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Lee Seamster
Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court
In office
May 1955 – December 31, 1956
Preceded byGriffin Smith
Succeeded byCarleton Harris
Chancery Judge of the 13th District
In office
August 30, 1949 – December 31, 1950
Preceded byJohn K. Butt
Succeeded byThomas F. Butt
Member of the Arkansas House of Representatives
from the Washington County district
In office
Preceded byPaul C. Davis
Succeeded byPaul C. Davis
Chancery Judge of the 13th District
In office
February 20, 1925 – January 1, 1943
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byJohn K. Butt
Mayor of Bentonville
In office
1921 – November 1, 1922
Succeeded byTom Curt
Member of the Arkansas House of Representatives
from the Benton County district
In office
January 13, 1919 – 1920
Preceded byJess McFarland
Succeeded byJ.T. Clegg
Personal details
Born(1888-09-14)September 14, 1888
Beaty, Arkansas[1]
DiedJuly 25, 1960(1960-07-25) (aged 71)
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Political partyDemocrat
Spouse(s)Fannie Presley (m. 1908)
ChildrenBernal D. Seamster, Margaret Jane Seamster, Dorothy Louise Seamster
ResidenceBeaty (1888-1908)
Bentonville (1908-1921)
Fayetteville (1921-1955, 1956-1960)
Little Rock (1955-1956)

Lee A. Seamster (born September 14, 1888 – July 25, 1960) was a lawyer and politician from Northwest Arkansas. Passing the bar in 1913, Seamster practiced law in Bentonville, and represented the area in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1919-1920, and served as mayor of Bentonville from 1921-1922, until he resigned to move to Fayetteville to open a law practice. Over the next two decades, Seamster practiced law and served as Chancery Judge of the 13th District for eighteen years before representing the Fayetteville area in the Arkansas House from 1947–1948. He was appointed to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Arkansas from 1955 to 1956 by Governor Orval Faubus.

Early life

Lee Seamster was born to Martin Luther Seamster and Nancy Jane (née Cole) Seamster in Beaty, Arkansas on September 14, 1888.[2] Both parents were from Missouri, from Barry County, Missouri and Schuyler County, Missouri, respectively. The family had nine children, eight of which survived to adulthood, with Lee being one of seven brothers. Lee attended public schools in Benton County. He earned his teaching license at age 17,[3] and taught in a rural Benton County school for two years while saving money for further education.[1] He married Fannie Presley of Benton County in 1908. At nineteen, he was appointed as a rural mail carrier, a position he held for six years. While holding the position, he read law under a local judge and mentor W. D. Mauck.[1]

The family cared deeply about the Lost Cause. Lee and his brother, Alvin, were charter members of the Bentonville Ku Klux Klan when it formed in July 1922.[4] Alvin was a noted collector of historic objects and artifacts, and the hobby may have extended to Lee as well. Lee Seamster and Clyde Ellis purchased the original Act passed on November 14, 1861, amending state laws to substitute "Confederate States" wherever the words "United States" occurred following secession from the union in 1942.[5] Seamster's wife, Fannie Presley, was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy by virtue of her ancestry.[6] Lee's brother Alvin was active in the Arkansas Historical Association, where he advocated an Arkansas history curriculum in schools.[7]

Early career

Seamster became a member of the Arkansas Bar Association on January 21, 1913, and opened a law practice in Bentonville from 1920-1923. Seamster also entered political life, serving as a justice of the peace in Benton County and as an alderman in Bentonville.[8] In 1919, he was elected to represent Benton County in the Arkansas House of Representatives.[1] He was elected mayor of Bentonville in 1921, but resigned the following November to move to Fayetteville and open a law practice with partner John W. Nance.[2][8] He won election as Fayetteville city attorney in 1924, though did not remain in the position long.[9]

Seamster also maintained a farm in Benton County, and was a member of several prominent social organizations, including the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Freemasonry, and the Knights of Pythias, where he served as Chancellor Commander.[8] He was active in the Democratic Party, described in 1930 as "enthusiastic and hardworking in behalf of his party".[2] He served as a delegate to the state convention during the contentious 1924 democratic primary,[10] which culminated in the 1924 Democratic National Convention, the longest continuously running convention in United States political history.

