The Lynching Party

Daddy heard the following story from an Army scout who was actually a member of the lynching party.

In the early 1890s in the “West” (perhaps Wyoming), a small detachment of soldiers were doing some scouting around, apart from the rest of the company. The friend of Daddy’s was a civilian scout on duty in the Army.

This party of soldiers apparently caught a horse thief red-handed. The standard frontier penalty for a horse thief was to “string him up on the spot,” but since the men were soldiers they had to act legally.

They convened a court among themselves, tried the horse thief, convicted him and sentenced him to be hanged. Then came a “knotty” problem. Who was going to put the noose around his neck? After a lengthy discussion, they decided that they would all hold the noose as they slipped it around his neck; then they stood him up on the buckboard. But there was another problem: who was going to drive the buckboard out from under the horse thief? They discussed this for quite a while and the soldiers finally asked the scout to do the job, but he demurred.

Finally, they arrived at an ingenious scheme: they would string up the poor fellow with just enough slack for him to stand on the buckboard. The horses pulling the buckboard would be allowed free-rein, so that as they grazed they would move away from the hanging tree, and the deed would be done automatically with no involvement on the part of the soldiers. This scheme was so good, they lost no time in carrying it out.

As it turns out, the horse thief had quite a way with horses. When the team started to move, he would gently yell “whoa.” On one or two occasions he would say “back up,” and the team obeyed.

The soldiers waited around, but by late afternoon the situation was getting embarrassing. It would soon be time to rendezvous with the rest of their company. Indeed, they saw the cavalry approaching on the horizon. With time running out, the soldiers got together to make a proposition to their victim: they would let him go scot-free if he would agree to leave the territory and never return. He readily agreed. They cut him down, and the last that they saw of him, in the distance, he was still running. Apparently he did leave the territory because they never saw him again.


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