Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Legend of John William (Bill) Dark

 Disclaimer: This is a legend passed down by word of mouth.  I have not proved or disproved this legend.
   The Ozark mountains in Northeast Arkansas is rich in history, but is equally so in Legends.  One such legend is of Bill Dark.  Some have said he was a bushwhacker.   Some have said was a jayhawker. And some have said he was just an outlaw who preyed on defenseless people.  But lets start at the beginning.
    Bill Dark was born sometime around 1835 in Arkansas, but the exact location is unknown.  His mother is believed to be Dilla (or Dilly) Dark.  His father may have been Pvt William Dark who enlisted in Co A Arkansas Battalion Infantry and Mounted Rifles in Clarksville (Johnson Co), Ar for the Mexican War.  In 1850,  fifteen year old Bill was living with is mother and man named James Hutchins in Little Rock, AR at the City Hotel on main street.  In 1857 he was a printer in Little Rock, Ar, so he must have been educated.  Late that same year, Bill was indicted for the murder of Hardy Foster.

The details of the murder were not recorded.  In early 1858 Bill's attorneys, one of which was the future Arkansas Governor, Henry Massie Rector, successfully petitioned the court for a change of venue. Then in October 1858, Bill was found guilty of  second degree murder and was sentenced to 5 years in the state penitentiary in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1860 Bill was reported  invalid and marked for bad behavior.  Then in 1861 Bill was paroled on the condition that he join the Arkansas Civil War effort. Bill enlisted at Fort Smith, Arkansas as a  Private in Capt. Galloway's Company, Churchill's Regiment, Arkansas Mounted Riflemen, which later became Co F 1st Regiment Arkansas Mounted Riflemen for 12 months.  It is unclear to me if he served the full year.

Some time after 1861, Bill married Rachel Adeline George, daughter of James S. and Margaret George of Izard County.  Bill and Rachel settled near Timbo in present-day Stone County Arkansas.  They had one son named John William Dark Jr.

By 1862 the Civil War in Arkansas had become a brutal guerrilla war.  This was caused in part by most of the Confederate units having been ordered east of the Mississippi River.  This left Arkansas vulnerable to Union advance from Missouri.  Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi District was General Thomas C. Hindman, who used guerrillas (bushwhackers) to destroy all assets that may be used by the Union Army.  This slash and burn policy was not popular among the people of Northeast Arkansas.  It was in this environment that Bill became a legend.

By this time, Bill had become Captain of Company A of Coffee's Recruits, a bushwhacker unit.  It was reported that Bill had a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality by terrorizing the old men, women and children left behind in the chaos of war.  Bill is credited with every sort of atrocity: murder,theft, plundering, torture, and burning homes.  It has been said that Bill would burn the bottom victim's feet, throw hot grease on them or burn out their fingernails.  One story that has been passed down  is that Bill killed Icy Mills' daddy and sister.  Mr Mills wouldn't give Bill some information.  So, when Bill didn't get what he wanted to know, he burned off Mills' fingers and toes.  Bill then took Mr Mills outside to shoot him.  Mr Mills' two little girls clung to him and begged Bill not to shoot him.  He told the little girls to get away or he would shoot them too.  Icy let go but her sister didn't.  Bill shot both Icy's sister and her daddy.

There are many stories about Bill's death -  too many for me to write about.  But they all have one thing in common:  Bill was shot between the eyes by 15 year-old  Jim Berry with a cap and ball pistol.  Jim was a member of a Union Home Guard Unit formed to protect homes.  It is unknown where he is buried.

Bill was accused of war atrocities by both the Confederate and Union armies, so maybe he was just an outlaw.  Dark and his story is  legend so you can make up your own mind about what you want to believe.


Encyclopedia of Arkansas
The Legend of Jim Berry

Note - Photo from Herman Cummings' page on The Legend of Jim Berry.

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