Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 25, 1896: Jim Hawkins

I feel a need to warn of graphic descriptions in the following article. Lynching is never a pleasant subject, but this is the most graphic description of a lynched body that I have so far reported. 



Today's lynching comes from The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) dated September 28, 1896:

THE MISSISSIPPI GIVES UP ITS DEAD,

And the Gretna Officials Know Now That Jim Hawkins

Was Taken from Jail, Beaten, Lynched and Drowned.

A Hundred Pounds of Iron Failed to Keep the Secret.

The Body is Buried on the Batture at the Expense of the Disgraced Parish. 

The body of Jim Hawkins, who was lynched a few nights ago near Gretna by  a Jefferson parish mob, came to the surface of the river near Harvey's canal and was buried on the batture, after an inquest by the coroner.

The arrest of the negro, the lynching which followed and the discovery of the disgusting object yesterday makes up a story  of crime which surpasses any act of lawlessness committed in years.

Jim Hawkins last Tuesday struck a child at McDonoghville, a town some three miles below Gretna, and when he was about to be arrested by the police he attempted to use a hatchet he had been working with. An Affidavit was sworn to and that night a search was made for the negro. The police received information that Hawkins had taken refuge in the cabin occupied by Alex Green, an aged negro, and they surrounded the house. Green was requested to come outside and tell what he knew of Hawkins, but he refused, and, instead, walked out of a rear door towards a stable. It was his intention to give an old man living in the stable a gun and together fight off the police. He claimed, after he was arrested, that he thought it was a mob come to take him out and kill him. When the police entered his rear yard Green fired two shots, and, in return, received a flesh wound about the abdomen. His son, Arthur Green, a 16-year-old boy, seeing that his father was wounded, ran to his rescue, and, picking up a musket, was about to fire a shot, when he received a bullet through the lungs.

Hawkins had disappeared, but the following day was arrested in Algiers. It was about sundown when he arrived at Gretna, and was locked in the police jail pending his arraignment before the police judge. It is the custom in the town to confine all prisoners charged with light offenses in this prison. That night the jail was broken open and the negro lynched.

A police officer found the broken lock on the gallery of the prison and reported the occurrence to several residents in the town.

The mob must have worked very quietly, for the residents on the other side of the street, only fifty feet away, knew nothing of the affair until the following morning.

From the fact that Hawkins' body was found in the river, weighted down with all manner of old iron, the public and police are led to believe that he was taken up the river about a mile or two from Harvey's canal and hung to a tree on the batture or on the roadside.

It was about 6 o'clock yesterday when the body was discovered floating in the river just a few yards from Harvey's canal. The Louisiana avenue ferry was just crossing the river, and was about to land at the canal, when John Scully, one of the deck hands, noticed an object floating just above the water. As the boat approached he made out the outlines of the body. A boat hook was secured and the remains, bloated and eaten by the fish, were pushed to a point where there is a cut in the batture. There it was made fast and a message sent to Gretna for the police. Dr. George Rossner, the coroner of the parish, was also notified, and about 8 o'clock he arrived to view the remains. A jury composed of Messrs. Alphonse Deley, E. P./ Scott, Thomas Lane and Steve Miller was impaneled, and efforts were at once made to have the body removed to shore. The weights had not been discovered, and it was not until several unsuccessful attempts to lift the body out of the water were made that the jury saw that not only had the mob performed their horrible work, but they had attempted to hide their crime by burying the body in the bottom of the river.

A short way from the point where the body was first brought to shore there is a run used to haul logs from the river for a barrel factory. The rotting remains were hauled to this point and then brought to the batture for inspection. The sight was a horrible one. The feet had been firmly bound and the hands tied behind the back, while several rags bound the negro's mouth tight, and between his teeth was jammed another cloth. Around the broken neck was a long new rope, and the ends of the rope made fast to the body several large pieces of iron, weighing about 100 pounds.

The clothes had almost been torn off, and the eyes half eaten out, while the tongue hung from the bruised and swollen lips, showing that the miserable creature suffered horribly.

Crowds had come to see the remains, and they were sickened by the disgusting sight. When the body reached the shore it was found that the bottom of a large stove had been bound to the back, while on one leg was the top of an old-style sewing machine, and a half cogwheel  on the other. The body was swollen terribly , and even the mother of the wretch could not recognize the remains. The mob, after hanging the negro, had evidently taken off the rope, knotted it in the middle and tied it around the neck so as to use the ends in making the irons secure.

The jury, after its brief investigation, brought in a verdict of death at the hands of an unknown mob of men. There was but one mark about the body, besides the bruised lips, which showed that violence had been used in binding the negro. There was a dent in the back of the negro's head, which showed that he had been struck with some hard and round object, possibly a hammer.

Chief Martin had arrived previous to the coroner, and began a series of investigations, but after hours of work could learn absolutely nothing. The mob had worked with the utmost quietness, and it was late at night, evidently, for there was no one up when the affair occurred. The chief has not given up the search, however, and will continue until he is satisfied that the hunt for the members of the mob has become hopeless.

The crowd's of people who came both from Gretna and this side of the river to view the remains soon became thoroughly sickened and retired, leaving the corpse with the police and parish officials. The old mother and sister of the negro were notified of the discovery, and they came up in a little wagon. At first there was a hope on the old woman's face that the police had been mistaken, for it was utterly impossible to identify the remains, so far had the decomposition advanced. However, the clothing and shoes of the negro were at once recognized, and the remains were turned over to the parish for burial. Nearby, on the batture, a deep hole was dug, and here the body was buried.

Sheriff Morrero learned of the affair shortly after the discovery, and, together with the police, will attempt an investigation, However, affairs of that kind are generally well planned and executed, and there is but little hope of a discovery, or of bringing the guilty mob to justice.


I had never heard the word batture before, and so I looked it up. From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:  

bat·ture

 noun \ba-ˈt(y)r\

Full Definition—the alluvial land between a river at low-water stage and a levee —used especially of such land along the lower Mississippi river

Origin—Louisiana French, from French battre to strike + -ure 

Because I was confused for what crime Jim Hawkins was lynched, I am including another short article to help clear things. This article comes from The Beaver Herald (Beaver, Oklahoma) dated October 1, 1896:

MASKED men broke into the Gretna jail, near New Orleans, and took out Jim Hawkins—a negro who had been confined on a charge of assault and battery on a little white boy—gave him a brief time to pray and then hanged him. The cause of the lynching was his generally bad reputation, the people having a dread of him.



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