Volume 8, Number 4, Summer 1983
A gentle breeze pushed papers down a dusty street while a long-eared dog trotted gingerly around the barbers pole. The looming gallows creaked and groaned in the spring breeze. This particular gallows would only be used once, but it was the talk of the people. The nooses latest victim would soon be justly hung in this quiet, soft-spoken town of Cassville, Missouri. This day, April 15, 1887, would be a day to remember by all who saw the hanging of Edward Clumm, 43, for the murders of James M. White, 47, and Ellen Bowe, 17.
James White and Edward Clumm were neighbors in West Walworth community in New York as well as friends and servicemen in the same company in the Civil War. Some time after the war, White ran off with Clumms wife, Loti, to the Northwest corner of Capes Creek, where he owned a small farm. Clumm asked his wife to meet him half-way in Lebanon, Missouri, where Lotis sister lived. Before Clumm had a chance to get to Lebanon, Loti turned and went back to James White. Mysteriously in January, 1886, Loti died. Shortly after the death of his wife, Clumm moved in with White and his maid, Ellen Bowe. A budding romance blossomed between White and Bowe, infuriating Clumm. Then on that fateful day in July, 1886, Clumm found White and Bowe under a tree, facing the creek, romantically entwined. Edward Clumm shot James M. White and Ellen Bowe with a double-barrel shotgun; then reloaded, and shot them again. Willis DeHony, a black man who worked on the farm, saw the whole incident. Clumm found him watching and told him to bury them and never breathe a word, or he would be joining them in the same manner. White and Bowe remained buried on the farm until July 18, 1886, when, finally, DeHony went to the Pierce City Marshall while Clumm was out of town. Clumm was arrested immediately and tried in September, 1886. He was found guilty by a jury trial. He appealed to the Supreme Court, and was, yet again, found guilty.
Clumm was hung on April 15, 1887, in the presence of many Cassville residents, the Sheriff of Barry County, and the unknown masked executioner. These people stood quietly and solemnly as the mask was yanked over Clumms head. The noose, with 13 knots, was then placed unceremoniously around his throat, with the knots under his left ear. The gentle breeze of the morning had grown stronger to accompany the growing awareness of nearing death. The endless papers tumbling down the dusty back streets was the only sound that could be heard over the hushed crowd. A sudden gasp from the tension-filled townspeople broke the silence as the trap door swung open with a bang. Within seconds after the door was released, Clumm was dead, his neck broken, another victim of the never forgotten noose.
Edward Clumms hanging was the last in Cassville, but not for the state of Missouri. Fifty years later, on May 21, 1937, two hangings marked a last for all Missourians. On this day, Roscoe (Red) Jackson, 36, was hung in Galena, in the newly completed Jackson County courthouse and jail. He killed Walter Milton on December 14, 1934. Their hangings were the last public or legal hangings in Missouri because the Governor had already presented the bill to use the gas chamber, which is still in use today.
Hangings were one of Americas most prominent ways of capital punishment in the 1800s and early 1900s. Many horse thieves, rivals, and murderers were among the noose s victims. John Brown, because of his raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859, was hung on December 2, 1859 for treason, murder, and inciting slaves to rebellion. He, like many others, had a strong belief in the abolition of slavery. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, a notoriously know gallows still stands marking with it the deaths of seventy-nine souls who were convicted during the twenty-one years of Judge Isaac Parkers service as Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas.
He was famously known as "The Hanging Judge" while he held court in Fort Smith, 1875-1889. Of course, these are only isolated incidents. Hundreds of man and some women were hung all over Missouri and the United States during this period of adjustments. Many were hung legally, but some were hung by those who felt to take the law unto themselves. In 1935, 199 people were convicted to death, but the number has steadily declined since then. Americas hangings are now like Frances guillotines and Germanys executions during World War II history.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Senator Emory Milton
"Editors Note: Connies story was submitted in the second Historical Essay Contest. She was a student in the Creative Writing/Modern Literature class of JoAnn Ellis at Cassville High School."
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues
Local History Home