The following is an excerpt from a story which ran in our annual newsletter, Vol. 18 – 2019. Rufus H. Day fought in the Civil War, became a prisoner of war, and ultimately died as a law enforcement officer.
Born: February 8, 1839 in Hot Springs, Arkansas – 2nd oldest of 6 sons born to Ballard Day and Susan Chamblee. Rufus joined Company E, 12th Regiment of the Arkansas Infantry. Enlisting on July 20, 1861. From February to April 1862 the 12th Regiment was involved in a very prolonged battle on the Mississippi River. An area at the New Madrid or Kentucky Bend called The Battle of Island Number 10. Finally outnumbered at least three to one, the Confederates realized their situation was hopeless and decided to surrender. The bulk of the 12th Arkansas was captured at Island Number 10 and sent to prisoner of war camps. On September 6, 1862, prisoners of the 12th Arkansas were delivered to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Then on November 10, 1862 the 12th Arkansas was officially "exchanged". Note: During the U.S. Civil War, both sides participated in the exchange of prisoners of war who had been captured by the other side. Although there was not a formal agreement in place, prisoner exchanges had taken place as a result of kindness between opposing leaders after a hard-fought battle.
In 1862 after the exchange, Rufus Day returned to Arkansas to be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 12th and complete the war. At the end of the war, 1865, many of whom started out as the 12th Infantry were held up in Marshal, Texas.
After leaving the army Rufus made his way to Palestine, Texas and acquired land to farm and raise a family. After 1870 sometime, he became a Henderson County, Texas, Deputy Sherriff.
On December 23, 1879 Rufus is killed in the line of duty in Van Zandt County, Texas.
Deputy Sheriff Rufus H. Day, and an assistant, were transporting three prisoners they had arrested in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). The three prisoners, Henry Smith, a Baptist preacher, and two brothers named Owen had been indicted in Henderson County for horse theft. They were on their way back to Henderson County, when the group stopped at a farmhouse in Van Zandt County, Texas, to spend the night. Smith somehow got possession of Deputy Day's pistol and shot and killed him. The three prisoners escaped but were soon captured.
In October 1880, Elmer Owen was tried in Henderson County and sentenced to five years in prison for horse theft. In May 1883, Henry Smith was tried in Van Zandt County and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Rufus H. Day.
Rufus H. Day was survived by his wife and children. He was buried in the Athens Cemetery. His name is inscribed on the Fallen Peace Officers memorial on the N.E. corner of the Henderson County courthouse lawn and on the Veteran’s Memorial Wall in the Athens Cemetery.
You can read additional stories about some of the colorful individuals interred at the Athens Cemetery by visiting our website at www.athenstxcemetery.com and following the links for Yearly Newsletters and/or Cemetery News.
Story provided by local historian, Stephen R. Sparkman