Friday, January 15, 2016

September 24, 1891: Hezekiah Rankin

Today we learn about a North Carolina lynching through the pages of The Semi-Weekly Citizen (Asheville, N. C.) dated October 1, 1891:







The lynching of Hezekiah Rankin, the negro who shot and doubtless mortally wounded Fred A. Tyler, a white man, at the depot Thursday night, was not only exceedingly unfortunate event for Asheville, but a crime which the authorities ought not and cannot afford to ignore.

It is unquestionably true that the feeling which prompted the act was one which has ever been commended among men. A comrade had been shot down without, to the minds of the men who lynched Rankin, having given an adequate provocation, and before reason had time to act, or judgement to guide, vengeance was taken into their own hands.

In no community where the law is respected as it should and must be if our institutions are to remain secure, can such things be excused or looked upon lightly. They must be punished, or else court houses should be torn down and all criminal proceedings turned over to the will of the individual or the mob.

No one has any reason to suppose that Asheville's criminal court is either indisposed or powerless to inflict just punishment upon all violators of the law, and so long as this is true the law must be maintained and the court upheld.

When the courts fail it will then be time enough to consider whether lynch law is the next best thing.


'Twas a ghastly burden which a white oak on the hill overlooking the French Broad river, south of Smith's bridge, bore Friday morning.

Hanging from the lower limb of the tree, was the form of a colored man, left dangling there by a party of men, who, unwilling to give the man a fair and just trial, took the law into their own hands, and his life was made to pay the forfeit for his crime.

The causes leading to this lynching are as follows:

Thursday between 7:30 and 8 o'clock, Fred A. Tyler, who has been employed as "hostler" on the yards of the Western North Carolina railroad, was putting an engine onto a sidetrack at the round house. It was his duty to take charge of the engines as they came last night, and see that they were put away safely to wait for their next turn out.

How the Trouble Began.

Tyler ran his engine on the sidetrack, and seeing a colored train hand standing at the switch called to him to "throw" it, so the main line would be safe.

The colored man was Hezekiah Rankin, a brakeman on Conductor Zachariah Underwood's train, which was on the siding.

Rankin replied that it was not his duty to close the switch, adding, "If you want it done, do it yourself, you — of a —."

Tyler turned to the tender, and picking up a lump of coal threw it at Rankin, striking him on the head and causing blood to flow.

Rankin then ran up to his boarding house, the home of Maria Friday, a colored woman. Here he washed the black off his face, and told the woman how it occurred.

Just then another colored man, Ben Barrett, came up to the house from Rankin's "shanty," and gave him a pistol, which belonged to Rankin.

Rankin took the pistol, and going down to the engine came up to where Tyler was standing, he having came [sic] down out of the cab.

The Shooting.

Statements as to what happened there conflict. Friends of Tyler say that no words passed between the two men, while others who were there say Tyler abused him.

At any rate, Rankin pulled out his pistol, a 38-caliber weapon, and fired at Tyler, the bullet entering his body about two inches above the navel.

Tyler fell to the ground, and Rankin started to run. He did not get any distance away, however, before he was caught by Tyler's friends in the roundhouse, who had heard the shot and ran out to see the cause.

Tyler was taken charge of and removed to his room at Mrs. France's, not far from the tragedy.

Telephone messages were sent up town to the police station for officers and also for physicians to attend to the wounded man. Drs. W. D. Hilliard, John Hey Williams and E. C. Starnes went down and rendered all aid possible.

Officers went down to the depot, but could see or hear nothing of the negro who did the shooting.

But in the roundhouse there was suppressed excitement. There was hot blood there among the comrades of Tyler. What transpired there is told by a colored railroad hand, Virgil Friday, who was in the round house and saw the actions and heard the men talking. Friday told THE CITIZEN what he knew of the matter.

An Eve Witness' Account.

"I was present when the men caught Rankin. They brought him into the house, and began striking, cursing and beating him. They had his hands tied behind his back, and a rope just the size of a bell cord around his neck.

"The most of the men wanted to lynch Rankin, but a few among them Mr. W. V. Lowe, the foreman, tried to argue to them that it would be best to give the man up and let him be dealt with by the law.

