Hiram Mann and James Diggs had been hired by J.C. Gould to help him move a herd of cattle through the Indian Territory from Texas and into Kansas in the summer of 1873. Near the northern border of the Indian Territory, Diggs robbed and attacked Mann and Gould. He then told local residents and, later, authorities, that the three men had been attacked and that only he was able to escape.
That story did not stand up to investigation and Diggs, who was Black, was arrested. Taken first to Kansas, he was then moved to Fort Smith to await trial.
However, Kansas authorities failed to send any documents related to the case, leading Diggs to sit in jail for more than a year before being released. Diggs returned to Indian Territory believing the case against him had ended.
He was mistaken. Not only did the case remain open but Hiram Mann had survived the attack, leaving Gould as the sole victim. With Mann as an eyewitness to the murder, the case against Diggs was now quite strong.
Diggs was arrested again on June 24, 1878. Taken back to Fort Smith, he was convicted of murder on November 8, 1878, and sentenced to death the next day.
On December 20, 1878, James Diggs was hanged at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
After more than two years in which no one had been executed in Fort Smith, a wait that was due mostly to the failure of Congress to appropriate money to operate the court through much of 1877, executions had resumed.