105th Anniversary of Springfield’s “Easter Offering”

Editorial Cartoon from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a statue of freedom was placed at the top of Gottfried Tower where the three men were lynched.


One hundred and five years ago, on the night before Easter, a mob in Springfield, Missouri broke into the Greene County jail, carried three prisoners to the city square, and lynched them for the alleged assault of a white woman. The murder of the three men quickly became known as the “Easter Offering.” The lynchings made the front page of newspapers across the nation and faded only with news of a terrible earthquake which leveled the west coast city of San Francisco. Below is an excerpt from Kimberly Harper’s White Man’s Heaven, which in addition to covering the Joplin lynching of Thomas Gilyard, tells the story of the Easter Offering.

The following takes place after two men had already been lynched, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker.

“Resistance was nonexistent at the jail. Sheriff Horner and his men, absent since Duncan and Coker were seized, were nowhere to be found. Members of the mob strolled through the door of the jail unopposed. Men, armed with hammers, chisels, and other tools, walked through holding cells looking for Bus Cain and Will Allen. Bus Cain, however, was nowhere to be found. Apparently his cell was damaged during the first assault on the jail and Cain was able to slip away without being noticed. Cain, in his eagerness to escape, left Will Allen behind. When Cain’s absence was discovered by the mob, a litany of curses filled the air. Infuriated by his escape, men began to shout, “Take any negro and hang him!”

Allen, trapped in his cell, watched from his cot as a rough assortment of men began to coolly and methodically remove the lock from the cell door. Despite the cool night air, the men were drenched in sweat from their exertion. As men tired, they were relieved by fresh replacements. After almost two hours, sledgehammers were brought forth, and men began to steadily pound at the cell door with as much force as they could muster in the middle of the night. Just before two o’clock in the morning, the door to the cell was torn open, leaving nothing between Allen and his attackers. The emptiness between the men was momentary, as the mob rushed forward and seized the man who had been tortured by hours of violent screams and the prospect of the inevitable fate that awaited him.

Allen was blinded as a lantern was shoved in his face, as the mob, with a skewed sense of justice, sought to ensure they had the right man. Unwilling to meekly accept his fate, the 5’5″ tall Allen wrested himself free from the hands of his attackers, and seized a nearby wooden club. He ferociously lashed out at the men around him, but “blows rained on his face and body like hail from a score of arms, and he was quickly subdued.” Allen’s bold attempt to defend himself enraged the mob. While curses and clubs flew freely at Allen’s obstinance, his hands were jerked forward and tightly bound together before he was dragged out of the jail. Once outside the jail’s battered brick walls, Allen insisted on walking, rather than be carried by the mob.

Screams and yells eerily echoed through the air as men fired their pistols in anticipation of a third lynching. In the midst of the chaos, Will Allen walked steadily forward with his head held high, determined not to show fear. The mob guided Allen toward the campus of Drury College where only months before he, together with Bus Cain, allegedly murdered O. P. Ruark. Hoarse voices cried out, “Hang him where he killed old man Ruark!”

Several Drury students who were in the crowd, fearful that a lynching on Drury’s campus would sully the college’s reputation, hurriedly held an impromptu meeting. It was decided that they would try to head off the mob and quickly spread out through the crowd yelling, “Take him to the square! Hang him with the other two! Take him back so the others can see!” The plan worked as the mob suddenly shifted direction and with one voice bellowed, “To the square!”

The city square with Gottfried tower in the forefront. Note the Statue of Freedom at the top of the tower. Beneath her, Will Allen, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker were lynched.

As the mob streamed toward the scene of Coker’s and Duncan’s grisly end, “Men talked to themselves and each other, swore fluently at nothing at all, and shouted all sorts of bloodcurdling things into the air without regard of their significance. Grown men shrieked and howled like demons, shouting to the leaders to hang the negro, to burn him.” It was on the corner of the square, as the howling processional began to arrive that Hollet H. Snow spotted Chief John McNutt and Officers John Wimberly, Henry Waddle, A. R. Sampey, E. T. W. Trantham, and Martin Keener, “laughing and talking and making no effort to stop the mob.” As Allen and the mob approached the square, it was shrouded in darkness, save for the harsh light that came from the bonfire built over the bodies of Fred Coker and Horace Duncan.

As Gottfried Tower loomed before him, Allen trembled almost imperceptibly, but regained his composure. He walked unaided up the steps that led to the tower’s bandstand. In front of Allen was a sea of faces, dimly illuminated by the flames of the bonfire, tense with anticipation. Those who stood on the fringes of the mob were shrouded in darkness. Allen, as he stood on the tower’s bandstand, may have recognized familiar faces. If he did, he did not cry out for help. Instead, he stood silently as an unknown man shoved a lantern into his face for those below, which caused the mob to call out, “Hang him!”