"What Mr. Lowe said did not seem to have any effect on the men. In a few minutes Mr. Lowe went up to see Mr. Tyler, and while he was away the men took Rankin out and down the track toward the bridge.

"Woody Allison, a flagman, was also there and tried to get the men to give up Rankin, but they drove him away with threats."

Later, Friday gave Coroner McBrayer the names of Erwin Allison, T. M. Bumgarner, W. H. Mayo and Brooks Moore, as parties who talked strongly of lynching.

The Body Found.

Officers were searching all night for Rankin, whom everyone supposed to have been lynched. No trace whatever could be found of him.

On Friday morning, Deputy Sheriff J. M. Morgan and Officer Caleb Leonard went down early and took up the search. They went up to Carrier's bridge, crossed over and came down the river, searching everywhere. They found nothing until they got down to the Sulphur Springs road, when, on looking toward the hill to the road, they discovered the body of a man suspended from the limb of a tree.

The officers ran across the flat and climbing the hill found Rankin's body cold and rigid. The tree is a tall white oak, on the crest of the hill overlooking the French Broad, several hundred yards west of the river, and about a hundred yards from the road leading to Sulphur Springs. The ground is part of the Lyman estate, known as Tahkeeostee farm.

It was 9:15 when the body was found. THE CITIZEN was on the spot a few minutes later, and viewed the body before it was cut down by the coroner.

Under the Tree.

Rankin's corpse was standing perfectly upright, with both feet on the ground. His hands and arms were pinioned tightly behind him. A half-inch rope had been tied about his neck, the knot tied in true hangman's style, but he had probably struggled until he got the rope above his chin. There it remained, pressing the under lip into his mouth. The eyes were half open with a wild, terrified stare, while the tongue was doubled up by the pressure from the lip, almost touching the roof of the mouth, which was wide open.

The rope had been passed over the lowest limb of the tree, and then fastened around the trunk, and tied in a hard knot. There seemed to be no bullet wounds on the body, but there was a knife wound in the right shoulder. A coupling pin was lying near the body. It is probable that Rankin had been swung up off the ground, but his weight strained the rope until his feet rested on the ground.

The news of the finding of the corpse spread rapidly, and a large crowd gathered around the body. Coroner L. B. McBrayer was notified at once and went to the scene. He summoned the following jury:  W. J. Worley. R. M. Deaver, M. T. Triplett, D. C. Clapp, and J. W. Farrell.

The body was then taken down. It was stiff and cold. A partial examination was made, a number of witnesses summoned, and the coroner returned to the city, after adjourning the inquest until 4 o'clock this afternoon in the court house.

About 12 o'clock the body was taken charge of by Blair & McDowell, and brought up to their undertaking rooms, where it will remain until the relatives apply for it.

Tyler's Condition.

Drs. E. C. Starnes, John Hey Williams and W. D. Hilliard went down to Mrs. France's before noon today, and made a close examination of Tyler. They found that the bullet had penetrated the bowels, ranged to the left side, and lodged about three inches below the armpit. The bullet was not taken out. The intestines were found to have been cut by the bullet in seven places. The operation was not completed until after 12 o'clock. Then under the influence of opiates Tyler went to sleep. The physicians say his chance of life is very thin.

Who The Men Were.

Frank A. Tyler, the wounded white man, is a native of Maryland. He has been employed on the Western North Carolina railroad for two or three years as fireman. Lately he had been working as "hostler" on the yards. He was never considered a man of ill-temper, and W. V. Lowe, the foreman at the roundhouse, gives him a good name. He is about 23 years of age, and unmarried.

Hezekiah Rankin, the lynched colored man, is about 28 years of age, and is a native or Iredell or Rowan county. He has heretofore borne a good record so far as his work as a train hand goes.

Under Arrest.

On the strength of the evidence given the coroner by several witnesses, warrants were issued for W. H. Mayo, Erwin Allison, and T. M. Bumgarner, railroad men, charging them with taking part in the lynching of Rankin. The warrants were executed by Deputy Sheriff H. C. Jones, who brought the men before Justice A. T. Summey.

