Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 26, 1901: George Ward

Today we learn of a lynching that is as horrific as the crime Ward perpetrated was tragic. We read about this event through the pages of a rather ragged  Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated February 27, 1901: 


Murderer of Teacher Ida Finklestein Suffers Quick Punishment in Terre Haute.


Governor Offers Protection, but Sheriff Thinks He Has "Matter Well in Hand."


...ree Agencies Employed for Expiation of the Crime, While Thousands of Persons Look On.


Terre Haute, Ind., Feb. 26.—[Special.]—Indiana today entered the list of Commonwealths that add burning to lynching. Half an hour after noon, in the heart of Terre Haute, George Ward, the negro who killed School Teacher Ida Finklestein yesterday, was hanged to a beam of a wagon bridge that spans the Wabash River. Then his body was cut down and cast into a fire which had been lighted on a sandbar on the river's bank.

For three hours thereafter the flames were fed by the excited lynchers and the body was burned until only a few scattered remnants of bones were left. Not until these had been distributed as "Mementos" was the morbid fury of the mob appeased. Policeman stood in the crowds and made no attempt to drive away the onlookers or to check the industry of the burning.

The Sheriff of Vigo County made an apparent effort to resist the attack on the jail and Jailer O'Donnell twice fired a shotgun over the heads of the constantly growing crowd, but to no purpose. Governor Durbin in Indianapolis had heard rumors of  the intended lynching and had instructed Sheriff Fasig to protect his prisoner at all hazards. The Sheriff had replied that he needed no militia, but would take the negro to the capital city at 1 p. m. At that hour, as it turned ..., the negro was dead and on a funeral pyre.

Governor Starts Inquiry.

Governor Durbin has since called on the Sheriff for a detailed explanation, and the Circuit Judge, who early this morning summoned the Sheriff into his presence and warned him against the danger of a lynching, ...y proceed to fix the blame.

Tonight the same Judge stated to THE TRIBUNE that the affair would be subject of grand jury inquiry.

There was no attempt at concealment of identity on the part of those who had a hand in the vengeful work. Men, women, and children to the number of several thousand were spectators along the shore of the river and on the bridge while the fire completed the work the rope had begun.

...ys cut off the toes of the victim and hawked them about for souvenirs, and in every possible way the threat for quick punishment of the confessed murderer was ...ked.

Considering the sentiment among the people of Terre Haute, it is unlikely that any effort will be made to punish the leaders of the lynching party. The Coroner has ...n no action regarding the negro's death. ...uld he seek to investigate, no corpus ...cti is at hand for his inquiry.

The young woman for whose death the negro suffered the extreme penalty was the daughter of Mrs. Soloman Finklestein of 545 West Fourteenth street, Chicago. The mother came here this evening to bury her daughter.

Captured in the Shops.

Ward, who was a laborer in the car shops, was arrested while at work at 10 o'clock this morning and taken without any ado to the ...go County jail. The first clew to his identity had been obtained by the police from a living near the Ward home. The informer came to headquarters this morning ...rly and told the police that Ward had been hunting yesterday and that circumstances pointed to his guilt. The description furnished by the neighbor fitted the description given by Miss Finklestein. For an hour after he was put in jail he was undisturbed.

Mob Grows Rapidly.

At 11 o'clock 200 men and boys were about the jail. There was the usual talk that "the nigger ought to be killed," but no one spoke of a lynching. At 12 o'clock the crowd numbered 400 or 500, and there was more talk. Sheriff Fasig from the jail door told the crowd that there was no possibility of the accused man eluding justice. But at 12:30 half a dozen men brought a car girder and with it battered down the outer wooden doors ... the main entrance of the jail. This let perhaps thirty men into the vestibule, and jailer O'Donnell fired two shots over their heads. Some of the shot rebounded from the walls and struck one or two of a half dozen deputies deputies who were with the jailer.

