Some history of Johnson County-Western Missouri. Thanks to McClure Archives at UCM, Trails Regional Library and JOCOMO Historical for sharing and preserving our history.
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July 20, 2012
1860s - 1870s Story of Warrensburg's Lynchings and Hangings by Vigilantes,
Warrensburg Vigilantes, Hangings and Lynchings in the Late 1860's and 70's
June 23, 2008
By RHONDA CHALFANT, Sedalia Democrat Nineteenth century towns strove to be seen as “live,” a term that combined the concepts of progressivism and prosperity with morality and civility. The primary spokesperson for a community was often its newspaper editor, whose articles lauded his or her town’s attributes while condemning aspects of other communities, even if the communities were similar in all respects. Rivalry between communities often became intense, as editors applied the full measure of Victorian sentimentality, both praise and denunciation, to reports of activities. Sedalia and Warrensburg became rivals in the early 1870s, when both competed to be named the site of the State Normal School or teachers’ college (now University of Central Missouri). The state chose Warrensburg, leaving many Sedalia boosters feeling that their most deserving city had been somehow cheated. Jonathan Edwards, the editor of the Sedalia Democrat, continued that rivalry by extolling the virtues of Sedalia while criticizing the vices of Warrensburg, as the reporting of an incident in August 1879 demonstrates. The incident, the murder of a man while at a brothel, was described in Edwards’ purple prose as “one of those unprovoked and damning murders that blot the civilization of our country, and throw their blasting shadows thwart the culture, morals, and religion of the age.” His headline, “Another Warrensburg Murder,” was emphasized by the notice that “Again we are called upon to chronicle another” murder in a community that had experienced a wave of violence during the 1870s. The perpetrators of the murder were a group of men of questionable character, and the victim was equally disreputable, having been both a witness to and a peripheral participant in a murder that had resulted in the execution by hanging of a man named Davidson in July 1879. Sedalia had its own share of disreputable characters and violent incidents during the same time period, and brawls and shootings at the city’s many houses of ill repute were commonplace. As such, it ill behooved Edwards to emphasize the negative effects of “bad associations, bad practices, and bad whisky (that) sent another soul to eternity” in Warrensburg. However, Edwards’ coverage of the incident left no doubt that in his mind, at least, Warrensburg was the home of “desperados” and hotbed of “revengeful jealousy” and “drunkenness,” and iniquity. As Edwards reported the incident, John Duncan, the victim, who lived about 10 miles north of Warrensburg, came into town on Saturday to sell a load of grain. Following the sale, he accompanied Don Blevins, George Anderson, and a company of other men to the Brewery, a popular saloon. After drinking through the afternoon and evening, Blevins left to visit the brothel kept by Mrs. Lowe in western Warrensburg, Anderson and Duncan soon followed. When Anderson and Duncan arrived at Mrs. Lowe’s house of ill fame, they found Blevins abusing Mrs. Lowe’s daughter, who was also a prostitute. Duncan, the most sober, according to Edwards, separated Blevins and the prostitute so as to protect Miss Lowe and to keep the group from getting into trouble. Blevins agreed to let her go with Duncan provided Duncan would bring her back to him later. Blevins and Anderson left Mrs. Lowe’s in pursuit of more whisky, more women, and apparently of Duncan. Duncan led Miss Lowe across a ravine to the home of a Mr. Evans. From there, at about 3 a.m., she returned to the brothel, arriving at the same time Anderson and Blevins returned. Anderson told Miss Lowe and Mrs. Lowe that he had “struck Duncan two or three times and knocked him down in a ditch.” A group of men hanging about the Lowes’ brothel went to search for Duncan. They found him unconscious in a ditch eight feet deep with a few abrasions on his face. They loaded Duncan into a wagon and brought him to Harrison’s livery stable, where he “lingered in an unconscious state until 5:20 o’clock this (Sunday) morning.” Edwards’ failure to mention whether medical help was summoned suggests that no one bothered to call for a physician. At the coroner’s inquest, which was begun on Sunday, Drs. C. H. Jordan and G. R. Hunt testified to the autopsy they had conducted. They reported Duncan’s skull had been fractured by a “violent blow with some dense instrument with a hard, smooth surface,” and that a blood clot had formed at the site of the fracture. The men who brought Duncan into town testified only that he had fallen into the ditch and “hurt himself.” Blevins and Anderson were arrested and held pending the outcome of the inquest and the filing of formal charges. On Monday morning the inquest was to continue, and witnesses to Blevins and Anderson’s brutal assault on Duncan were to be called. There was, Edwards suggested, “little doubt that the guilt of this horrible crime will be fastened upon one or more of the crowd who accompanied Duncan into this midnight orgy.”
