Thursday, March 12, 2015

March 12, 1895: Stanislaus Vittari, Joe Welsby, Pietro Giacabino, and Antonio Zapetto

Today we learn about a lynching that covers two days and one of the victims is an innocent. We first learn about this lynching in The Scranton Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) dated May 13, 1895:


The Murder of a Colorada [sic] Sheriff Swiftly Avenged—Trouble Ahead.

Walsenburg, Col., March 12.—Deputy Sheriff Hixon was brutally murdered here several days ago by a number of Italian coal miners. His head was crushed in and the body hidden, but yesterday it was found. Dogs were at once put on the track of the assailants and four men were soon captured. An inquiry was held late this afternoon, at which the guilt of four Italians was plainly proven. At the close of the inquest, as the prisoners were being marched to jail, a mob made a rush for them, and before the sheriff and his deputies could raise a hand to protect them the bodies of the four Italians and another man were riddled with bullets.

At the juncture a general riot occurred. On hundred or more Italians, seeing their countrymen lying around dead, became frenzied, swearing that they would have vengeance before morning. Both factions began arming themselves and are expected to come together at any moment.

The Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) dated March 14, 1895:


Two More Italians Fall Dead at Walsenburg. 



International Complications Likely to Arise From the Italians Being Lynched.

Five Italians and the Wagon-driver Welsby are the Victims of That Terrible Vengeance—They Entered the Jail, Masked, in the Darkness of the Early Morning—Seized the Keys—Opened the Cell—And Shot the Last Two Down.

DENVER, Colo., March 13.A special to the Rocky Mountain News from Walsenburg, Col., says:  Four dead bodies are now in the hands of the coroner of Heurfano county, as the result of the vengeance wreaked last night on the Italian miners, who were charged with the killing of Abner Hixon in a most brutal manner at Rouse last Sunday night, by beating him over the head with a club.

Two more Italians have unquestionably been riddled with bullets by friends of  the popular saloon keeper. A few hours will almost certainly bring the discovery of the corpses, and every man against whom there was the slightest suspicion of complicity in the killing has met with summary and frightful punishment. Three of the four bodies are those of Hixon's alleged assailants, the fourth is that of Joe Welsby, who was driving the four Italians to jail in a wagon when he met his death.


Antonio Lorenzo, declared by the coroner's jury to have struck the blow which crushed Hixon's skull, and caused his death; 24 years of age, unmarried, an Italian citizen.

Stanislaus Vittari, 30 years of age, married, wife and children in Italy; intention of becoming a citizen of America declared.

Francesco Ranchetti, 27 years old, unmarried, intention of becoming an American citizen declared.

Joe Welsby, 23 years old, unmarried.

Pietro Giacabino, 34 years of age, young son living here, said to have taken out first papers.

Antonio Zapetto, 24 years old, married, wife and three children in Italy; first papers taken out.


Though the mob commenced its work last evening when the sun had been set but a little while, it was not until this morning that they completed their work of revenge. The small but determined mob waited for the excitement to subside and then came to the county jail here and a few minutes before 1 o'clock  this morning, completed the bloody work on which they had commenced six hours before. Ranchetti, who had been wounded in the breast at the Bear Creek trouble, was found asleep in the calaboose with Lorenzo.


The guards placed at the jail, William Smith and Henry Farr, were playing high five, when a rap came to the outer door of the jail. They asked who was there and were told that it was Sheriff O'Malley. Without a moment's hesitation, they unbarred the entrance, and instead of seeing O'Malley, they looked down the barrels of two revolvers in the hands of two masked men. Experiences of others earlier in the night taught them to obey the command to throw down their pistols and throw up their hands.


While the first two men covered Farr and Smith with their pistols, another pair with their faces hidden by handkerchiefs and carrying big guns in their hands, stalked in. One of the last arrivals picked up from the table the keys to the cell of the jail and going back into the building unlocked the door, where lay the now trembling Italians who felt sure their time was come.


In their broken English they begged for mercy. The avengers had some mercy, but not for the doomed Italians. In the cell with them was Frank Olk, who is charged with a brutal rape. He was gruffly told to stand aside and slunk into a corner of the cell. The masked men then turned their pistols loose on the Italians, who shrieked in agony as bullet after bullet was sent tearing into their defenseless bodies.

