Genealogy Trails

MADISON COUNTY, INDIANA


A Famous Murder Case—The Arrest Of The Murderer—His Trial And Execution.

THE MURDER OF DANIEL HOPPES BY MILTON WHITE

On the 8th of April, 1867, one of the most horrible murders in the history of Indiana occurred in Madison county about two miles southeast of Anderson, in which Milton White was the murderer and Daniel Hoppes the victim. The crime took place in a little ravine running through a strip of woods near where the residence of Daniel Rhodes now stands, on what is known as the ' east line "' Columbus Turnpike road. White was arrested the next day and taken before the Hon. Edwin P. Schlater, who was at that time a Justice of the Peace of Anderson township, where a preliminary examination was held, and the defendant bound over to the Circuit Court. At the following session of the grand jury, an indictment was returned against White and he was placed on trial. The Hon. Henry A. Brouse was then judge of the circuit, and the Hon. Nicolas VanHorn, now a resident of Pecos City, Texas, was the prosecuting attorney, who conducted the case on behalf of the state. The lions. James W. Sansberry and Howell D. Thompson, with Calvin D. Thompson, Esq , appeared for the defense. These gentlemen were then in the prime of life, and their efforts in behalf of the criminal will be remembered by the older citizens of Anderson as long as they survive. Mr. Sansberry's speech before the jury was a masterpiece of oratory. Calvin D. Thompson is dead, but Mr. Sansberry and Mr. Howell D. Thompson yet live in Anderson.

A full and complete account of all the circumstances surrounding this affair from beginning to end was written by George C. Harding, of the Indianapolis Herald, now the Sentinel, the day succeeding the execution of the murderer, from which we make the following extract: "On the 8th of April, Daniel Hoppes, who resided about three miles from Anderson, had some meat stolen from him, and upon examination, tracks leading from his smoke-house evidently pointed very strongly to Milton White as the person who committed the theft, the tracks leading almost directly to his house. Hoppes, with a neighbor, Mr. Swearingen, left his house on the morning of the tragedy and started toward Anderson for the supposed purpose of having a search warrant issued. At the junction, near Anderson, they met White. Hoppes requested Swearingen to go and see White about the meat, which he did. After a short talk, White came up to Hoppes and agreed with him that they should at once return home, and that Hoppes might search White's house. They proceeded down the Chicago & Cincinnati railroad track, in the direction of going home in the usual way, but were seen by a Mr. Hughes passing the water tank at about 10 o'clock in the morning. They were walking side by side, but the witness heard no talk between them. They were next seen by Rebecca Pittsford, who resided a quarter of a mile south of the railroad, on the pike. This was between 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning; they were walking one on each side of the pike. The next time they were seen together was by Sallie Stevenson, who resided still farther south. Hoppes was walking about eight feet in advance. She heard no words spoken between them. . A short distance south was a gate and bars leading through a piece of clearing or woods pasture, where Hoppes and White were last seen together by Patrick Allen, as they were going in the direction of the bars leading to the pasture. Here the dead body of Daniel Hoppes was found the next morning, lying upon his face with the skull fractured entirely across and around the right side. His head and face were crushed and indented into the ground, evidently by the force of the murderous blows. The weapon of death was but a short distance away, and was a sassafras club, about four feet in length, which bore upon its face some clots of deep dyed blood, with hair adhering to it. Hoppes not returning to his home for his dinner or supper, his wife became alarmed, and at once informed the neighbors of his continued absence. The fact of the meat having been stolen being known in the neighborhood, and that suspicion rested on White as the guilty party, and the fact of their having been seen together, led a number of citizens to repair to his house that night in order to keep him in charge until daylight should return, when they would search for the missing man. White was asleep when the parties called at his house, and upon their entering a newly whetted butcher knife with its point still upon the whet stone was observed lying upon the table near the door. White was informed that Hoppes was missing, that they had been seen together, and it was thought that he had killed him, but White stoutly denied any such imputation. He was then asked where he had left the deceased. He answered upon the railroad. In answer to the inquiry. " whereabouts on the railroad ?" he answered " the other side,'' that he was standing there talking with a stranger. The searching party remained at White's house until morning, and at that time search was made for the man, and his body was found on the edge of a hollow basin in the woods pasture, not far from the path leading in the direction of their homes, and about thirty rods from the pike, and seventy rods from where Allen testified he had seen Hoppes and White together. White was then taken in sight of the body, but did not approach it, remarking, " Yes, there he is." He was then taken to Anderson where a preliminary examination was held. The evidence further showed by the sister-in-law of the defendant that upon his return home on the fatal day, he was much excited; that he came home about 11 o'clock, and said to her and his wife that Hoppes would not search any other house as long as he lived. He also said that he had an altercation with a man in the depot, and had struck him and in doing so had hurt his hand.