History Of Johnson County MISSOURI BY EWING COCKRELL CHAPTER VII— REIGN OF TERROR. JOHNSON COUNTY THE SCENIC OF LAWLESSNESS AND ORGANIZED CRIME — Vigilantes. — Following the close of the Civil War, Johnson County became the scene of much lawlessness and what appeared to be organized crime. The law was apparently helpless to bring offenders to justice, Murders and robberies were repeatedly committed. The offenders became generally known but were not punished. This lawlessness may have been carried on for the love of plunder and murder or by habit acquired by these desperadoes during the long period of the Civil War, or both. Apparently they had their own way for a time. They rode into business houses shooting articles of merchandise from the walls, sniffing lights out of people's houses with pistol shots, or shot promiscuously into public gatherings. Religious and political meetings were infrequently broken up and the peaceable citizens were terrified generally. Opposition to this condition was aroused and encouraged at Warrensburg in June, 1866, on the occasion of a speech delivered there by General Frank P. Blair. Blair was well known in Missouri as a brave and able Union soldier, and after the war was over he became one of the leaders in the struggle for the re-enfranchisement of Southerners and rehabilitation of the state. Blair was advertised to speak at Warrensburg June 1. 1866. A brush arbor was built just north of the court house where Blair was expected to speak. The extremists among the Union men hated Blair for the stand that he had taken and denounced him as a traitor. It was anticipated for weeks before the meeting that there would be trouble and bloodshed if Blair spoke in denunciation of the Radicals at Warrensburg. Blair arrived on the day advertised. A delegation of the more peace-loving citizens visited him at the old Ming Hotel, and informed him that if he attempted to speak they feared that there would be bloodshed. He answered that he would talk "if they will let me live." At the place of meeting he was met by an enthusiastic audience, but among them were fifty or more of the opposition crowd, all armed, who expected to make trouble. This gang had had as their leader "Old Bill Stevens," a giant in stature and reputed to be a dangerous man. Blair in his typical forceful manner plunged into the arraignment of the Radical rule in Missouri. He had not gone far when "Old Bill Stevens" arose and called him a liar. Amid confusion Stevens was ejected. He came back, again called Blair a liar and was again put out. Meanwhile his son Jim Stevens, had been knifed to death and another man nearly so, and with his dead son, followed by his gang, withdrew. General Blair continued and finished his speech at six o'clock, after having talked between four and five hours. On February 2, David Sweitzer. a respected farmer who lived about eight miles north of Warrensburg, was murdered and robbed in his home among his family and friends by two men who though partially disguised were easily recognized. This act seemed to have been the final one necessary to arouse the community. The news of the murder reached town early the next morning. That day a meeting was held at the court house, at which about four hundred of the leading citizens were present. They proceeded in a cool, dignified, parliamentary manner. Colonel Examiner was elected temporary chairman and N. B. Klaine acted as secretary of the meeting. Professor Bigger addressed the meeting and among other things said, "It is our duty to ferret out the murderers of our peaceable citizen who has so lately been killed, and bring them to justice. I am opposed to summary vengeance, but when law cannot enforce it and the violators brought to justice, it is necessary for the people to take the matter in hand. The right of the people to take care of themselves if the law does not is an indisputable right. We must unite and put down lawlessness." The meeting was then addressed by Rev. J. V. Newcomb, who said in part: "The meeting has my hearty approval. The sentiments expressed by Mr. Bigger are my own. 