Back in January, I neglected to pay tribute to a historical figure named David Owen Dodd. January 8, 2014 was the 150th anniversary of this 17-year-old’s notorious hanging. I’m afraid there are very few people (particularly outside the state of Arkansas) who know anything about this historical event. However, I’m pleased to note that the New York Times marked the anniversary with an opinion page article by author Cate Lineberry.
Depending on which narrative you read, accounts of Dodd’s activities and subsequent execution vary. We do know for certain he was seventeen years old and had been sent from Camden AR to Little Rock on an errand (perhaps a subversive one) by his father. (The distance between these two cities is slightly more than 100 miles.) We also know David was a trained telegrapher.
I’ll let you plumb the depths of history to your heart’s content. Just Google David O Dodd and a wealth of resources will pop up. In my view, though unpleasant, this is a piece of history we should know.
More than thirty years ago, I composed a longish poem commemorating Dodd’s life and tragic end. Because of its length, I was hesitant to post it here. Every so often, though, as I’ve looked through my archives, my cursor pauses at this poem. Realizing (belatedly) this year brought the 150th year of his death, I decided a commemorative post was in order (despite the poem’s length).
A shorter version of the poem (five 8-line stanzas) was awarded third place in the 1983 National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Patriotism Award category. The poem was also published in that year’s Prize Poems anthology. I’ve reproduced the full-length poem for you here.