Tuesday, July 19, 2016

December 11, 1878: Luther Mitchell and A. W. Ketchum

Today we learn about a lynching in Nebraska through the pages of The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) dated December 14, 1878:


Horrible Story From Western Nebraska.

Two Prisoners Taken from a Sheriff by a Band of Regulators and Hanged and Their Bodies Burned—Reports of Other Horrors.

Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.

LINCOLN, NEB., December 13.—Horror upon horror comes to us from the western part of the State. To-day word was received that Ketchum and Mitchell, two men arrested on a charge of murdering Sheriff Stevens, of Custer County, had been burned at a stake on Long River, on Wednesday, by a band of armed men, who took them from Sheriff Gillen, of Keath County, who had them in charge. Stevens was killed by Mitchell last week while attempting to arrest Mitchell and Ketchum on a charge of cattle stealing, and after he had shot Ketchum. Sheriff Gillen was sent to take them back to Custar [sic] County, and, when a few miles from Plum Creek, he was surrounded by a band of armed men, who took the prisoners away from him. Their bodies were found about one mile from Long River yesterday, burned so that they were scarcely recognizable. They had evidently been hanged while in irons, and afterward burned to a crisp.

People hereabouts are greatly excited over the matter. Ketchum and Mitchell have always been known as peaceable and law-abiding homesteaders, the latter being forty years of age. It is believed that the charge of cattle-stealing was trumped up against them. Stevens and Ketchum were bitter enemies, and each had sworn to kill the other on sight. There is evidence to prove that Stevens exceeded his authority as an officer by shooting Ketchum in the arm while his back was turned and at the time he called upon him to surrender. It is a fact that Stevens' real name is Olive, and that he was a criminal refugee from Texas, where he was wanted for the murder of two men.

The hanging and burning of Ketchum and Mitchell would have disgraced the wildest band of Sioux or Cheyenne Indians on the continent. Sheriff Gillen, of Keath County, is believed to have had an understanding with the mob. He will be investigated.

Another article comes from The Columbus Journal (Columbus, Nebraska) dated December 18, 1878:

In an other column mention is made of the arrest of the supposed murderers of Stevens, and now comes the sad intelligence that while the sheriff and a posse of men were taking the prisoners, Ketchum and Mitchel [sic] to the county seat for trial the party was overpowered by a mob of about twenty-five men, who were all masked and well armed. They took the prieoners [sic] away from the officers, tied them to a tree, and burned them to death. Murderers and cattle thieves are meeting with terrible punishment at the hands of judge lynch [sic] in this State. it is most certainly not the best condition of society, as it takes too many risks that some of its victims may be innocent, which a proper legal trial would fully establish to the entire satisfaction of the community.

Two Men Tied to a Tree and Burned.

Some weeks since a man by the name of Stephens was killed under circumstances, which, we believe, are substantially given below. A. W. Ketchum and Luther Mitchell were arrested on a charge of murder, and taken to Kearney for imprisonment. Mitchell was an old man, sixty-three years of age, and one of the first settlers of Loup country. While on the way to Custer county, in charge of an officer, a mob of twenty-five masked men took the prisoners, tied them to a tree and burned them. A late Omaha Herald has the following:

"A conversation last evening with a stock man who is familiar with the circumstances out of which this matter has grown, says that last summer a well-known stock man came up from Texas with 5,000 or 6,000 cattle and selected a ranche [sic]. The man Stephens was his foreman, and, it is stated on excellent authority, was also his brother, passing for some reason on an assumed name. Our informant narrates several incidents which go to show that Stephens was an unprincipled desperado, who scrupled at nothing, and says that he was universally unpopular with the stock men. He states also that Mitchell was an elderly man and generally respected, and the affair which resulted in Stephens's death really occurred as follows:

Stephens' employer (or brother) had for a long time only a "road brand" on his cattle, and has been in constant trouble on that account. It was growing out of some trouble of this kind that Stephens and some of the Texan herders on the ranch went to Mitchell's to arrest Mitchell and Ketchum, a young man who was stopping there. Stephens rode up to Ketchum and told him he had come to arrest him, and the latter not instantly giving up his arms without question, Stephens began firing at him, wounding Ketchum in the elbow before the latter returned the fire. He then fired on Stephens, mortally wounding him as stated. The gentleman also states that none of the stock men, unless it were the Texas herders on the ranch, where Stevens [sic] was employed as foreman, had any desire to trouble Mitchell or Ketchum. He says that this event, if it has occurred as stated, is the work of Stevens' [sic] brother and of the Texas herders in his employ, and that such an outrage can only result in prompt action on the part of the stock men to bring the demons to justice; that it is the last of several troubles with the same men, and will fall heavily upon them. To those who know the prompt and desperate action which the stock-men find necessary in such cases, the prediction has a deal of meaning, provided the circumstances are all as stated."  

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

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