'He that draweth the sword shall perish by the sword," and as exemplified by this case, men who disregard law and order, have to be met on their own grounds. It is the duty of the people to protect one another and ferret out the offenders." Colonel Eads, General Shedd, J. A. Sheperd, General Cockrell and Colonel Elliott, men of all parties and views, also spoke and all endorsed the meeting. Major Davis, Colonel Eads, Captain Harmon and Colonel Elliott were appointed a committee and reported the following resolutions, which were adopted by unanimous vote, every one present rising to his feet in approval. "Whereas, in the opinion of the community crime of all kinds has become so prevalent and criminals of the worst type so numerous that life and property are unsafe, and "Whereas, the courts of the county have failed to luring the perpetrators of the murders and robberies to justice, and "Whereas, the greatest of crimes are becoming more and more frequent and punishment less and less certain, therefore Resolved, that we, the people of the town of Warrensburg, and of the county of Johnson, without distinction of party, do pledge ourselves that we will, to the extent of our ability, assist in the discovery of the perpetrators of all murders and robberies, and will assist the officers of justice in detecting and punishing them ; and as the civil law proves inadequate to bring such criminals to justice, therefore "Resolved, that we will support a vigilance committee in executing summarily, all murderers, robbers. horse thieves, where ever they can be identified with certain believing, as we do. That self-preservation is the first law of nature, and that the citizens of a county are justified in administering justice to such criminal, wherever the duly constituted authorities from any cause whatever, are unable or fail to do so." The vigilance committee began at the top and the first desperado whom they dealt with was the notorious "Dick" Sanders, the recognized leader of the band that murdered Sweitzer. A posse of about one hundred men went to Fayetteville one night, where they were joined by a committee from that town and a delegation went to the Sanders house. After a short parley "Dick" Sanders and his brother, Brickett Sanders, surrendered. Another detachment of the posse of vigilantes captured another desperado near Fayetteville that same night. Then the outlaws were taken to a place in the woods about a mile north of the Sanders home on Honey creek. Here the main body of the vigilance committee were awaiting the arrival of the prisoners. It was about midnight. The committee elected a judge and proceeded in a systematic way to confront the prisoner with the accusations against him. "Dick" Sanders was brought forward, taking a position in front of the judge who addressed him as follows: "Richard Sanders, you are charged with one of the most infamous crimes known to law, not one but many. You are charged with murder and to make it still more infamous on your part and more horrible to a fine community I will add assassination." Sanders interrupted the judge, saying "It's a d___ lie." The judge, without noticing the interruption, continued; "You are charged with horse stealing; you are charged with murder and robbery, in the broadest sense of the word; you are charged with being at the head of a band of murderers and marauders who have for years made Johnson County the scene of death and destruction. And to crown your long reign of infamy I charge you with being the murderer of David Sweitzer. You have again spilled blood without any just provocation. The man whom you assassinated came to you in confidence not suspecting your murderous intentions. He asked you what you wanted. You said 'your money and your life," and you shot him dead." "This was the story of Mrs. Groninger," said a man in the crowd. Sanders said that it was false and that Mrs. Groninger lied. "Mrs. Groninger didn't lie," said the judge coldly, "for the crimes you have committed you must die. If we turn you over to the civil authorities you will escape or by some of your comrades in infamy prove an alibi and be turned loose again upon society. If perchance you were tried, found guilty and sentenced to death by a civil court there would be a chance for you to escape justice or you would stand on the scaffold if found guilty and jest with the hangman, or I fear profane the name of God with your dying breath. This must not be. "You must die in secret, tonight, now. It will save your mother the shame of a son dying on the scaffold and she can say. Tic was murdered, killed by a mob." You are not the only one. "Many of your companions will follow and that soon. This last outrage is more than we can bear. Your crimes demand an extraordinary reparation. You have broken in the houses with arms in your hands; you have committed another murder. You must die here. "I now sentence you to hang by the neck until dead." The prisoner seemed stupefied and did not utter a word. He was placed upon a horse with the noose adjusted about his neck and the rope tied to a limb above. The judge again asked Sanders who killed Sweitzer and he replied. "I don't know. I think Morg Andrews." Someone in the crowd said, "Oh, hell, Dick! Drive up the