Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 13, 1885: Howard Cooper

The following article was published in The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on July 14, 1885:



Taken from Jail by a Band of Forty Masked Men in the Dead of the Night and Strung Up to the Nearest Tree.

The body of Howard Cooper, who was hanged early this morning at Towson, remained suspended until a jury of inquest was summoned to-day.  The verdict was that he came to his death by hanging at the hands of parties unknown.  A large number of ladies visited the jail to-day to view the body.  No effort has yet been made to discover who were the parties engaged in the lynching, nor is there manifested any disposition to know who they were.  The friends of Miss Katie Gray, the victim of Cooper's brutality, are reticent.  There appears to be a general feeling of relief that the tragedy is ended.  The place of execution was not more than seventy-five yards from the jail and the avengers of Miss Gray remained in the vicinity until the body had been thoroughly riddled with bullets to prevent the possibility of a miscarriage of their intention.  Had the law been allowed to take its course Cooper would have been hanged on the 31st of July, but efforts of the prisoner's counsel to carry the matter before the United States Supreme Court caused general indignation and led to the lynching.


A band of forty masked men took part in the affair.  They entered Towson by the Charles street road before midnight, leaving carriages and horses outside.  Some of the taller and stronger-looking ones wore black masks, looking in the darkness like pieces of oil-cloth used as covers for vehicles.  holes were cut for the eyes and nose.  The faces were completely covered.  Others had handkerchiefs tied across their faces just below the eyes.  A good many had on straw hats, while not a few wore woolen hats common to farmers.  Their dress was that of farmers.  Nearly all appeared to be young men.  They marched upon the jail shortly before one o'clock.  Not a word was said to anyone outside their own body.  Sheriff George Knight was occupying a room in the upper part of the jail.  The leader of the party called out.  A few minutes later a woman's voice answered, and soon afterwards a light was seen and the Sheriff himself appeared.

"We demand your prisoner," said the leader.

The Sheriff, knowing at once who was meant, said:  "You cannot have him."

"We intend to have him."

"Well," said the Sheriff, "you cannot get him unless you overpower me."

"We'll have him," was the determined answer.  "Come on, boys."

They hunted up a heavy log for a battering-ram.  The door was stout and hard to batter down.  At the sound of the terrible jarring strokes of the battering-ram every inmate was aroused at once, and heartrending cries and wails reached the ears of those outside.  Cooper evidently knew his time had come.  These cries continued and grew louder apparently after every stroke.


Finally the door gave way and the crowd rushed in.  The event was announced by the noise and by the loud crying and wailing of the ladies of Sheriff Knight's household in the front part of the house.   When the avengers rushed in the jail they at once commenced examining the cells for Cooper.  Sheriff Knight still refused to give up his keys and crowbars were the implements used on locks.  The night watchman, Henry Nelson, was choked and rushed to another part of the building because he interfered with the search.  The search was productive of much anxiety and it continued so long that many of those engaged in it came to the conclusion that Cooper had been taken to Baltimore or was hid in the Sheriff's house.  Search was made in the bushes surrounding the building.  The men were fast getting out of patience, and about to commence a search of Mr. Knight's private apartments when an unknown person in the jail pointed out a cell in which Cooper was found.  It was the cell in which he had been confined ever since his arrival at Towson.  His cries and moans were piteous to hear.  He begged for his life, but the only answer was oaths and plenty of them.  A new hemp rope, three-quarters of an inch thick and not less than twenty feet long, was brought forward and his head quickly slipped into a knot at one end.  Cooper was dressed in a dark striped calico shirt and had on dingy brown pants.  A rush was made for the steps and the crowd hurried the frightened negro down the steps as fast as he could be dragged.


When they had reached the jail yard Cooper, who had by this time become almost defiant, turned to the leader and said:

"What you got me foah?"

"We will soon show you what we have got you for," said that individual.

"I ain't Cooper," persisted the prisoner; "I'se de wrong man."

"That's all right," said one of the party.

Here someone called to the group about Cooper to halt for a minute, but they dragged him on, exclaiming:  "Don't stop.  We can't hang him any too soon."  Probably the man with the lantern had some doubts as to the identity of the prisoner, for he stopped him and held the lantern up to his face.  It was Cooper beyond a doubt.  This reassured the crowd  and they fairly jerked him along with a yell of delight.  He said no more after this; he did not even pray audibly.  After having undergone this scrutiny those in charge started off with him at a rush to the nearest tree, but  were again halted by cries that some of their party had been detained and shut up in the jail.  A delegation went back and saw that all of their party were liberated, then the hanging was speedily effected.


The first tree reached, a sycamore, was used for the gallows.  The limb over which the rope was thrown was not more than seven feet from the ground.  When the crowd halted under the tree, Cooper said:  "You are not going to take me up there and let me drop, are you?"  No one paid any attention to him or his question.  All were occupied with getting him swung off as speedily as possible.  Finally, just as the end of the rope was thrown over the limb, he said, in a conciliatory voice, as if he wanted to part friends with them all:  "Well, you have got Cooper, haven't you?  Good-bye."  As the last word left his lips the long line of men commenced to pull on the rope.  It closed about his neck.  He was pulled off the ground.  In a minute or two his head was in contact with the limb and his feet but a foot distant from the ground.  For only a few seconds the pinioned arms and legs contracted, then the body swayed to and fro and Cooper was quiet.