The thirty men now crowded forward to the iron grating that separated them from the interior of the jail proper and gave O'Donnell five minutes to open the door. At the end of that time they broke it open with the battering ram. O'Donnell tried to throw his cell keys away, but they were taken from him. The crowd broke open a side door in the meantime and let in more persons.

Prisoner Beaten Down.

Ward was coming down from the upper tier of cells at the time the crowd was coming in and he was assailed by a dozen men who seemed to desire only the satisfaction of striking him. He fought as best he could, but as he was taken out of the door some one struck him in the head and he partly collapsed.

A rope was put around his neck and twenty men took hold of it. They dragged the half-dead man down the entrance steps of the jail and started toward the river. Ward had fallen on his face and thus was dragged through the street. Someone proposed that he be thrown into the Wabash River, but the river is frozen over. Then another shouted that her should be hanged on the wagon bridge, for, said this man, "everybody can see him there."

Hanged and Then Burned.

The suggestion was accepted. The end of the rope was swung over a beam and the body was drawn up. The man was now apparently dead. It had been swinging in that position for some time when someone suggested burning at the stake as the nearest approach to a proper expiation for the crime. This motion was adopted unanimously and a fire was quickly kindled. Into the fire the body, bearing no sign of life, was thrown, and fagots were piled on it. The fire had barely been started when a man arrived with a can or turpentine, which was fed to the flames.

After that the flames leaped higher while the body was slowly consumed.

Great Crowds Assemble.

Meanwhile the people of Terre Haute began to assemble in ever-increasing numbers. The east bank of the river and the bridge on the city side of the draw were crowded with thousands of men, women, and children gazing at the spectacle. The certainty that the wretch was dead did not appease the mob, now watching the bones crumble to ashes.

Now and then some one would announce that the supply of oil was exhausted, and a collection would be quickly taken up and a fresh supply purchased. Crates from a poultry-house were brought and piled on the fire. Weather boarding was torn from the bridge for fuel. As the bones of Ward's body crumbled and fell apart the fragments were drawn from the fire and carried away.Women came to the scene by scores and elbowed their way into the inner circle of spectators, undeterred and apparently unmoved.

It was nearly 4 o'clock when the crowd about the fire tired of renewing it and let it die down. Remnants of the victim's feet were now exposed, and boys began trafficking in the toes they cut from the feet for souvenirs. The exposure of a burned foot had led a bystander to say he would "give a dollar for a toe," and a youth of 14 out with his knife and cut off a toe. Then other toes were cut off and sold.

Efforts to Avert It.

The Sheriff claims he used due diligence in his attempt to prevent this work of Judge Lynch. He had begun making arrangements to take Ward to Indianapolis on the 1o'clock train. Governor Durbin already had sent him this message:  "I am informed you are confronted with a serious situation. Use all the authority you can commend to maintain peace and uphold the law. If emergency warrants call upon the State and all possible assistance will be properly accorded. Keep me advised."

At the same time the Governor sent this message to Captain Thomas of local Company F militia:  "Place your company fully armed and equipped in a position to be immediately ready for duty in response to call from Sheriff."

Sheriff Fasig, having  told Governor Durbin over the long distance telephone that he would be glad to have assistance, the Governor had requested him to notify Captain Thomas, but all this was too late.

Ward Makes Confession.

Ward's confession this morning possibly straightens the confusing story of the struggle yesterday afternoon with Miss Finklestein in the pathway in the woods leading from her country school to the main highway, where she usually boarded a suburban electric car for the city. Miss Finklestein, last night before she died, could not talk clearly with her throat cut, and her story was told partly by speaking a word or two at a time.

