Saturday, May 14, 2005

The murder of Sheriff Gaylord Lyman

This is the tombstone of a Lucas County hero, Sheriff Gaylord Lyman, just inside the Chariton Cemetery entrance gates. The small size of the stone reflects the fact that his death impoverished his family.

So far as I know, the good people of Lucas County lost their collective temper only once, during July of 1870 when horse thief Hiram Wilson shot and killed Sheriff Gaylord Lyman. The result was a lynching at the courthouse --- not the current courthouse, but the brick structure that bridged the administrative gap between the original log structure and the current building in the center of the square.

Sheriff Lyman's small tombstone, to the right just beside the drive five rows inside the Chariton Cemetery's main gate, is easy to miss. It is very small, inscribed only with his date of birth, Jan. 10, 1828, and date of death, July 6, 1870. Lucas County's current sheriff, Delbert Longley, is talking of placing a new marker at the grave, recognizing the sacrifice of this man who gave his life specifically for Lucas County. Hopefully, that will come to pass.

Sheriff Lyman's killer was buried in an unmarked grave in what is known now as Douglass Cemetery, just south of Chariton back in a field to the right of the Blue Grass Road. Probably the earliest cemetery in the immediate Chariton vicinity, Douglass had by 1870 become Potters Field, where those buried at county expense were interred. This cemetery was rescued a few years ago from brush and weeds by the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Commission and such fallen and scattered stones as could be found mounted in a central memorial area.

The following account was published on Pages 563-569 within a chapter entlted "Criminal History," of "History of Lucas County, Iowa," Des Moines: State Historical Co., 1881. Much of the report was transcribed from an account published in The Chariton Democrat of 12 July 1870.

The Lynching of His Killer, Hiram Wilson

In the earlier days of Lucas County, when the country was newer, and the influences which maintain good order today, were not so effectually organized and strong as now, crime was bolder and more desperate in its sway.

But, one tragedy has left its bloody stains upon the fair name of Lucas county. It was a double tragedy --- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

A murderer's hand struck down a respected citizen and a faithful officer of the law, which was avenged by an excited populace, the moment his life became extinct. The Chariton Democrat of July 12, 1870, gave a full account of the terrible affair, written upon the ground at the time of its occurrence, which we copy in full, as follows:

"Last Wednesday was a day of terrible excitement in Chariton, and one that will long be remembered. It was fruitful in crime, and speedy in retribution. Sheriff Lyman was murdered in cold blood upon one of the public streets, by a horse-thief, and the murderer expiated his double crime at the end of a rope. We herewith give a full statement of the melancholy events.

"Early on Wednesday morning a young man arrived in town, having in his possession a horse, and his efforts to sell it aroused the suspicion of some of our citizens that he had stolen it. He finally sold the horse to Capt. W.I. Robison, for $50 and a watch. Sheriff Lyman, becoming confirmed in his suspicions, took the fellow in charge, while he was at a saloon just south of the southeast corner of the square. The prisoner insisted that he was innocent, said that he lived near Freedom, in this county, and could bring men to testify as to his good character. The names that he gave were those of persons unknown to the sheriff or any others who heard them, and they told him so. He then wanted to go alone and bring persons who, he said, would vouch for him. The sheriff was willing that he should go, but that he should also go with him. To this the thief objected, and moved off a few steps as if about to walk off alone. The sheriff told him to "hold on," and also started, as if to follow him. The young man stopped, turned around, pulled out a large navy revolver, and told the sheriff to stop --- that if he did not, he would shoot him. Sheriff Lyman was himself unarmed, but he hardly believed that the man would shoot, and deliberately made another step or two toward him --- when the fearful report of the pistol in the man's hands showed that he was as desperate as he pretended to be. The sheriff threw up his hands, and exclaiming, "Oh Lord! He has killed me," fell forward upon the sidewalk.

