Smith Williams

It has never before been, and we hope will never again be, our painful task to write up some of the details of a scene like that enacted in our quiet and peaceful little town on last Friday morning about one o'clock. Our readers remember the account we sometime since gave of the capture and incarceration in the jail at this place of one Smith Williams, a Negro, charged with the murder of Fred Wahl, a young German who resided in the neighborhood of Constance at the time of his being killed, which was about one year ago. At the last term of the Criminal Court, Williams was

Indicted for Murder.

His bail fixed at $1,000 and the trial continued till next term of the court. Williams, soon after being put in jail, made known to the jailer his fears of being taken out and hanged; but, as time passed on the fears gradually wore off and nothing ore was ever said about the matter.

Ever since Williams was first put in jail, there has been from two to six and eight prisoners with him until last Sunday a week, when young Anderson was released, leaving Williams occupying alone the dark and dismal apartment till the next Friday morning, when he was taken from thence by an armed mob and hanged.

The Particulars

Are about as follows:

Near one-o'clock Friday morning Mr. Cowen, the Jailer, was called up by some parties and requested to bring the keys to the jail, as they wanted to put a prisoner in. He complied with the request and started outdoors, where he was seized by three or four men, and the keys taken from him. Mr. Cowen attempted to argue the case to the party, but to no effect. He called to his son Joe and was about to give him some directions, when one of the guards placed his hand over Mr. Cowen's mouth and silenced him. Those who got the keys were soon in his jail and commenced firing their pistols, it is supposed, to intimidate Williams, who at once realized his situation and commenced hollowing.

"Fire! Murder!"

And for Mr. Cowen. Soon as the cell door was opened he commenced a death struggle with the intruders, and succeeded in getting away from them and making his escape into the street, where he started to run down the street but was confronted by a posse, who commenced firing at him. He then turned and started back, but was soon confronted and

Knocked Down,

And considerably beaten on the head, it is supposed, by a large hammer which was picked up where he fell. The commander then began

Calling for the Rope

But, being informed that it could not be found, ordered him picked up and put in the wagon, which was done in less time than it takes to tell it. The mob then commenced discharging their pistols in the air and leaving town, in twenty minutes from the time they came in, they had taken Williams from the jail and gone.

All the time Williams was running he was hollering, and, after being knocked down, near the southwest corner of the Courthouse, it is said by those who heard him that his groans were the most distressing and heart-rendering of anything they heard.

The reports of the pistols and the hollering by the Negro aroused the greater portion of the citizens of the town, but balls were flying through the air so promiscuously that but few ventured out until the entire mob had left the town.

The mob conveyed Williams to

A Small Walnut Tree

about one and one-half miles from town, on the Burlington and Florence Pike, where they completed their mission by hanging him to a limb about fifteen feet from the ground, where they left him dangling in the air without a thread of clothing upon his person, save a narrow strip of alpaca someone had tied around his hips. A short, the only garment Williams had on when aroused, was torn off while struggling with his executioners in the jail.

The whereabouts of the body was not learned until 6 o'clock Friday morning, when it was discovered by the bus driver and two other persons who left town on the bus for the purposed of finding the body, if on the Pike.

The Inquest

The corpse was not cut down until 9 a.m., at which time Squire John A. Kendall had summoned a jury and held an inquest. The jury returned the following verdict:

"We, the jury, find the dead body now before us to be that of Smith, Williams (colored), of Boone County, Kentucky. He came to his death by hanging at the hands of person or persons unknown to the jury. Noah Craven, Foreman."

The Body

Was then washed, dressed and interred as decently as possible in the Paupers Burying Ground. By the time the inquest was concluded, there had been not less than one hundred persons who viewed the ghastly sight of a man suspended in mid-air by a halter rope fastened about his neck in a running noose, his hands tied behind him, his feet tied together with strong hemp roped, his head severely beaten, the blood flowing rather freely from one of two of these wounds, his tongue protruding from his mouth, and his feet, hands, and knees severely cut and bruised, supposed to have resulted from the fall on the pavement when struck by the hammer.

The number of men concerned in the lynching is estimated, by those who saw them leaving town, at from 50 to 100.


Among the things picked up after quiet began to prevail was a half-inch saw grass rope with a hangman's knot in it. A four-shooter revolver with two empty chambers was found in the jail. A hammer weighing two pounds and thirteen ounces, and made for cutting iron, was found where the ill-fated prisoner was knocked down, and is supposed to have been used with that effect. This hammer is branded "I. & C. R. R." which by some is rendered Indianapolis and Cincinnati Rail Road. A piece of dark lantern and hat were also among the things left. Those who unlocked the doors were very particular to take the keys out of the locks as soon as unfastened and throw them upon the ground near the jail, with the exception of one, which they left on the porch floor of the toll house nearest town.

Items of Interest

Friday Mr. Cowen's arms and wrists were purple and sore from the effects or the iron grip of the guards that had him in charge. Mr. Cowen failed to recognize any of the men, and he says they were called and answered to numbers.

It is generally believed that, had the rope not been misplaced, Williams would have been swung up in the Court-house yard. It is evident that he was hung at the first suitable limb found outside of town, and on that looks like it had grown for that special purpose.

Williams leaves a wife and a child, a little girl, who live at Mr. Dills, but a few yards from the jail. His wife was aroused by the noise and at once flew to the scene, but arrived just in time to hear the mob taking its exit.

It is said it was just one year and one day fro the shooting of Wahl till the lynching of Williams.

This is the first instance of lynching in this county, and it is hoped it will be the last. This mode of dealing out punishment is a dangerous one, howsoever guilty the party may be of the crime charged against them.

Had there been a desire on the part of anyone to attempt to follow the trail of the mob, it would have been impossible, owing to every track or trace left by man, horse, or blood being completed obliterated by the rain that fell about daylight.

We notice that the accounts published in the Cincinnati dailies say the body was "completely riddled with bullets." This is not correct. There was not a bullet hole anywhere on his person - not a ball fired at him took effect.. Every wound was probed by Dr. J. F. Smith. Though the head bore several nasty looking gashes, the skull was fractured in but one place, and that was only the outer table. The neck was not even broken, and it was evident that the Negro strangled to death.

Tuesday nights fruits have been the only theme talked of in the community since, and we can truthfully say excitement never before reached as high a pitch here as it did on last Friday.


Boone County newspaper, assumed to be the Boone County Recorder, June 29, 1876.