History Nebraska Blog

“Judge Lynch” in Nebraska

BD smallDuring the six decades from 1859 to 1919, at least 45 men and two women died at the hands of lynch mobs in Nebraska while during the same period, only 23 or 24 individuals were executed according to law. Find out more about this dark chapter of Nebraska’s past at a free “Brown Bag” lecture beginning at noon on July 15 at the Nebraska History Museum, Fifteenth and P streets, in Lincoln.

Lynching is defined as a summary execution, not necessarily a hanging, carried out by a group having no legal authority, but acting under the pretext of serving justice. It is often thought of as a method of last resort in “frontier” communities that had not yet developed functioning law enforcement and legal systems to check criminal activity. Most Nebraska lynchings, however, actually took place in central and eastern Nebraska towns far removed from their frontier origins. There were even several lynchings in the early twentieth century.

During the July 15 presentation I will be discussing which Nebraska towns had the most episodes of lynching, and offer thoughts on how citizens justified taking the law into their own hands and applying the “hempen neck-tie” in so many cases.  You will find that Nebraska’s relatively treeless landscape proved no barrier to those bent on hanging an alleged criminal. Nebraska also earns the dubious distinction of having lynched two women and even one county official. Regardless of the time, place, or method by which a lynching was carried out, few of the perpetrators were ever punished.

The July 15 lecture will be filmed and posted on YouTube at a later date in case you are not able to attend.  Previous “Brown Bag” lectures at the Nebraska State Historical Society have already been posted at

http://www.youtube.com/user/NebraskaHistorical

-James E. Potter, Senior Research Historian, Nebraska State Historical Society

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