The world changes in the blink of an eye. In the 21st century, we have the luxury of visiting scenes from history in books, film, and documents, with the safety and conveniences of modern life. Join me to examine the lives of our ancestors, imagine their experiences, and connect with their struggles and triumphs.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Swift Prairie Justice


A Triple Lynching in Kansas

Three murderers swung from the stringers of a Union Pacific Bridge—Two of them were father and son.

Russell, Kan., Jan. 14. [1894]—

At 1 o’clock this morning there was a terrible exhibition of prairie justice here, and three men met death at the hands of Judge Lynch. No such outbreak of the old-time, swift, frontier justice has been witnessed in Kansas for years. The mob was one of the quietest and most determined that ever came together. It was a fiercely earnest and wholly heartless mob, also, for the victims did not get even time to pray before they were dropped into eternity.

The men hanged were J. G. Burton, William Gay and the latter’s son, John Gay, who had lived together on Burton’s farm. The men were confessedly guilty of the murder of “Fred” Dinniny last July. Dinniny lived with T. W. Burton on a farm eleven miles north of here. On July 9 he disappeared. Burton had the dead man’s team and even wore some of his clothes, but said he had gone to Oklahoma with young Gay. Gay returned a short time ago, and on close questioning, confessed that Burton had poisoned Dinniny. The elder Gay attempted to point out the place of burial, but failed. Burton then made a confession that the Gays killed Dinniny, and on Thursday he took the Sheriff to a cornfield in a ravine, where the body, decomposed and mutilated, was found. Indignation ran high, and it was with difficulty the three men could be taken to the jail.

Last night a number of men living in the vicinity of the Burton farm came into town and were reinforced by farmers from all parts of the county. The party appeared to have been picked, for there were only about 130 in all when, at midnight, they surrounded the little jail and demanded the prisoners. They easily forced their way into the jail and dragged out the terrified trio from their cells.

The mob was cool and well organized, and made no attempt at concealment, though there were many on-lookers. They took the men out through the streets and guarded them with jealous care, leading them along the Union Pacific track, a short distance from town, where a little prairie stream is crossed by the railroad and wagon road about 100 rods east of the Russell depot.



Image from my collection



To the bridge over this [stream] the mob went and placed the trembling wretches near the edge. Ropes were ready, and one was put around the neck of each of the men and tied to the stringers. There was no time given for prayers or pleadings, but at a signal all three were pushed off the edge and dropped eight or ten feet with the precision of a regular hanging. To make sure of carrying out their purpose the mob fired two shots into each body, although death came quickly by the rope. Then the lynchers rode away quietly, and the bodies swung cold and stiff.

There is little sympathy for the victims. The murder was a cruel and heartless one, and the murdered man had many friends. Ever since his disappearance suspicions have gorwn more pointed, and the three men lynched this morning were considered guilty. Their mutual recriminations and cross-confessions convinced the people that all of them were guilty, and during the last week, and while the inquest over Dinniny’s body was being held, public attention was given almost exclusively to the matter. The trivial booty secured, and the evidence of mutilation on the body, robbed the murderers of all sympathy. It is not likely that any attempt will be made to identify the lynchers.


*** Justice has always been an elusive concept.