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Saved By A Lightning-stroke






Category: THE CENRAL STATES AND THE GREAT LAKES

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

There was rough justice in the West in the old days. It had to be dealt
severely and quickly, for it was administered to a kind of men that
became dangerous if they saw any advantage or any superiority in their
strength or numbers over the decent people with whom they were cast. They
were uncivilized foreigners and native renegades, for the most part, who
had drifted to the frontier in the hope of making a living without work
more easily than in the cities. As there were no lawyers or courts and
few recognized laws, the whole people constituted themselves a jury, and
if a man were known to be guilty it was foolishness for any one to waste
logic on his case. And there is almost no record of an innocent man being
hanged by lynchers in the West. For minor offences the penalty was to be
marched out of camp, with a warning to be very cautious about coming that
way again, but for graver ones it was death.

In 1840 a number of desperate fellows had settled along Cedar River, near
its confluence with the Iowa, who subsisted by means of theft from the
frugal and industrious. Some of these men applied themselves especially
to horse-stealing, and in thinly settled countries, where a man has often
to go twenty or thirty miles for supplies, or his mail, or medical
attendance, it is thought to be a calamity to be without a horse.

At last the people organized themselves into a vigilance committee and
ran down the thieves. As the latter were a conscienceless gang of
rascals, it was resolved that the only effectual way of reforming them
would be by hanging. One man of the nine, it is true, was supposed before
his arrest to be a respectable citizen, but his evil communications
closed the ears of his neighbors to his appeals, and it was resolved that
he, too, should hang.

Not far away stood an oak with nine stout branches, and to this natural
gallows the rogues were taken. As a squall was coming up the ceremonies
were short, and presently every limb was weighted with the form of a
captive. The formerly respectable citizen was the last one to be drawn
up, and hardly had his halter been secured before the storm burst and a
bolt of lightning ripped off the limb on which he hung. During the delay
caused by this accident the unhappy man pleaded so earnestly for a
rehearing that it was decided to give it to him, and when he had secured
it he conclusively proved his innocence and was set free. The tree is
still standing. To the ruffians it was a warning and they went away. Even
the providential saving of one man did not detract from the value of the
lesson to avoid bad company.





Next: The Killing Of Cloudy Sky

Previous: Flying Shadow And Track Maker



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