In October 2022 Posey County, Indiana finally erected a memorial to the murders of five Black men on the courthouse campus the evening of October 12, 1878 and two more Black men earlier that week. For years numerous persons called for such a monument but it took the hard work and dedication of a Mt. Vernon, Indiana teenager, Sophie Kloppenburg, to get it erected. A one-year commemoration ceremony has been organized by Ms. Kloppenburg for 21 October 2023. The public is invited.
Of the thousands of lynchings that have occurred in America over the years most have been the result of mob violence. A group of men, it was almost always white men fueled by prejudice and often alcohol, would rather spontaneously agree to “exact revenge” or “solve a problem” or some other ill-conceived motivation and proceed to use Judge Lynch instead of asking the legal system to address the situation with due process of law.
However, occasionally some of a community’s citizens would organize and carefully plan the murders and a coverup. That truly frightening situation is what occurred in Posey County, Indiana the autumn of 1878. As reported in the October 17, 1878 edition of the Western Star newspaper by owner and editor John Leffel who was an eyewitness to the events:
“Your reporter and one or two others privileged to enter the jail ran out into the beautiful Court House yard, shaded with heavy locusts. The night was clear, and a bright moon pouring its light down, made the scene ghostlike and impressive.
The crowd, consisting of two or three hundred, fell back across the street. For ten minutes it appeared to be a false alarm. But then was heard the steady tramp of two hundred feet, and a few minutes later fifty men entered the east gate and fifty men entered the north gate. The miserable guilty wretches on the inside began to pray and call on God to save them. But the one hundred men, the best of the county physically and probably in reputation, marched into the yard in files of two. Every man had on a long black mask, falling from forehead to chin, like the inquisition of old. All had changed their coats, some were turned inside out. Not a word was spoken until the leader demanded the keys to the jail.”
After the murders, Posey Circuit Court Judge William F. Parrett, Jr. convened a Grand Jury that returned a verdict that the seven Black men had been murdered by “a person or persons unknown.” Such a denial of justice defied credibility but was given lip service and silence by Posey County’s entire legal system as well as much of the populace.
While the actions of a disorganized mob would have certainly been awful, the well planned and disciplined murders and cover up bring to mind the terrifying evils of governmental power corrupted. When editor Leffel printed that JUDGE LYNCH had held court, the irony remains poignant. To judge in a court of law is everything a lynching is not. It is an oxymoron that the events of October 1878 and judging were juxtaposed.
However, thanks to the memorial marker that now stands where the locust trees upon which four of the seven murdered Black men were lynched, at least the great injustice is now publicly recognized.
It is October, my favorite month. The air is cool but one can work and play outside without a heavy jacket. When we walk through the still yet green grass the heavy dew leaves interesting evidence of our intrusion. While October has always brought a sense of contemplation to me, ever since I was made aware of the tragic events of that fateful October of 1878 in Mt. Vernon, Posey County, Indiana, my reverie for the month of October is haunted by the murders of Daniel Harrison, Sr., John Harrison, Daniel Harrison, Jr., Jim Good, William Chambers, Jeff Hopkins and Ed Warner.
Until March of 1990 I had no reason to be concerned about any spectres arising from my courthouse campus as I arrived for my work as the Circuit Court Judge. But on March 14, 1990 at the invitation of my friend, Ilse nee Dorsch Horachek, I spoke to the Posey County Coterie Library Society in my courtroom about the history of the courthouse. As a thank you, the Society presented me with a copy of William P. Leonard’s History and Directory of Posey County first published in 1882. That evening I read the history and at page 101 found the following passage:
“Annie McCool, a white prostitute, was murdered at Mt. Vernon, by some unknown person, in September 1878. Her murderer was supposed to have been a negro paramour.
Daniel Harris (a.k.a. Harrison), a negro, on October 11, 1878, shot and killed Cyrus Oscar Thomas, a son of Gen. W. Thomas, Esq. of Mt. Vernon, while the latter was in discharge of his duty as Deputy Sheriff. Harris was indicted by the grand jury at the October term of the Circuit Court in 1878, and at the August term of that court in 1881, the prosecutor, William H. Gudgel, entered a nolle prosequi. It is supposed by some and denied by others that Harris was murdered by the friends of his victim who disposed of his body by means which will forever leave its whereabouts a mystery.
James Good, Jeff Hopkins, Wm. Chambers and Edward Warner, all colored were hanged October 12, 1878, by a body of unknown men, from trees in the Public Square, at Mt. Vernon for murders and other heinous acts committed by them during that year.”
