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    Judge Isaac Parker: An Extremely Rare and Important Large Original Photo of the Famed "Hanging Judge," Shown Together with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Performer Johnny Baker. Parker (1838-1896) served for twenty-one years as presiding judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. During the heyday of western lawlessness, he presided over more than 13,000 cases. Nearly 9500 resulted in guilty pleas or convictions. Of the 344 cases which involved capital crimes, Parker sentenced 156 men and four women to death by hanging. Seventy-nine of the hangings were actually carried out, while the remaining prisoners died in jail, won successful appeals, or were pardoned.

    Parker first sought a career in Republican politics, and was elected to two terms in Congress beginning in 1870. However, when political fortunes in the area turned against the Republicans, like many dispossessed officeholders, he sought a federal appointment. In March 1875 President Grant appointed Parker to his judgeship in Arkansas. He replaced a disgraced predecessor, Judge William Story, who had resigned rather than face charges of graft and corruption. Anxious to restore the Court's reputation, Parker went after violent crime aggressively. The number of hangings he ordered was in part simply the result of the large number of cases which came up for trial in his jurisdiction (he often held court six days a week, and up to ten hours daily). Ironically, Parker may himself have been an opponent of the death penalty. Executions in those days were often public events attended by rambunctious crowds, and Parker brought this to a halt by erecting a tall fence which closed off the gallows from public view. Nonetheless, he was known far and wide as the "Hanging Judge." This legend was kept alive long after his passing by vehicles such as the Charles Portis novel True Grit, which would be made into two blockbuster movies starring John Wayne as a deputy marshal for Parker's court. In another popular film, Hang 'Em High, Parker was fictionalized, but the character played by Pat Hingle was clearly based on him.

    Oddly, photographic images of Parker seemed to be almost nonexistent. While our research did uncover one youthful image of Parker as a congressman in the early 1870s, an informal survey of devotees of Western photography failed to turn up any images of the "Hanging Judge." This impressive 20" x 13.5" original photo depicts the Judge along with famed Wild West performer Johnny Baker. Baker is dressed as a performer, and the corrals in the background suggest that Parker may have visited Buffalo Bill's facility when this photograph was taken. It is in excellent condition on what appears to be the original mount, the only imperfection being a partial vertical center crease which must have occurred when the photo was bent a bit. Very nicely custom framed.

    This lot also includes a second image, undoubtedly equally rare. Mounted in a clearly decades-old wood display frame is a tintype image of "Charles Maledon Officer of the W. Dist. Court Fort Smith, Arkansas." It appears to have come from some local historical society or museum display, which might account for the charitable characterization of Maledon, who, as Judge Parker's executioner, came to be widely known as the "Prince of Hangmen." Unfortunately the tintype is badly flaked, but it is nonetheless an interesting companion piece to go with the Parker photograph.

    For the serious collector of important Western photography, this lot presents a very rare, if not unique opportunity.

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    Auction Dates
    Nov-Dec, 2011
    30th-1st Wednesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,323

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