One Dead Horse Thief: Introducing Historic Arkansas Law

William Sawyers’ widow said he was a horse thief who died in an Arkansas prison in August 1874.

Ermina Loy married William Sawyers 14 July 1872 in West Plains, Howell County, Missouri.[1] In 1877, she married second in Kansas to Charles King,[2] a Civil War veteran. After Charles died, Ermina had to prove she had no surviving husband to obtain a desired widow’s pension. Pension application file paperwork revealed her family’s story of William Sawyers, whose surname is spelled multiple ways.[3]

William and Ermina Sawyers went to Arkansas shortly after marriage but soon returned to Missouri. Officers took William to Arkansas on the charge of stealing a horse. Ermina said she lived with her father’s family afterward and heard that William died in “that state” (Arkansas) before being tried on the charge. She never heard from him directly after he was taken.[4]

Mary Smith said after her sister Ermina married, their father Martin Loy moved from Missouri to Cowley County, Kansas. They heard that William Sawyers got arrested and Ermina wanted to come home. Her father went to Missouri and brought Ermina and her baby Mary to Kansas. They learned of William Sawyers’ death from another Howell County Loy family.[5]

A pension examiner noted that Ermina was “quite illiterate”, and her memory was “extremely poor.”

The family’s story was not verified.

“Men – We have no data to work on. It is uncertain whether the former husband was ever in the “pen” or even that he was arrested or tried – + if arrested, tried, convicted, incarcerated + died in prison we have no knowledge as to the places not even the states. Clt + witnesses agree that Sawyer disappeared about 1874, was then reported dead + has never been heard from or of since that time. With the evidence now in it seems to me lawfully widowhood may be accepted.  W W Davis S.E.D. May 18/10.”[6]

The pension office granted Ermina a widow’s pension.

Ermina’s brother Peter Loy was my great-great-grandfather. The Sawyers’ brief time in Arkansas marks my family’s only known connection to the state. Ermina’s story made her pension application file interesting but left unanswered questions.

I welcome Historic Arkansas Statutory Law and Historic Arkansas Case Law and Extras to the Advancing Genealogists’ online law library.

Whether you are researching horse thieves or the age of majority, the historic Arkansas law collection might provide insight.

I leave you with the 1857 case of Jackson v. Bob, “trial of petition for freedom by a negro.” Related case law in several states is cited.[7] Bob’s case was not unique. Similar case law might reveal affiliations between enslaved persons, their enslavers, family members, and associates. 

I hope you find what you are looking for and uncover a few surprises along the way.

Thanks to Linda McCauley for updating my law library map!

[1] Howell County, Missouri, Marriages, Book B, William Sewyers and Erminda J. Loy, married 14 July 1872, by T. D. Burton, M. G. Record received from a family member.

[2] King-Sawyer marriage, 25 December 1877, Office of Probate Judge of Cowley County, Kansas. Record received from a family member.

[3] All pension file references: Ermina J. King, widow’s pension application no. 876,200, certificate no. XC 987,032 (702,813); service of Charles King (Pvt., Co. E, 60th IL. Inf.); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861–1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Veterans Administration, Washington, D.C. Normally at the National Archives, this X file was held at the Veterans Administration until its request. The file contained affidavits from Ermina King and her sister, Mary Smith. A more detailed citation is unavailable as the file is packed in an office box.

[4] Ermina King, general affidavit, 12 February 1909, widow’s pension application file, certificate no. XC 987,032 (702, 813).

[5] Mary Smith, general affidavit, 28 January 1910, Ermina J. King, widow’s pension application file, certificate no. XC 987,032 (702, 813).

[6] Pension examiner’s remarks, Ermina J. King, widow’s pension application file, certificate no. XC 987,032 (702, 813).

[7] Jackson v. Bob, 18 Ark. 399 (1857), Arkansas Supreme Court, Arkansas Judiciary ( : accessed 28 February 2023).

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One Response to One Dead Horse Thief: Introducing Historic Arkansas Law

  1. Larry Klauser says:

    Very Interesting

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