1897 in Ripley County, Indiana saw a community fed up. It seems there was a gang going 'round committing acts of marauding and thievery. And this had been going on, day and night, for years. It ended, for at least some gang members, September 15th.
Headlines were ablaze in newspapers across the country:
Judge Lynch Settles Five: Mob at Versailles, Ind., Deal Out Justice to Robbers. [Duluth, MN]
Outraged Citizens Take Quick Vengeance: Five Men Strung Up by the Neck at Versailles, Indiana. [Wheeling, WV]
Indiana Robbers Lynched. Five Disposed of at Versailles at Once. [Emporia, KS]
Five Men Lynched Because They Stole: Mob at Versailles, Ind, Strings Up a Quintette of Burglars. [Boise, ID]
And here's the story as told by Georgia's Vienna Progress (23 September 1897):
INDIANIANS LYNCH ROBBERS
MOB OVERPOWERS JAILER AND SWING UP SIX MEN.
DEPREDATIONS INCENSED PEOPLE.
Taken By Force From the Authorities and Death Meted Out To Them By the "Hempen Route."
A special of Wednesday from Osgood, Ind., says: "Incensed by numerous depredations, repeated burglaries and daylight robberies, the people of Ripley county, Indiana, have taken the law into their hands and meted out to the perpetrators a punishment greater than provided for by the law. A mob took from the authorities and lynched Lyle Levi, Bert Andrews, Clifford Gordon, William Jenkins and Hiney Schuler.
Stout ropes, not over six feet in length, had served to send each to his eternity and their feet were but a few inches from the ground.
The mob was composed of citizens from Milam, Sunman and other towns.
The mob on horseback entered the town an hour after midnight and called out Jailer Kenan, who, upon refusal to give up the keys, was overpowered.
The mob soon pushed its way into the cell rooms and in their impatience fired on the five prisoners and then dragged them to a tree a square from the jail door and hung them up.
Andrews and Gordon had already been wounded, having been shot several times while attempting to rob a store at Correct several days ago. Schuler was in school for attempting burglary and Levi and Jenkins had been indicted by the grand jury for robbery. They had failed to give bond and were put in jail.
It was thought that Levi and Schuler were both dead from the shots fired by the mob when they were taken from jail.
The bandages on the wounded men were found later in the day on the streets through which them men were dragged along.
Lyle Levi was an old soldier and bore on his face wounds received during the civil war while fighting for the Union.
None of the lynchers are known. They all came from a distance.
Versailles is a town of 800 people. It is one of the oldest in the state, and although it is five miles from a railroad station and has no telegraphic communication with the outside world, it is still the county seat.
For four or five years, and even longer, the farmers of the county have been the victims of a lawless gang. Farmers would come into town with a bunch of cattle, or load of farming products, and next morning they would be found along the roadside suffering from a wound and minus the proceeds of their sale.
I really was surprised to find a couple of gravestone images for the alleged criminals / victims online. The "old soldier's" FindAGrave memorial is here. Bert Andrews' stone from Otter Village Cemetery in Ripley County is pictured below. [Photo by Barbara Hill via FindAGrave. Used with permission.]
Notice this part? "In The Vigilance Committee Hanging At Versailles." This appears to be a relatively new stone, and I don't know if it is a replacement or if Bert's gravesite was ever marked before. It does seem that the community rallied around the vigilante mob, though. This from the 16 September 1897 Columbus Enquirer (Georgia, pg. 6):
SENTIMENT WITH LYNCHERS.
Versailles, Ind., Sept. 15. – Governor Mount sent the deputy attorney general here tonight to secure the names of the members of the mob, but public sentiment is wholly with the lynchers, and the deputy attorney general is unable to make any headway. No jury could be found in this county that would convict any member of the mob, and it is thought the coroner's jury action this afternoon, declaring the five men were hanged by "persons unknown" will end the matter. Governor Mount's telegram to the sheriff only creates derision.
[If you're wondering what's up with all the "letter" posts: I am attempting to follow the Blogging from A to Z Challenge (links to official page). This challenge lasts through the month of April, with Sundays off. Click here to see all my letter posts on one page (in reverse order). Oh, and wish me luck!]