Crime and the Holidays in Old Fort Smith

A Thanksgiving Day brawl and an explosion inspired by Christmas highlighted the holiday season in Fort Smith in 1914.

Headlined "Turkey Day Free-For-All Fight Sends Five Persons Before Mayor For Judication of Trouble Originating Over Clogged Sink At Hotel" in the Nov. 27, 1914, edition of the Fort Smith Times Record, the incident in November injured the following:

  • Robert Goodman: "Nick on head; head swathed in bandages; knife stab in left hand; more bandages; scratch says it was caused by knife in left arm."
  • M.S. Pilgren: "Discolored eye and scratched face."
  • Papa Coogan: "Nick on forehead and bumps on head."

All were charged wtih "D&D" (drunk and disorderly).

Pilgren ran the Central Hotel at the corner of North Tenth and B streets and the Coogans lived there. The free-for-all began when Coogan discovered a sink in the hallway was stopped up and suggested that the Pilgrens had thrown garbage into the drain. Pilgren resented it and apparently insulted Mrs. Coogan. Boards, scantlings and a shovel were the weapons that figured into the subsequent fight.

Accusations flew between the two families in court as to who was the real aggressor, but plenty invective and profanity was traded by both sides in the melee as well.

"Mrs. Pilgren called me enough names to build a road to the depot," Papa Coogan said. Mrs. Pilgren said Coogan was the only one cussing.

Goodman was standing in a doorway watching the fight and was somehow drawn into it. Coogan charged him with coming to Pilgren's aid.

Later in court, Goodman testified that found a straw among the obstructions in the sink drain.

"I guess that was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Mayor Read, who presided over the police court that heard the case. There is no record of how he ruled.

What is known is how Judge Paul Little ruled in the case of three boys less than a month later.

Murray Seal, 17, John Perryman, 15, and Homer McNesbit, 16, pleaded guilty to indictments in circuit court charging them with burglary. They also stated that they had engaged in the crime to secure enough money to hire a horse with the purpose of going into the country to cut mistletoe to then sell in the city to raise money for Christmas.

On the night of Dec. 17, they confessed to breaking into the headquarters of Company D, Arkansas National Guard at 217 N. Tenth St. In their effort to rob a gas meter, which were coin operated at that time, the teens set fire to the building. Only one dollar in change was in the meter. The structure was not badly damaged because of quick action taken by the fire department. Firefighters hosed the wood parts of the structure to keep them wet while securing some sacks that were used to snuff out the gas fire.

The three teenagers had used a match for light while burgling the meter. They were slightly burned by the explosion they had touched off and all were shortly after arrested.

Little sentenced them to serve three years each in the state reformatory. The next day, on recommendation of the prosecuting attorney, the sentences were set aside for a much lighter punishment of 15 days in jail and a $10 fine.

Sources: "Tragedies of Police Court," Fort Smith Times Record, Nov. 27, 1914; "Gas Explodes, Starts Fire as Boys try to Rob Meter," Fort Smith Times Record, Dec. 18, 1914, p. 8; "Young Burglars Get Three Year Term in Prison," Fort Smith Times Record, Dec. 20, 1914, sect. 2, p. 3; "Judge Little Saves Three Youths From Felon's Cell," Fort Smith Times Record, Dec. 21, 1914, p. 1.