Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside the South

Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside the South

by Michael J. Pfeifer (Editor)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252078958
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 03/16/2013
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Michael J. Pfeifer is an associate professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and at the CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947 and The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching.

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Lynching Beyond Dixie

American Mob Violence Outside the South


Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03746-7

Chapter One

"Who Dares to Style this female a Woman?"

Lynching, Gender, and Culture in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. West


The iconic image of a lynching in the nineteenth-century western United States is probably a white man dangling from a tree limb, summarily executed by a group of other white men because of his alleged theft of horses or cattle. Women and children are usually nowhere to be found in this primal scene of masculine frontier justice, either as victims or participants. Western scholarship and popular mythology generally have agreed that women, especially white women, virtually never died at the hands of lynch mobs. However, many more of these cases occurred than has previously been understood, and the victims were drawn from every major racial and ethnic group in the region. The nineteenth-century collisions of Euro-American settlers with the Native peoples on successive frontiers, including mass murders of nonhostile, even acculturated, Native men, women, and children, contributed to the development of a regional culture of punitive collective action in the service of "self-preservation." White settlers who justified lethal mob attacks on "squaws" and "papooses" because all Indians purportedly posed a threat to white women and children later cast white female lynching victims as twisted caricatures of proper womanhood—masculinized, castrating, even demonic figures who preyed on husbands and children and polluted their entire society. Euro-Americans extralegally executed white women and women of other races and ethnicities for murder, theft, arson, and other crimes, while Latino and Native American mobs typically accused women in their own communities of witchcraft. While most of these tragedies have been forgotten, they sometimes aroused intense controversy and opened brief spaces for wider discussions of the economic, political, and social forces transforming the lives of all Westerners.

Yet the lynching of women has long been shrouded by a kind of historical amnesia. In part, this is due to the limited sources; many of the cases received only cursory newspaper coverage and very few generated court records. Modern scholarship has also relied heavily on the annual lists of lynchings published by the Chicago Tribune, the Tuskegee Institute, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). These did not begin until 1882 with the Tribune's first inclusion of eighty-six "hangings" in the newspaper's annual compilation of disasters, epidemics, murders, and suicides across the country. However, most midwestern and western states experienced their highest rates of lethal mob violence several decades earlier. Approximately 75 percent of Colorado's 175 lynchings occurred prior to 1882; 297 of California's 352 known lynching victims perished before 1882–212 just between 1850 and 1860. As historians have pointed out, the traditional periodization of modern lynching scholarship, which usually focuses on extralegal violence in the South between 1880 and 1930, also excludes much of the long history of mob violence against people of Mexican origin or descent. The Tribune culled its cases from copies of smaller papers it exchanged for copies of the Chicago newspaper. If the source newspaper described a killing as a "lynching," the Tribune added it to the list. Thus, it appears that the editors usually did not include accounts of lethal mob violence that local newspapers did not explicitly identify as a lynching. Extralegal executions that took a less "traditional" form, or that occurred in remote locations or among minority populations, typically never were recorded by the annual lynching lists at all. Recent scholarship has documented a sizable number of previously unrecorded collective killings of women and children both before and after 1882.

Although firm conclusions are obviously problematic, given the very sparse nature of primary sources for this topic, a marked increase in lethal collective violence against women and juveniles of all races and ethnicities appears to have been a key feature of nineteenth-century western expansion. Only two cases of lethal mob violence against Euro-American women prior to the nineteenth century have been discovered to date. In 1780, four vengeful New York Patriots "beat and abused" Tory Philip Empy's wife, who died of her injuries several days later. In Philadelphia in July 1787, a mob rode an elderly woman named Korbmacher on a rail through the streets and pelted her with refuse, rocks, and other missiles. She, too, suffered fatal injuries, and a local newspaper attributed the attack to her neighbors' belief that Korbmacher was a witch who had caused the death of a child, and their opinion that she was "the pest and nightmare of society." Very possibly other lethal mob attacks on Euro-American women occurred during this period that left no traces at all in the historical record.