My family and I had lived in Mt. Vernon since 1976. I was deeply involved in the Posey County legal system as the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from 1976 to 1979 and had been serving as a Posey County Judge since 1981 at the time I read this brief passage. I had never had anyone ever mention these events. I telephoned my friend Ilse and asked her if she was aware of them. Ilse came to my chambers that day and brought me a copy of a microfilmed newspaper article from the Western Star newspaper; a portion of the front page of that article is set out below:
John C. Leffel who was the editor of the newspaper and who had personally interviewed the five men who were murdered and was an eye witness to the event set the tone for how the community should react when he editorialized that Posey County should just “[L]et the appropriately dark pall of oblivion cover the whole transaction.” And that is what occurred for over 100 years until Ilse brought me the article. It is one of this dark event’s great ironies that Ilse nee Dorsch Horachek was born in Germany and married American soldier Corporal Gene Horachek who was from Mt. Vernon, Indiana. Gene’s ancestor was the Deputy Sheriff O.C. Thomas who was killed in the line of duty. Officer Thomas’ name is enshrined on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for officers killed in the line of duty. His memory is appropriately still honored by the Horachek family and is one of the reasons Ilse was familiar with the lynchings. Another reason is because Ilse was personally familiar with the evil we humans are capable of visiting upon one another as she observed the atrocities of Hitler’s Third Reich. Ilse’s extraordinary life includes having met Hitler when she was four years of age in 1934 and then later being horrified by his actions. See her interesting book Flowers for Hitler.
Another irony in the exposé of the long forgotten collective violence of October 1878 is the involvement of a remarkable teenager named Sophie Kloppenburg whose mother is German and whose father was Black. Sophie’s mother works in Mt. Vernon, Indiana where Sophie just graduated from high school. She is now attending college at Columbia University on scholarship. Sophie has worked tirelessly and successfully to have a memorial to the victims of 1878 erected on the courthouse campus. She has also organized a one-year anniversary memorial ceremony that will include a panel discussion at 10 am at the Alexandrian Public Library in Mt. Vernon and a vigil at each of the four corners of the courthouse campus beginning at 6 pm. The events will take place Saturday, October 21, 2023; the public is invited to both.
Mr. Leffel’s scheme of allowing these collective atrocities to be left in the dustbin of history has been frustrated. Ilse’s eyewitness to Hitler’s crimes along with her coincidental connection to Officer Thomas, my childhood of growing up in segregated Osage County, Oklahoma, and Sophie’s German and Black heritage have all come together along with the involvement and contributions of many other current Posey County residents have finally come together to lift that dark pall of oblivion.
Taken from The Police Gazette (1878).
Edited by Gene Smith and Jayne Barry Smith
On Sunday, September 18, 2023 some person or persons cut through the wire cages of a mink farm in Pennsylvania and released six to eight thousand minks that were bred for their fur. It is assumed animal rights activists freed the mink and released them upon the surrounding human populace who are being cautioned to not approach any escaped mink they may encounter as the animals are definitely not cuddly and they have no edible value.
This event has exacerbated the ongoing debate between friends of the animal world, who probably cannot afford mink coats, and entrepreneurs and rich people. One objection from the Free Mink Now crowd is the mink are slaughtered just for their pelts; their flesh does not appear on the dinner plates of people sporting the fur. Unlike cattle that provide food and whose hides are put to innumerable uses or hogs that provide bacon and whose hides provide footballs, mink are raised solely to be skinned. Perhaps if mink farmers could switch to some animal whose value did not lie in its outer covering alone, the environmentalists might not be so militant.
Such a prospect came to mind when I discovered multiple armadillo holes in Peg’s flower beds. What if instead of running over them on our roads or seeing them lying on their backs with their four paws sticking up in the air surrounding an empty beer can, we started ranching armadillos for sale? There would be many advantages over raising cattle or hogs. First of all, they are everywhere and they are free. They appear wherever insects and grubs appear and they feed and water themselves. It is true that the fences would need to be extended down about five feet and barbed wire will not hold them. But with a few solid pine slats they could be penned in. After all, they are as nearsighted as Mr. Magoo and only move about five miles per hour. They should be easy to recapture even if they escape.
And in some countries people hunt armadillos for food. One of my friends from Mexico got upset with me when I told him I had shot an armadillo that was digging up one of Peg’s flower beds. My friend told me his family like the meat and that those old wives tales about leprosy were greatly exaggerated. His stance reminded me of my dear departed father who grew up so poor his family ate practically anything, squirrels, opossums, raccoons you name it. If it moved, they ate it. If it didn’t, they used it for fertilizer.