"The murderer at once started upon a run, and turning around the corner of Dennis & Kittredge's wagon factory, made for the alley running east, closely followed by one or two men. Reaching a farmer's horse that was tied in the alley, he was cutting it loose as his pursuers came nearly up with him. He pointed his pistol at the foremost one in such a manner as to cause them to stop a moment, when he jumped upon the horse, and broke for the timber, about half a mile east of town, known as Baker's grove.

"Reaching the fence that encloses the timber, he dismounted, left the horse, and sight of him was lost. The alarm was speedily raised, and the whole town turned out. Those who could raise weapons armed themselves, and all who could procure horses followed after him as fast as their horses could carry them, two or three hundred others followed on foot. The shooting took place at half past eleven o'clock and by one o'clock nearly three hundred persons were in and around the grove hunting him. The search continued for three or four hours, but as no system has as yet been established, it promised to be fruitless and many of those who had missed their dinners began to wend their way homeward.

"About four o'clock, however, organization was secured, and the company started through the brush from south to north, in regular picket line, men being also stationed at regular distances to watch for the game. Mr.Copeland, the banker, was the first man to discover him, and while he started to find assistance and direct others how two proceed, two young men --- mere boys --- named Thomas Martin and Solomon Dawson, came upon him --- neither party seeing the other until they had come within five or six feet of each other. The thief and murderer was coming toward them in a stooping attitude, with his pistol pointed at Martin, and demanded of him in a sharp whisper to "keep still." Martin made for him, and when the man saw there could be no escape without a fight, he fired at Martin, the shot passing over his shoulder. With that, Martin struck him over the head with his gun, partially stunning him and almost knocking him down. He then sprang upon the desperado, threw him down, and in a moment more assistance had come, when the villain surrendered.

"He was immediately pinioned, and brought to town, his captors having hold of each arm. He came very near being lynched in the woods, but a statement to the effect that Sheriff Lyman desired to see him, was all that saved him then. When the crowd arrived in town, the excitement reached a high pitch, and he would probably have been hung the moment he reached the square, had not another request come from the sheriff for permission to see his murderer. A small party took the prisoner in charge, and conducted him to the sheriff, who recognized him. The fellow told the sheriff that he was the man who had shot him, that he was sorry for it, and asked his forgiveness. Lyman unhesitatingly expressed his forgiveness, and the murder was taken back toward the court house.

"At this juncture, a man appeared with a new rope in his hand and raised the cry of "hang him!" "hang him!" and then such an excitement occurred as but few men ever before witnessed. Some well-disposed citizens interfered, and counseled respect for the laws, and asked that the culprit be given a chance for his life, or at least a fair trial by jury; and with great efforts the mass of the crowd was kept back, and the prisoner was fairly whirled into a small room in the court house, and the door closed.

"The feeling of the crowd seemed to subside, and by six o'clock hopes were freely expressed that the people would let the law have its proper course. This, though advocated by a majority of the well-disposed citizens of the community, was strongly opposed by others, and there seemed to be a determination on their part that the murder should not escape. They maintained that it looked like imbecility to spend time and money to punish this man, as all knew he ought to be punished, and there were those who would not depart until the ends of justice should be satisfied. The terrible news becoming spread through the country, the "vigilantes" or anti-horsethief society, begun to put in an appearance, each one seeming to understand the situation, and evincing great coolness and determination. At half past ten o'clock, it was announced that Gaylord Lyman, the victim, had breathed his last, and then the doom of his murderer was sealed. A crowd was at the court house, a rope had been procured, and a formal demand for the prisoner was made by the captain of the vigilantes. The officers, of course, refused to deliver him up, but about that time two heavy beams came against the door, and the prisoner was soon at the mercy of an outraged community. He was taken to the south door of the court house, and the rope being adjusted about his neck, and the other end being passed in at a window upstairs, he was asked if he had anything to say, and here is his reply:

" 'Gentlemen --- I want you all to forgive me; I am a poor boy; my mother died when I was small. It is the first time I ever committed a crime; I was in liquor at the time.'