As settlers scattered along a succession of frontiers in the Ohio Valley and beyond during the early decades of the nineteenth century, Euro-Americans punished thieves and other criminals with what one traveler in 1819 called "Lynch's law, that is, a whipping in the woods." Famed naturalist and wildlife painter John James Audubon greatly admired the "honest citizens" who joined together as the "Regulators" and praised their methods for dealing with "the refuse of every other country" found in "many parts of America." Audubon described his own encounter with apparent villains in the early spring of 1812, as he crossed "one of the wide Prairies" between his home in Hendersonville, Kentucky, and Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. He stopped for the night at a log cabin inhabited by two hunters and their mother, a tall woman with a "gruff" voice. Inside the cabin, he found another guest, a young Indian man who had been injured in a hunting accident earlier in the day. When Audubon took out his gold watch to check the time, it caught the woman's eye, and he allowed her to examine it. She wrapped the watch chain around her "brawny neck" and declared "how happy the possession of such a watch should make her." Audubon thought nothing of this, but the young Indian began to cast "expressive glances" at him and even surreptitiously pinched Audubon as the naturalist walked restlessly around the cabin. Suddenly the white traveler's "senses [had] been awakened to the danger which I now suspected to be about me."

Audubon retrieved his watch, prepared a bed from bearskins, and pretended to fall deeply asleep. Soon the woman's sons entered the cabin and held a whispered conversation with their mother. The three of them imbibed a large quantity of whiskey, and then the woman sharpened a large carving knife on a grindstone. When she was satisfied with its edge, "this incarnate fiend" declared, "There, that'll soon settle him! Boys, kill you———, and then for the watch." Audubon quietly cocked his gun as the "infernal hag" crept toward him. As his anxiety intensified he almost leaped up several times and shot her on the spot, "but she was not to be punished thus." Two white men with rifles suddenly pushed open the door and walked inside the cabin. Audubon quickly informed them of his suspicions and the strangers helped him tie up the woman and her sons. The following morning the white men and the Indian took their prisoners "into the woods off the road" and "used them as Regulators were wont to use such delinquents." The white men gave all the family's hides, meat, and tools to the Indian, burned the cabin, and continued, "well pleased," on their travels.

And yet, it remains a tantalizing mystery—what did Audubon and his little mob actually do to the woman and her sons? Just pages later, in a chapter titled, "The Regulators," he explained that these frontier vigilantes were "honest citizens, selected from among the most respectable persons in the district, and vested with powers suited to the necessity of preserving order on the frontiers." The Regulators typically held "trials" and sentenced accused criminals to banishment on their first offense; the vigilantes punished repeat offenders by flogging them and burning their cabins. This appears to be the procedure followed by Audubon and his accomplices, although apparently they did not waste time on a trial. However, Audubon explained that the Regulators also believed that in cases of murder or repeated thefts, "death is considered necessary." Did the murderous intentions of the backwoods trio prove fatal for themselves? Audubon, probably deliberately, leaves open the possibility that he participated in the extralegal execution of a woman, particularly with his earlier comment that he nearly shot her himself, but ultimately she was punished in a different fashion.

This little-known story pulls together multiple themes in the history of lethal mob violence against women in the early-nineteenth-century American West. Audubon's nearly hysterical characterization of the hunters' murderous mother introduced tropes that would become standard features of newspaper and popular accounts of the lynchings of Western white women. First he masculinized her: she was tall, with a brawny neck and a gruff voice. Then, he utterly demonized her as an "incarnate fiend" and "infernal hag" who cackled aloud about her murderous scheme as she honed her knife: as wicked and dangerous as the woman stoned to death for witchcraft in the streets of Philadelphia by a previous generation. In the following decades, newspapers and other sources would paint similar portraits of depravity of most of the Euro-American women lynched in the West and Southwest. Audubon's unabashed claim to have participated in "Regulating" the woman and her sons reveals the ubiquity of the practice and also its lack of documentation in the text sources utilized by historians, particularly newspapers. Even if this small mob hanged the villainous trio, no local newspaper existed to report the event. Audubon's tale suggests that there may have been at least a few similar instances that were not recorded for posterity.

