Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 29, 1892: Commodore True

Today we learn about a lynching from the paper in the town it occurred. The Brown County World (Hiawatha, Kansas) informs us through its pages printed December 2, 1892:


William Walthall Killed, Commodore True Lynched.

The Murder.

Thursday night Commodore True, a worthless, drunken negro, killed William Walthall, an upright citizen in all ways.

The members of the Colored Methodist church were holding a festival and Thanksgiving service over Kenigsberg Bros. store, Commodore True, with several others, had been disturbing the gathering all evening, and finally Will Walthall, who was superintending the entertainment, asked True to leave the room. He refused to do so and struck Walthal[l], who thereupon, righteously threw him down stairs.

There was quiet afterward for awhile but finally True got back into the hall armed with a pocket knife, and rushing up to Walthall, he struck him, before anyone knew he had a knife. The weapon made a deep cut above the heart, severing an artery. Walthall died in less than 15 minutes. He bled internally. There was just a small spot of blood on his shirt front and the fatal cut was so small as to be scarcely visible. His last words were "I'm smothering."

A few nights before True killed Walthall he was on the street flourishing his razor and telling the boys they did not have any nerve. Someone remarked that his nerve would either lose his life for him or land him in  the penitentiary walls.

Preliminary Hearing.

True came up for preliminary hearing Monday morning before Judge Herbert. The prosecuting attorney was not able to be present, and S. F. Newlon, attorney for True, moved a continuance until next Monday. The Justice's court was crowded and the foolish wretch seemed to feel his importance—actually seemed proud of his awful deed.

The undoubted cause of the crime was ignorance, lack of home training and bad whisky. There are others in Hiawatha, both negro and white boys, who need reform of the strictest sort to save them from making such a terrible blunder as True made.

Walthall's Funeral.

The funeral of William Walthall was held Saturday afternoon. It was one of the largest ever held in Hiawatha, whites and blacks attending. William Walthall was 29 years of age and had always lived so as to gain the confidence and esteem of our people. He was a prominent worker in the Colored Methodist church and had been a delegate to the national conference at Philadelphia. He had been for years the trusted engineer at the Raff & Bechtel mill. His employers speak of him in highest terms. He leaves a wife and two children.

The Lynching.

Tuesday morning at two o'clock fifteen colored men came out from the shadows of the lumber piles, coal sheds and freight cars where they had spent the greater part of the night waiting until the town slept. They stood for a brief time about the union depot platform and spoke of what they were about to do. A bottle of liquor, was passed around, the last, it is said, of eight gallons. The men were armed with revolvers. These were looked to and then they marched up the deserted Oregon street in an irregular line to the court house park. Turning the corner they went direct to the county jail. They hesitated a minute, as they stopped in front of it. From Haver's livery stable near by and from several stored in the neighborhood a number of white men, who had an idea of what was to take place, came out to witness it. There were cries of "break in the door." With wild and fierce yells the door was pounded and kicked until it was nearly battered to splinters. Sheriff Brown heard the first blow and opening a window faced what had become a mad mob.

"Men," he said, "what do you want?" "We want the colored gentleman," answered the leader.

Was Powerless.

 The sheriff talked to them. He begged them to go away and allow the law to take its course:  but the mob's patience soon wore out and someone in the crowd put a stop to his argument by crashing a heavy plank through the door. Then Sheriff Brown and his deputy fired their revolvers; but the lynchers rushed into the house and as the officers bravely came down the stairs to oppose the intruders they were covered by a dozen guns. "Put 'em down," cried the sheriff; but there was a wicked laugh and to save his life he handed over the keys, and was forced to get a light and lead the way to the cell of the negro, Commodore True. True had heard the noise and was up and dressed, with the exception of lacing his shoes. A rope was placed about his neck and with terrible yells from his executioners, he was lead out into the court yard. Once he slipped and fell. Three or more negroes pounced upon him and beat him until the leader stood them off with his revolver. The rope was tightened and he was led to several trees before a suitable one was found. The one selected is near the center of the park, within a dozen steps of the court house. The poor wretch, if he whimpered at all, was not heard in the awful tumult. The fire bell had been rung, the night watchman having had to climb to the top of the tower to ring it, the rope having been cut to prevent him giving an alarm, and a great crowd had collected.

The Last Scene.

Standing in the moonlight, staring certain death in the face, True mumbled,

"Well boys, I hope you will all live a long and happy life, and I'll meet you in Heaven."

"Hell, you mean," was the correction offered by a dozen or more.

The victim shuddered and moved, and one of his captors warned him not to stir or he would shoot him.

"I didn't budge," he replied, "some one pulled the rope."