The man motioned for silence and then spoke, “Ladies and gentle – men, here before you is Will Allen, the man who cruelly murdered old man Ruark on the corner of Benton Avenue and Center Street. What will you do with him?” Over a thousand voices thundered in unison, “HANG HIM!” The man turned to Allen and asked, “Are you Will Allen?” Allen replied, “I am.” The unknown man then asked Allen if he had anything to say. Allen looked out at the crowd, straightened, and said, “Only that I did not kill Ruark.” Several men from the crowd howled, “Make him tell who did!” Allen, his hands still bound, declared, “Bus Cain killed Ruark. I had nothing to do with it.” The mob, unsatisfied with his answer, roared, “HANG HIM!”

Source: Reprinted with permission from the author, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks by Kimberly Harper.

Second and Wall – Site of the 1903 Joplin Lynching

In anticipation of our coverage of the 1903 Joplin lynching, we bring you photographs of the location of the tragedy: Second and Wall. It was at this intersection that Thomas Gilyard was lynched from the arm of a telephone pole by a mob. First is a drawing of the lynching that was printed in the Joplin Globe immediately after the lynching.  The artist was Ralph Downing, who later went on to be an artist for the Kansas City Star (where he worked the rest of his career). 

The lynching of Thomas Gilyard

The first photograph comes courtesy of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library and was taken  just a couple months after the lynching, if not sooner.

The back of the photo read, "Joplin, Mo. June 17, 1903. This is where Bro. C.H. Button and myself lodged at the home of Mr. Wilson. The telegraph pole is where a negro was mobbed and hung last spring. Taken by Prof. C.H. Button, J.R. Crank. Taken at Bible School Convention." Courtesy of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Joplin Missouri

The next photographs were taken just last month, December 2010.  Regrettably, the time of day and the position of the sun got in the way of nailing a photograph from the exact same position.  For identification purposes, the only surviving landmark from the gruesome moment is the stone retaining wall which you will find in all the images.

Second and Wall - Present Day

Second and Wall - Present day

If you don’t want to wait to learn more about the lynching, you can read about it in White Man’s Heaven by Kimberly Harper or pick up the most recent edition of the Missouri Historical Review.

Sources: Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Joplin Daily Globe, White Man’s Heaven by Kimberly Harper, and Historic Joplin Collection.

Joplin Lynching featured in Missouri Historical Review

The Missouri Historical Review, an award winning scholarly publication of the State Historical Society of Missouri, just published its January quarterly edition. Prominently featured in this edition is an article covering the 1903 Joplin lynching. The article is an adaptation of the chapters about the lynching from the book White Man’s Heaven by Kimberly Harper. If you are a member of the State Historical Society, you will receive a copy of the Missouri Historical Review in the mail. If not, you can find a copy to read at the Joplin Public Library on their current magazine shelves. Unfortunately, the library has not yet bought a copy of the book, which is definitely recommended, even if you get the chance to read the article in the Review.

The Would Be Lynching of William Boston in Galena, KS

Seven years after the successful lynching of Thomas Gilyard, a topic we will be giving considerable attention to in the near future, another lynching almost occurred in the neighboring community of Galena, Kansas, literally down the road from Joplin.

The would be victim of mob violence was an African-American resident, William Boston, or William Baldridge (as he was also sometimes called), had only recently been released from the state reformatory for cutting a street car conductor.  As of 1910, Boston was just 21 years old, could not read or write, and may have even been listed as “deaf  and dumb,” in the census.  He was a Kansas native, but lived with his widowed grandmother, originally from South Carolina.   The job William landed was at the Windle & Burr livery stable, and with it the coworker, Benjamin Jones, a foreman, born near Kansas City and approximately 51 years old.  The alleged events thereafter followed.  It came to Boston’s attention that Jones had a considerable amount of money upon him.  The not quite reformed liveryman waited until night fall and for the foreman to fall asleep.  To ensure a quick escape, he walked to another livery stable and telephoned for a carriage to wait him at the east side of town, his destination the depot of the Frisco Railroad.

At that point, Boston returned to work and to the sleeping Jones.  At this point, Jones had only hours to live, and of those hours, most of them spent dying at St. John’s Hospital.  A piece of wood in hand, described as a scantling, Boston clubbed Jones in the head, smashing his skull.  The killer took the money that Jones possessed and made for his escape.  Not long after, the dying Jones was discovered by a coworker and the police alerted.  It became a chase to catch the killer.

How the Galena police discerned that Boston would make for the train depot is unsaid, but there they found him with a believed intent to catch an eastward headed train.  At the point of three revolver barrels, Boston confessed to his identity in the early hours of the morning.  He was quickly taken into custody to the city jail of Galena, where to initial dismay, only $6 was found on his person.  The lack of the estimated sum taken from Jones was a mystery soon solved by the inquiry toward the “chewing tobacco” that Boston had in his mouth.  Forced to disgorge it, the tobacco proved to be $70.  To the Galena police, as well the natives of Galena, it seemed for certain that Boston was Jones’ attacker.  This was cemented by a supposed confession by Boston, locked behind the bars, that he was the only man involved and did attack Jones.