If Audubon and his band of impromptu Regulators hanged or otherwise executed the frontier woman, it would be the only known case of the lynching of a Euro-American woman in the antebellum United States. However, if nineteenth-century mob assaults on nonhostile Native Americans are included, the numbers change dramatically. Scholars have usually subsumed these episodes under the rubric of warfare, but in at least a few cases, they are much better understood as "lynchings" or collective murders according to contemporary legal statutes as well as the definition of lynching relied upon by most modern U.S. historians. Antilynching activists finally agreed in 1940 that a homicide constituted a "lynching" if there was "legal evidence that a person has been killed, and that he met his death illegally at the hands of a group acting under the pretext of service to justice, race, or tradition." Under this construction, lethal crowd attacks by Euro-Americans on Indian men, women, and children that provoked a response from local authorities could also be characterized as lynchings because they constituted clearly illegal attacks on nonwarring Indians; in addition, the lynchers typically justified the murders as punishing criminals and crushing dangerous secret enemies.

Historian Peter Silver argued that the 1782 mass murder of the Moravian Indians by white frontiersmen at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, marked a turning point in the relations between the Native peoples and the white citizens of the infant Republic. The grisly, two-day slaughter of ninety-six helpless, pacifistic Indians, many of them women and children, who steadfastly sang and prayed as the Pennsylvania mob bludgeoned and scalped their families and friends, revealed a new level of anti-Indian sentiment, of "distaste for Indians as Indians," that could for the first time accurately be called "racism." It also marked the beginning of an increasingly lethal and racialized U.S. culture of collective violence on the margins of western expansion. Similar cases during the nineteenth century also substantially increased the grim tally of female and juvenile lynching victims. Euro-Americans slaughtered Indian women and children on the frontiers of white settlement in Indiana, California, Texas, and other parts of the West, not in the course of battle with hostile peoples, but in deliberate, racially inspired attacks that conform to the modern definition of lynching. In two of the cases, local law enforcement authorities charged the alleged killers with murder. Several other recorded collective homicides of Indian women and children did not prompt any legal response at all, but clearly constituted illegal extrajudicial executions under contemporary murder statutes.

In his study of the development of a powerful lynching culture in central Texas, historian William Carrigan concluded that "the subsequent history of mob violence in central Texas subtly reflected its roots in the Anglo-Indian struggle for the prairie." The histories of collective violence in many other parts of the West reveal similar roots. Nineteenth-century western expansion transformed generally nonlethal eighteenth-century forms of crowd violence into much more deadly vigilance committees and lynch mobs. Massacres and lynchings were part of a continuum of white settler collective violence against Indians. Lethal extralegal attacks on nonhostile Native peoples by Western posses, vigilantes, and mass mobs, especially the merciless slaughter of women, children, and other noncombatants, expanded and reinforced American traditions of collective violence. Euro-Americans who increasingly relied on harsh and lethal forms of extrajudicial punishment for crime control in their own communities also justified their actions against Native Americans and criminals and other undesirables in their societies in very similar ways. Lynchers and lynching supporters argued that they acted in the service of nature's "highest law," the law of self-preservation, which included the defense of their own "white race" and its economic, political, and social dominance. Both Indians and white "savages" menaced white frontier families and self-preservation dictated a policy of "extermination" for all of these enemies.

