This past Saturday, October 21, 2023 Posey County, Indiana held a vigil to honor the memories of Daniel Harrison, Sr., Daniel Harrison, Jr. John Harrison, Jim Good, William Chambers, Jeff Hopkins and Edward Warner, all Black men who were murdered the week of October 12, 1878. The vigil began at 10:00 am Saturday morning at the Alexandrian Public Library in Mt. Vernon and concluded at the courthouse square that evening. The commemoration was organized by Mt. Vernon teenager Sophie Kloppenburg and, much as the lynchings themselves, was a public event.
The underlying circumstances leading to the lynchings were set out on the front page of the October/November 1878 editions of Mt. Vernon’s Western Star newspaper. Owner and editor John Leffel was an eyewitness to the murders. The following account of the matter comes from editor Leffel and was first published in Gavel Gamut November 07, 2005:
“When ‘three white women living in a quiet and lonely part of Mt. Vernon’ claimed they had been raped by several African-American men on Monday, October 7, 1878, a Posey County Grand Jury quickly returned indictments against Daniel Harrison, Jr., John Harrison, Jim Good, Jeff Hopkins, Edward Warner, William Chambers, and Edward Hill.
On Tuesday, October 8, 1878, three white vigilantes took Daniel Harrison, Jr., from his father’s home and lynched him or threw him into the furnace of a railroad steam engine. On October 9, 1878, these same men returned to the Harrison home looking for John Harrison. They put a revolver to Daniel Harrison, Sr.’s, head and threatened to kill him. The men did not find John Harrison at the Harrison home, but did later dispose of him by putting his body into a hollow tree just east of Mt. Vernon.
Four white lawmen went to the Harrison home at 2:00 o’clock a.m., on Thursday, October 10, 1878, to arrest Edward Hill, who was rumored to be hiding at the Harrison home. At the time the lawmen arrived, Daniel Harrison, Sr., was home in bed, fully dressed and sleeping with a loaded shotgun due to the earlier instances at his home. During a melee at the home, Deputy Sheriff Cyrus O. Thomas was shot and killed, and Harrison, Sr., was charged with the shooting. Harrison, Sr., who had been shot during the melee, turned himself in that same October 10th morning. He was lodged in the Posey County Jail which was then located on the campus of our present courthouse.
Also, Jeff Hopkins, Jim Good, Edward Warner, and William Chambers had been taken into custody and were incarcerated with Daniel Harrison, Sr., in the Posey County Jail.
On the front page of Posey County’s Western Star newspaper edition of October 10, 1878, editors, John C. Leffel and S.D. McReynolds, stated:
“‘Jeff Hopkins, Jim Good, … and … other Negroes…forced an entrance into a house of ill-fame on First Street, Monday night, and raped the inmates there. …Jim Good is not as good as his name, this being the second time he has been guilty of this crime. …The girls raped were all white. A little hanging would do Jim Good a great deal of good.’”
Editor Leffel attended the jail break-in and the summary executions that took place two days after his article appeared. Much of the information in this article came from his accounts.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 1878, a mob broke into the jail, cut Daniel Harrison, Sr., into pieces and threw his body into the jail’s privy. Jim Good, Jeff Hopkins, Edward Warner, and William Chambers were dragged out of the jail and hanged from the locust trees ringing the courthouse. The four bodies were left hanging on the square until after the funeral of Cyrus O. Thomas, which took place the afternoon of October 12, 1878.
It was not unusual, especially in the south, for Negro lynch victims to be left hanging for an extended period of time as a “warning” to others who may have, also, “deserved hanging” but who had not been caught.
“By leaving the young men hanging on our public square all day, it would have been practically impossible for our law enforcement and judicial communities to be unaware of the lynchings.
However, even though the Posey County Prosecuting Attorney, the Judge and, in fact, most of Southern Indiana knew the men indicted for the rapes of the women and the murder of Officer Thomas had been killed in 1878, the legal system kept up a charade that the cases were going to be tried. Every term of court from 1878 to 1881, the cases were called, then “set over to the next term.”
During these three years, no action was taken against the people involved in the deaths of Daniel Harrison, Sr., Daniel Harrison, Jr., John Harrison, Jim Good, Jeff Hopkins, Edward Warner, and William Chambers. In 1881, the Prosecutor, without fanfare, dismissed the indictments against the dead rape defendants. I have not been able to determine the ultimate fate of Edward Hill [he may have escaped to Indian Territory].
This was not our legal system’s finest hour. Of course, injustice is not the sole province of days gone by. Today, “lynchings” are usually more procedural than literal and can involve letting the guilty go free as well as convicting the innocent. Or they may involve imposing Draconian or effete punishment instead of justice.”
As for now, the month of October has almost come and gone again and the spectres that have haunted my mind since first learning of these horrific events in 1990 are less demanding due to the erection of the memorial in 2022.