By sunrise, word has spread amongst the community of the attack and that the killer was in custody.  Men, and later boys, began to gather around the jail.  Hundreds, it was claimed, but by around 9 am, the number was said to be approximately 200.  “Summary justice” for Boston was the subject of nearly every conversation, but, as a reporter noted, there seemed no leader ready to guide the mob into action.  However, as time passed, the aggression of the mob began to rise.  Galena police officers were “hooted and hissed,” as they began to repeatedly refuse to turn over the keys to the jail within which Boston sat.

The Galena police chief, John Fitzgerald, the 44 year old son of Irish immigrants, grew alarmed as the intensity of the mob increased.  The police chief vowed not to allow his prisoner to fall into the hands of the ever more bold crowd and quickly made two orders.  First, he stationed a number of officers at the front of the city jail, and told them to act as if nervous about protecting the prisoner inside.  Second, he requested a car brought to the rear of the jail.  The plan worked.  As the mob watched the distraction out front, Fitzgerald with a handcuffed Boston climbed into the motorcar and swiftly sped away to the county jail at Columbus.  It was no time sooner, that a blood thirsty leader finally emerged and an organized the mob prepared to force their way into the jail, but only like a wave breaking upon the shore, to disperse upon the news that their prey had gotten away.

In a room at St. John’s hospital, Benjamin Jones, first generation American died of his wounds at approximately 2:30 pm on June 29, 1910.  In Columbus, Kansas, William Boston quietly awaited to be tried.  In Galena, Kansas, the Tri-State area narrowly avoided its next lynching following that in 1906 of Springfield, and the 1903 lynching in Joplin.  Were it not for the quick thinking of its chief of Police, John Fitzgerald, the murderous legacy might have continued.  For more on that legacy, either stay tuned in the near future for our posts on the 1903 Joplin lynching, or pick up a copy of White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, by Kimberly Harper.

Death certificate for Benjamin F. Jones

Source: 1910 United States Federal Census, Missouri Digital Heritage: Death Records, Joplin Daily Globe

White Man’s Heaven Released!

Cover of White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

White Man’s Heaven, by Kimberly Harper, has been released more than a month early!

As previously covered here on Historic Joplin, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, is a non-fiction account of a string of violent episodes that occurred through Southwest Missouri and Harrison, Arkansas, between 1894 – 1909.  Two chapters of the book are dedicated to the lynching of Thomas Gilyard that occurred in Joplin in April, 1903, which should be of interest to any who have a passion for Joplin’s past, both bright and dark.

Buy a copy soon, as Amazon.com only has 5 copies left as of 8/30!  You can also purchase copies from the University of Arkansas Press and Barnes & Noble.  

White Man’s Heaven Website Live

A couple weeks ago, we announced the publication of White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894 – 1906, by Kimberly Harper.  Since that time, the official website for White Man’s Heaven has gone live.  In the future, you can check there for all the latest news and developments concerning the book.  Check it out at the following address: www.whitemansheaven.com .

White Man’s Heaven

Cover to White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

White Man's Heaven by Kimberly Harper

Interested in reading about local history? A new book this fall will offer the first comprehensive examination of five interconnected episodes of racial violence in the Ozarks.  We like it already because its cover art features the work of Joplin’s famed resident, Thomas Hart Benton.  Here are the details:

“Drawing on court records, newspaper accounts, penitentiary records, letters, and diaries, “White Man’s Heaven” is the first book to investigate the lynching and expulsion of African Americans in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Kimberly Harper explores events in the towns of Monett, Pierce City, Joplin, and Springfield, Missouri, and Harrison, Arkansas, to show how post–Civil War vigilantism, an established tradition of extralegal violence, and the rapid political, economic, and social change of the New South era combined to create an environment that resulted in interracial violence. Even though some whites, especially in Joplin and Springfield, tried to stop the violence and bring the lynchers to justice, many African Americans fled the Ozarks, leaving only a resilient few behind and forever changing the racial composition of the region.”

The book has received high praise from noted scholars Edward Ayers, Fitzhugh Brundage, and Brooks Blevins.

“Kimberly Harper has written a powerful, deeply researched, and persuasive account of the driving of entire communities of African Americans from their homes. These stories of the Ozarks speak of a larger tale of violence and subjugation we must understand if we are to understand the history of this country.”
Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond, and author of The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction

“An uncommonly sophisticated piece of local history that demonstrates why local / micro history is so valuable.”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Professor, University of North Carolina, and author of Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930

“A valuable contribution to the study of American race relations and the Ozarks.”
Brooks Blevins, Noel Boyd Associate Professor of Ozarks Studies, Missouri State University, and author of Arkansas / Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State

Keep an eye out for it in the fall. If you want to pre-order, you can purchase it on Amazon.com or through the University of Arkansas Press.   At the time of the book’s release, we’ll offer  more comprehensive coverage.

UPDATE:  Check out the White Man’s Heaven website at www.WhiteMansHeaven.com.