Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Parker, Isaac Charles

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Judge Isaac Parker
(7279, James Brazell Collection, OHS).


"Hanging Judge" Isaac Charles Parker, attorney, politician, and federal judge, was born near Barnesville, Ohio, on October 15, 1838, the son of Joseph and Jane Shannon Parker. Parker was admitted to the bar in 1859 and soon migrated to St. Joseph, Missouri, to practice law in his uncle's firm. Parker entered politics in 1860 and was elected to terms as city attorney, county prosecutor, state circuit judge, and U.S. representative. He married Mary O'Toole on December 12, 1861; they had two sons, Charles and James.

In 1875 Pres. Ulysses S. Grant appointed thirty-seven-year-old Parker as judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Based at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the court had jurisdiction over eleven western Arkansas counties and Indian Territory. Parker's forceful efforts to ensure swift justice included three mass hangings in two years, drawing national attention and giving him notoriety as "the Hanging Judge." In twenty-one years he handed down 161 mandatory death sentences, of which seventy-nine were carried out. Presidential commutations (often supported by Parker), pardons, and Supreme Court reversals prevented a majority of the executions, however. Public conflict with superiors marred his last years. Congress reduced his powers, and the Supreme Court reversed more of his rulings. Parker died at Fort Smith on November 17, 1896.

Roger H. Tuller


S. W. Harman, Hell on the Border: He Hanged Eighty-Eight Men (1898; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).

Fred Harvey Harrington, Hanging Judge (1951; reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996).

Roger H. Tuller, "Let No Guilty Man Escape": A Judicial Biography of "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Roger H. Tuller, “Parker, Isaac Charles,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=PA013.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.