Ward said today to Sheriff Fasig:

"I was out hunting yesterday afternoon, and while walking just north from the golf grounds met a young lady. I was walking behind her, when she turned to me and told me not to walk behind her,her, but to walk in front of her. I replied:  'All right, lady,' and started to walk around her. When I was almost even with her, she turned to me and called me 'a nigger.' I pulled up my gun and shot her. I was ten feet away from her and she fell on her face. I pulled out my knife and jumped on her back and cut her throat. I then got up and walked towards the car and came into Sixteenth street, where I got off."

Murder, but No Robbery.

The police now believe that Ward made an improper remark to the young woman and that it was then she told him to go on ahead. She said he called to her to stop and when she did not do so he fired at her with his shotgun, and on his coming up to her she handed him her purse. He had some money when taken into custody today and it was thought to be hers, but at the scene of the struggle her money as well as other of her possessions were found this afternoon.

Shortly before he fell into the hands of the mob the prisoner confided to the jailer that his real name was Robinson. During his five years' residence in Terre Haute, however, he always went under the name of Ward. The report that he was once sent to the insane asylum from here is unfounded, but the police records show that he was arrested in 1899 for breaking into C. T. Arnold's house in Lost Creek Township, just north of this city.

Three years ago he was married. A wife and two children survive him.

Doctor and Judge Talk.

Dr. E. L. Larkins says Ward came into his office yesterday morning to get a prescription for one of his children. "I had known Ward a long time," said the doctor, "but yesterday he acted strangely. He was excited and had every appearance of a man who was demented."

Judge Piety of the Circuit Court tonight said to THE TRIBUNE correspondent:  "The whole community is disgraced. The grand jury will meet a week from next Monday, and I shall see that this outrage on the law is thoroughly investigated."

Governor Durbin's View.

Indianapolis, Ind., Feb. 26.—Governor Durbin said tonight, when asked what he would do in regard to the Terre Haute lynching:

"I don't know yet just what I shall do. So far as I can ascertain from Terre Haute the Sheriff did hid duty as well as he could under the circumstances. However, I have written to him for the minutest details. I presume the proper authorities of Vigo County will at once begin investigation. Lynchings are deplorable."

The lynching at Terre Haute, coming as it does, so soon after the brutal attack on Dorothy Darter, a respectable white girl, in the streets of Irvington on Thursday afternoon has stirred public feeling. Then, too, came the announcement this afternoon of the arrest at Newcastle of a negro answering the description of the assailant of Miss Darter. On receipt of this news many meetings were held throughout the city and plans have been formed to lynch the negro if identified. A photograph of the Newcastle negro is on its way here to be shown to Miss Darter.

Miss Ida Finklestein, for whose murder the negro, George Ward, was lynched in Terre Haute yesterday, was the main support of her widowed mother, Mrs. Soloman Finklestein, who, with seven children, lives at 545 West Fourteenth street, Chicago. A bright and studious girl, when her father was murdered seven years ago by a miner, she devoted all her time to study, and, after graduating at the high school at Terre Haute, entered the Normal School, finishing with honor. For two years she had been teaching in the little country schoolhouse, giving most of her salary to her mother. The rest of the family had grown up and three months ago the Finklesteins moved to Chicago, only Ida remained at Terre Haute.

During the Christmas holidays she visited her mother and sisters and brothers in Chicago, and in her last letter home spoke hopefully of the spring vacation but three weeks away, when she could again join her people.

The news of the murder came on Monday evening and yesterday morning Mrs. Finklestein, accompanied by her oldest son, Otto, and her youngest child, Roy, left for Terre Haute. An aunt of the murdered girl, Mrs. M. Finklestein, went with them.

An interesting article connected to this lynching comes to us from the pages of The Daily Herald (Delphos, Ohio) dated March 1, 1901:

Negroes Fleeing.

Terre Haute, Ind., March 1.—The lynching of George Ward has created wild consternation among the negroes in this section of the state. They are loud in their condemnation of the Terre Haute mob. Many negroes have fled from Terre Haute, fearing a mob may take them in hand. Nearly all who have left this city have gone to Brazil. There is a large colored population there.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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