So, I suggest we start a new agricultural industry based on armadillo scales. Forget mink. We could even call upon fancy French clothes designers to dress those stick-like models on the red carpet with armadillo “fur”. It could be the new rayon or plastic type covering. They could sell it as “Putting on one’s armor of righteousness” or whatever the patrons of Hobby Lobby are comfortable with.
My childhood friend and neighbor Gary Malone was killed in combat in Viet Nam July 28, 1966. On Sunday, September 10, 2023 President Biden stood in front of United States and Vietnamese flags and announced a strategic partnership with Viet Nam, more honestly identified as a pseudonym for military assistance. It is generally understood that this military realignment is to counter balance Viet Nam’s reliance on its neighbor China. China was North Viet Nam’s main supporter when the United States was fighting a 20-year war against it (1955-1975).
Gary cannot express his feelings about his country’s rapprochement with the people our government sent him to fight. But I may soon get to see his brother, Bud Malone, who along with Gary’s twin, Jerry, also saw combat in Viet Nam. Maybe Bud and I will discuss the war and Gary and Jerry or more likely, since Bud is Osage and we have been friends for almost 80 years, not much will need to be said. Perhaps a song from the musical Les Misérables can help fill the void:
Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Oh my friends, my friends don’t ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more ♪
When American young people were both fighting and protesting the Viet Nam War our government was issuing vague exhortations about the need to stop the advance of Communism in China and the U.S.S.R. (today’s Russia). In fact, as Gary and 58,000 more members of our generation were serving and being killed in Viet Nam, our government’s pronouncements then sound much like our government’s rationales for war today. We must fight China, Russia, Iran and a myriad of other perceived enemies there now so we will not have to fight them here later. The one constant we can rely on is that old people will do now what old people did then when 22-year-old Gary gave his life for what he believed in. That is, our government will send young people to pay the price.
My guess is Gary would support peace and even friendship now with Viet Nam and even China, Russia, Iran, etc., so other people on all sides might avoid an early death from armed conflict. Of course, I cannot ask Gary today what he would think as if he were an 80-year-old. We all struggle to understand how that puzzling young person we used to be would react today. I do remember I started out believing the government and supporting the war then slowly realized we had been misled by our leaders who were themselves misled by false intelligence and bad judgment. Gentle Reader, does that remind you of our recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even, perhaps, Ukraine?
Peace and friendship with Viet Nam do not denigrate the honorable service of Gary and his fallen comrades. Rather they validate the ideals they stood for. The issue is not was their sacrifice in vain? It was not, as long as we do not forget it and as long as we learn from it. Rest in peace my young friend. Your former adversary and your beloved country have finally come full circle building upon your service. We must now guard against our new alliance helping to lead us into a new conflict with another old enemy. Your memory deserves better.
Former President Donald Trump is facing both state and federal charges in several courts of law. These charges present difficult challenges to the judges in each case with the most important judicial task being to guarantee that all parties receive a fair trial. However, that duty to the people directly impacted by each case must be carried out without violating the right that our Founders knew to be the right that was essential to guaranteeing all of our rights, Freedom of Speech.
While several of the Founders championed freedom of expression as fundamental to democracy, Benjamin Franklin, a newspaper publisher himself, led the debate:
“Freedom of speech is a pillar of a free government;
When this support is taken away, the Constitution of
a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.
Republics derive their strength and vigor from a popular
examination into the action of the magistrates.”
Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 and was immersed in the printing of politically focused newspapers in Philadelphia when fellow printer John Peter Zenger was prosecuted for libeling British Governor William Cosby in New York City in 1734. Zenger was jailed pending his jury trial but when he was tried the jury acquitted him in spite of the clear violation of the British Colonial law. The jury made up its own mind in spite of an atmosphere of bias from the government.
Currently, some of the judges in Donald Trump’s cases have fashioned gag orders that threaten punishment if Trump says things about the possible evidence, the witnesses, the prosecutors or the judges. The reasons given by the judges for these gag orders all claim they are to protect the parties and witnesses from attempted coercion and to prevent the tainting of any future jury pool. In other words, the judges have no faith that potential jurors can do what judges must do in every case. That is, put aside any irrelevant matters and decide Trump’s cases only on the law and the facts.
