Ku-Klux in Boone County


In July, 1875, a negro named Smith Williams, a powerful big man, killed a German named Fred Wahl on a farm near Anderson Ferry and made good his escape.  The circumstances of the killing, as remembered, are that Wahl, with a party of hunters, were gunning on the farm where Williams was employed as a hand, and Williams ordering the party off, some words ensued between him and Wahl, and he shot Wahl, killing instantly.

 A reward of $800 was offered for the capture of the negro, who was identified by a slight cast in one eye, arrested in Indianapolis, Ind., and taken to the jail in Burlington.  After Williams’ escape his wife was put into custody, but afterwards released, and moved with her children to Covington, being afraid to remain at her home on account of the state of feeling there against her husband.  After her removal here the police kept a sharp lookout for her husband, thinking he might visit her but nothing was seen or heard from him until one morning about daylight, when he was brought into the Covington jail by Indianapolis detectives and kept there a few hours while they took a much needed rest and some breakfast.

 While here, he was visited by his wife and children, who bid him a last farewell, under the belief that if he went back to Burlington, they would never see him again.  In fact he begged to be left in Covington, saying he knew the people would lynch him if he was taken out of the city.  He seemed have a foreshadowing of his death, and when the time approached for him to proceed on his way to Boone county his condition was pitiful, his knees trembled, the beaded perspiration stood on his brow, and his cheeks forsook their color for the moment, but he rallied and marched bravely away between the officers, who did everything to assure him of his perfect safety and a fair trial in Boone.

 This was in September, and he has been confined in the Boone county jail from that day.  His trial had been set for the late term on the Criminal Court, but for some reason or another had been postponed, and the impression of the neighboring country seems to be that he would never be punished.  This probably led to the rash and inhuman act that tarnishes the good name of Boone for justice, forever.  The account of this act comes to us as follows: 

At about quarter past one o’clock Friday  morning, [June 23], a body of masked men, variously estimated from twenty to one hundred, awaked Samual Cowan, the jailer, who lives across the street from the jail, and told him they had a prisoner to incarcerate.  He accordingly appeared with his keys in his hand, when a dozen men sprang upon him and compelled him by force to give up the keys.  They then proceeded to the lock-up and aroused the prisoner, who, realizing his position, gathered a hatchet lying near and made a desperate resistance until shot and badly wounded by one of the maskers.  He was then taken about a mile out of town on the side of the road leading to Covington, stripped perfectly nude, and hanged to a tree, after which the body was riddled with bullets. 

 The next morning the driver of the mail stage and his passengers were shocked on their way into town by the horrible spectacle hanging to the tree with nothing but a cloth tied above the hips of the body.  As soon as the orderly people of the neighborhood got fairly awaked, they cut the body down and gave the remains a decent burial, condemning the lawless deed with earnest and righteous indignation freely expressed toward the lynchers.


from the Covington newspaper The Ticket on June 24, 1876  ("Always Independent, Seldom Indifferent")