By Ray Shelley, Ret. Mena Police Chief
Sitting here looking out my window, memories of my police academy days come to mind. There was of course, a ton of information to absorb about law enforcement, but one particular short block of instructions stands out above the others: Complacency.
We were taught to handle each event with the utmost caution. Never assume anything, always be on guard. Our goal was simple; to always go home at the end of shift. The instructor brought the point home when he told us of a situation that he was familiar with.
This incident occurred in a small-town USA. An officer made a vehicle stop for speeding. The officer happened to know the driver he was stopping. But, what he didn’t know was the person driving the car, in a fit of rage had just beaten his wife to death. The last thing on the officer’s mind was that his friend thought the stop was related to his criminal offense. As the officer casually approached the driver’s window, (probably with thoughts of letting his friend go with just a warning) he was shot in the chest, dead before he hit the ground.
This reminds me of a story that occurred on a Wednesday morning November 19, 1891. It involved United States Deputy Marshal Bernard “Barney” Connelly, born 1849, who perhaps was too complacent on his last assignment while serving a felony warrant for adultery on former Deputy Marshal Shepard Busby… and it cost him his life. I wonder what was going through the mind of Deputy Connelly on that early Wednesday morning.
Maybe he’d dropped by the office in Fort Smith to visit? But when he was asked by the Chief Deputy if he wanted to make some easy money, it sounded good to him. He was told a felony warrant had been issued for Shepard Busby, and he could take a couple of posse members and ride northwest of Fort Smith, 15 miles to Busby’s residence to effect the arrest. Being paid on the fee system, Connelly calculated in his head, at six cents a mile going and ten cents a mile for the return trip, plus two dollars to serve the warrant, he would end up with four dollars and forty cents for the day’s work.
Connelly also figured that he wouldn’t have any trouble with Busby, after all he was a former Deputy Marshal, and so he chose to make the trip by himself.
Now, $4.40 for a day’s work may sound like peanuts to us. But, in 1891 $4.40 was a good chunk of change for a day’s work.
After the civil war, Barney Connelly and his wife left Pennsylvania and moved to Hico, Arkansas (currently Siloam Springs). Barney was a ranch hand until his wife died in childbirth in 1882. After his loss he decided on a career in law enforcement and commissioned a United States Deputy Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas. He was stationed in Vinita, Indian Territory, presently Oklahoma.
Former US Deputy Marshal Shepard Busby (58) lived in Indian Territory about ten years. His first wife died around 1884; three years before her death, they took in a 12 year old orphan girl named Tennessee Burns.
Then, Shepard married Louiza Bolin (22) and had an on-again-off-again relationship with her, until March 1891, when Florence Jones (15) came to live with Busy.
So, here is the scenario: on August 9, 1891, Busby was in his front yard as Deputy Connelly approached to serve the warrant on him for adultery. Busby shot point blank, killing Connelly.
The Marshal was notified that afternoon of Connelly’s death and deputies rode out to the murder scene. Shepard had departed, leaving his son William (22) and the young family there to face the music.
After evidence gathering was completed, William was arrested. Burn powder evidence was found between the logs inside the cabin.
A week after the killing, Busby turned himself in, saying he was tired of running.
Ironically, the deputies who brought Busby to Fort Smith also had Adultery warrants pending.
Actually, in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, there were 55 adultery warrants issued out of the Western District Court of Arkansas. Currently, there are 21 states where it is still a crime to commit adultery.
On January 21, 1892, Judge Parker sentenced 58 year-old Shepard Busby, the oldest man and first deputy, to be hanged on the gallows of Fort Smith. William Busby was sentenced to serve ten years at the Detroit House of Corrections for manslaughter.
George Maledon, called the Prince of Hangmen, asked to be excused from hanging Busby because both had been Union soldiers.
If Deputy Connelly wouldn’t have been so complacent with the arrest of Busby, would he have safely returned home that evening?