The following article, reprinted here with minimal edits, was originally published in the Leadville Weekly Herald on Saturday, November 22, 1879.
LYNCHED AT LAST.
Stewart and Frodsham Strung up this Morning.
Disgraceful Ending of the Two Terrors.
They Beg to Have a
Moment for Preparation.
Thirty-Five Men Attend to the Business.
They Make Quick Work of it, and Hang Both of the Desperadoes.
For several days past it has been an open secret among newspaper men and others that there would be an execution by the vigilantes of one or more scoundrels in the county jail. Last Sunday, when the demonstration was made at the city jail, it was the intention of a number of the leaders of public sentiment in this city to make an example of Stewart that would deter all others from treading in his footsteps. As stated in the HERALD of Tuesday morning, the demonstration above referred to prevented the carrying of this threat into execution, the parties not caring to identify themselves with the mob in question. On Monday evening a meeting of determined, resolute business men was held, at which it was decided that something must be done to strike terror into the hearts of the evil-doers who have been holding high carnival in Leadville for several months past. This conclusion was arrived at deliberately, and Tuesday was taken to look up the antecedents of the imprisoned foot-pad. On Tuesday evening another meeting was held; where, nobody — not even a HERALD reporter — knows. It is known, however, that the meeting decided that it would not be necessary to hang Stewart for good and all, but that in consideration of his youth, and, as far as could be ascertained, his previous good character, all that would be necessary would be to give him a little choking in order to extort from him a possible confession of anything that he might know regarding the operations of the gang, and then let him go with the admonition to leave the city.
In the meantime, another party had assembled, and this was a party that nothing would satisfy but the death of the would-be robber and men of like character. This party was much larger than the first, and seemed to be much more determined to have the lives of these offenders against justice. The condition of the town, and the numerous breaches of all the laws of the state and municipality, were taken into full consideration, as well as the names of the parties who had made themselves conspicuous in their efforts to protect the lawless classes — lot jumpers, bunko steerers and the like. The necessity of prompt and vigorous action of a character that would immediately render the streets of Leadville as safe in the darkest night as in the glare of noonday and make every man’s home literally his castle was conceded. The two bodies were made aware of each other’s existence, but were unable to come to a definite understanding in regard to the best and most effective move to make. One of these bodies was large and unwieldy, and as is usually the case in such matters, the larger body leaked, though the leak was of such a nature, consisting of hints and innuendoes, that even the proverbial curiosity of a newspaper man was baffled so far as the obtaining of definite information was concerned. There was a little difference between the two bodies Tuesday night, and therefore no action was taken at that time, though there were so many rumors in the air that HERALD reporters were on the qui vive until Wednesday morning at four o’clock, looking for the fruit that telegraph poles and lamp posts sometimes bear in this part of the country. Nothing was done, and therefore only the usual two thousand editions of the HERALD was printed yesterday morning.
Yesterday, all day, there were the same rumors floating around. Last evening the HERALD learned that it was coming off at eleven o’clock precisely, and a full corps of reporters were on hand to get the particulars. At midnight the reporters returned half-frozen and reported all quiet, and the paper was put to press as usual. But the matter was not yet settled, as the sequel shows.
At half-past one o’clock this morning, the slumbers of the watchers at the jail were disturbed by a knocking at the door of that institution as though one of the deputy sheriffs desired to gain admission, and as those officials have free entrance and exit at any time, the door was soon opened. The first man who stepped inside was Under Sheriff Watson, and along side of him came several men with pistols in their hands and pointed at the sheriff’s head. Nothing was left for the latter to do but to order the prison doors to be thrown open and permit the men to have full sway. Fifteen men went in with the under sheriff, but who they are no one knows except the members of the organization, as each of them wore a black mask which entirely disguised their features.
There have been two men engaged as special officers at the jail ever since the hold-up and shooting scrape on Saturday night, as threats of lynching the surviving participant in that unlawful transaction have been by no manner of means kept secret. The officials certainly had no control of the matter, for the moment the door of the jail was opened every man was covered with a gun, and the slightest motion on their part would have resulted in instant death. Deputy Sheriff Miller was lying on a cot outside of the cage, and the moment the vigilantes were in possession of the premises, three of them made a rush at him, and before he could explain his official capacity, he was bound by a small cord and gagged. They were just on the eve of putting the rope around his neck when somebody raised courage enough to shout that the bound man was a deputy sheriff. This stopped the vigilantes for a minute, and, discovering their mistake, they turned around to see where the men were that were wanted. Deputy Miller was unbound and ungagged, and without any apologies they released him from his danger, only to be covered by several six-shooters and ordered not to move. In the meantime, fifteen vigilantes had filed into the jail, and twenty more remained outside to protect their companions or come to their relief if it was necessary. While the three men were busy preparing Miller to be strung up, another party discovered Frodsham, who had only been incarcerated last evening, and as the jail is in a crowded condition, had not been locked up in the cells or even in the cage, but had been permitted to remain simply inside the walls. The victim was no sooner spotted than a rope was thrown around his body and the vigilantes began to prepare him for his end. Seeing his fate, Frodsham called out to the jailors, “Are you going to see me die, boys?” Which was answered by one of the jailors, “We can’t help you now, we are in danger ourselves.” The victim then exclaimed, “Won’t you let me see my wife first?” “You will see your h*ll first,” was the firm reply, and therewith he was collared and pulled out of the prison. As he was being dragged out, he simply exclaimed “Murder!” The slack end of the rope was then thrown over the rafters of a little frame that is being erected immediately south of the jail, about three feet from the main building, and between it and the cook room. The building is only in course of erection, and simply the frame work has been put up.
