Hanging a Boy.
[From the New York Tribune.]
We do not consider hanging at all a fit penalty for horse-stealing, even when the punishment is inflicted according to law. We regard lynching of all descriptions as extremely undesirable. Hanging a boy eighteen years of age for any crime is, prima facie, a barbarous business. The St. Joseph (Mo.) Herald describes the murder of James Ross, who had been arrested for making free with the steeds of the farmers in that vicinity. Ross, in the custody of an officer, was on his way to jail, when he was seized, in spite of the Constable's remonstrances, by a mob of armed men. Resistance was useless. Ross was dragged from his horse and taken into "the timber." Then, for the first time, this boy seemed to comprehend the awful fate which awaited him. He shook with fear and cried for mercy. With one end of the rope about his neck, he burst into tears; he admitted that he had stolen horses; but then he added piteously that "he was a mere boy, and wanted time to reform." The only answer to this was the stern warning that he "had but five minutes left;" and four stout men significantly took hold of the rope. The lad was so agitated that he would have fallen to the ground if he had not been supported. Then he rallied again, and again besought mercy. He might as well have spoken to the deaf. Then came "silence for a moment," broken only by the tick of the watch in the spokesman's hand. There was no pity in their rigid faces. The shadows of night were gathering, and only a minute remained to him, when the boy began to pray, although in a tone so low that his words were indistinguishable. Then came from the executioner the cry of "Time's up;" and after the single exclamation, "O, my God!" the body of the young horse-thief was dangling ten feet from the ground. His hands were thrown wildly up to catch the rope, but a moment after they dropped lifeless on each side, and the boy horse-thief was dead. The executioners mounted their horses and rode rapidly away, leaving the corpse there alone with the night.
It is curious to notice how, under these wild frontier conditions, the law is upon the one hand contemptuously disregarded and upon the other studiously respected. After the lynchers had departed the Coroner came. He tenderly cut down the boy's body and proceeded to hold an inquest. The only witness examined was the bereaved Constable, who swore in the most satisfactory way that the lad had been taken from him. The death proved itself, and the jury found that the deceased died by violence "at the hands of some party or parties unknown." This was deemed quite enough by every horseowner[sic] in the county. Their equine losses had been avenged, and why should they too curiously seek for the avengers, especially when such a search might have been personally inconvenient to some of them? There was one horse-thief less in Holt County. So they thanked God, took courage, and kept perfectly quiet.
We suppose that a horse must be of more value than many boys in those regions of magnificent distances and of limited railway facilities. At any rage, horse-stealing there seems to be regarded as a trifle more felonious than murder in the first degree. That the law does not consider it seems to argue inefficient and defective legislation. If the plunderers of stables are to be hanged, would it not be a little better to have the operation regularly performed by the Sheriff, and after a due conviction of the plunderer?
We must confess that our prejudices are rather in favor of lawful proceedings, provided they are possible. There will, under the Lynch judicial system, sometimes be a danger of hanging the wrong man; and we suppose that no honest Missourian, though robbed of his whole stud, desires to be soothed by the murder of the innocent. If the public tribunals are inefficient, it is the people (horse owners included) who are to be blamed. If the legal penalty of horse stealing is not sufficiently severe, make it so by a new statute! If boys are to be hung, by all means try them first according to law.
Our next article is from The State Journal (Jefferson, Missouri) dated July 31, 1874:
A Boy of Eighteen Strung Up.
A terrible affair occurred in Holt county, above St. Joseph, on Saturday last. James Ross, a boy of eighteen, had been arrested for horse stealing. He was taken to Bigelow for examination, after which he was sent to Oregon to jail. On the way he was taken by a party of disguised men from the officers who were with him and hung.
The St. Joe Gazette thus relates it:
Ross was taken from his horse and led into the timber a distance of about fifty yards, and placed upon the ground. Then, for the first time, he seems to have fully realized his terrible fate and quivered like an aspen leaf. A rope was thrown over the limb of a stout oak tree, the prisoner was placed beneath it, and the fatal noose adjusted about his neck. One of the men then informed him that he had but ten minutes to live, and urged him to "make a clean breast" of all he knew in connection with the gang of horse theives that had infested the country. Ross burst into tears and pleaded for mercy. He admitted that he had stolen horses, but said that he was yet a mere boy and there was time to reform. He would give the names of none of those with whom he had been associated, and again begged that they would not hang him. The spokesman sternly informed him that he had but five minutes left, and at the same time four stout men took hold of the rope preparatory to giving the fatal swing. For a moment the prisoner seemed almost ready to sink to the ground, and two of the party stepped forward to support him.
The man rallied again and made another appeal for mercy. His captors were silent, and it was evident that all further appeals were useless. There was a silence of afully a minute during which the spokesman's hand could be heard. It was a sad and solemn scene—the young boy standing so close on the verge of the grave, the gathering shadows of night casting their gloom around those stern, determined captors, whose purpose it was evident no entreties could change. Another minute, and Ross was engaged in prayer, speaking in a tone so low that scarcely a word could be distinguished. But a few sentences had been uttered when the word was given that "time was up," and after the single exclamation "Oh my God !" the body of the horse thief was dangling ten feet from the ground. For fully two minutes there were strong convulsive struggles. The hands were thrown up to clutch the rope, and the legs were thrown violently around, with every evidence of intense suffering. Then the hands dropped to the side and the body hung a lifeless mass.
