived one half of a mile west of the Bristow place. William Harden, my grandfather, owned a great deal of land and commanded a sum of money. When the war broke out he had $1500 in gold and silver. He also had a large amount in promissory notes, the most of which were on responsible men. Soon after the great Civil War got in headway the marauders made a few attempts to secure his money, but their onslaughts were ineffectual as far as his money was concerned. They hung him twice by the neck until he was almost dead to force him to reveal his treasury to them but he constantly refused to tell where it was hidden. As the war went on his dwelling was burned down and he moved into the Judge Bristow residence. One night shortly after he moved here the robbers paid him another visit to do their worst. My youngest brother, Stoke Harden, who was 12 years old was living with them. In the afternoon previous to this night my grandfather had went out into the woods alone and taken up his money where he had buried it and concealed it in another Place. Grandmother said that after they all had retired grandfather said to her, "Agnes, I have put my money in a new place; I will tell you where it is tomorrow." At this moment grandfather noticed the face of a man against the glass window peeping through the glass into the house. Grandfather called grandmothers attention to it immediately and they both rose out of bed at once for the old couple were convinced that the man was a theif and robber and that there were more of them nearby. Before they had time to put on their clothes another man knocked the door in and the one that was at the window run around to the door and both men come into the house. Whether there were anymore men outside of the house it is not known. Only two come into the house. One of them was disguised for his face was painted black. This man carried a pearl handle pistol. My brother said he recognized the pistol. The entrance of the two robbers into the house created confusion. They swore they would make grandfather tell where his money was or they would finish his life right then and there. My old grandsire replied "You scoundrels cannot compel me to divulge its whereabouts." It was now that both men lay hands on him in a violent manner and threw him down on the floor. He was old and feeble and made but little resistence. When they had hurled him to the floor one of the men got on his breast and held him down. At this moment my little brother leaped out of bed and says to the one that had his face painted, "Garl Wilbern, what did you come to kill my grandfather for." The pistol refered to had formerly belonged to Hickory Starky and Wilbern had got in possession of it. Neither one of the men made any reply to the remarks of my brother. While the scuffle and confusion was going on my grandmother hallooed as loud as she could to give the alarm to anyone in hearing distance and the bushwhackers told her if she repeated it they would shoot her down. She now turned around and made a start as if to got out of the house and one of the men struck her a hard blow on the head with a pistol which felled her to the floor where she lay stunned for a few moments. After she revived she rose to her feet and ran out of the house and started for Sam Vanzants. In the meantime the boy Tom Jones was so wrought up with fear that he was making a loud racket. And the two men ordered him to lie still and hide his face with a quilt or they would blow his head off. The frightened lad obeyed without further warning. It was now that the demons began their awful crime of torture and while one of the brutes sit on the poor old mans body to hold him on the floor and with his feet tied fast together the other man shoved his feet up in a few inches of the fire, where they were held a short time. Then they pushed his body closer to the fire and put his naked feet in among the live coals and hot ashes. His suffering was terrible but he bore it and not a word he said concerning the hiding place of his money. In the great agony of pain and anguish he clutched the hot dog irons with his hands to make an effort to move away from the fire and when he let go them piece of skin was jerked off the pan of his hands and fingers and stuck to the irons. The horrible torture was kept up a few minutes when the cut throats ceased their brutal work and made him rise to his feet. But his feet was so badly burned that he was hardly able to stand. The robbers were expecting to see some of the old mans friends to come to his relief and they decided to get away at once and they informed the helpless old man that he had to go with them. He begged to be let alone but they forced him to go. The robbers and their victim who could hardly walk passed out of the building and silently disappeared in the darkness and was gone. As soon as they had left the house Tom Jones Jumped out of bed and left the house in an opposite direction from the way the robbers went with my grandfather and overtaken grandmother as she was hobbling and groping her way along the dark and lonely road. The boy was so demoralized that he ran on ahead of her and never did come back any more. My poor helpless and feeble grandmother finally got to Mr. Vanzants before daybreak. My little brother ran out of the house while the robbers were making my grandfather get out to take him with them and he said afterward that he traveled 7 miles that night before he stopped. He said that after he had run near a mile from home he heard the report of a pistol but he was laboring under such a strain of excitement and fear that he was unable to tell the direction the weapon was fired. This horrible crime occurred in the month of May, 1865, and there were but few men and women living in the country; especially around Bellfonte. But what few people there were they turned out willingly to search for grandfathers dead body for we well knew that he had been murdered. We hunted day after day for him without the least success. When the old soldiers of both sides had returned home who lived in that locality some of them helped us look for him but we were not able to find any trace of him. It was not that we reached the conclusion that they had taken him many miles before they disposed of his life. There had been a fence just northeast of the Bristow house that was on the division line between a part of grandfathers land and that of a man of the name of Sloane. This fence had been destroyed by fire except one pannel that escaped. A thick growth of post oak bushes and tall grass grew in this same fence corner that escaped the raging fire. This was ¾ of a mile from where grandfather was so cruelly tortured. We had all given up of ever finding the remains or of ever hearing from him anymore, when one morning in 1867 or two years after he was taken off my stepfather William Smith heard his dogs treed and on going to them he found that it was a coon they had chased and it had went up a tree and he shot the coon. This was 1 ¼ miles from his house. On his way back home with the dead coon he happened to pass in a few feet of the fence corner just named and discovered peices of clothing and a few bones lying in the grass and bushes that was in this corner. He stopped and examined the bones and the remnants of cloth. It was evident that the bones were humane and that the rage had belonged to it. Mr. Smith now hurried to the house and told the story of his find to the family and we all believed that it was the remains of my dear old grandparent. The neighbors were notified at once and it was not long before they had gathered at the place designated and after a thorough examination of the peices of clothing and teeth all who knew him were convinced that they belonged to grandfather. At the time of the discovery my grandmother was living in Newton County, Arkansas, and was up on a visit the day previous and had started on the return home early that morning and a runner was sent to give her the news of the discovery and she was overtaken at Pleas Fowlers where she had stopped to remain over night and she come back and was present at the burial of the remains of her husband which received interment on the old farm one mile east of Bellfonte. As far as I know my grandfathers money was never found. The people who had made such strong exertions in searching for the body said they had passed in 50 and 60 yards of this spot but never thought of going to it to look for him there."
Springfield-Greene County Library