When the rope was thrown over the first joist and the weight of Frodsham began to strain it, the joist broke and he landed suddenly on his feet. Quicker than a wink the rope was over another rafter, and the body elevated in the air. The end of the rope was then made fast to the side of the frame work, and the unfortunate wretch was left to die. Not a sound escaped from him as he breathed his last.
The next victim was then prepared, and this was Patrick Stewart, the young foot-pad, who was said to be only twenty years old. He is a beardless boy, and when the vigilantes went to him and made him come out, he prayed for his life and beseeched that he might not be killed. But vigilante committees, like corporations, have no soul, or if they have, their sense of duty prevented them from showing it, and the young criminal was soon made ready to meet his fate. Like many others, the recollection of childhood’s days must have flashed upon his mind, for in his frenzy he beseeched for only time enough to write a letter to his mother. This was not granted him, and he was hustled out without any further parlaying. He was dragged out with the rope around his neck and soon strung up to the same building, with Frodsham on the opposite side.
All this time the deputies who were in charge of the jail were properly provided for. Deputy Bob Johnston was clutched in the hands of a powerful vigilante around the throat, and six men pointed the danger end of their pistols at his head. Deputy Miller’s predicament has already been described. Deputy Harry Williams, who is the assistant jailor, had his position on the top of the cage, and as soon as he jumped up to see what was the cause of the disturbance, he was immediately greeted with the muzzles of a half dozen guns and ordered not to move hand or foot. This order was implicitly obeyed. By the time the men had finished their business, forty men were on the inside, but not a give-away sound was uttered. They did their work effectively and quick, for a quarter of an hour after the first alarm, both of the victims had been hurled into eternity. The following placard was written on a half-sheet of legal cap and pinned to the back of Ed Frodsham, and contains a warning to some of the crooked men around town:
Notice to All!
LOT THIEVES, BUNKO STEERERS, FOOT PADS, THIEVES AND CHRONIC BONDSMEN FOR THE SAME AND SYMPATHIZERS FOR THE ABOVE CLASS OF CRIMINALS: THIS IS OUR COMMENCEMENT, AND THIS SHALL BE YOUR FATES. WE MEAN BUSINESS, AND LET THIS BE YOUR LAST WARNING.
P. A. KELLY,
AND A GREAT MANY OTHERS KNOWN TO THIS ORGANIZATION.
- VIGILANTES COMMITTEE.
WE ARE SEVEN HUNDRED STRONG.
The two men as they hanged by their necks in the darkness, lighted only by the glare of a lantern, presented an awe-inspiring sight. They had both been gagged and bound by thick ropes by someone not a novice in the business, for the knots were fine specimens of the hangman’s knot and could not have been made more perfectly. The men had hardly ceased to breathe a half hour before the news spread like wild-fire that the two notorious characters — lot-jumper and hold-up — had met with a fate as just as it was horrible. Of course curiosity was excited, and e’er long Harrison avenue presented a scene of commotion and excitement that is rarely witnessed in any city at three o’clock in the morning. They flocked up to the county jail and were crowding in on the deputies when it was found necessary for the latter to pull their guns and threaten to fire if a single man advanced another step. This was sufficient to make the crowd hold back, and as soon as it was ascertained that there was no one in it who intended to harm the officials, they were permitted to advance, look on the appalling spectacle and read the warning. There was but little said, for it struck terror to the soul of every man present, and although none denied that the reward of the victims was merited, they hardly dared to express it.
When the deputies had sufficiently recovered their equilibrium, they went for the coroner, but as Doctor Law was not at home, Justice O’Brien was called on, and he acted in the case only so far as to issue a paper to Detective Frank Smith ordering that a guard be placed on the premises to prevent anybody from disturbing the bodies until Coroner Law could be heard from.
The two men as they hung by the neck certainly presented a frightful example to all evil doers.