A hearing was to have been given them at 1 o'clock, but because of the fact thas [sic] the coroner's jury had not considered the case, the hearing was postponed until Saturday morning. The accused were remanded to jail. Their attorneys are Jones & Shuford.

The Coroner's Inquest.

Coroner L. B. McBrayer and the jury appointed by him to investigate the lynching of Hezekiah Rankin, colored, near this city, on Thursday night, went to Blair & McDowell's undertaking rooms at 4 o'clock Friday afternoon to examine the body.

A close search for wounds of any kind was made, but with exception of the knife wound in the shoulder, spoken of in THE CITIZEN nothing was found.

The inquest began in the court house at 4:40. The room was crowded with people some time before the examination of witnesses was taken up. A considerable proportion of those present were colored.

W. H. Mayo, T. M. Bumgarner, and Erwin Allison, the men charged with the complicity in the lynching, st with their counsel, Jones & Shuford, near the clerk's table.

The jury then was sworn in by the coroner, and the examination was begun by Solicitor Eugene D. Carter.

Virgil Friday's Story.

Virgil Friday, colored, sworn:  Live near car shed, on Western North Carolina railroad. Know Rankin. Up to Thursday night, had not seen him for several days. On that night, I saw him bound and with a rope around his neck. Allison and Mayo and a crowd of 25 or 30 had charge of him. Bumgarner came up later. Someone said, "Hold on, let's see what Ed Bright says." They sat on the track a little while and then got up and went into the sand house. Directly four or five of them took Rankin out of sand house. Didn't know any of them except Brooks Moore, who was following along some distance behind, with what looked to me like a gun. Heard Rankin begging the men not to kill him. They cursed and told him  they were going to swing him. Mr. Lowe seemed to advise them to turn the man over to the sheriff. All this occurred between 8:30 and 9 o'clock. A few of the men had torches. Am certain Allison and Mayo were holding the rope, at one time but don't think Bumgarner had hold of it at all.

Witness was cross-examined by Jones & Shuford but nothing new was brought out.

Maria Friday's Statement.

Maria Friday, colored, next sworn:  Am wife of Virgil Friday. On Thursday night near my house near railroad heard Rankin begging for mercy. A crowd of six or seven went down the railroad with Rankin. Mayo and Allison were behind about 50 feet, and did not see them have hold of rope. Saw Brooks Moore follow them down the track with a gun. Knew none of the men except Allison and Mayo.

On cross-examination the witness said a colored man named Ben Barrett gave Rankin the pistol with which he did the shooting. She asked Rankin not to go back to the roundhouse, but he said he would go. Barrett did not tell him what to do with the pistol.

Mr. Lowe's Testimony.

 W. V. Lowe, white foreman of motor power on the Asheville yard, was next called:  On Thursday night was at round house and heard report of pistol. Shortly after Tyler came up to me and told me he was shot. Went up to boarding house with him. After awhile heard they had caught the man. Thirty minutes later heard that they were bringing him back. Then saw Rankin on the track opposite the sand shed. Told the men it would be best to give the man up to the sheriff.

Mr. Lowe at first could not remember the names of any of the men in the crowd, but finally said that among others were E. S. Bright, W. H. Dicks and Allison. Mayo was on duty. Witness continued:  Didn't remember seeing Bumgarner. Someone said they would wait until they found out that the man would die, but did not hear anyone say "Lynch him!" Saw Rankin sitting on the track, his hands tied behind him and then fastened to the rail. When I saw Rankin I advised men to take him away as the train was due soon and he would be killed. Was then taken up. Don't remember who stood around Rankin. A half-hour afterward saw Moore, Allison and others, but didn't know where Rankin was.

Here Solicitor Carter put a direct question to Mr. Lowe, and asked for a direct answer. Said Mr. Carter:  "There has never been a more outrageous murder than this, and everything must be done to bring the guilty parties to justice; now Mr. Lowe, do you mean to say that you do not remember those of your own men who stood over the bound negro?"

