Look in the Face

Monroe City News article dated June 5. 1902

“Last week’s Shelbina Democrat, in an editorial upon the lynching of Abe Witherup makes statements which we believe are erroneous. The following words appear: “Every man’s life and property is less secure now than it was before * * *.” The News believes the opposite is true. Those who might be inclined to assault or murder will not so easily persuade themselves with the belief that they can get off by a change of venue, postponements of trial until interest is worn away, or the accused paroled as was done by the judge at the last term or Circuit court in Shelby county.

Also “The crime committed by the men who took the life of Witherup is greater than his was. These men are more dangerous citizens than is the common murderer * * * They are murderers and deserve the contempt of every good citizen.”

The News made its position with reference to lynchings and mobs, and repeats that such acts are a stain upon the community and it is, indeed, an unfortunate occurrence. Yet they are, seemingly, a necessary evil at times. There is nothing so convincing as going right home with a matter of this kind, and deal with our native county and some of the best people we ever knew. Let’s see what has been the attitude of some of Shelby county’s citizens with reference to lynching and see whether or not the facts bear the Democrat (put) in its statement that those who participate are the bad and lawless element.

Something over twenty years ago ‘Big Pete,” a burley negro, was working for a farmer in Shelby county, near Hunnewell. One Sunday he wandered off to the neighborhood of Florida and in broad day light entered a farm house, badly frightened the inmates and took a lot of clothing and such food as he wanted. He was arrested at Hunnewell, tried and sentenced to term of about a year in the Paris jail. While in jail he sent word to several of the best citizens in and near Hunnewell, asking them to bail him out. They had no doubt of his guilt and of course ignored his request. For their refusal they were marked by ‘Big Pete’ and threatened with death upon his first meeting them, also others, against whom he had grudges. When he finished his term in jail he was liberated and with his liberty came new threats. Something like thirty ot forty good citizens of Hunnewell and vicinity, the threatened and others who had the welfare of their neighbors at heart, joined in a search for Pete which lasted about two weeks. The last moments of the search were spent under the branches of a big oak tree upon banks of Salt river at the historic Narrows, a few miles from Old Clinton. “Big Pete’ made his last appearance on earth at the end of a rope. A brush pile covered the place where he disappeared from view. The hunting party returned to their respective homes and it was reported that Pete had ‘left the country.’ This is the first time this matter has been made public and it may be read with interest and surprise by certain ones. Were these men worse that “Big Pete’? and was ‘every man’s life and property less secure’ afterward?

Another: The sleeping apartments of Miss Harriet Grout of Shelbina, were entered by a negro who chloroformed her and robbed her of a gold watch, jewelry and money. There were strong threats of lynching the negro. Who were these people who were so worked up and threatened to take the law in their hands? Many of the best men of Shelbina – business men, most of them. Not a tough character among the number.

Another: Judge Hunolt was murdered. At the preliminary trial it was all the murdered man’s widow could do to stay the hand of the good old farmers who knew all parties, and whose neighbors they were. Were they men who make life less secure?

An unmentionable crime was committed in Shelbina and negro Bill Saunders strongly suspected. He left town ahead of a posse of men who had a rope. Bill has never been back. Who composed the posse? Not toughs; toughs never oppose such crimes. Would life be more secure with Bill’s presence in Shelbina?

Other cases might be cited and in almost every instance those who were aroused to action are the best citizens of their communities. What law-abiding man is there who would not feel perfectly secure in a home among people who so regard the purity of a home and the sacredness of life that they will promptly mete out punishment of the guilty commensurate to the crime?”