By Sue Abbey
After one of the most famous manhunts in Prescott's history, Fleming Park was hanged for murder on the courthouse square in the City of Prescott, Arizona Territory. The date was June 3, 1898. Better known in Prescott as Jim Parker, he was executed for the murder of Assistant District Attorney Lee Norris during his escape from the Yavapai County jail.
Called "Flem" by his family, Parker and originally been jailed for train robbery. Estimates of his profit from this robbery range from five to one hundred dollars. Said to be a member of the Thompson Gang, Parker and other gang members were suspected of doing a rather brisk cattle rustling business in the area around Peach Springs.
On the afternoon of May 9, 1897, Parker and two other prisoners over-powered the jailer, took some rifles and a shotgun from his office, and ran for the exits. Unfortunately, attorney Lee Norris, who had been working upstairs, heard the commotion and ran down to investigate. As he came into the corridor, he saw the three armed prisoners and tried to run back upstairs. Parker fired the shotgun hitting Norris in the back. He died that evening.
Parker and the other prisoners ran across the street where Sheriff George Ruffner's stables were located, grabbed three horses and quickly galloped out of town. Unfortunately for Parker, he had stolen Sure Shot, Sheriff Ruffner's own horse, said to be one of the fastest and best horses in Yavapai County. Some writers today speculate on whether the resulting manhunt was the result of the murder of Norris or the theft of Sure Shot.
Parker remained free for seventeen days, and led the posses of Mohave, Coconino, and Yavapai Counties on a wild chase through northern Arizona. He was finally captured near Willow Springs, probably trying to reach Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River. One of the other escapees had given himself up a week after the jailbreak, and the other, it was suspected, had escaped to Mexico.
An angry mob waited at the County jail in Prescott, when the posse came back with the prisoner. Fleming Parker, A.K.A. Jim Parker was thirty-three years old when he died by the hangman's noose. Until the train robbery, his troubles with the law had been for non-violent and relatively minor crimes.
Born in Visalia, California, his mother died when he was eleven. Parker's father never recovered from his wife's death, and left the family of three girls and Parker, to be raised by Fleming's thirteen-year-old sister, Sadie. Still unable to cope with the death of his wife, Parker's father committed suicide. Sadie, unable to deal with all the responsibilities left to her, married at the age of fifteen in order to bring her brother and sisters into a stable home. It didn't work out. Parker and Sadie's husband didn't get along, and Parker left home.
Parker managed to find a little work on neighboring farms and ranches, but seemed always to find the wrong friends. As he put it, "I fell in with bad company lernt to drink, smoke, gamble, run fast ladies, and go to dance houses and was a little tuff...." At the age of twenty, Parker spent a year in San Quentin for taking a steer that did not belong to him. On his release, he found himself in northern Arizona working on various ranches. It was about this time that Flem, now calling himself Jim Parker, met George Ruffner. They worked on a number of ranches together until about 1890, when Ruffner decided to settle down in Prescott. He became one of Prescott's best known citizens and was elected Yavapai County Sheriff in 1894.
In 1891, Parker was back in California and back in trouble. Arrested for burglary, he was convicted and spent another year in San Quentin before the conviction was overturned. After his release, he returned to northern Arizona and evidently tied up with the Thompson Gang and the train robbery. As he wrote, "I would steal before I would bum." While awaiting execution, Parker's sister, Sadie, began writing to Frances Munds, wife of Deputy Sheriff John Munds. In these letters, she talks about Flem's childhood and the rough life he had led. She wrote to Frances Munds that "... it seems like the poor boy has been kicked down ever since his parents died."
Sadie's pleas for leniency for her brother were not heeded, and on that June day, the 5 foot, 71/2 inch, brown-haired, gray-eyed Fleming Parker went to his death.
Sue Abbey is former Archivist at Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (misc106p). Reuse only by permission.
Sheriff George Ruffner's horse, Sure Shot. Some still speculate that the manhunt for Fleming Parker may have been for stealing Ruffner's horse, not the murder of Lee Norris.