Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Five Horse Thieves Lynched

I mentioned not long ago that lynchings in the Old West were even more common than most people probably realize. Most people, I think, are familiar only with the notorious ones, but, as I said previously, there were so many lynchings that they were almost commonplace and, therefore, not widely reported unless remarkable circumstances attended them. Another example in the Ozarks occurred at Baxter Springs, Kansas, in early 1867, when that town was just getting started. (Baxter Springs existed as a trading post before the Civil War and during the war as a military outpost, but the town did not actually come into being until after the war.)
For several months prior to January of 1867, or so said the Carthage (Mo.) Banner, a gang of horse thieves had been operating all along the Kansas-Missouri border as far north as Nebraska and as far south as Indian Territory. Not only were horses being stolen, but other property was also being taken and murders were occasionally being committed by the "prowling scoundrels." So extensive were the outlaws' activities that no man who owned a horse, according to the Banner, felt safe.
Sometime during the summer of 1866, two men had arrived in the Baxter Springs area from Indiana, and one of them had promptly hooked up with the gang of outlaws. He tried to talk his partner into joining, too, plying him with tales of easy money, and the second man acted interested in joining. He was, however, only gathering information to use against the gang, and sometime around the first of the year, 1867, he reported what he knew to law enforcement authorities, who set out to round up the desperadoes.
On Saturday morning, January 26, one man was taken into custody, and, according to the Banner, an attempt was made to try him in a civil court. However, the effort proved fruitless, as he quickly showed himself to be innocent. A vigilante committee then took charge of the proceedings and, on Saturday evening, arrested three more of the gang. After receiving what the Banner considered a "fair trial," they were found guilty and strung up by the vigilantes. Monday morning two more gang members were apprehended and given similar trials as the other three. When the verdicts were announced, one of the men started running and was shot dead, while the other one was hanged like the previous three.
The Banner reported that three of the men executed were brothers named Mizer. One of the brothers, before being launched into eternity, supposedly confessed to helping kill 15 men during a recent trip to Texas and back. He reportedly said that he and his gang had killed every man they met that they thought might have any money. The Banner concluded, "Surely such wretches should die, and the sooner the better."
One of the leaders of the gang, a man named Bill Smith, was not arrested at the time his five sidekicks met their fate. However, the Banner held out hope that he would soon be apprehended and would get his "deserts at the end of a short rope."
The Banner headlined its story reporting the vigilante proceedings thus: "FIVE HORSE THIEVES HUNG AND SHOT. THEY MAKE STARTLING DISCLOSURES. JUDGE LYNCH PRESIDING." The newspaper allowed that, although there were still a few desperadoes like Smith on the loose, the recent actions of the vigilantes might "serve as a gentle damper" on the gang's crime spree.

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