Our final article comes from The Holt County Sentinel published October 23, 1874. It describes the indictment of the men who lynched James Ross. It was rare for lynchings to be prosecuted and Ross' age and the fact that he was white probably led to the indictment of his murderers. Whether they were actually convicted or not is unknown. I am only going to include part of the article because it is a very long winded piece with comments from the judge presiding over the case.:
From the St. Joe Gazette.
THE EIGHT HOLT COUNTY MEN INDICTED FOR MURDERING HIM ADMITTED TO BAIL
Ninety-six Thousand Dollars Pledged.
The details of the lynching of James Ross in Holt county in July last are too familiar to our readers to require more than a brief recapitulation. Ross, a boy of sixteen, had been arrested for stealing a horse from Mrs,[sic] Marshall, of Holt county. He had brought the animal to this city and sold it to a man named Millar. Subsequently he he was arraigned before Esquire Long, at Bigelow, plead guilty, and in default of bail was committed to jail in Oregon. While being taken to Oregon in a wagon by Constable Rice, a band of masked men stopped the team, took Ross from the custody of the constable and lynched him. At the August term of the Circuit Court eight men, supposed to have committed the crime, were indicted for murder in the first degree. On Friday of last week they were arrested and confined in jail at Oregon. On Tuesday, the 13th, Judge Henry S. Kelly, of the circuit court, issued a write[sic] of habeas corpus, returnable on Friday, the 16th, and accordingly,at[sic] ten o'clock yesterday morning, the matter came up for hearing before the Judge at the Court House in Oregon.
The prisoners were present in court in person and by their attorneys. The motion for bail coming up, it was conceeded by Mr. Dungan, prosecuting attorney, that the evidence, so far as discovered, was not of such a conclusive character as to deprive the prisoners the right of bail. The Judge accordingly admitted them to bail in the sum of $12,000 each, the following well-known citizens of Holt county becoming their sureties; Wm. M. Catron, Daniel Gillis, Jno. W. Bridgman, Jno. Gresham, Edward A. Brown, James G. Catron, Christopher Catron, Wm. A. Hinkle, David S. Alkire, Albert B. Welton, Edmond D. McCoy, Archer Hamon, Thos. Everett.
We give below a copy of the record of yesterday's proceedings,filed[sic] with E. L. Allen, clerk of the circuit court:
STATE OF Mo.,} In the vacation of
HOLT COUNTY, } the circuit court.
Be it known that on petition of Frank Bridgman, Chauncey H. Graves, Soloman Catron, Wm. H. Symkins, John Foster, Charles E. Barnes, Royal Van Dusen and John D. Rice, showing that they were detained in custody by Wm. G. McIntyre, sheriff and jailor of said Holt county, by warrants issued on an indictment found against them by the grand jury of said county at the August term of 1874 of the circuit court, for the alleged murder of one James Ross. I, the undersigned judge of said circuit court in vacation, did issue the write[sic] of habeas corpus, commanding the said sheriff to bring the said parties before me at the Court HOuse in Oregon, the county seat of said county, on this day, together with the cause of their detention; and the said writ having been executed by bringing said parties before me as commanded, and the cause of their detention being by the returns admitted to be the same as that alleged in the petition.
And now the said partied[sic] move to be admitted to give bail for the appearance at the next term of circuit court of said Holt county to begun and held at the Court House in Oregon on the third Monday in December, A. D. 1874, to answer to the charges of murder as set out in said indictment:
And said motion coming on to be heard before me, the State of Missouri being represented by T. C. Dungan, the prosecuting attorney of said Holt county, and the defendants, petitioners, being present in person and by Messrs. Stokes, Duff, McKnight, and Wilkinson, their attorneys, it is admitted by the said prosecuting attorney, for the purpose of this motion only, that the proof of the guilt of said petitioners, so far as the same has come to his knowledge, is not evident, nor the presumption great, that they,or [sic] any of them, are guilty of the crime charged in the indictment ; it is therefore
Ordered by me that each of said petitioners be admitted to bail, and that they and each of them be required to enter into a recognizance in the sum of $12,000 each, with sufficient sureties, jointly and severally binding each petitioner with his sureties in that sum, for the appearance of said petitioners on the first day of the December term of the circuit court of said Holt county,to[sic] answer to said indictment for the murder of said James Ross, and not to depart the court without leave.
And the said parties having entered into the recognizance in the sum of $12,000 each, with approved securities, as above required, and thereupon the said defendants, petitioners, were ordered to be discharged from custody, and the papers are herewith ordered to be returned to the clerk of the circuit court.
Given under my hand this 16th day of October, 1874.
H. S. KELLEY,
Judge circuit court
As always, we thank you for joining us and hope we leave you with something to ponder.