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Lynchings & Hangings - Page 5

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Notorious killer Jim MillerAnother 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.

 

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.

 

Antonio Rodriquez Newspaper articleIn Texas, the publicity of the lynching provoked even more attacks on Mexicans. Because Mexicans "displayed an impudent attitude" they were attacked in Galveston. In construction camps and ranches in Webb, Duval, LaSalle, Dimmit and Starr Counties, Anglos attacked Mexicans who were reportedly "sullen and threatening since the burning of Rodriquez at Rock Springs."

 

In the American Southwest, people of Mexican descent were also prey to mob violence, as evidenced by the lynching of Antonio Rodriquez on November 3, 1910, in Rock Springs, Texas. Allegedly, Rodriquez had killed a white woman by the name of Mrs. Clem Hernderson after the two had had an argument. Rumors circulated that he had committed the murder in front of Mrs. Henderson's five year old daughter.

 

His guilt was based solely upon her husband's third-hand description of the suspect delivered over the telephone and most likely Rodriquez was the victim of a tragic case of mistaken identity. In any event, the young cowboy was captured, taken a mile outside of town, tied to a mesquite tree, doused in kerosene, and burned alive.

 

Widely publicized in the Mexican press, the lynching in Texas led to large anti-American demonstrations in both Mexico City and Guadalajara. Coverage of the lynching and the reaction to it was wildly sensationalized. The newspapers at the capitol of Mexico demanded 'Where is the boasted Yankee civilization?'"

 

In late April, 1911 a posse visited the Nelson cabin in Oklahoma, suspecting Mr. Nelson of stealing cattle. While they were looking for meat, the Nelson's fourteen year old son, L.W., shot and killed Deputy George Loney, who was in charge of the posse. Laura Nelson, the boy's mother, claimed to have shot the Deputy, in an attempt to protect her son. Both mother and son were taken to the Okemah County jail. Days later Mr. Nelson pled guilty to stealing cattle and was sent to prison.

 

While Laura and her son awaited their trials, Laura was determined to be innocent of the crime. However on May 25th forty men stormed the sheriff's office. The jailer, named Payne, lied that the two prisoners had been moved elsewhere, but when a revolver was "pressed into his temple," he led them to the prisoners. Mother and son were then hauled by wagon six miles west of town to a steel bridge crossing the Canadian River and hanged.

 

The next morning a black boy taking his cow to water, discovered the two bodies swaying under the bridge. Before long the scene had attracted hundreds of viewers before the bodies were cut down. No one was ever arrested for the crime.

 

One local newspaper had this to say of the lynching: "While the general sentiment is adverse to the method, it is generally thought that the Negroes got what would have been due them under process of law."

 

Amazingly, even the black folks got wrapped up in the lynching craze when they lynched three of their own people on September 12, 1911 in Wickliffe, Kentucky. Three black men, by the names of Ernest Harrison, Sam Reed and Frank Howard, confessed to the murder of Washington Thomas, an older and much respected black man. When Thomas, who was employed in a tobacco factory, was walking home from work, the three men waylaid him along the railroad tracks, robbing him of his salary and killing him. The offenders were quickly apprehended and placed in jail. However, during the night a mob of blacks invaded the jail, took the prisoners and hanged them to a cross beam in a mill near the river.

 

 

 

Bennie Simmons, or Dennis Simmons, accused of the murder of sixteen-year-old Susie Church, was taken from prison guards in Anadarko, Oklahoma on June 13, 1913. His killers led him to a nearby bridge and hanged him from the limb of a cottonwood tree flourishing by a stream.

 

The Enfaula Democrat would report the following on the lynching:

"The Negro prayed and shrieked in agony as the flames reached his flesh," reported a local newspaper, "but his cries were drowned out by yells and jeers of the mob." As Simmons began to lose consciousness the mob fired at the body, cutting it to pieces. "The mobsters made no attempt to conceal their identity but there were no prosecutions."

Newspaper report on Leo Frank LynchingAugust 17, 1915, Leo Frank, a Jewish-American factory manager, was hanged from a tree in Marietta, Georgia by a mob of 25 men. Frank had been convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee of the Atlanta pencil factory that Frank managed, two years earlier. His trial had attracted international attention, turning the spotlight on anti-Semitism in the United States and led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League. Though he was sentenced to death, his sentence was later commuted by Georgia's governor.

