Lynching redux

Michael McKernan mckernan at LOCALNET.COM
Tue Aug 2 16:48:56 UTC 2005

James A. Landau wrote:

>A lynching is
>1) a premeditated killing
>2) in which the killers (sometimes called "vigilantes") have no legal
>standing to try or punish the victim
>3) in which the killers justify their premeditated action by claiming the
>victim's alleged action justified and/or required killing him/her
>4) AND in which the narrator who uses the word "lynching" disapproves of  the
>Note number 4).  "Lynch" is NOT a neutral term.  It is a value  judgment,
>used only when the narrator disapproves of the killing.

Though I've not been following this thread closely, the above formulation
caught my eye.  At the same time, I have been finding considerable mention
of actual lynchings in Kansas in the 1880s.  The following 1884 account
seems to me to contradict Landau's point 4), above.  You may disagree, but
I am not able to find any of Landau's required disapproval in this item.
Other lynchings reported in this newspaper also seem to lack such
disapproval, although some might be seen as 'neutral' or ambiguous in tone.

>Winfield [Kansaa] Courier, November 20, 1884.
>The Marshal of Belle Plaine Kills an Innocent Man and is Strung Up
>By a Determined Populace.
>A Democratic jollification at Belle Plaine, Sumner County, last Friday
>night had a sad ending in the shooting of John C. Crouch by John Wallen,
>and the hanging of the latter, by the excited people. Wallen was a
>desperate character, who came to Belle Plaine from Kentucky, a fugitive
>from justice, it is said, having at least boasted of  killing his man in
>that state. He was recently appointed marshal of that city, on the
>principle, it is claimed, that it is necessary to  fight fire with fire
>that is, there was some work to be done-characters to look after-that it
>was thought he could look after better than anyone else, and as it was
>difficult to find a man who would accept the position, the authorities
>resorted to the doubtful experiment of placing him in the position of a
>sort of detective for a short time
>At about 10 o'clock last Friday night, he was the principal disturbing
>element in a billiard hall, instead of a peace officer, and when
>remonstrated with by the proprietor of the hall, he went out muttering
>threats of what he proposed to do, and among the first he met on the
>outside was John C. Crouch, against whom he had held a grudge for some
>time, and without a word of provocation on this occasion, he drew a
>45-caliber revolver and shot his victim down in cold blood, the ball
>entering the poor man under the chin and passing out above the right
>shoulder, causing death almost instantly.
>The murderer made no attempt to escape; but rather boasted of what he had
>done and what more he proposed to do of the same diabolical work. He was
>soon taken into custody and disarmed and placed in the calaboose. Soon
>after midnight the excited populace, to the number of a hundred or more,
>organized, not as an ordinary mob, but as a quiet, determined band, and
>proceeded to Mayor Store's residence and demanded the key to the
>jail-which he reluctantly surrendered, seeing the situation; and going to
>the jail, they took the prisoner out and marched him to where his victim
>lay cold in death-where he was killed-showed him what he had done, and
>told him if he had anything to say or a prayer to offer, now was his time.
>The prisoner maintained a solid indifference, made no denial of his crime,
>but simply asked for a fair trial. He asked for a drink of water, which
>was given him, and then he was marched to a post in front of a billiard
>hall, to which he was hung so quick that the crowd could hardly realize
>what was done.
>Crouch was respected as a peaceable and honorable citizen, and had many
>friends. Wallen was stimulated for his bloody work by the use
>of whiskey. This is the first serious disturbance that has ruffled Belle
>Plaine during its thirteen quiet, peaceful years.

Michael McKernan

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