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: 2: . . . . The HEART of THE contin ENT.
tion for the future of Science, Art, and Literature in
wagging of a reprobative tongue; second, a young fellow of imperturbable address, whom Wall Street would have esteemed highly in the position of confidential clerk to the foregoing. Neither of them had any look of the popularly conceived criminal,- probably neither of them were any worse than fifty men in the crowd who clamored for their death. I heard one man, enthusiastic upon the even-handed justice of the occasion, who, if he had the theme of his eulogy meted to himself, would swing higher than Haman, or leave locks of his gray hair dabbled in blood, upon every threshold in Atchison, — a man with the effrontery to live under the very noses of citizens whose crape for brothers slaughtered by him in the borderruffian times was scarce yet rusty on their wide-awakes. I speak thus, not because I deprecate stern frontier justice, but because the hands which administer it are nerved, almost invariably, by brute fury or caprice. In a new country, the indomitable pioneers who build the basement of civilization, have too much to do with subduing nature to bother their heads especially regarding government. But government, while mankind stays selfish, never can regulate itself. While the workers are felling trees, breaking roads, and building cabins, the knaves and do-nothings get into political power. Before long the judge sits only to intimidate the just and excuse the villain. The sheriff's baton becomes a finger-post to loop-holes for the escape of thieves and murderers. The jury and the malefactor wink at each other across a rail. The governor stands waiting with a pardon to poke a hole through the coarse legal sieve which has casually caught an exceptional rascal across a wire. The legislature pass laws with cunning quirks in them, provident against a day when these shall be convenient for themselves. When this occurs, and the honest men find it out, Lynch-law is the only practical transition to a good form of government. A most horrible thing in the abstract, it becomes the sole thing in the concrete. Perhaps it is essential to it that it should in most cases be administered by a furious mob; but that is the most horrible part of its horror to a stranger. Nearly two thousand people were assembled in a deep ravine indented in the rolling plain back of the town, around a lone cotton-wood tree, under which stood the fatal wagon. Such a dreadful multitude may God keep from the death-scene of every man whose guilt is not double-dyed There was no attempt to classify it. Shaggy-bearded horsemen trampled under hoof swarming footmen, boys, and, shame to say it, women. Here and there stood the unhitched wagons of whole families who had come in from distant ranches to make gala-day of the execution. These were the objects of general envy, for the view from their pedestals was not only more commanding, but more comfortable. It was a selfish sort of enjoyment to sit one's saddle at such a place. Stern Justice and Domestic Felicity were both satisfied in the little family party which sat—grown people on boards, children on knees, babes in arms—cracking grim jokes with each other till the dreadful melodrama should begin. The trial was a short one. It was testified that the two accused had proceeded to the ranche of an old farmer living twenty miles out in the wilds back of Atchison; had beaten him insensible with a pistolbutt; knocked his wife down with a chair; and then hung his boy, a child of twelve years, till, to save
himself from suffocation, he consented to reveal the hiding-place of the farmer's funds. Taking these, which amounted to forty dollars, and all the horses in the corral, they had returned to the Missouri, converted the animals into cash, and, without the least attempt at absconding, began to enjoy their gains in speculation. Three days from the date of their crime they were in the hands of Lynch. w These facts having been announced to the crowd, an opportunity, as they say in other assemblies, was given for the brethren to make a few remarks. One man on horseback, better dressed and more refined in his appearance than the rest, held the attention of the crowd with a speech of equal force and freedom from temper, in which he drew a sketch of the defenselessness which would result to the settler if, in his lonely cabin, he could not be sure that prompt and certain vengeance hung over his would-be assassins. The people heard him with a running fire of murmurs, – saying, “Good!” “That's it!” and “I’m there too !” when he concluded his little speech with a vote for the instant death of both the bushwhackers. He was followed by others who spoke less ably, but all to the same point; and the crowd finally decided that the younger man should be executed at once, — the elder have respite till the next day but one succeeding. I may be uncharitable to communities of incipient civilization, but the respite seemed to me granted rather with a view to thrifty economy of pleasures than for the sake of pity and completed shrift. Indeed, one person told me, “If we hung 'em both on Thursday, we shouldn't have anybody to hang on Saturday.” The sentence being determined, its subject was /
asked by the immediate committee in charge, what he had to say for himself. “Nothing,” he replied, in a tone of nonchalance; “only that you're going to murder a better man than any of yourselves.” He was lifted to the wagon; surveyed the stony faces of the crowd with a quick glance that took in no single look of pity; the rope was adjusted, the wagon driven away, and there, a horrid fruit of man's hateful passions, he hung, uncovered to all vengeful eyes, and the pure, sweet, but unhelping heaven of May, quiver. ing from the limb of the cotton-wood. This is the wickedness of Lynch executions. Like old Tyburn, they rear more gallows-birds than they intimidate. The horribly hardening effects of public deaths was visible, audible in all the crowd. As the poor wretch swung there, now past injuring them, and to all noble natures an object of pity, if only for the first time, the men cracked their brutal jokes, and women laughed at them. Mothers pointed their boys to the tree, not as to a warning, but a spectacle.
“This is not, nor it cannot come to good "
With glutted eyes and unmoved hearts the crowd slowly withdrew from their place of fascination; but, as their murmur lessened, the air was broken with wails of agony which might have melted a Marat. Lying at full length in a wagon outside of the crowd's former hem, a young woman, without friend or comforter, was crying aloud for a husband whom she called God to witness had been cruelly murdered. These things are too horrible to dwell upon. We, at the East, are apt to think that the punishment of our old national transgressions is all condensed in the