mule." The horse was driven from the prisoner and "Dick" Sanders swung into eternity. His brother and the other captive were released and the committee quietly dispersed. The outlaws met at the home of "Bill" Stevens the following night as near as can be ascertained and decided to lie low and cease operations for the time being. The Stevens home was about five miles southeast of Warrensburg. Stevens was the logical successor of the fallen chief. "Dick" Sanders, and was now the recognized leader of the gang. He was known as a "bad man" and always went heavily armed. The next important work for the committee was to get "Bill" Stevens. They proposed to take no chances in a conflict with him and planned to kill him outright. Accordingly, about twenty men surrounded the Stevens house one night, each armed with a revolver and a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot. They secreted themselves outside the house and there, quietly awaited dawn, and the appearance of Stevens. About daylight Stevens appeared unsuspectingly at the door in his shirt sleeves. The committee fired and Stevens fell riddled with buckshot. He was taken into his house by members of his family and died about twelve o'clock that day. This work of the vigilance committee had now so terrified the other members of the gang that they left the country with the exception of a few of the more daring ones. With these the committee went on with its work. The next man taken was "Jeff" Collins, who made his headquarters in Warrensburg. Some members of the committee became convinced that Collins was about to leave the county. Late in the afternoon Collins went to the house on Ming or South street, where he temporarily made his home, and shortly afterward about fifteen or twenty men secreted themselves around the house awaiting the exit of Collins. In a short time Collins stepped outside and discovered about twenty double-barreled shotguns leveled at his breast. The commander of the party said, "Jeff Collins, we want you. Surrender!" Collins was no coward, but he saw no escape. He raised his hands and said, "I surrender." The captain commanded: "Drop your pistols." Collins made a motion as though he were going to draw them from the scabbard when the captain commanded him: "Stop. Unbuckle your belt and drop them." Collins did as directed. The pistols dropped to the ground and the prisoner stood unarmed. That night the committee met in a livery stable that stood in the rear of the old Ming Hotel. Here they organized a court at about nine o'clock. The judge was seated on a stool in a stall and the jury stood in a line across the floor of the livery stable. "Jeff" Collins, with his arms tightly bound behind him, was brought before this court for trial. The prisoner was cool and defiant. There appeared to be no positive proof of his ever having committed a murder, but circumstances and his general reputation were all against him. The accusation of the judge was similar to that brought against Sanders with the exception of the Sweitzer murder. At the conclusion Collins simply replied. "Well." The judge then continued, "You are charged with being a member of a band of robbers that have for so long infested this country." Collins' only reply was, "Well." The judge continued, "What have you to say in defense of these charges? "Nothing." "Are you guilty as charged?" "You are the judge, not I." "Then you have no defense to make." "No, it would be of no use. Your sits to convict, not to try." "Confess your crimes and it may not go hard with you." "I confess nothing." The judge then addressed the gentlemen. What shall be done with the prisoner?" The jury replied unanimously, "Hang him." The court then said: "Jeff Collins, I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until dead." The party then started with the prisoner, leading him with a rope, out East Culton Street to McGuire, then south along the railroad bridge to a black jack tree, where Collins was hanged. Before the final word was given the judge asked him if he had anything to say. His answer was, "Yes; tell my mother that I died a brave but innocent boy." The next two individuals to fall into the hands of the committee were Thomas Stevens, son of "Bill" Stevens, and Morg Andrews. The authorities of Johnson County were informed that these two men were in jail at Lawrence. Kansas, and sent for them. They were delivered to the officers, the governor of Kansas having honored requisition papers of the governor of Missouri. The prisoners were both young men, about eighteen years of age. The train, in charge of the officers, which brought the prisoners to Warrensburg was met at the depot by probably