Friday, January 05, 2018

Hiram Wilson's lynching: The lost Patriot report

This commemorative plaque is located at the Chariton Cemetery grave of Sheriff Gaylord Lyman. The remains of his killer, Hiram Wilson, were buried in an unmarked grave in Douglass Pioneer Cemetery.

Lucas County Sheriff Gaylord Lyman was shot down near the southeast corner of Chariton's square by a horse thief on July 6, 1870, and his killer --- Hiram Wilson --- lynched that night, tossed  out a second-floor courthouse window by an enraged mob with a rope around his neck. We all know that story. Right?

We know it in large part because Dan Baker, when compiling the 1881 history of Lucas County, transcribed The Chariton Democrat's first-hand "Extra" report of these events and republished it. Original copies of The Democrat published that long-ago week have vanished. As have copies of The Patriot for the entire year.

But now, thanks to the miracles of modern technology (digitalized newspaper databases with search engines), I've located the "lost" Patriot report --- transcribed and published on July 11, 1870, in The Chicago Tribune. The Tribune report was, in turn, reprinted from The Ottumwa Courier of July 7. And The Courier had transcribed its story from proof sheets of The Patriot, hand-carried from Chariton to Ottumwa by a gentleman identified as "Major Safely." Maj. Safely most likely was John J. Safely, late of the 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

While not as long as The Democrat report, The Patriot dispatch contains detail not mentioned in the report of its competitor and has more of a sense of immediacy. It's possible to envision The Patriot typesetter scrambling to keep up as the editor rushed in to the office after gathering and jotting down the latest information.

Here's The Patriot/Courier report as republished in Chicago:


Sheriff Lyman, of Lucas County, Shot by a Horse Thief --- The Murderer Hung from the Court House Window

From The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier, July 7

We are indebted to Major Safely, of this city, for proof-sheets of the Chariton Patriot, containing the following account of the terrible tragedy and speedy vengeance upon the murderer by an incensed and outraged populace. Major Safely says that he never before witnessed such wild and uncontrollable excitement pervading all classes of citizens:

"Just as we are going to press we learn of the shooting of Gaylord Lyman, Sheriff of this county, by a horse-thief. It appears that on Tuesday the Sheriff received a description of a stolen horse and the thief, and Mr. Lyman was on the lookout. This Wednesday morning the fellow made his appearance with the horse, and endeavored to sell it to Captain Robinson. The latter suspicioning the horse to be a stolen one, communicated the fact to the Sheriff, who attempted to arrest him near Dennis & Kittredge's wagon-shop, when the thief drew a revolver and shot Mr. Lyman in the breast, the ball passing through the lower part of the right lung, and is supposed to have lodged near and injured the spine, as he suffers great pain in the limbs. He was immediately carried into Wm. Lewis' house, and Drs. Gibbon, Heed, and Stutsman did all in their power  to alleviate his suffering.

"The thief, and now murderer, started down the alley, in the rear of the wagon shop, flourishing his revolver, and threatening to shoot several men who were following him. A farmer's team was standing in the alley; the desperado, taking out his knife, cut the halter strap of one of the horses, mounted and started, using his knife in lieu of a spur, riding rapidly until he approached Wilkerson's cornfield, where he abandoned the horse, and struck out through the corn in the direction of Baker's Woods. The most intense excitement prevails, and hundreds are now scouring the brush and prairie east of town. If caught before the passion and anger arounsed in the bosoms of all by this atrocious act dies out, the scoundrel will hardly see the dawn of another day. Below we give the procalmation issued by the Mayor:

" 'Five hundred dollars reward! The above reward will be given for the arrest of the murderer of Gaylord Lyman, Sheriff of Lucas County, Iowa.

" 'Description: the man is thick set, weighs about 150 or 160 pounds, probably 25 years old, sandy complexion; had on when he committed the deed, Wednesday noon, July 6, a brownish woolen coat, mouse colored corduroy pantaloons, broad-rimmed white wool or fur hat, with broad band around it.

" 'E. B. Woodward,
Mayor of Chariton, Iowa
Chariton, Iowa, July 6, 1870

"LATER --- They have caught the cuss. He was discovered by Tom Martin; seeing he was caught, he shot at Martin, when the latter broke his gun over the thief's head, and then grappled him. Assistance being at hand, the murderer was taken in custody by Marshal McCormick and conducted to town on foot, accompanied by a large crowd of citizens. By request of the Sheriff, the prisoner was brought to him, when the following conversation took place: Someone asked the Sheriff if he recognized the prisoner. A. 'I do.' Prisoner. 'How do you feel Sheriff?' A. 'Comfortable.' Sheriff. 'I suppose you feel as bad as I do?' Prisoner. 'I do. I was in whiskey at the time or I would not have done it.' Just as the prisoner was being taken away, he said to the Sheriff: 'I want you to forgive me.' Answer by the Sheriff: 'I will do that.' A great multitude then gathered around the prisoner, many crying 'hang him!' By a strong effort on the part of our best men, the prisoner was protected, and is now in the hands of the law.

"To describe the pent-up feelings of the crowd after the murderer was brought to town would require a graphic pen. Pandemonium makes music compared with the wild cries of the angry crowd.

"The prisoner's name is Hiram Wilson, and he has been living with his father three miles south of Wyreka, Putnam County, Mo., for the past year. A few weeks ago he visited an uncle named Plunkett, living at Clayton, Ill. Starting home on foot he came to the conclusion that walking was hard work this warm weather, and when ten miles west of Quincy, Ill., near Fabius, Marion County, Mo., as he says, he noticed the horse --- now in the hands of the authorities at this place. The horse was stolen on Thursday night last, and has been on the road ever since. He says he was born south of Warsaw, Wayne County, on the Iowa side of the State line, and that he will be 21 years old the 5th of next March. He was a brother living four miles north of Saulsbury, Chariton County, Mo. His father's family consists of three brothers and five sisters, two of the latter married, and three single living at home. His two brothers, he claims, were members of the Eighteenth Missouri Infantry during the war.

"He appears to be a desperate character, and in the coolest manner relates his horse-stealing and the devilish, cold-blooded shooting of the Sheriff. He claims to have been "in whiskey," and that he obtained the stuff in two different saloons. He was held in $5,000 bonds, at his examination before Justice Woodward, this afternoon, failing, of course, in obtaining that amount of security, to appear at the next term of the District Court. Captain McCormick will take Wilson to the Mount Pleasant jail on the 12 o'clock train tonight.

"LATEST --- 10:15 P.M. At this hour Mr. Gaylord Lyman breathed his last.

"In a few minutes the news reached the Vigilance Committee, waiting at the Court House, who immediately broke down the door of the Mayor's office, where the murder was confined, hurried him out, and in less time that it will take to read this, the thief and murderer was hung from one of the south windows of the Court House."

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