"Further remarks were cut short by a severe tightening of the rope, and Hiram Wilson, a confessed horse-thief and murderer, had severed his earthly connection. Hiram Wilson is the name that he gave. He said that his father's home was in Putnam county, Missouri, about five miles from Warsaw, in Wayne county. He was twenty-one years old, sandy complexion, red hair, shockheaded, five feet eight inches high, and would weigh about 155 pounds. He had a bad look, apparently brutalized in all his nature, and betrayed but little anxiety for his situation until the final demand was made upon the officers, when he begged of them to save him, and on being told that his time had come, he plead(ed) to have his shackles taken off, and that was all he asked. He was a desperate character, and would have fought like a tiger .He met his fate as he would a dinner or an ordinary business matter, and seemed, to the last, to feel that he was still worth several dead men. When the church-bell commenced tolling for Lyman, Wilson had "passed in his checks," and was shortly after cut down, life having been pronounced extinct. His body was taken into the court house, where it remained until Thursday morning, when, an inquest having been held, he was taken by the sexton and buried in the "Potter's Field," and his relations were notified of what had taken place. The statement of Wilson that he was in liquor when he did the shooting, was wholly untrue, and no one who saw the deliberation and coolness with which he committed the deed, and his activity in escaping, will believe that he had been drinking to excess.

"Perhaps we should have stated earlier that the sheriff, immediately after being shot, was taken into Uncle Billy Lewis's house, when medical aid was at once called. Doctors Gibbon, Stutsman and Heed did all that could be done to relieve his sufferings, but they knew that his life must be brief. The ball entered his right spine (side?), about the third or fourth rib, penetrating his lung, and lodging somewhere near the spine. He lived just eleven hours after receiving the wound. The deceased leaves a family of four or five children, and a wife, whose death has been hourly looked for several days past. He was in limited circumstances, which will make the sad occurrence still more painful to the bereaved family, which so much needed his fatherly support.

"The sad occurrence spread its gloom over the entire community, and while there may be a few who do not endorse the means by which justice was administered to the criminal, yet there is not a man who can say that he did not deserve all that he got. In moment of sober reflection there is not a community in the land where it would be more difficult to raise a mob than in Chariton, and we do not believe that when the facts in the case go out into the world, there will be many who will censure us for what, under other circumstances, might be looked upon as lawlessness. The necessity for such summary measures is to be regretted, but there are cases where statute laws fail to accomplish their object, and our citizens were determined that this should not prove an instance of that kind. And while they well knew that the crime deserved the punishment visited upon by the culprit, they also thought best to make an example of him, in the hope that it might have salutary effect, and secure us from such high-handed outrages in the future.

"While we write, the funeral of the sheriff takes place. A gloomy sadness is visible upon every countenance. Business is suspended, the work-shops are closed, and people of all classes have turned out en masse, to accompany the remains to their last resting place. The Odd Fellows and other societies are out in full strength, and the quietness and earnestness of the demonstration, would be sufficient to convince any one that the tragic termination of Sheriff Lyman's life is regarded as a calamity upon the community. He was respected and liked by all who knew him, and if there were any who ever conceived an unkind feeling for him, that feeling gave place to real sorrow at his death.

"There were many exciting and ludicrous incidents connected with the tragedy and the chase. Old Joe Johnson was one of the first to follow the murderer, and when he was about to jump upon the horse, "old Joe" came rather close to him. Wilson pointed the pistol at him and told him to get back, and (back) he got. John Reed was the first to arm himself, and could have shot Wilson, had not some women and children, who had been called to the street by the excitement, been in range of his gun. Capt. Leeman was the first to follow him on horse, and they had an exciting race to the timber --- Leeman being not more than twenty steps behind him when he ran into the bush, and had he been armed, he could easily have shot him. But he saw where Wilson ran into the bushes, and discovered the direction he had taken, which aided greatly in the capture. During the hunt in the woods, Wilson at one time, fell in with the line and pretended to join the search. Squire Gallagher thought he recognized him as being the man they were after, and asked him where he came from, who he was, etc.