Chancery Judge

Following reform of the Arkansas judiciary, Lee Seamster was appointed as chancery judge of the newly created 13th Chancery Court on February 20, 1925. The court's district included Washington Benton, Carroll and Madison Counties. He won a six-year term the following year in an unopposed election, and was also unopposed in 1930 and 1936.[2][3] He would hold the position until voluntary retirement in 1943.[6] During his tenure, Seamster adjudicated thousands of cases, including many involving financial institutions, highways, and business transactions between farmers and ranchers. The cases represented a microcosm of the larger issues plaguing the state at the time, which often saw banks run insolvent and did not have a highway fund.

Seamster's political profile quickly grew during his judgeship. He actively supported Governor Harvey Parnell in 1928 and 1930, and considered a run for governor himself in early 1932. Seamster was even mentioned as a "probable candidate" by local newspapers.[11][12] Seamster elected against running, instead managing Dwight H. Blackwood's failed campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.[13] Ultimately, Junius Marion Futrell of Northeast Arkansas, a longtime chancery judge and former state representative in his own right, won the Democratic nomination and 1932 election. Seamster became co-chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, splitting the state's 75 counties equally with A.L. Hutchins of Forrest City and Grover Owens of Little Rock.[14]

Following the death of Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Turner Butler in 1938, rumors of Governor's Carl E. Bailey appointment to fill the position crossed the state. Political friends in the Democratic party were the heavy favorite, including Seamster, and even Bailey himself resigning as governor to take the position. The Washington County Bar Association and county officials sent a telegram to the governor recommending Seamster.[15] Governor Bailey instead appointed W.R. Donham to fill the remainder of the term.

Following retirement, Seamster entered private practice from the Eason Building at 100 West Center in Fayetteville on the Fayetteville Square. Seamster campaign manager in the Arkansas 3rd district for J. William Fulbright's successful 1944 Senate campaign, running the campaign's Fayetteville headquarters.[16] In 1947, he was extremely well respected in the legal and political communities, described as "one of the most capable attorneys in the State of Arkansas" and "Mr. Seamster possesses a stateman's grasp of affairs and ever keeps pace with the best thinking men of the age".[17] Seamster was a prolific jurist, hearing 16,001 cases, with only 141 of his cases being appealed, and only 33 of those being reversed upon appeal.[3]

Later career

Arkansas House of Representatives

Seamster's office was located in this building at the northwest corner of the Fayetteville Square
Seamster's office was located in this building at the northwest corner of the Fayetteville Square

Seamster ran to represent Washington County in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1947. He challenged incumbent Paul C. Davis of Summers. Davis published an affidavit in The Northwest Arkansas Times detailing a conversation he had with Jim Gregory, a prominent Fayetteville resident, shortly after announcing his reelection campaign. Gregory said he was a member of a "committee" of six powerful men who had already "selected" two men for the two state representative positions, one of them being Lee Seamster. Davis offered to fund Davis' run for county treasurer or city clerk, and bribed and threatened Davis after he refused to withdraw.[18] A campaign ad for Seamster described his focus on farmers, broilers, ranchers, dairy men, and educators. It also referenced his knowledge of highway laws.[19]

On August 16, Seamster was announced as the winner of the Democratic primary, with 2,742 votes to 2,342 for Davis. A recount was requested by Davis, and the 130 vote margin was confirmed and certified.[20] During the Solid South period, winning Democratic primaries was tantamount to election.

Seamster worked as a legislative advisor to Governor Sid McMath during the 1949 legislative session.[21] Seamster was appointed to his former position as chancery judge by Governor Sid McMath on August 30, 1949, following news that John K. Butts was killed in a car accident. Seamster would remain in the position until December 31, 1950, and be ineligible to run for reelection in the 1950 election.[3] He returned to work as a legislative advisor in 1951.[21]

Supreme Court

He authored fifteen opinions during his time as Chief Justice.

