An Iowa Lynching By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
June 13, 2014
In its early years, Iowa had some wilder days. A story of those days is recounted in the lynching that occurred near Harlan, Iowa in the 1870’s. A young man was caught and his companion killed by a posse in Buck Grove in Shelby, County, after they had murdered a Marne, Iowa man. A crowd of around five hundred gathered at the edge of the woods after the capture, and demanded a hanging. A rope was placed around the fugitive’s neck, and he was taken to a large bridge for the execution. Just then, Sheriff Rainbow of Shelby County, rode up and talked to the crowd, asking that the boy be allowed to stand trial and for the law to take its course. Seeing that this was probably not going to happen with the mindset of the crowd, Sheriff Rainbow decided to outsmart them. He stood on a wagon in the middle of the bridge and announced he would take a vote. All those who were for hanging were to gather at the east end of the bridge, those against it were to gather at the west. Then, as the crowd moved to the east to vote for lynching, the sheriff lashed the horses into action, and with the frightened young man, took off in the opposite direction, safely beating the crowd to Harlan, where he quickly lodged the young man in the county jail. However, the sheriff’s quick thinking was to no avail. Late that night a chanting mob stormed the jail, carried the struggling youth to a nearby woods, where in the eerie light of a full moon the boy was struck up to the limb of an old oak tree. In the eyes of frontier Iowa, justice had been rendered, and a wrong avenged at the end of a length of rope.
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