The rope had been passed over a tree limb and all was in readiness to swing him off into darkness; bu[t] not a man in the mob offered to pull on the rope. There was a great silence and then one man gave a pull that jerked the murderer off the ground.

"Let me pray," he cried as he struggled an[d] choked. His words seemed to enrage his lynchers. They grasped the rope and pulled until his body dangled above them; then someone fired a bullet into his body and all the others did the same. Fifty bullets were buried in his corpse. The fusilade [sic] of bullets was so wild that a window in Allendorf's bakery was broken and the trees were clipped with the flying lead.

The work done the crowd dispersed.

The body hung to the tree until half past seven,, [sic] when it was cut down by order of Judge Herbert.

It Was Not Unexpected.

The lynching was not unexpected for it had been threatened ever since. Recent trials of murderers had resulted in the acquittal of Mrs. Bradley, of Everest, of child murder. Another murderer has had his trial continued two or three times since the prosecuting witnesses have disappeared. Another was given six months in the county jail for his crime, while a man who stole a horse got six years in the penitentiary. The white people who witnessed the hanging, in no way tried to prevent it nor did they take part. The general sentiment rather upholds the shameless tragedy, on the ground it was not more shameless than those cited.

True was buried Wednesday afternoon without services.

Make a Clean Sweep.

Now if Horton would hang some of its criminals the cleaning up would be complete and Brown co. could begin anew.  

True's Parents.

The father of the murderer, Commodore True, hung himself a year or so ago. He was thought to be insane. True's mother is a good woman and since his wicked act has prayed for him almost constantly.

The Last Words.

The most disgusting thing in the last words of murderers is that they nearly all affect to believe they will meet us in heaven.

The Sheriff's Brave Resistance.

Sheriff Brown and his deputy stood off the mob fully 20 minutes. He couldn't get anyone to help him. A few citizens had agreed to come to his rescue at the tap of the fire bell; but they didn't come. The sheriff's overcoat, which hung in the hallway, was riddled with bullets.

The Inquest.

An inquest was begun Tuesday afternoon by Squire Herbert, acting coroner. The jury was John Walters, N. B. Moore, M. L. Guelich, Thurston Chase, J. V. Rollins, and Ed. Turner. The sitting will be continued for some time, to get all the evidence in the case, and if possible fix the crime where it belongs.

Someone tried to steal the shoes of Commodore True, after the crowd had left the court yard. Very few persons would want to stand in his shoes.

When the mob had gotten away with True Monday night, someone in the crowd cried, "Now put Page on the other end of the rope."

After the mob had secured the prisoner and had placed the rope around his neck—a terrible jerk pulled him nearly to the gate. Fred Rogers stepped up and told them to let up on that but no attention was paid him.

The lynchers were masked and wore jersey caps drawn over the eyes, and had long overcoats which nearly reached the ground.

Mrs. Brown, wife of the sheriff, plead with her husband to give up the keys.

Mrs. J. W. Pottenger saw to it that True's body was buried where his mother wished, on her farm 12 miles southwest of Hiawatha.

Dennis Dillingham and Fred Schilling looked down the revolvers of two of the lynchers, but could not recognize them.

Harry Guelich found one of the masks in front of Capt. Lacock's house Tuesday morning.

This next bit comes from the same newspaper, dated December 9, 1892, under the following title:

Things Which Are Talked About When the Boys Are Together.

A bullet which passed through Commodore True's body is valued at $2 Curtis Yost has it.

An article of interest concerning the brother of Commodore True comes from the same paper, but two years later on September 28, 1894:


The New Superintendent Didn't Need to Send for the Police.

Albert True, a brother of Commodore True, colored, who was lynched because of his general cussedness, bids fair to meet an equally sudden end.

Recently he behaved badly at school. He left the school room and ran about the South Side school grounds disturbing teachers and scholars.

After enduring his noise and ill manners for sometime, one of the lady teachers asked Janitor Harris to bring True in. True scratched and bit the janitor and got away from him.

The next morning True came to school with a knife in his hand and announced he would cut anyone who touched him.

He took his seat and had things all his own way until the active young superintendent of the schools happened in and learned of young Mr. True's performances.

He called him and they went out in the hall together and a few seconds later there arose various sounds from that place that were not made by a knife.

True was given a terrific trouncing and sent home. His mother will not allow him to come back to school and will complain to the school board which will uphold Prof. Rhodes, of course. True was not whipped because of his color; but because he acted badly.

We judge from the looks of the new superintendent that any boy, white or black, who misbehaves, will regret it.

Another little tidbit of interest comes to us through the pages of The Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) dated February 11, 1893, under the following title:


The ghost of Commodore True, the man who was lynched at Hiawatha, haunts the jail, having been heard on several occasions by plain drunks.

That finishes all the information I have on Commodore True's lynching. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder. 

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