After his time on the court, Seamster worked as a legislative advisor to Orval Faubus in 1957.[21]

Personal life

The Seamsters were married in Bentonville in 1908. They had three children: Bernal D. Seamster, Margaret Jane Seamster, Dorothy Louise Seamster. They lived at "Country Gardens", a home at 410 Holly Street in Fayetteville near the Wilson Park Historic District.[22] The Seamsters hosted several events at Country Gardens, frequently covered by the society pages of the local newspapers.[23]

Seamster is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville, with many other prominent Fayetteville residents,[21] and alongside his wife, who died in 1978.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d "Arkansas" (1947), p. 1600.
  2. ^ a b c d "People" (1930), p. 10.
  3. ^ a b c d Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (August 30, 1949). "Lee Seamster is Appointed Chancery Judge". Northwest Arkansas Times. 88 (26). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  4. ^ "Look" (2017), pp. 214-215.
  5. ^ "News Notes of Historical Interest". The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Historical Association. 1 (1): 87–88. March 1942.
  6. ^ a b "Arkansas" (1947), p. 1602.
  7. ^ "Minutes of the Business Session, Arkansas Historical Association Annual Meeting". The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Historical Association. 17 (2): 206. Summer 1958.
  8. ^ a b c "Look" (2017), pp. 197.
  9. ^ Staff of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat (March 3, 1925). "Who Owns White Way? Council Wants to Know". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 31 (87). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  10. ^ Morrison, Joe (August 20, 1924). "Convention Delegates are Named". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 30 (232). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. pp. 1, 3 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  11. ^ Staff of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat (February 12, 1932). "Seamster Now in Little Rock". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 38 (69). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  12. ^ Staff of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat (February 8, 1932). "Lee Seamster May Run for Governorship". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 38 (65). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  13. ^ Staff of the United Press (July 11, 1932). "Lee Seamster to Guide Blackwood's Campaign". Blytheville Courier News. 29 (98). Blytheville: The Courier News Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  14. ^ Staff of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat (May 24, 1932). "Marion Wasson is Treasurer Victory Fund". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 37 (156). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  15. ^ Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (January 20, 1938). "County Bar for Seamster to High Court". Northwest Arkansas Times. 77 (362). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. pp. 1–2 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  16. ^ Staff of The Journal-Advance (July 6, 1944). "Lee Seamster Named Fulbright District Manager". The Journal-Advance. 50 (27). Gentry. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  17. ^ "Arkansas" (1947), pp. 1600-1602.
  18. ^ Davis, Paul C. (August 7, 1946). "Affidavit". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 85 (8). Fayetteville: Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. p. 6 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  19. ^ "Lee Seamster Candidate for Representative". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 85 (4). Fayetteville: Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. August 2, 1946. p. 2 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  20. ^ Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (August 17, 1946). "Vote Results Certified by Committee". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 85 (17). Fayetteville: Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  21. ^ a b c d Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (July 25, 1960). "Lee Seamster, Former Chief Justice, Dies". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 101 (35). Fayetteville: Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. p. 1 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  22. ^ Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (May 4, 1940). "Margaret Jane Seamster, Sam W. Schwieger to Wed on June 16". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 78 (248). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 3 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  23. ^ Staff of the Fayetteville Daily Democrat (April 16, 1937). "Tea for Delegates at Country Gardens". Fayetteville Daily Democrat. 42 (124). Fayetteville: Fayetteville Democrat Publishing Company. p. 3 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  24. ^ Staff of The Northwest Arkansas Times (November 15, 1978). "Obituary Mrs. Lee Seamster". The Northwest Arkansas Times. 111 (152). Fayetteville: Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. p. 2 – via NewspaperARCHIVE.
  • "Another Look behind the Masks: The Ku Klux Klan in Bentonville, Arkansas, 1922-1926". The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Historical Association. 76 (3). Autumn 2017.
  • Herndon, Dallas Tabor (1947). Annals of Arkansas, 1947. 3. Hopkinsville, Kentucky: Historical Record Association. pp. 1600–1602. OCLC 3920841.
  • Thomas, David Y., ed. (1930). Arkansas and its People: A History, 1541-1930. 3. New York, New York: The American Historical Society, Inc. OCLC 2882565.
Political offices
Preceded by
Griffin Smith
Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court
May 1955 – December 31, 1956
Succeeded by
Carleton Harris
Preceded by
Paul C. Davis
Arkansas House of Representatives
Washington County

Succeeded by
Paul C. Davis
Preceded by
Position created
John K. Butt
Chancery Judge
13th District

February 20, 1925 – January 1, 1943
August 30, 1949 – December 31, 1950
Succeeded by
John K. Butt
Thomas F. Butt
Preceded by
Jess McFarland
Arkansas House of Representatives
Benton County

January 13, 1919–1920
Succeeded by
J.T. Clegg
This page was last edited on 6 May 2020, at 22:22
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