There were telephone calls, personal inquiries and Facebook posts. Thank you everyone! It speaks well for Posey County that people today are taking an interest in recognizing a terrible injustice that previous Posey County citizens committed and perpetuated by silence over one hundred years ago.
I have been a citizen of this fair county since 1976 and have been deeply involved in our legal system. From 1976-79 I served as the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, from 1979-80 as County Attorney to the Board of Commissioners, from 1976-81 as a practicing attorney, from 1981-83 as judge in what was then the Posey County Court (now the Posey Superior Court) and from 1983 to 2019 as the Posey Circuit Court Judge. And while I will retire as a full-time judge December 31, 2018, the Indiana Supreme Court has appointed me as a Senior Judge for 2019. In other words, I have had and have some responsibility for aiding in the administration of justice in Posey County.
Therefore, I believe it is my duty to help seek justice, at least in memory, for the seven men who were murdered during one week in October 1878. The murderers included two hundred white Posey County men who were aided by the silent complicity of the rest of our citizens. Since I first found out about these murders I have spoken and written about the events. The following is the Preface of my historical novel JUDGE LYNCH! that was published in July 2008.
On March 14, 1990, I spoke to the Posey County Coterie Literary Society in the courtroom of the Posey Circuit Court in Mt. Vernon, Indiana. As a thank you, the Society presented me with William P. Leonard’s History and Directory of Posey County (1882). The presentation was made by the Society’s President, Ilse Horacek. I read the book the following weekend and was struck by three brief paragraphs found at page 101:
“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 negro, on October 11, 1878, shot and killed Cyrus Oscar Thomas, a son of Geo. 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.”
I could not find any further description of these events that had occurred right outside my court chambers so I contacted Ilse who brought me a copy of the Western Star newspaper of October 17, 1878, that she had pieced together from the microfilm records stored at the Alexandrian Public Library in Mt. Vernon.
As a German child during World War II, Ilse observed firsthand the denial of civil rights by those in power. After marrying a soldier from Posey County whom she met in Germany, Ilse made her home in Mt. Vernon and has always been vigilant in the cause of equal justice for all. Ilse pointed me to other sources for more information.
One thing that I personally observed was the four old hangman’s nooses that are still on display at the Posey County Jail. On May 21, 1992, I took those nooses to be props for a speech I had been asked to give on the 1991 Rodney King police brutality case to our local Kiwanis Club. The reaction of the crowd of business and professional leaders to my comparison of the 1991 case in Los Angeles to the 1878 lynchings in Posey County was a surprise to me. That is when I began in earnest to search through the old court records in the courthouse catacombs and the Indiana State Archives.
I have also written about the events of October 1878 several times over the last few years in my weekly column, “Gavel Gamut”. The column appears in our three Posey County newspapers, The Mt. Vernon Democrat, The Posey County News, and the recently revived Western Star as well as The Carmi Times in Illinois.
Each October for the past three years I have reprised the murders and the cover-up. On numerous occasions I have solicited family diaries or records, such as a copy of the photograph Glenn and Kenneth Curtis saw in the 1950’s. Perhaps this book may help bring out more facts.
The Harrison family is often referred to in news accounts and even court records as Harris. For the sake of consistency, Harrison is used throughout this book.
Much of this novel is rooted in fact. But, because many in the white community of 1878 had good reason to avoid exposure and many in the black community were driven out, I have taken poetic license to tell the story and call for such atonement as may be possible.
Jim Redwine, May 2008
That is WHY. Why NOW you might ask? Because there has been no atonement, no recognition, no justice and no memorial for 140 years. The time is now!