"Now, boys, let's give three cheers," cried the chief.

They were given with a hearty will, which made the woods resound with the echo.

"Any man who won't protect his wife and sister is no man," said a masker; "he ought to die himself.  Eh, boys?"

"You're right," answered a dozen or more.

Presently the body was ordered to be cut down and laid on the ground for inspection.  Some one inquired if there was a physician present.  no one answered.  The head was seen to move and, as it was thought life was not yet extinct, up went the body again.  In this position it was left hanging.

The News (Frederick, Maryland) followed with this on July 15, 1885:

TOWSON, MD., July 14.—The remains of Howard Cooper, who was lynched on Monday morning, were interred at the cemetery at Bear Hill this afternoon.  The funeral was a quiet one, and it is stated that the body was secretly conveyed there and buried.

The following two articles from the Dunkirk Evening Observer and The Inter Ocean give some more information about the crime. 

Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York) dated April 6, 1885:


A Negro Assaults a Young Lady Near Rockland, Md—A Body of Armed Men Searching For Him. 

BALTIMORE, April 6.—Forty armed and mounted men have been ransacking all Baltimore County searching for Howard Cooper, the young negro who outraged Miss Kate Gray, the twenty-year-old daughter of Mr. D. C. Gray, of Rockland. The pursuers are all young farmers and carry with them twenty feet of half-inch hemp. The sheriff's officers are with them, but will hardly be able to restrain the young men's vengeance if Cooper is caught. 

Cooper's victim is a remarkably bright and beautiful young woman and is the belle of the rural district where she lives. Thursday afternoon last Miss Gray, with her sister Susie, went to the railroad station, a mile from the house, where Susie took the train. Kate was returning when Cooper overtook her and, after a desperate struggle, dragged her to a secluded ravine where, after struggling until exhausted, she fainted. On her recovering, Cooper raised a club and was about to kill her, when her cries brought her large shepherd dog, the house being not far away. The dog ferociously attacked Cooper, who ran away. 

The girl then staggered toward the house, but fell in a faint. The barking of the faithful dog, however, attracted the attention of the family, and Miss Gray was taken home. Mr. Gray at once took a gun and rode to the village, enlisting every able-bodied man to search for the scoundrel. Late at night they tracked the negro to a hut in the woods, near Towson, but Cooper managed to escape in the darkness. Eight shots were fired at him, but non took effect, and he got away, but the search is still kept up and Cooper will be lynched when caught. 

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) dated April 4, 1885:


Fearful Outrage Perpetrated by a Brutal Negro—He Will Be Lynched. 

Special Telegram to The Inter Ocean. 
BALTIMORE, Md., April 3.—A dastardly outrage was committed late yesterday afternoon near Rockland, Baltimore County, Md. The victim, Miss Katie Gray, aged 19 years, daughter of D. C. Gray, one of the wealthiest and most highly esteemed residents of the county, is lying at the point of death, and her recovery is extremely doubtful. About 4 o'clock yesterday Katie walked as far as the railway station with an elder sister. The distance was only one mile. She started homeward alone, and had proceeded about half the way, when she met Howard Cooper, a burly negro farmhand well known in the vicinity. Cooper called her by name and immediately after seized her. A desperate struggle ensued. Once releasing herself from the negro's grasp Katie picked up a large stone and hurled it at Cooper, striking him on the head. The blood appeared to infuriate Cooper, who again seizing the young lady knocked her insensible with a club and dragged her over a fence into a dense woods. Here Kate regained consciousness and the struggle was renewed. This struggle, Miss Gray states, lasted two hours, the young lady defending herself with extraordinary courage. Cooper beat her unmercifully with his fist and a club, and at last accomplished his hellish purpose. 

in two more attempts at assaults by the heroic conduct of Miss Gray, and then, after beating her until she was unconscious, the fiend dragged her 200 yards, and believing her dead, he threw the body into a ravine. Cooper was in the act of covering the body with dry leaves and firing them when the loud barking of a large dog belonging to the young lady's father frightened him. Just as the negro was in the act of knocking the girl's brains out with a club Blanco, the dog, sprung out of the bushes, and Cooper fled. The noble dog had followed her trail and undoubtedly saved her life. The incessant barking and howling of Blanco alarmed Mr. Gray, and upon going to see what caused the dog to act so Miss Gray was rescued. She was carried home and after a few hours was able to tell the terrible story of the outrage. Pursuit was at once organized and was kept up all last night. About 3 o'clock the pursuers learned of Cooper being near Towson, but before their arrival he had fled. At noon to-day forty men on horseback, heavily armed and carrying a rope, started after the villain, and it is said to-night they are on his track. That he will be lynched if caught there is not the shadow of a doubt. Miss Gray is in a critical condition, her head is badly cut, and her left ear nearly severed from her head. Despite her exhausted condition she had given a detailed account of the affair. She states that after she had struck him with the stone he also picked up a stone and stunned her by beating her over the head with it. 

I can't help but wonder how his lawyer was going to appeal to the Supreme Court.  It feels, as if, there was some information that the articles did not cover.

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