Fort Smith has a unique place in the story of the taming of the American West. The city’s history created legendary outlaws and lawmen, including a German native who became known as the most prolific executioner of the late 1800s.
George Maledon was born June 10, 1830, in Landau, Germany, and immigrated with his parents to the United States. The family settled in the Detroit area. As a young man in the late 1840s, Maledon headed west and first landed a job at a lumber mill for the Choctaw Nation. The work didn’t interest him as much as law enforcement, however, so Maledon traveled to Fort Smith, where he joined the city’s police force in 1857.
When the Civil War broke out, Maledon enlisted with the Union army in the First Arkansas Light Artillery Battery. After the war, in 1871, he became a guard with the U.S. marshals for the U.S. District Court for the Western District, which included western Arkansas and Indian Territory, or what is now Oklahoma. The next year, he became a deputy sheriff of Fort Smith. After serving a few years with distinction, he returned to working as a guard for the marshals.
In 1875, U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed former Missouri Congressman Isaac Parker to the district court judge position. Parker’s jurisdiction was a well-known hiding places for outlaws, and his court became one of the busiest courts in the West. The number of outlaws condemned to death by Parker led to his popular nickname, “The Hanging Judge.” Although Parker pronounced the sentences, it was Maledon who carried them out.
Maledon became the primary executioner under Parker, but his involvement with executions started in 1873, when he served as an assistant executioner to Charley Messler who was in charge of executions at the time. The first execution in which Maledon was involved was the case of John Childers, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Rayburn Wedding.
Wedding was a traveling salesman who rode a circuit through Indian Territory selling bacon and flour in return for animal hides that he sold in Arkansas. On Oct. 14, 1870, Wedding crossed paths with Childers, who demanded Wedding trade horses with him. Wedding refused because his horse was worth more than Childers’ horse. Childers, undeterred, overtook Wedding, murdered him and stole his fine, black horse.
Continued next week