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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Argument leads to murder on Zinc street

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on January 7, 2021

It was common knowledge around Zinc that W. H. Buford and R. O. Lawhorn did not like each other. The two men were said to have been enemies for some time following a dispute over some fencing material.

On a day in early December of 1930, that enmity came to a head.

Lawhorn, 50, was driving his wagon past the canning factory in Zinc that was owned by Buford. Lawhorn’s son-in-law, Roy Wilmoth, was with him.

Suddenly, Buford, 65, appeared and grabbed the reins of Lawhorn’s team. The two men then engaged in a heated argument, with Wilmoth and Garland Pumphrey, Buford’s son-in-law, trying to intervene.

According to accounts given to the Harrison Daily Times, Lawhorn urged Buford to settle the quarrel some other time. Buford responded by drawing a .45 pistol and firing three times at Lawhorn. The last bullet struck Lawhorn just above the heart.

Lawhorn got down from his wagon and staggered to the side of the road.

“Don’t let him shoot anymore!” he cried.

Lawhorn died almost instantly.

Buford was said to have helped lift the dead man back into the wagon. He then went home and told his family that he was going to walk to Harrison and surrender to law enforcement officials. However, when he had not shown up in the late afternoon, a search was begun by a posse led by deputy W. F. Ables. Buford later surrendered to Boone County Sheriff L. M. Martin.

On December 16, with a large crowd in attendance, Buford appeared in court. He was charged with second degree murder. His was represented by prominent Harrison attorneys J. Lloyd Shouse, J. M. Shinn and B. C. Henley. In default of the $7,000 bond, he was returned to jail.

Buford’s trial began on January 22, 1931. His attorneys claimed that Buford suffered from Hodgkin’s Disease and was in no condition to stand trial. The court appointed an examining board made up of Dr. Frank Kirby, Dr. J. C. Blackwood and Dr. C. M. Routh. The doctors concluded that Buford was “entirely normal and in physical condition to stand trial.”

The defense team tried to emphasize the deceased man’s temper. While on the stand, Pumphrey was asked if he was acquainted with Lawhorn’s reputation for violent and uncontrollable bursts of temper.

“Yes, he had a right smart of temper,” Pumphrey testified.

Buford was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary. Later that year, the verdict was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. One of the main arguments was again Buford’s physical condition. He had Hodgkin’s Disease, they argued, and people with that affliction generally lived only 18 months to 4 years. They also claimed that the disease had an effect on Buford’s nervous system and may have had a bearing on his actions on the day that Lawhorn was killed.

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction.