John Billy

On November 2, 1873, while being transported to Fort Smith to stand trial for assault, John Billy, a member and resident of the Choctaw Nation, was able to escape custody, steal the gun of one of the U.S. Marshals holding him, and kill two of those officers, Willard Ayers and Perry Duval. A third officer – Ed Grayson – shot and wounded Billy.

Memphis Daily Appeal, November 14, 1873

The marshals were reported to have expected trouble from Billy, who had expressed his fear of the way Choctaws were treated at Fort Smith.

John Billy was found guilty of first degree murder in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas on December 19, 1873. He was sentenced to death a few weeks later.

On April 3, 1874, John Billy was hanged at Fort Smith, Arkansas. A crowd of thousands had gathered to watch the three hangings that took place that day. Billy is reported to have confessed from the gallows.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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