Be Careful What You Say

In early 20th century Fort Smith, two people made remarks that were in light of later events unfortunate and ill-timed. Some might even say they brought bad luck.

During a meeting of the city council in May 1911, Isaac Samuel Lowery, an alderman opposed a city ordinance along with three others on the panel. The ordinance called for the city to purchase of an additional 10 acres near Oak Cemetery for the expansion of the "colored burial spaces." Alderman Lowrey voted "no" along with his three colleagues on the council. The ordinance passed with Mayor Johnston casting a tie-breaking vote. In his vote, Lowrey stated that he had no personal interest in Oak Cemetery other than any good citizen ought to have. Days later, he was dead and buried in Oak Cemetery.

The circumstances of his death from a gunshot wound are somewhat mysterious. At first, his death was believed to be a suicide, but he left no known note and his family contended it was an accident shooting. Lowrey's demeanor on the day of his death was genial. He "mingled in business affairs" downtown, played pool at the Hotel Main with some friends, test drove an automobile and returned to his home at 1100 S. 13th St. at about 6 p.m. He greeted his wife and daughter who were on their way out of the house to visit a neighbor. Lowrey proceeded upstairs and before the women got far, they heard a gunshot and returned to the house. On entering the smelled gunpowder and went to the master bedroom, there the two found Lowrey on the floor dead with "a bullet hole through the head from right to left and just back of the temple and a heavy calibre Colt revolver lying near."

J.F. Lowrey, brother of the dead alderman, theorized that Lowrey was changing clothes and putting a suit of clothes into a dresser drawer in which the revolver was kept. The bullet that passed through Lowrey's head exited an open window that was in the line of fire. The brother said he and the rest of the family thought he had picked up the revolver while putting away his clothes and it had accidentally discharged. They said the track of the bullet shows that he must have been on his knees when it was discharged.

In another case of accidental death, Bessie Johnson, 17, of Fort Smith also uttered some fateful words regarding a cemetery shortly before her own demise. On her way to a camping trip with friends, her mother told her to be careful. She replied, "I've already been out to Forest Park and selected my place." Within hours she was dead and within days she was buried in Forest Park.

Although less mysterious than Lowrey's, the circumstances of Bessie Johnson's demise were no less tragic. Along with her friend, Margaret Brooks, Bessie joined 20 other young men and women and some adult chaperones on June 3, 1914, near a bridge at Cedars, a "small station near Spiro" along the Poteau River. Johnson, Brooks and two male friends, Winn McCann and Clifford Slack of Spiro, decided to wade into the river to look for shells. At some point in the hunt, Johnson slipped and disappeared under the surface of the river. Brooks also slipped but was quickly grabbed by one of the boys. All the teenagers had trouble with the strong current and although they tried to find Johnson and help her, they ultimately had to be rescued themselves but one of the adults in the party. A search party found Johnson's body shortly after midnight only 30 yards from the place where she went under. She was buried on the following Sunday.