Reporter’s Picnic

The Cincinnati Enquirer and Commercial Gazette Furnish
the Committee of Arrangements


And After repeated Visits to the County, They Witness
a Boone County Lynching


William Scales, colored, Called to the Final Account


Which Satiates the Morbid Appetite of the Cincinnati
Daily Press
for a Sensational Item


Boone County’s Jail Raped of a Rapist by a Drunken Mob


Another Walnut Tree Officiates as a
Gallows – Some of the Mob Recognized


Scales Hangs to a Finish Near Florence. 


The Inquest and Notes

Our readers are familiar with the statements on which the warrant was issued for the arrest of William Scales, colored, on the charge of attempting to rape a little girl named Lunsford, whose parents lived near Walton, and are aware that he was lodged in jail at this place on Sunday, the 6th inst., but only those who have perused the daily Enquirer and the daily Commonwealth Gazette have any idea of how those metropolitan journalists pursued the wretch with inflammatory articles until, it is the unanimous opinion, they culminated in the lynching of Scales last Friday [Sept. 11] morning.  The frequent visits to this country of the reporters for those papers, and their accompanying the mob when it accomplished its work, indicate to the people in this section that they were taking too active a part in the matter, and that the lynching was incited by their pens, to a very great extent.

No one had any sympathy for scales and would have said amen to his lynching, did they not believe that the above named journals, which are ever willing to prostitute their columns that Kentucky may be disgraced by exaggerated accounts of lawless acts among her people, figured too conspicuously in the Scales hanging, and owing to this conviction the authorities have commenced an investigation with a purpose of probing into the affair to the bottom.

The very lengthy account of the proceedings of the mob in Friday’s [Cincinnati] Commercial Gazette surpassed anything as a tissue of falsehoods that was ever read, and the mob certainly made those of the participants who read it turn pale, and we unhesitatingly pronounce its account of their actions to a great extent as a base slander, and was intended to represent Kentucky people as a class of drunken cutthroats, and to stab the very class it had been tutoring for the four days previous.

The sentiment published in one of our daily papers that the Burlington people were ripe for a mob, and only wanted a leader, we pronounce as a gratuitous lie, and we can’t understand why it is that papers which make pretentions to the truth will condescend to use their columns for promulgating such fabrics of falsehoods as were furnished in regard to the Scales matter for several days previous to his being hung.

The following account of the hanging bee contains the unvarnished facts as they occurred from the time the mob arrived in the town until the negro was strung up for the second and last time near Florence.

It was a quarter to one o’clock Friday morning when Mr. Cowen, the jailer, and his family were aroused by knocks on the door.  Being apprehensive that a mob would want Scales, he was not surprised that his response to the raps was followed by a demand for the keys to the jail, which he flatly refused to deliver.  The spokesman told him that they did not want to injure the jail, but they intended to have the negro, whether he surrendered the keys are not.  It was soon ascertained that parlaying with the jailer about the keys was a waste of time, and they dismissed him with an order not to come out of the house, and at once proceeded to the door of the upper story of the jail, where the negro was confined and commenced their work with a sledge and coal [sic] chisel, and for one hour and a half the doors withstood the heavy blows of the sledge.  From the action of those at work on the door it is believed that on two occasions they were about to abandon the effort, but after brief consultations renewed their attack with increased vigor.

The town was poorly picketed and a majority of the mob seemed to have an inclination to stay at long range from the seat of operation, and more than once was a messenger sent down the pike, and marched those desirous to play “hookey’ up to the front, but in a short time they had retired, one by one, to a more quiet place than that about the jail.  When the jail doors finally succumbed, it happened that a large number of the mob were about the jail, and no sooner had the negro was taken out than they showed the white feather and were completely stampeded, running down the pike like a gang of scared sheep, leaving the negro in charge of only two men and a lantern, the two men begging, “Boys, don’t run off and leave us, they can’t take him away from us now,” at which time the crack of a pop gun no doubt would have liberated the negro and let him escape.  The boys did not seem to think that stopping was exactly the proper thing to do, and demoralization reigned until their wagons and buggies were reached just outside of town.

