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.

It Can Happen Here

Distinguished historian Richard Hofstader observed in his book, American Violence: A Documentary History that Americans have a “remarkable lack of memory where violence is concerned and have left most of our excesses a part of our buried history.”

Like most cities across the country, Joplin has had its share of wild and wooly episodes throughout its history, though most of these events have faded into the past. The most common story that has stayed with us, perhaps because of their perceived glamour and mystique, is that of Bonnie and Clyde.

Perhaps a more harrowing story is that of what happened in Joplin during the hysteria of World War I. During this time, stories of German spies, disloyal citizens, and labor unrest created an atmosphere in which communities could turn upon their own. Joplin was no exception.

Gustav A. Brautigam, the owner of a delicatessen and bakery at 305 Joplin Street, was a native of Frankfort Germany. In 1881, he immigrated to America, and eventually arrived in Joplin. Brautigam was by no means the first German in Joplin.

Germans had been in Joplin since the very beginning. According to Joel Livingston’s history of Jasper County, “It was a German who built the first bakery in the city and a German who interested in the organization of the first bank in Joplin. In many ways the sturdy sons of Germany have taken a great part in the building and developing of the city.” In 1876, when the Germania Social and Literary Society of Joplin formed, it had over fifty charter members. Thus it was a small, but established German community, that Brautigam discovered upon his arrival in Joplin.

As Brautigam prepared for business on a Saturday morning during the height of World War I, he found that during the night someone had painted his store windows bright yellow. There were also warnings not to remove the paint from the windows. One warning read, “This place is pro-German. Take notice, Americans!”

The 59 year-old Brautigam may or may not have already been the subject of controversy as rumors alleged he had previously declared that he hoped, “to live to see the day when the German flag replaces the Stars and Stripes on top of the Joplin post office building.” Despite such rumors, Brautigam had participated in the Third Liberty Loan, as he was permitted to hang a flag honoring his contribution to the loan fund drive in the window of his deli, as well as one from the Red Cross.

The decorated car played a role in selling war bonds during the First World War.

Upset, Brautigam began to clean the paint from his windows. As he did so, however, an unnamed individual stepped forward with a bucket of paint and began to repaint the window “as fast as it was washed.” A crowd began to gather to watch. Witnesses later disagreed whether or not Brautigam made disloyal remarks as he washed his windows. The crowd began to grow and soon it numbered an estimated 400 people. Brautigam, worried for his safety, went inside his delicatessen and locked the door.

The mood of the crowd remained uncertain until someone broke through the front door of the delicatessen and entered the building in order to rip down an American flag hanging inside the front window. At this point, Brautigam, fearing for his life, dashed out the back door of his business and escaped down the alley between Main and Joplin streets to the Joplin Police Department.

As he did, the crowd, now an angry mob, chased after him. Fortunately for Brautigam, he reached the safety of the police department before the mob caught him.

Upon alerting authorities to the situation, Brautigam was “arrested for his own safety” by the Joplin police. He asked Police Matron Wathena B. Hamilton to take charge of the perishable foods in his store and distribute them to those in need. She was able to assist eleven families in addition to the children at the Children’s Home. Brautigam was then transported to Carthage under guard and turned him over to Jasper County Sheriff Oll Rogers. Sheriff Rogers released Brautigam because “there was no charge on which they could hold him.” Brautigam reportedly then left Carthage by train.

After the mob discovered the Brautigam was out of its grasp, its members formed an impromptu parade. At the urging of an unnamed individual, the unruly mob decided to march on the Joplin Sash and Door Works located at Twelfth and Wall streets to “get” Peter Braeckel, the newly elected president of Joplin’s Germania Society. Only half of the mob made it to the business and the remainder was persuaded by James M. Leonard, identified as one of the original leaders of the mob, to calm down. Braeckel emerged from the Joplin Sash and Door Works to make a short speech to the mob in which he proclaimed his loyalty to the United States. It was reported that Braeckel’s words “had a great deal to do with quieting it.”