On March 22, 1824, seven white men who lived in Madison County, Indiana, slaughtered every member of a small group of Native people of mixed tribal and racial identities, headed by two men named Logan and Ludlow, who had camped near Fall Creek for several weeks, making sugar and trapping many valuable pelts. Most of the victims were women and children. Thomas Harper, a recent arrival in the area, allegedly instigated the attack in order to steal the Indians' property, but he escaped capture and disappeared. However, the evidence suggests that more than greed motivated the homicides. They can be classified as lynchings because the killings were illegal and the murderers acted "under the pretext of service to race, justice, or tradition." Some of them claimed to be responding to Ludlow's threatening encounter with a local white woman, which roused intense anxieties and fury in settlers who had lost relatives and friends to Native attacks on multiple frontiers, including Harper. However, most other accounts emphasize that the contacts between the Native people and area settlers had been friendly. Logan, a subordinate chief of the Senecas, bore a reputation as "a person of great distinction" and "a friend of the white men." His tribe of mixed Shawnee-Senecas had a long history of accommodation and alliance with white Americans; federal Indian agents regarded them as particularly well assimilated to Euro-American society and culture.

The attack demonstrated a boundless contempt, a visceral rejection of the very notion of a "good" or "friendly" Indian. Any person racially identified as Indian, even one with white ancestry, was no better than vermin, and could be simply destroyed like the wolves, bears, and coyotes the settlers slaughtered with relentless ferocity. Harper "openly maintained that it was no worse to kill an Indian than to kill a deer," bragged about the many Indians he had dispatched, and insisted that "all the Indians ought to be killed." The terms commonly used by the white settlers to describe and discuss Native men, women and children: "buck," "squaw," "papoose"—transformed them into virtually another, animal-like species, and enabled Euro-Americans to distance themselves even further from the emotional and moral dimensions of slaughtering helpless noncombatants ordinarily protected by the contemporary rules of war. The iron "law of self-preservation" further mandated that "the people," acting collectively, possessed the right and the duty to eliminate any threat to themselves and their families. However, during this period substantial populations of Native Americans still lived east, north, and west of the central Indiana settlements. Harper and his fellow murderers may have justified their bloody handiwork as striking a just and self-protective blow against an entire dangerous race, but most of the white settlers in the area viewed the killings as far more threatening to their immediate safety. Terrified of possible retaliation by other Native peoples in the region, many local white men joined the posses that quickly rounded up the remaining suspects, and sat on the juries that convicted all of them of murder. Ultimately the authorities hanged four of the killers; one of the only known cases of the legal execution of white men for the murder of Native Americans.


Excerpted from Lynching Beyond Dixie Copyright © 2013 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction Michael J. Pfeifer....................1
1. "Who Dares to Style This Female a Woman?": Lynching, Gender, and Culture in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. West Helen McLure....................21
2. The Popular Sources of Political Authority in 1856 San Francisco: Lynching, Vigilance, and the Difference between Politics and Constitutionalism Christopher Waldrep....................54
3. "Light Is Bursting upon the World!": White Supremacy and Racist Violence against Blacks in Reconstruction Kansas Brent M. S. Campney....................81
4. The Rise and Fall of Mob Violence against Mexicans in Arizona, 1859–1915 William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb....................110
5. Making Utah History: Press Coverage of the Robert Marshall Lynching, June 1925 Kimberley Mangun and Larry R. Gerlach....................132
6. "The cry of the Negro should not be remember the Maine, but remember the hanging of Bush": African American Responses to Lynching in Decatur, Illinois, 1893 Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua....................165
7. Race, Sex, and Riot: The Springfield, Ohio, Race Riots of 1904 and 1906 and the Sources of Antiblack Violence in the Lower Midwest Jack S. Blocker Jr....................190
8. Lynching in Late-Nineteenth-Century Michigan Michael J. Pfeifer....................211
9. "They Lynched Jim Cullen": Story and Myth on the Northern Maine Frontier Dena Lynn Winslow....................229
10. The "Delaware Horror": Two Ministers, a Lynching, and the Crisis of Democracy Dennis B. Downey....................237
Appendix: Lynchings in the Northeast, Midwest, and West....................261

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