Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28, 1884: John Gray and Frank Williams

We start with a very brief article from the Alton Evening Telegraph (Alton, Illinois) dated January 29, 1884:


Frank Williams and John Gray were lynched, by hanging, for the murder of Orion Kurtz, at Rosita, Colorado, yesterday.

A longer article from the Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) dated February 4, 1884 informs us a bit more:

Letter from Colorado.


DENVER, Jan. 28, 1884.

About ten days ago a lynching affair in Ouray was telegraphed over the country, in which it was asserted that a woman had never been lynched before in the United States. The assertion was not correct, California and Kansas having been ahead of Colorado in this matter, and possible other states.

Rose Matthews, the victim of the murder, was a motherless girl ten or eleven years of age, whose father had gone bad and is in the Arapahoe county jail for theft and lewdness. The girl had been placed in a Catholic asylum in Denver and being a source of expense to the managers, she was placed in the family of Michael Cuddigan, a ranchman living near Ourey. It was soon known about the vicinity that the girl was terribly abused, and two weeks ago she suddenly died and was clandestinly [sic] buried on the ranch. The coroner, ascertaining the facts, caused the body to be exhumed, when the fact was developed that the girl had been outraged and death was caused by brutal treatment.

Cuddigan and wife, and a brother of the latter named Carroll, were arrested, but on the night of the 18th the prisoners were taken from the custody of the officers by the vigilantes. Carroll was separated from the other two, and the latter speedily hanged. Carroll was taken in another direction, given one or two brief suspensions with a rope about his neck as a warning, and then told to skip. He skipped. The reason of this was the fact that Carroll was not at home at the time or for several days previous to the murder. There is much excitement among the Catholics over the matter, as the murdered girl was placed with the Cuddigan family, who were Catholics, by the church authorities, and a number of the vigilantes were also Catholics.

A couple more sudden deaths occurred before daylight in Rositoo. About two weeks ago there was a ball in that town at which John Gray and Frank Williams were uninvited guests. The two men were full of whisky and of notoriously bad character. During the ball they created a disturbance and were "fired." Yesterday morning they met Orrin Kurtz and shot him to death. Before daylight this morning they were both hanged.

Many people, particularly in the eastern part of the country, do not fully understand the methods and workings of the average western vigilante committee. It is popularly supposed that lynchings are the passionate outbursts of mobs. In rare instances this may be the case, but when attempted by a mob the affair is usually a failure. Vigilante committees are the outgrowth of the frontier, called into existence originally by the worst element, such as gambling saloon keepers, thieves, thugs and the lawless elements having obtained control of the machinery of government, lax enforcement of the laws, the insecurity of life from murders, and the security of murderers through the law's delays. The sharp practice of lawyers is also an active element to bring about a formidable vigilante committee.

The organization of the latter is thorough and perfect. The accused has a fair trial, although he knows nothing about it, and every particle of evidence is carefully weighed, as well as causes of provocation, if any, and if death be decided upon, they go about it as a matter of business. Each one knows just what he is to do and how to do it. There were no prayers offered, no hymns sang, or time wasted. if the prisoner begs for mercy, he is quietly asked if he had any mercy on his victim. If he prays for pity, he is reminded of the pity he had for his victim. If he appeals for time to prepare for death, he is asked how much time he gave his victim preparation. The desperado knows his doom is sealed and that his last hour has come when the vigilantes have closed in about him.

It is exceedingly rare that one of the murderers meets his death bravely. His knees bend under his weight, and he bawls like a stray calf. Twenty years ago desperadoes did as they pleased in Denver. It is not unusual for a saloon full of them to make a bet how far a man would walk after being shot, and someone walking along on the opposite side of the street would be the victim. A committee of safety was organized, several of the most noted of the desperadoes were promptly hanged, and the others were flying the town in all directions, horse back, on mules and on foot. The committee held its organization for ten years and it is thought by many that it ought to be repeated.

Yesterday was the heathen Chinese New Year's, but out of respect to the Christian Sabbath and the orders of the police, they were . . .

I couldn't read the rest of the article, but it was the last paragraph. I have to say, the reasoning of vigilante committees sounded the same as the reasoning for all other lynchings. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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