One of the first shots must have brought relief to Lorenzo, whom the men seemed to regard with especial hatred as the officially declared murderer, for their leaden balls were sent into his brain. Ranchetti was not so fortunate, one bullet passed through his head and two tore great holes in the thoracic cavity. But instant death was not to be his good fortune, for he writhed and groaned in intense agony for as much as twenty minutes.


When the vigilantes felt that their work was sure, they turned away, leaving their victims writhing in their own and in one another's blood, while the cowering brute who had seen it all, was terrified to the utmost bound. The men who had done the last piece of killing walked out of the jail and into the dark night. A moment or two later, the keepers of the two guards backed out through the door and closed it behind them.


Farr and Smith now picked up their own revolvers and fired five shots through the heavy wooden door after the retreating men. Summoning up courage they peered out themselves in a few seconds, and seeing six or eight men making off on foot across the railroad tracks, they shot at them until their pistols were empty, but without effect. They gave the alarm, but before sufficient men for pursuit had gathered, the men who had done the latest deed, were safely away and Farr and Smith could give no description in detail.

A physician was summoned and for fifteen minutes the good sized crowd was compelled to watch and hear the evidence of Ranchetti's death throes.

The work so vigorously begun early in the evening was now complete, and every one was sure that the three Italians captured at the bridge had long since met death.


At 6 o'clock last night Ranchetti, Giacabino, Viattari and Zapetto were loaded into a wagon at Rouse, six miles from Walsenburg, where they had been to testify at the Hixon inquest, and were starting for the jail here. The prisoners were in charge of Under Sheriff Earl Danford and Charles Herriman, assistant town marshal at this place. Herriman was mounted on a horse and rode a few paces behind the wagon as rear guard. Danford sat on the driver's seat beside young Joe Welsby, who handled the horses. Five miles of driving brought the wagon to the bridge over Bear Creek which lies at the bottom of the hills, Herriman heard horsemen cantering behind him and as they drew near turned his head to see who was coming. By this time a masked man was at either side and though it was almost pitchy black, he could see that, when they told him to dismount, they had something very persuasive poked into his face. He jumped from his horse and was told to get out. He did not develop sufficient speed as a sprinter but some shots fired into the earth at his heels made him set out at a good rate for town and he did not stop.


Meanwhile some others of the masked men, of whom there were six or eight, rode up beside the wagon, then commanded it to stop, was obeyed, and they told the four prisoners to jump out and began firing their pistols. The shooting frightened the horses and they started off. Welsby meanwhile had jumped to the ground and was tugging at the reins. Danford also got off and went to the side of the road, more shots being fired in a moment, and Welsby fell to the ground dead, with two bullet holes through his body, one in the neck and one through the chest. Ranchetti received a slight flesh wound in the breast. His death was not to be so soon, or so easy. Danford and Herriman soon arrived here and sheriff and other officers started to the scene. They came upon Welsby's dead body and also found Ranchetti crouching by the roadside. He was again taken into custody and when he had recovered himself said the horseman had taken his comrades to a neighboring field. Diligent search failed to find them, however, and though many searchers have been out all day, no trace of the bodies of Zapetto and Giacabino has been found. Vittari's corpse was found at 2 o'clock this afternoon on the bank of the Bear Creek, one-fourth of a mile east of where the wagon was attacked. It was riddled with bullets. 


A coroner's jury this morning investigated the killing of Welsby and rendered a verdict that he met his death at the hands of persons unknown. An inquest over Lorenzo and Ranchetti is now in progress and the testimony thus far adduced warranted the belief in a similar finding in their case. The trouble is believed to be over and the excitement is fast subsiding except among the Italian miners, of whom there is about 100 in the district who are congregating, terror stricken at Brunnelli's saloon. 

It is doubtful whether complications with Italy will arise, since three and possibly four of the dead men have renounced their allegiance. No satisfactory motive for the wholesale killing can be learned except it be that the Italians are always hated in Western Coal and metaliferos mining districts, added to the ill-feeling they incurred during the strike a year ago by killing a very popular man without apparent reason or cause. Never before in the history of Walsenburg has there been such intense excitement as commenced last night and is gradually dying out. 

Since the lynching covers two day, I will finish covering it tomorrow. Than you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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