As a judge for over forty years I find this lack of confidence in jurors ill founded. Judges decide almost all cases without a jury if there is no plea agreement in criminal cases or no settlement in civil cases. In other words, people have confidence a judge in a criminal case may receive an indictment from a grand jury the judge impaneled or approve a charge brought by a prosecutor and still decide the case. Or, a judge may issue an arrest or search warrant based on in depth out of court statements and then set that information aside and still fairly decide guilt or innocence. If one person, a judge, can do this so can twelve. Of course, statements by parties that threaten physical harm should not be tolerated. However, comments about the evidence, the prosecutor or the judge that offend the judge come with the robe, even if those comments are unfair, unkind and untrue. Just ask John Peter Zenger, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc., etc.
Jurors can be trusted, just as judges can be, to do their duty. CNN or FOX News can be eliminated from the jury room. The voir dire procedure is designed to exclude potential jurors who cannot do that. Does the legal system occasionally fail and a biased judge or jury render a decision based on pre-trial publicity or emotion? Unfortunately, that happens. But to deny America the vital protection of the First Amendment in an attempt to eliminate human frailty is a fool’s errand and an affront to our Sixth Amendment, Right to Trial by Jury.
Gentle Reader, I would like to share with you one of my own experiences as judge as an example of the public’s faith in the ability of a judge, or jury, to set aside bias and still fairly handle a case. Now, I might not process this case today the way I did a few years ago but I will let you be the judge of what happened then. Anyway, what follows is true, if perhaps, somewhat askew legally.
When I received my honorable discharge from the United States Air Force the only job I could find in Indianapolis, Indiana where I lived with my wife and son was selling P.F. Collier Encyclopedias door-to-door. We only owned one car, a 1956 Ford Fairlane convertible. I really liked that car but we decided we needed a new one so I sold it to a guy I worked with on the basis he would pay me each week. Well, the week after I gave him the keys he disappeared with my car. I did not see him again for twenty-five years when he appeared in my courtroom charged with a home burglary.
I had forgotten his name and he surely did not recognize mine. He and his attorney and the prosecutor had filed a plea recommendation and requested that I approve it based on a pre-sentence report prepared by my probation department. After reading the report I realized this man in front of me had stolen my car. When I confirmed that fact, I told him I would recuse and get him another judge. He said, “Ah, Judge, were you going to take the deal before you remembered who I was?” I said, “Yes”. He said, “Well go ahead.” I said, “No, go out and talk to your attorney”. He did. Then he and his attorney and the prosecutor said, “Judge, we really want you to stay on the case so we can get this done now”. I said, “Okay, but what did you ever do with my car?” He said, “Well, when we got to Oregon it quit running and my wife had me cut off the top and fill it with potting soil then she made a planter out of it.”
Now, I know I had other options but one thing this case showed me was a judge or jury can be fair even when personally offended. So suck it up judges and have faith the jurors will not be any less pure than you.
Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven holds out little hope for relief from the memories of the lost Lenore. Poe seeks respite in the mythical ancient Greek beverage, nepenthe, that causes forgetfulness. In those Dog Days of summer where August made the fires of hell sound inviting, respite and nepenthe finally arrived in September on the wings of the forward pass. Gentle Reader, allow me to quote my favorite author on our salvation from the hades of 100℉ temperatures:
“The crisp autumn air. The dry brown grass. Sweaty pads and the exhilaration of combat without weapons.
The kind of battle where one can experience the thrill of having been shot at and missed without even being shot at.
Football! Ersatz war. Clashes of pride, power and cunning.”
Echoes of our Ancestors: The Secret Game, p. vii
By James M. Redwine
Football has returned and the grass is going dormant. The experts may assert there is no connection but I say the frequency of mowing is inverted to my several favorite teams’ re-emergence in game day uniforms. Somehow the same weather that keeps me from doing outside chores does not hinder me from sitting in the heat for four hours watching boys and men shoving an inflated pig bladder covered with cowhide back and forth.
Perhaps it is because I no longer have to endure the two-a-day early morning and evening practices nor the inane exhortations of coaches who themselves also no longer must do so, but watching others play football sure beats working in the heat. In fact, Peg and I have already been jiggling our schedules so we can follow the Hoosiers, the Cowboys and the Sooners on Saturday. Our new season hopes are high but any disappointments can be assuaged with guacamole, chips and cold beer. Besides, even though we may have the occasional opportunity to attend a game in person, normally we will be sitting on the couch in 72-degree air conditioning while others entertain us with their sweat and blood and give us an excuse to leave the lawnmowers put away. I would not want you to think Peg and I have not had to make our own hard choices during the football season. For example, we had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to watch the 2023 Super Bowl when we were in the country of Georgia; it was tough.
Anyway, thank you to all those who have sacrificed their August sweating and preparing and now their autumn struggling for our relief. We truly appreciate it and will frequently raise a parting glass in your honor.