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Lynchings & Hangings - Page 5

American History on DVD - Vintage films

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Despite its reputation for violence, Tombstone, Arizona saw only one lynching during its history and that was conducted by miners from nearby Bisbee, Arizona. When six men held up the Goldwater and Castenada Store in Bisbee in December, 1883, three men and a pregnant woman were shot and killed. While five of the robbers were sentenced to be hanged, one by the name of John Heath was found guilty of second-degree murder and given life imprisonment.

 

This so enraged the people of Bisbee that a group went to Tombstone on February 22, 1884, removed Heath from the custody of the sheriff and lynched him from a telegraph pole at the corner of First and Toughnut Streets. The other five men were legally hanged at Tombstone, March 6, 1884."

 

Back in the south, Ida Wells, an editor for a small newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee called the Free Speech, carried out an investigation into the many lynchings in 1884. In just a short period, she discovered that 728 black men and women had been hanged by white mobs. Of these deaths, two-thirds were for small offences such as public drunkenness and shoplifting.

 

There were occasions when people were lynched for political reasons or greed. For example, on July 20, 1889, James Averell and Kate Watson, a/k/a “Cattle Kate,” were lynched on the orders of Albert J. Bothwell, a powerful cattleman in Wyoming.  Unfortunately for Averell and Watson, they had become involved in a dispute with Bothwell during the Wyoming range wars. Bothwell responded by organizing a vigilante mob, perpetuating a story of how the pair had been involved in cattle rustling, and they were lynched.

 

A couple of days later on July 23, 1989, in Fayette, Missouri, nineteen year old Frank Embree was accused of raping a fourteen-year-old white girl. Embree maintained his innocence but confessed after having been whipped over 100 times, crying "he would 'own-up' if they would 'hang me or shoot me, instead of torturing me."' Frank Embree died at the end of a rope, without a trial.

 

In August 3, 1906, the mob numbered into the thousands when five black men -- Nease and John Gillespie, Jack Dillingham, Henry Lee and George Irwin, were lynched in Salisbury, North Carolina. Accused of murdering members of a local family by the name of Lyerly, the victims were tortured with knives before being hanged and then riddled with bullets. The authorities in North Carolina, alarmed at what was one of the largest multiple lynchings of the 20th century, took unusual steps to punish the leaders of the mob. After the Governor ordered the National Guard to restore order, local officials arrested more than two-dozen suspected leaders. One of the killers, George Hall, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years at hard labor in the state penitentiary. The New York Times predicted that, by taking these measures, North Carolina's Governor Glenn was not improving his political prospects.

 

On January 9, 1907 an atypical lynching victim was taken from the Floyd County Jail in Charles City, Iowa. James Cullen, a wealthy, white, sixty-two year old contractor had murdered his wife and fifteen year old stepson, Roy Eastman the day before. The mob was orchestrated by young men, perhaps acquainted with the ill-fated Eastman. When the group of several hundred men, rammed down the doors of the jail with a rail iron, the sheriff and several deputies offered only feeble resistance. Seizing Cullen, they hanged him from the local Main Street Bridge. By 11:30 p.m. a crowd of at least 500 residents, including women and children, had gathered to view the swaying body of James Cullen hanging from the bridge.

 

Another vigilante mob killed a notorious killer named Jim Miller, also known as Killin’ Jim. Miller, who was sometimes known as “Deacon Jim” for his Sunday preachings, killed more than 30 men in Texas and Oklahoma as one of the first known “killers for hire.” When the law finally caught up with him, he was sentenced to death, but Miller only laughed. The finest criminal lawyers in the West were on his payroll, and he soon bragged that he would be released after his attorney filed their appeals. However, a crowd of vigilantes did not wait for these legal procedures to take place. They knew that Miller, who had often bragged of his many killings, might cheat justice through his highly paid lawyers.

 

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On the night of April 19, 1909, a lynch mob broke into the jail in Ada, Oklahoma and dragged Miller and three others out to a livery stable. Though the other men begged for their lives, Jim “The Killer” Miller showed no signs of fear. He only asked that his diamond ring be given to his wife and that he be permitted to wear his black Stetson while he was being hanged. The vigilantes granted these wishes. Then Miller, standing on a box, displayed his last act of bravado, shouting “let ‘er rip!” He then voluntarily stepped off the box to be jerked by the rope around his neck which was tied to a rafter in the stable. He dangled as the other three were strung up. The bodies were left hanging for some hours in order to allow a local photographer to take enough photos of the lynchings. These photos sold for many years in Ada, Oklahoma to tourists. The only surviving photo shows Miller hanging with the others, his black hat on his tilted head.

By the 1890s lynchers had become particularly sadistic when blacks were the prime targets. Increasingly burning, torture, and dismemberment were used to prolong the suffering. Sadly, these tactics were also utilized to create a more “festive atmosphere” among the onlookers. Public spectacles became more common as newspapers carried advance notices and railroad agents sold excursion tickets announcing lynching sites. As families brought their children to these “recreational” events, executioners cut off black victims’ fingers, toes, ears, and genitalia as souvenirs. Often these racially motivated lynchings were not spontaneous mob reactions, but instead, were carried out with the assistance of law-enforcement.

Though many at the time were under the false impression that these multiple lynchings were taking place for violations against women and were rightly justified, this was rarely the case. More often their alleged crimes included such offenses as using offensive language; having a bad reputation; refusal to give up a farm; throwing stones; unpopularity; slapping a child; and stealing hogs, to name a few. In East Texas a black man and his three sons were lynched for the grand crime of "harvesting the first cotton of the season." Only 19% of those lynched were ever charged with rape. Fewer were ever proven.

 

 

Continued Next Page

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Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - AutographedLynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By Kathy Weiser, Owner/Editor of Legends of America - Autographed - Execution by hanging was the most popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death in the United States from its beginning. Brought over to the states from our English ancestors, hanging soon became the method of choice for most countries, as it produced a highly visible deterrent by a simple method. It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists, were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced for activities that are not considered crimes at all today, such as witchcraft, sodomy and concealing a birth.

Autographed. 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.2 inches, paperback -- 78 pages. Published by Roundabout Publications, 1st edition, January 2014.

 

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