Mr. Lowe said he did not remember, because everything was so excited that he could not notice everything. He remembered that he did not hear anyone say afterward what had become of Rankin.

Mr. Lowe was cross-examined by Mr. Jones, and then recalled by Mr. Carter. The solicitor asked Mr. Lowe about a conversation he was said to have had with Judge Carter and Locke Craig, esq. It was said those gentlemen asked Mr. Lowe if Rankin had been taken down the road. "No," was the reply, "he went up the road." "But they say he was taken down the road." "No, by —!" Mr. Lowe said, "I tell you he went up the road." Mr. Lowe said he didn't remember saying that.

McCoy's Part.

Calvin McCorkle, colored, next sworn. Was at round house and saw Rankin with Tom McCoy hold of rope. Rope was around Rankin's neck. Saw Bumgarner and Mayo in the crowd.

William Morgan, colored, had seen the crowd around the round house, but didn't now any of the men.

Brooks Moore, white, sworn. Just as I got to car shed heard that Tyler had been shot. Ed. Bright and I went up to Glen Rock and called up a physician. Saw the negro at the crossing above the tank. He might have been tied. Saw nobody except Bolch. Didn't see Mayo, Allison, or Bumgarner. Mr. Foster was there. Heard somebody say something about giving the man up to the sheriff. Don't know who had charge of the negro.

Woody Allison, white, was sworn and led the coroner and solicitor on by a long story of the engines and couplings, ending in saying "that's about all I know about it." Mr. Carter said that the witness evidently supposed the case was against one of the engines on the yard and asked the witness to stand aside.

The Concluding Evidence.

Thos. McCoy, white, swore that he saw Mayo taking a pistol out of Rankin's hand, saying "He's going to shoot me." Mr. Lowe came out and told the men to take the negro up to the sheriff, and they said they would do this. Didn't see Allison, Mayo or Bumgarner at the scene.

Alphonso Bailey, colored, seemed to know something, but did not want to talk very much. He admitted that it was dangerous work to identify people just now.

Jake Burkhart, colored, was the last witness. Jake saw the crowd at the round house and walked over. Heard someone say to Mr. Lowe, "they're going to take the man away." Saw the crowd near the sand pile. Heard a voice which sounded like Brooks Moore's say "Let's stop here." Saw a man jerk Rankin across a ditch. Rankin's wrists were tied, and he complained that the jerking hurt him. The reply to this was "Don't mind about your wrist, you — of a —; it will soon hurt your — neck." While they were sitting down Lum Bolch walked away in a hurry, but soon came back running to the crowd, perhaps twenty or thirty, saying, "Take him on—take him on." and motioned down the track. Bolch did not go with the crowd. Didn't know any of the men in the number.

The Verdict.

At 6:30 the case was given to the jury, which retired to make up the verdict.

At 8:05 they returned with the verdict which is as follows:

"We the undersigned jurors find that Hezekiah Rankin came to his death by strangulation on the night of September 24, 1891, at the hands of parties unknown to us, and that W. H. Mayo, Lum Bolch, Erwin Allison and Tom McCoy are accessories before the fact.

L. B. McBrayer, Coroner,
R. M. Deaver,
W. J. Worley,
J. W. Farrell,
D. C. Clapp,
M. T. Triplett.

A sigh of relief followed the coroner's reading of the verdict and the crowd soon left the court room.

Released on Bond.

In accordance with the finding of the coroner's jury, Bumgarner was released at once. Mayo and Allison were taken to jail, where they spent the night. This morning Tom McCoy and Lum Bolch were arrested, and they, with Mayo and Allison, were taken before Justice A. T. Summey for a preliminary hearing. They waived examination, gave bond in the sum of $300 each for their appearance at the next term of the criminal court, and were released.

Tyler Dead.

Frank A. Tyler, the wounded man, passed a reasonably easy night, and Saturday morning showed a slight improvement in his condition; but in the afternoon he began to sink, and died at 10 o'clock p.m.

The body of Rankin, the colored man who was lynched, was taken to his old home at Elmwood, N. C., on the 2:15 p. m. train Saturday afternoon.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment