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January 14, 2018

Mob of 300 Lynches Confessed Murderer, Warrensburg Courthouse, July 1872

July 1872
Kansas City Star, 1872
Warrensburg, Johnson County Courthouse, Next to the Jail in 1867
From the Kansas City times July 27, 1872

The reader will recall the account of an attempt to lynch James Sharpe, the murderer of John Erskine, at Warrensburg, on last Monday night (July 22). The result of that attempt was evidently anything but satisfactory to those engaged in it, and there was good ground, as the sequel has proved, for the apprehensions of the sheriff, as stated to our reporter, that another and more formidable attempt would be made to take Sharpe out and hang him.

Night before last, just before night-fall the sheriff received an intimation that that night was the appointed time for a renewal of the attempt to lynch the prisoner. Accordingly, Sheriff Smith summoned a large posse to assist him in guarding the doomed man, but the majority of them failed, for some reason or other, to come to time, so that about nine o’clock Smith found himself unsupported save by some halt a dozen citizens, and with the uncertainty before him that an attempt would be made that night to take Sharpe out of his hands and hang him, and that the attempt would be of the most
The first mob had evidently come expecting to be let into the jail after a little parley, and came unprovided with means of breaking in. 
 They had therefore gone away when it became evident that they could not force a passage to Sharpe’s cell without a fight with the sheriff. The second mob came prepared, if they could get at their victim in no other way, to raze the old jail to the ground. A little after midnight on Thursday, the mob, mounted and numbering over

Was observed approaching over the sight of eminence that rises between the old town of Warrensburg and Post Oak Creek.  When they had come within a short distance of the court-house square they halted, secure their horses, and came on in two bodies. 
To explain the nature of their operations a brief description of the jail is necessary.  It is a two-story brick, about forty-six feet north and south by twenty feet east and west. This court-house square, it must be remembered, is in the old town of Warrensburg, which is about a half-mile from then new, or railroad town, and westward from it.  The jail is divided into two parts, the north end being used as a residency by the jailer, and the south end fitted up for the incarceration of prisoners.  
Courthouse and Jail Warrensburg, Johnson County MO 1867
The cell is which Sharpe was chained is on the southwest corner of the building, on the first floor, and has two small, heavy-grated windows looking out into the back yard of the jail, which is perhaps ten feet by twenty, and enclosed by a high paling.  The brick wall around the cell is about sixteen inches thick, and the cell itself is a box made of two-inch oak plank, crossed and bolted together, and the whole lined with boiler iron.
The approach to the cell from the inside is through a narrow hall-way which extends to the end of the building, and between the end of the hall and the open air there is only the sixteen-inch brick wall.  The jail has been
And is evidently a very insecure place for the incarceration of the desperate felons, either for keeping them in or mobs out.
As has been said, the mob approached the jail in two bodies—one detachment investing the premises in front and the other coming up through the court-house square from the west, and surrounding the south end of the building.  They moved with silence, rapidity and precision of veteran troops executing a movement on the field.
1850's Courthouse Public Square Warrensburg, Johnson County, MO
They evidently meant to do their work of death this time, and to do it for certain, and in spite of whatever might come in their way.  It had become a settled conviction in the minds of these people of Johnson county that Sharpe must dies, and that he must speedily be put beyond any peradventure of an escape from the consequences of this crime.
These men, therefore, were determined.  There was no bluster, no loud talking; no one in the mob was drunk; there were no threats.  The orders and pass-words were delivered in muffled undertones—sullen growls through the set teeth of the lynchers; but there was no bravado; nothing but quiet.
That had the rustle of death about them, and hoarse whispers that might have been from the grave.
At length, when all was ready, a formal, respectful demand was made upon Sheriff Smith for the body of James E. Sharpe.  The Sheriff was upon the door stone.  It was unpretentious rostrum, but the audience was attentive and willing to hear.
“Gentlemen, “said Smith, “you are, most of you, citizens of Johnson county.  You have helped to elect me to this position, to discharge the duties for which I am here to-night.  You have chosen me to execute and enforce the law, and now you come to break it in spite of me.”

Sheriffs of Johnson County, Missouri
From left. J. H. Smith 1868-1872
H. H. Russell 1876- 1880
William Collins 1872-1876
David Raker 1890-1894
R. M. Lear 1900-1904
Winfield Dunham 1896-1900
A voice in the crowd: “Get out of the way Smith; we would not harm you, nor any of your posse; but we are three hundred strong, and we are going to take and hang Sharpe, no matter what stands in our way.”
“But,” replied the Sheriff, “what are you going to gain by such a proceeding? Why, simple to cast a stigma on the name of this county, to have it go out to all the world that the processors of law are interrupted by by armed mobs, and that the law of Judge Lynch takes precedence of the statutes.  If this were a new, border community, infested with desperadoes, without society, without the methods and appliances of legal procedure, and of executing the mandates of the courts, there might be some justification for this sort of thing.
But ours is an old community. Law is unrestrained in its processes and its execution is never delayed or hampered.  The prisoner is self-convicted.  There is no man or body of men in all the world who will make the faintest-attempt to rescue him.  He can elude justice only by taking his own life, and this he cannot do except by butting his own brains out against the walls or the floor of the cell.
Let it be said for once that the civil law has taken its course in Western Missouri, and that a criminal has suffered the legal penalty of his misdeeds in the manner prescribed by the statutes.  Leave the care of the prisoner to me; his trial to your jury: his sentence to your judge, and his execution to him upon whom such duty devolves.”
“It’s not use talking about this matter, Mr. Smith, “was the calm reply. “We understand the nature of this thing as well as you can do or can. We revere and respect you as a man of courage and honor, and a faithful and vigilant officer.  You know and recognize many of us, for we make no concealment or disguise.  We are all responsible men.  This is not a drunken, howling mob, but a company of intelligent men who know what they are about, who know how to do their work and who had fully and deliberately determined, long before they came here, to do it as whatever hazards.”
Here the speaker stopped, a signal was given, and those in the rear of the of the jail made an onslaught upon the brick wall with heavy sledge-hammers, old axes, crow-bars and a battering ram.  A hole was soon broken through the wall at the end of the narrow hall, and into this part of the jail came five or six, men, with lanterns and crow-bars.
The door of Sharpe’s cell is made of bars of ordinary horse-shoe iron, crossed and heavily riveted at the intersections, swinging on heavy hinges, and secured by a bar and heavy hasp and padlock.  Two crow-bars were run through between the bars, and four stalwart men surged backward upon this powerful leverage.  The iron door creaked and groaned, there was a dull, metallic snap as the
Site of old jail and the lynching.
Warrensburg, MO
And in a moment the door was wrenched out of its fastenings, and Sharpe and those who had come to kill him stood face to face in the cramped cell.  Not a word was said.  Outside there was only a murmur of impatience.  Inside there was no sound save the rapid, hard breathing of the men, and the quick click of one of the two revolver locks in the narrow hall. Then came the dull clank of the chain that fettered Sharpe, as it was laid across the side of a sledge-hammer; then a blow or two as the links were but with a cold chisel; the shackles were apart, and Sharpe was seized by two men and taken out into the open air, not free, but doomed, past praying for, and past the last and faintest hope he may ever have dreamed of, that life would still be his.
The crowd fell back as the men came out with the victim, and then closed up close around them.  There was scarcely a word spoken, Sharpe had not opened his lips.  In his spare, wire frame there was not a quiver, and the flickering light of the lanterns, as it fell upon his face, showed not even a shadow of pallor upon its livid surface.  If he had fears, or if there was a sinking at his heart, he gave no world or sign to tell it.
Whether it was clear nerve or brutal stolidity, none can tell.  It may be that, as he sat in his brick, oak and iron walled dungeon, with the pitiless iron clasped upon his limbs and riveting him to utter helplessness—alone, in the darkness that hid his hand raised in front of him, listening to the “thud”, “thud” of the heavy blows upon the outer wall, as if driving the nails in his coffin lid—it may be that those blows smote every one upon his heart and gave him pain as if upon his body and not upon the brick they fell. 
It may be that now as he heard knocking at his door the death he had sat for days and knights gazing at afar off, and with a glimmer of hope between, the shuddered a little and the memory of the sweets life had held for him in better days that were gone, came back to make his heart sick, and set his brain reeling.
It may be that when he heard the tumble of the unresisting bricks that had been at once his prison and his shield, and knew that the last barrier between him and death was down, there came to him in the blackness of his cell and the midnight, as from a camera, the picture of his fireside, his wife and his little ones.  But whatever there may have been to move him, had gulped it down, and when he came out among those who were to take away his life, not a step in all the crowd was firmer that his, not a check was less blanched, and not an eye quailed less than did his vacant little gravy orbs beneath their overhanging red brows.  To take him out to the road and tie him upon a horse was the work of a few moments, and then cavalcade set out of the
Which was in the timber on Post Oak Creek, about a mile and half from the old town of Warrensburg, Arrived at the appointed place, a halt was made. The men dismounted, a strong cordon was formed around the tree, over a limb fixed about his neck. The men who had been detailed to draw the rope took their places, and then the master of ceremonies stepped in front of Sharpe and asked him if he had anything to say before he died.  Sharpe said he would like to say a word.
“We will hear what you have to say.”
“I acknowledge that I killed Erskine in the manner stated in my first confession. I did not kill Gallagher.  Young’s story to that effect is false.  I do not know what became of Gallagher.  Erskine was the only man I ever killed.  I killed him because I thought he had wronged me in business.”
“Have you any request to make or any mercy to crave?”
“Are you ready to die?”
“I am.”
There was a signal, a tightening of the cord, a rasping sound as the rope slid over the rough bark on the limb, and
Never more to press its surface a living man.  All through the proceeding there had not even been a word spoken to Sharpe by any one of the mob except recognized leaders. Not a jeer, not a taunt, not an expression of malice or revenge. And now, as he swung between heaven and earth, there was not a word or brutal exultation—only the faint gurgle in the throat of the dying man, the rustle of the rope as it swung against the limb, and the occasional stamp of the horse’s hoof, and the sigh of the night wind among the branches of the trees. A few lamps threw a flaring, a ghastly light upon the scene and lit up the solemn, resolute faces of the lynchers that stood around.
Indiana Hanging
When Sharpe ceased to struggle, and his pulse had stopped even its irregular fluttering, the leader announced he was dead. 

“Our work is done, men” he said.
“Now disperse and go to your homes as orderly and quietly as you came here. I hope we shall never have occasion for another such job like this in Johnson county.
The mob then rapidly dispersed in every direction.
As soon as it was daylight Sharpe’s body was taken down and an inquest held.  The verdict was, that the deceased came to his death by strangulation at the hands of parties unknown to the jury.
His body has been delivered to his family for internment.
There was not excitement in Warrensburg over the affair.  Many of the most respectable citizens of various parts of the county, were engaged in the hanging, and they made no effort at concealment or disguise.  The affairs is to be regretted, but it certainly was conducted with a degree of decorum and formality that stripped it of the more hideous features of mob law, and made it an unique and curious affair of its kind.

Was about fifty-two years of age, and owned one of the finest farms in Johnson county, located near Centerview and about three or four miles from the line of the Missouri Pacific railroad.  He was a stock raiser and feeder, and dealt largely in Texas and Cherokee cattle.  His farm, with what stock, crops, buildings and utensils are on the premises, is worth at least forty thousand dollars.  It is said to be only lightly encumbered, and is in a fine state of improvement.
His family consists of his wife and six children, the eldest of whom is twenty-two, and the youngest about seven years old.  Mrs. Sharpe is a lade of about forty-five years of age, rather below the average size of women and more than ordinarily good looking for a women of her age.  She is an amiable, intelligent little woman with a face beaming of with womanly kindness and mother affection.  Her name in the neighborhood is a proverb of charity and benevolence, and she is a devoted Christian, in deed as well as in profession.
In this awful trial that has come upon her she has the keenest and most active sympathy of the entire community.  Since Sharpe has been in jail with a certainty of death at the hands of the law or mob, she has borne her affliction with meekest resignation.  To all who have conversed with her upon the subject, she has expressed her sense of justice that has overtaken her erring husband, and has said that his career has been, in spite of her tearful entreaties and prayerful remonstrances, a wicked one.  A few days ago she visited Sharpe in his cell, accompanied by three of her children.  Then, for the first and only time, he showed feeling and utterly broke down.
His death, in view of his career, is undoubtedly a relief to her, thought the manner of his taking off must always be a theme of the keenest grief and shame. But the community cannot and will not visit upon the innocent head of this dove-eyed little woman a shadow of the reproach that belongs to her hardened husband alone.
July 28, 1872 The Leavenworth Times
James Sharpe - John Erskine
Warrensburg, Missouri 
John Paulee Erskine 1819-July 1872, Murdered by James E. Sharpe
in Centerview, near Warrensburg, MO, Johnson County

Buried in the Centerview MO Cemetery
Age 52 yrs - from Guadalupe, Texas and was murdered near in Centerview, Missouri near Warrensburg.
John Paulee Erskine was born in 1819 in Monroe County, Virginia. The gory details of his murder and the aftermath, from the Dallas papers:
Dallas Herald August 3, 1872 (p.2 col.4)
The Kansas City Times gives an account of the brutal murder of Mr. John Erskine, of Seguin (Tx) in this state, a well known and highly respectable gentleman who has been for some years engaged in the cattle trade. He was murdered by a man named Sharp(e), who had given Erskine a mortgage on his property, to get rid of this encumbrance. Sharp was exposed by his little son, who witnessed the deed.

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