"After the prisoner was brought to town, he pointed out Ed. Lewis and said that fellow would have ridden over him once, while he was in the weeds had he not drawn up his feet. Jesse Coles was also so close to Wilson at one time that the latter was on the point of shooting him and taking his horse, and would have done so had he not just then heard other voices near at hand. By a statement heretofore published, an impression was created that the marshal brought the fellow into town. Such is not the fact. The marshal was in town when the news came that Wilson had been arrested, and he then took a horse and went out and met the party that had him in charge, just as they reached the outskirts of town, when he assumed the direction of their movements; but he had no more to do with it than anybody else had. Martin and Dawson kept their hold upon the prisoner until they reached the square. Among those who were most clamorous for the hanging of Wilson, we noticed a Methodist preacher and while we can easily account for his feelings upon the subject, we cannot see how he will be able to reconcile his acts with his professions of love and mercy for the unfortunate. Another preacher, we are told, was quite officious at the hanging, and was the first to approach the hanging man, and feeling his pulse, pronounced life extinct. He probably looked upon it as a work of love and mercy. We might go on indefinitely with the mention of similar circumstances, but we believe that in giving the foregoing report, we have done our duty to the public.

"The press of this section of the state gave much expression concerning this tragedy, of which the following, from the Burlington Hawkeye, is a fair measure: 'The shocking tragedy at Chariton on Wednesday adds another to the too numerous list that already makes up a dark page in the history of our state. The crime leading to the summary execution of the murderer was very unprovoked and aggravating. A quite, inoffensive law abiding citizen, and an officer of the law in the proper discharge of his duty, was suddenly shot down by a horse thief whom he had arrested, and in a few hours expired. His family of little children left fatherless, and his wife almost a maniac, and even threatened with death on account of her sudden and overwhelming grief. The perpetrator, a miserable out-law from Missouri and doubtless a member of one of those gangs of horse thieves and cut throats who have long infested southwestern Iowa, and whose conviction, even after arrest, has been almost impossible on account of their strong organizations and accomplices in almost every county.

" 'Under the circumstances we are not surprised that summary vengeance was taken on this guilty wretch. The provocation was very great. Still we can but deeply regret that the citizens there could not have saved their community and the state from the reproach which attaches to every case of summary vengeance. If there was a case of justifiable lynching in Iowa, this was probably one. And yet with all our knowledge of the circumstances and sympathy with the cruelly bereaved family of Sheriff Ly man, the certainty of the criminal's guilt, and the long series of outrages of which this was the culmination, we cannot approve or even excuse the conduct of those who hurried the murderer into eternity without judge or jury.'

"Sheriff Lyman was an Odd Fellow, and the following tribute speaks for itself: 'To the officers and members of Chariton Lodge No. 64, I.O.O.F. --- We, your committee appointed to draft a resolution, expressive of the feelings of this lodge in reference to the death of brother Gaylord Lyman, respectfully submit the following: Whereas, our worthy brother, Gaylord Lyman, while in the discharge of his official duty as sheriff of Lucas county, was on the sixth day of this month, stricken down by a shot from a revolver in the hands of an outlaw, whom he was trying to arrest, and taken from his family, our lodge and his usefulness, in the prime of life. Therefore, be it resolved by the lodge, that we deeply deplore the loss of our worthy brother, who was true to his profession, and who endeared himself to us by his gentlemanly deportment. That by his death a most worthy brother, a faithful officer, genial and generous friend, a kind and affectionate husband and father has been lost. That we will cherish affectionately his memory, and recommend the usual badge of mourning to be worn by the members of this lodge. That in behalf of his bereaved family this order is respectfully requested to enter these resolutions upon the records of this lodge, and the secretary furnish a copy of these resolutions to the family of the deceased brother, and also a copy of the same be furnished to each of our city papers for publication. N.B. Gardner, E. E. Edwards, J. A. McKlveen, Committee. Attest: N.B. Gardner, secretary pro tem.' "

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