By Bill Ward Rushville Republican
---- — When I was in grade school, I would guess around the 4th or 5th grade, the Rush County Museum was dedicated. The ceremonies took place in front of the building and Perkins Street was blocked off for the festivities. The high school and Graham Annex grade school were located right across from the newly dedicated museum so we were herded to Perkins Street and were the audience for the event.
There were numerous other organizations that took part in the dedication, one of which was the Rush County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I was drawn to their booth and found they were selling a short history of Rush County copyrighted around 1900 for all of 50 cents. At the time, this was a huge expenditure for me, but one I felt was well worth it. I dug deep and found my 50 cents and became the proud owner of the booklet, which I still have and treasure.
After the dedication we were allowed to tour the buildings that had been dedicated that day. This and the amount of information available from many local historians of the time certainly tended to get me very interested in history, especially Rush County history. I took the book home and my mother thought it was great I was interested enough to buy the book, knowing the cost was great for me at the time. Dad showed little interest and thought I possibly had wasted 50 cents, but did nothing to detract me from my new found interest. I still have that booklet today and read it off and on and really enjoy it. I found a lot of things about the county I had not known before. Being young, impressionable and interested I really got into the story of the only execution ever done in Rush County.
I have loaned out a lot of material and this book as well as a lot of the 150 year celebration of the county. I managed to purchase everything pertaining to the Rush County celebration as well as the Milroy and Anderson Township celebration. I frequently dig them out and sort of page through them just for fun. I also have an 1888 thick Almanac of Rush County that is verbose and redundant but even so interesting if you have time and ability to hold the darn thing. I bet it weighs 4 pounds! My daughter now has this tome and I hope it remains in the family. All of these things I enjoy and frequently go back to for my articles.
The one and only public execution in the county was for murder. As might be expected, at the time it was the thing to talk about and see. The trial and the sentencing of the culprit were front page news for the local paper, The Whig, and people from all over the county and around the country could not get enough of it. The gentleman convicted was a local and, from what I remember, had more than adequate liquor one night and got into the inevitable fight with someone else. I believe a young lady’s affection was involved and, of course, that only lent a little spice to the story. The trial was held in Rush County Court. I don’t believe the courthouse had yet been built so this was the wooden structure used prior to a more permanent structure.
Witnesses were called and testified; juries were chosen with some difficulty as both people involved were popular young men, at least young in regards to the time. As with all capital crimes, the judge made sure that all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed before the jury got the case. Both the defense and prosecution eloquently did their job. Witnesses were called and testified, many were not at all happy about having to do this, but all felt it was their civic duty.
After due deliberation the jury came in with a guilty verdict and the Judge gave him the death sentence. At the time the judicial system was much faster than today and within a few weeks the sentence was to be carried out.
Of course, there were no facilities for such an event in the county so a gallows was built at what is now Fourth and Main streets. The hanging was the social event of the year and drew spectators from all over the middle of the state. The town was crowded with visitors here only to see a man die. Vendors from all over came to town to hawk their wares and a rather festive atmosphere was in Rushville. The judge was a compassionate man and gave the defendant much of what he asked for when it came to his final resting place. The man was hung and his body given over to a close friend. The final request of the condemned man was that his grave be forever forgotten. So after the deed was done the body was put in a wooden coffin and the friend and the friend only placed it in a wagon and left town. The final resting place of our only execution is forever lost as that friend never divulged the final resting place of the condemned. Rushville and Rush County rapidly got back to normal and as law abiding as before.