The negro was put in a conveyance and the crowd hurried to the famous walnut tree near Lewis Connor’s from which limb two other negro men had been launched into eternity. It was the intention to hang Scales on the same limb, but he was strung up without his arms being pinioned, and he managed to break the straps by which he was hanged and which was left attached to the limb.  The bungling work at that place was followed by another scare, and Scales was put in a conveyance and the mob traveled toward Florence.

Shortly after the mob left town, W. J. Cowen and the writer were following it in a buggy, and probably it was in the rattle of their buggy which the lynchers heard and construed to be the Sheriff and a posse, and concluded that it was better to move on.  We overtook the rear guard – two men riding on a big grey horse – about half way to Florence when the wagon and buggies used by the lynchers were heard.  We were soon up with the procession which moved along very leisurely, as quiet as a funeral procession, all the conversation, if there were any, being not audible above the clatter of the vehicles.  After overtaking the mob we were with it until a halt was made about one hundred yards from E. K, Tanner’s residence near Florence, where stands a walnut tree on the north side of the pike.  Here the procession halted and one fellow called out: “Is it here where you are going to do it, boys?”  Not desiring to see it done, we passed on, and being mistaken for some of the party, were asked for the rope as we drove by.  At that point, the job was completed, and the body left hanging, being fully clad except a hat.  The rope was attached to the limb about 20 feet from the ground, and was about 12 feet long, letting the negro swing down until his feet were about 24 inches from the ground.  A hangman’s knot was under the left ear, and everything seemed to indicate a rather neat job.  The body was discovered about five o’clock, and it was viewed by quite a number of people from Florence and vicinity.  It was cut down by undertaker Westbay, acting under orders from Squire Baker, and brought back to Burlington, where Esquire Gaines held an inquest, and about 2 p.m. the third body of a lynched negro was consigned to the pauper burying ground.

While the mob did not seem to be a very determined set of men, it was nevertheless the most orderly set of fellows that ever burglarized the county boarding houses, and although the writer was among them at times, he recognized not a single man.

The jury which held the inquest on Scales body returned the following verdict:

“We the jury find that the dead body now before us is that of Williams Scales, colored, of Boone county Kentucky, who was killed and murdered on the morning of the 11th day of September, 1885, by a mob, and hung by said mob until dead.  We do not know who composed the mob.


T. W. Finch             David Hogan

R. S. Cowen             R. H. Sandford

M. S. Rice                Jesse Kirkpatrick


Fifty dollars will repair the jail.

Scales was buried with his neck-tie around his neck.

A walnut tree with scales on it is not to be seen everyday.

According to the Enquirer the mob was led into town by its reporter.

Seven negroes have been lynched in this county within the last ten years.

The Commercial-Gazette in the account of the lynching beat its past record for misrepresenting matters.

Scales died game.  He did not utter a sound during the hour and one-half they were working to get him out.

It is believed that the mob came over on Monday night of last week, but their hearts failed them and they abandoned the idea.

One of the guns which was obtained with a view to annihilating the mob, it was afterward ascertained, was loaded with cobwebs.

Jessie, the colored Court house janitor, says the destruction to public property is worse that the hanging of such fellows as Scales.

Scales father lives in Burlington, but he seemed to take but little stock in his son, and went to the country to work as usual Friday morning.

The Sheriff demanded the men at work on the jail to disperse and they did so for a while, but mustered up enough courage to go back.

When one of the mob would order a citizen to halt, it was alright if he obeyed orders, and it was equally as satisfactory if he did not.

Mr. Baily, the toll-gate keeper just this side of Florence, unconsciously furnished the rope with which Scales was hung, being the toll gate rope.

The fellow who bossed the work on the jail door is evidently a man who accomplishes what he does by hard knocks and not by management.

We had a short chat with one of the mob who stationed himself beneath our window, but as his vocal organs seemed located in his nose, he was not recognized.

A large number of the citizens were on the street but there was no disposition to interfere with the mob, until about the time the negro was taken out, when some of the boys concluded to get together some guns and give them a scare.

If Scales had two or three friends in Burlington that night, who would have showed fight for his protection he would not have been taken out of the jail, but the citizens were not going to take any risk to protect a fellow with his record as to morals.

The mob had not gotten out of sight until quite a number of ladies had congregated on the pavement in front of Mr. Cowen’s, and were discussing the matter, in a manner indicating that only their slumbers had been disturbed, but they had not been alarmed in the least.   


from the Boone County Recorder, September 15, 1885