WHEN MEN BECOME BEASTS - Brutal Lynching, Paris TX, 1893
From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, April, 1934
THERE ARE TIMES when the frenzied mob knows no law when men's reason seems to be thrown to the winds, and vengeance swift and terrible is meted out to a beast in human form, as was the case in the burning of the Texas negro near Paris, Texas, in 1893. This horrible gruesome affair is vividly remembered by many people yet living in, the State, for it was given wide publicity in the newspapers at the time. The little three-year-old daughter of Sheriff Vance was carried away from home, and two days later was found murdered, hidden away, after having been brutally mistreated. The negro, Henry Smith, who afterwards confessed to the crime, had assisted in the search for the missing child. As soon as suspicion pointed to him as being the murderer he was arrested and made a full confession. A mob soon gathered and the negro was taken out and burned at the stake. The scene and manner of his death was described in an article which appeared in the San Antonio Express at the time, and is as follows:
"On a large cotton float a box had been placed and on top of that a chair. Here Smith was placed and securely bound, then surrounded by armed men to prevent an outburst from individuals, he was driven slowly to the public square, around it, and out to place of death. Thousands followed the doomed man in his ride of despair, and the streets were lined with other thousands watching it pass. It was solemn, as befitted a cortege of death. Limp and quivering in terror, his face drawn and distorted and ashen with the agony of thought and the horror of his impending doom, the figure of Henry Smith was an awful sight but at the thought of pity up rose a vision of that other innocent torn and outraged form that he had wrought.
"Out on the bare prairie, where stood scattering bois d'arc shrubs, the scaffold had been built. Four uprights supported ten feet square, railed in except on the south side, where a stair ascended. In its center a strong post was set and braced on the other side.
"As the wagon approached Henry Vance, the father of Smith's victim appeared on the platform and asked the crowd, now densely packed for hundreds away and numbering 10,000 people, to be quiet; that he wanted a while to get his vengeance, and then he would turn him over to anyone that wanted him. Here came the wagon and Smith was carried up of the platform and stripped to the waist and placed against the stake. His legs and arms and body were securely corded to it and he was delivered to Vance's vengeance and to expiate his crime.
"A tinner's furnace was brought on filled with irons heated white. Taking one Vance thrust it under first one and then the other side his victim's feet, who helplessly writhed as the flesh scarred and peeled from the bones. Slowly, inch by inch, up his leg the iron was drawn and redrawn, only the nervous jerking twist of the muscles showing the agony being induced. When his body was reached and the iron was pressed to the most tender part of his body he broke silence, for the first time and a prolonged scream of agony rent the air. Slowly across the body, slowly upward traced the irons, the withered, scarred flesh marking the progress of the awful punishment. By turns Smith screamed, prayed, begged and cursed his torturers. When his face was reached his tongue was silenced by fire and thenceforth he only moaned or gave a cry that echoed over the prairie like the wail of a wild animal.
"Then his eyes were put out and not a finger breadth of his body being unscorched his executioners gave way. They were Vance, his father-in-law and Vance's son, a boy of 15 years of age. When they gave over punishing Smith they left the platform.
"Smith and his clothing about his lower limbs were saturated with oil as was the body and platform. The place beneath was filled with combustibles and the whole was saturated with oil and fire simultaneously set to his feet and the stack below.
"A cold, sleeting rain had been falling since noon. Silhouetted against the dark leaden sky the platform loomed bare and gaunt and above it a head drooped on a breast and blackened and scorched was the body and so still was it that all believed him dead. Slowly the flames crawled up his limbs and wrapped him in their blueish veil. A moment they burned and the head slowly raised and a broken quivering cry broke the breathless silence and was echoed back by shouts and cries from the more thoughtless below. Then the cords binding the arms burned and he raised the crisped and blackened stumps to wipe the sightless sockets of his eyes. Then burned the cords about the waist and he toppled forward upon the platform and lay there writhing and quivering in the greedy flames that thrust through the crevices. One foot was still fast and held him on the bed of flames. With one supreme effort the body, still animated by the supreme desire of escape, rolled over on its face, rose upon its arms, reached up and caught the railing and with a convulsing effort tore the bound leg loose and stood reeling on the stumps of its feet, raised itself nearly upright against the railing and then sitting upon the burning platform, its head and arms lying upon the railing and the legs dangling over the edge and there hung a moment though, as this had nearly exhausted its little strength.
“Then, as the flames swirled around him, by another effort he slipped over the edge and fell to the ground. It lay still but was thrust into the mass of fire beneath the scaffold from which it came, in a few minutes crawling out only to be thrust back again and the debris of the fire was piled on top and so did death come to Henry Smith.
"Every scrap of his clothing was eagerly sought by relic hunters and when the flames had at length died away the charred fragments of his bones were raked out and carried away."
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