 

Soon after the commutation, on August 16, 1915, a group of 25 men stormed the Milledgeville Prison hospital where Leo Frank was recovering from having his throat slashed by a fellow inmate. They kidnapped Frank, drove him more than 100 miles to Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and hanged him from a tree. Frank conducted himself with dignity, calmly proclaiming his innocence.

 

People came from all over to celebrate by digging their heels into the face of the dead man, and, like the vultures they were, by carving up Frank’s clothing to take home as “souvenirs.” Before the body was cut down, photographers took snapshots of the scene, which were sold in rural Southern drugstores for years.

 

The mob included two former Superior Court justices, one ex-sheriff, and at least one clergyman. After his extra-judicial death, evidence emerged that he was innocent of the murder charge brought against him. Leo Frank represents one of only four cases of a Jewish-American being lynched in United States history. (There was a case of a double lynching of a Negro and a Jew in Tennessee in 1868; there were two other cases of American Jews lynched in the 1890s.)

 

The tragedies continued. One such terrible ordeal was the killing of Jesse Washington, a 17 year old black youth who worked on a farm belonging to George and Lucy Fryer in Robinson, Texas.

 

In nearby Waco, Washington was convicted and confessed to the crime of raping and killing Mrs. Fryer on May 15, 1916. Sentenced to death by hanging, residents were in an uproar over the crime and were unwilling to wait for justice to follow its course. They hurried him down the stairs at the rear of the courthouse, where a crowd of about 400 persons waited in the alley. A chain was thrown around Washington's neck, and he was dragged toward the City Hall, where another group of vigilantes had gathered to build a bonfire underneath a large tree.

 

Beating him with clubs, shovels and bricks, he was stripped naked. Before a crowd of some 15,000 people, including the Police Chief, Waco’s Mayor, and police officers, Washington was immersed in coal oil, hoisted up onto the tree and slowly lowered into the fire. After his death, many of the spectators cut off fingers and toes to keep as souvenirs. Two hours later several men placed the burned corpse in a cloth bag and pulled the bundle behind an automobile to Robinson, Texas, some seven miles south of Waco, where they hung the corpse from a pole in front of a blacksmith's shop for public viewing.

 

The "Waco Horror" stood as a vivid reminder that though the frequency of lynchings had begun to decline in the United States after 1900, those incidents that still occurred were often were characterized by extreme barbarity.

 

An elephant was hanged in Tennessee in 1916The lynching mania continued resulting in one of the most bizarre hangings in history - that of an elephant on September 13, 1916 in Erwin, Tennessee. According to circus posters of the day, Big Mary, at 5 tons, was said to be the biggest elephant in captivity and was one of the stars of Sparks World Famous Shows. Though the details of her crimes have gotten lost in history, Ripley's Believe It Or Not reported in 1938 that Mary was responsible for killing 3 people, while rumors said as many as eight. What is known for certain is that the elephant killed her trainer, Walter "Red" Eldridge, on September 12th.  Attempts to shoot her to death failed so it was decided to hang her from a railroad derrick car until she was dead. A crowd of between 2,500 to 5,000 witnessed the vigilante justice.

 

Though not as often hanged as black men, women were also the targets of vicious lynchings, such as that of Mary Turner in Valdosta, Georgia in May, 1918. Turner, whose husband had been killed at the hands of a mob, made the mistake of making “unwise” remarks after he was killed. Mr. Turner had not committed any type of offense, however another black man had killed a white farmer and in retaliation, many of the white citizens of Valdosta lynched eleven black men before they shot and killed the man they were after. Mr. Turner was one of those men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time during the mob’s frenzied vendetta.

 

After her husband’s murder, Mary, who was eight months pregnant, vowed to avenge those who killed her husband. For her remarks, a mob of several hundred white men and women determined they would “teach her a lesson.” Turner's ankles were tied together and she was hanged upside down from a tree, doused with gasoline and and burned. After her clothes burned off and while she was still alive, a man sliced open her abdomen with a hog splitting knife. Her unborn infant fell from her womb, gave two screams, then had its head crushed by mob members who stomped on it.

 

 

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