four hundred men. Most of whom were from the vicinity of Fayetteville. After the officers had taken their prisoners from the train they started for the county jail by a circuitous route as they anticipated trouble. They had not gone far, however, when they were confronted by about fifty armed men, who overpowered the officers and took charge of the prisoners. The committee then assembled on the north and east sides of the public square. The prisoners were placed in a carriage or hack, the committee formed in line and the procession moved in the direction of Post Oak Bridge out Gay Street. In the vicinity of the bridge was a large elm tree, one limb of which extended across the road about thirty feet above. Two ropes were suspended from this limb, and hung down to within about six feet of the ground. The hack containing the prisoners was driven under these ropes. Andrews begged for mercy and his life. Stevens gazed cooling and unflinchingly at his surroundings. A man stepped from the crowd and preferred charges against the prisoners. He said, "You were with the party that killed and robbed Sweitzer; your comrades are disappearing one by one. You go tonight: your last hour has come. Prepare for death. If you have a prayer to offer to your God, pray." Stevens stood erect and answered in a firm but boyish voice, saying: "I have never in all my life spilled a drop of human blood. The charge of my killing Sweitzer is false. I know that you are going to kill me and there is no use in my wasting your time in talking." He then quietly drew a small purse from his pocket which contained a few pieces of money and a few trinkets and asked: "Is there one man in this crowd who will do me the kindness to deliver this to my young sister. It is small but all I have." A man stepped forward and took it and promised to deliver it. "Tell her," said Stevens, "to accept this from her brother who dies an innocent boy. You will find her in the city." The rope was then adjusted about his neck and the driver ordered to drive forward, but Stevens anticipating this sprang from where he stood, the force of the jump caused his neck to be broken. He died instantly. Andrews' nerve failed him and he begged for mercy. But the noose was adjusted, the command given to the driver to move forward, and soon the lifeless body of Andrews also swung over the highway. The next operation of the committee was the hanging of a man named Hall. This was done by the Fayetteville committee. Details are lacking in this case, but it appears that Hall was arrested and confessed to the killing of several men and the Fayetteville vigilance committee did the rest. The committee was next heard from in the case of Thomas W. Little at Warrensburg. The charge against him was that someone had been robbed near Post Oak Bridge. Little was tried by the committee and acquitted, there being no evidence against him. However, it appears that he was held in jail. A few nights afterward, the committee tried him again in a billiard hall in Old Town. Several prominent men from Dover were present and established a complete alibi for the prisoner. The committee voted as to whether they should hang the accused or not and the vote stood three hundred forty-four for acquittal and twenty-eight for conviction. Notwithstanding the second acquittal of Little, about twenty men battered down the jail door that night, took Little out and hanged him to an elm tree on Main street. This hanging was denounced by the men who had been identified with the earlier activities of the vigilance committee and it was well established that the regular committee had nothing to do with it. A short time after the hanging of Little, James M. Sims, an irresponsible youth, was accused of stealing a horse from a boy near Post Oak Bridge. Sims was captured southeast of Clinton on the Grand river. The officers having the prisoner in charge anticipated trouble and tried to get their prisoner safely into Warrensburg, but were met at Smith's Mill on the west side of town by about fifty armed men. The prisoner was taken from the officers and hanged from a tree in that vicinity. Sims was the ninth and last man executed.
Another hanging… Jons William Daniels was publicly hanged at Warrensburg,Mo., yesterday, for the murder of Jesse R. Miller. Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 7, Number 8, 2 March 1878, McGuire, Andrew "Andy" Rode with Quantrill. Surrendered by Capt. Henry Porter to Capt. Young, US Army at Samuel's Depot, Nelson county, KY, 26 July 1865, and paroled there. Hanged 22 May 1867 by a lynch mob at Warrensburg, MO, after being captured trying to rob the Hughes and Wasson Bank at Richmond, MO.