James Leonard informed the mob that Braeckel had contributed to the Red Cross “nearly all of the tables and shelves at the society’s headquarters and how he had made a screen door for the local selection board and sent a man to place it in position.” Leonard also told the mob that Braeckel had contributed “to every war work campaign and public charity campaign that had been conducted” in the recent past. Leonard was joined by an unnamed man who “turned squarely about and instead of advising violence, counseled calmness and helped to disperse the crowd.” It was only when Leonard pointed out a man who demanded they paint Braeckel yellow and declared, “It’s just such remarks as that one and such fellows as you that are going to cause this country as much trouble as Germany does” that the crowd finally dispersed.

Word of the mob interrupted a city council meeting, but officials quickly leapt into action. Joplin Mayor C.S. Poole and Chief of Police J.J. Cofer ordered all Joplin saloons be shut down immediately for fear that alcohol would only fuel the smoldering fire of potential mob violence that threatened the city. The entire police force was ordered out to patrol the city in addition to all available constables and deputy sheriffs.

Edward Zelleken, one of Joplin's prominent German businessmen.

City and business leaders met at the Joplin Chamber of Commerce and adopted a resolution to request that saloons be kept closed and that Home Guards be dispersed to deal with any potential violence. Among those present were: Sheriff Oll Rogers, Albert Newman, Haywood Scott, Mayor-elect J.F. Osborne, R.M. Shepard, Hugh McIndoe, J.J. Cofer, Burt W. Lyon, Sol Newman, O.P. Mahoney, G.F. Newburger, P.E. Burress, and E.A. Norris.

Captain Frank W. Sansom of the Home Guards mobilized a squad of forty men to patrol the city. Each man was armed with revolvers and Springfield rifles. Chief Cofer gave the home guard authority to make any arrests necessary to preserve law and order. Fortunately, the day and ensuing night were peaceful and without incident.

Although Brautigam eventually returned to his business and remained in Joplin until his death in 1956, the damage had been done.

A short time later, Joplin’s Turnverein Germania Society, led by its president Peter Braeckel and vice president Gustav Brautigam, voted to disband the organization and donate its property located on the southeast corner of Third and Joplin streets to the local Red Cross. The property was valued at $25,000.

The group issued a statement which read in part:

“Pioneer conditions, such as existed twenty, forty, or sixty years ago, and which forced people of a class to band together and create livable conditions are things of the past and can never reoccur. German immigration has diminished from year to year.

All German societies, as such all over the country are, and were at the beginning of the war, on a decline. About 50 percent of our present members are American born. At our business meetings of the past few years, we seldom had many more than a quorum (nine members). The Verein is dying a natural death. It has outlived its usefulness. The fact that we had the property held us together. The older members sometimes paid it a visit by force of habit – and the younger members did not come at all.

Germanism in this country, even if the war stopped today, will have no prestige for several generations. Too much harm has already been done. We must realize the vastness of the change of conditions. Never in the history of the world has our situation been duplicated. It is a unique situation, but it is a surprisingly clear and plain situation: We left one country. Why? Because we were not satisfied with our conditions.

We entered another country with the full knowledge (unless we were lunatics) that we had to abide by the rules and conditions imposed by this new country. The new country was very lenient with us, we hardly knew that we were being governed.

To us this war comes like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. We are awakened from a dream, awakened to the realization that when we changed countries it was also our duty to change our sentiments and sympathies.

The object of our Verein is to advance German customs, German habits, and the German language. This is, under the conditions which have arisen, intolerable and impossible. Our countrymen cannot and will not and should not be expect to countenance the existence of our Verein.”

Charles Schifferdecker, was born in Germany and later immigrated to the United States.

Thus came the end to an organization that had once included leading Joplin citizens such as H. Geldmacher, Charles Schifferdecker, G.W. Keller, and Edward Zelleken as members.

Sources: Joel Livingston’s History of Jasper County, Joplin News Herald

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