Upon the evidence adduced before 'Squire Schlater, White was sent to the Circuit Court and tried as before stated. The evidence was entirely circumstantial in every part as no man saw the deed committed, but it was deemed entirely conclusive by the jury, and the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on the 20th of September, 1867. Owing to the fact that there was no positive evidence, no eyewitnesses to the occurrence, efforts were made by some of the leading citizens of Anderson, prominent among whom was Dr. John W. Westerfield, to have the sentence commuted by Governor Baker. His excellency was at the time busy in canvassing the state of Ohio in a heated political campaign, and not having the leisure time to examine the case, ordered a postponement of the execution until the first day of November. It not having been known generally that the execution had been postponed, a large crowd assembled in Anderson on the 20th of September to witness the execution, and fears were entertained that the prisoner would be taken out of jail and hanged by the excited populace, but better counsels prevailed, and the crowd dispersed with the threat on the part of all that if the prisoner's sentence was commuted they would hang him anyway, and there is but little doubt that this threat would have been carried out.

Governor Baker at his first leisure repaired to Anderson and had a personal interview with White in the Madison county jail. The Governor was a very kind-hearted man, and would gladly have commuted the sentence, but after a thorough investigation he did not feel that he could do otherwise than let the law take its course, and White accordingly paid the penalty of his crime on the scaffold on the first of November, 1867.

THE VICTIM

Daniel Hoppes, the victim, was a native of Madison county. He was a man of very small stature, and one of the kindest and most inoffensive of men. Though not remarkable for intelligence, he was richly endowed with that most godlike of virtues, charity. He spoke and thought well of all; he was industrious and temperate, and was never known to drink liquor of any kind. He did not have an enemy in the world. Whenever he came to town on business, he did it as quickly as possible ; no matter what was transpiring, he immediately left for home. When election time came around, he quietly went to the polls, voted, and returned home as soon as he could. His whole life was wrapped up in his family. Though a poor man, weak and sickly, he supported his family by the honest labor of his hands. Such was the well known .kind- heartedness of the man that it is absolutely 'certain that if \White had returned to him the meat which he had stolen, he would have taken his property home with him, and said nothing about it.

THE EXECUTION AND THE PREPARATION THERE OF

Milton White's last night upon earth was restless. Up to the last day he had been buoyed up with a hope of executive clemency, but as the sun went down on Thursday evening, hope departed and dark despair took possession of his soul. With dignified obstinacy, however, he refused to make any public confession of his guilt, and resolved to die game. At night he was visited in his cell by members of the press, in company with Hon. E. P. Schlater. before whom he had been tried in his preliminary examination. He was stolid and uncommunicative, and answered in monosyllables such questions as were propounded. He appeared to make a terrible effort to appear calm, and with the exception of the restless and glaring expression of his eye, succeeded in doing so. When he was asked a question which he did not like, his eyes flamed with an expression of tigerish ferocity which was calculated to make one's blood run cold. But little information could be gleaned from his conversation, and his manner seemed to be insincere. He was attended by the Rev. John B. Crawley, who was unremitting in his attentions and who labored earnestly to turn the thoughts of the poor wretch to his God.

On the morning of the execution, White was again visited. He was walking to and fro in his cell with his hands crossed in front. On being asked by Mr. Schlater how he felt, he replied, "pretty well, thank you."

On being asked if he had been in the army, he replied that he had served in the 59th Indiana regiment. On being questioned if he knew a man by the name of Prellainan, lie answered that he knew him well, and knew some things about him that he would not tell just at that time.

Friday morning, the day of the execution, dawned bright and beautiful. The hazy blue of the lingering Indian summer was radiated by a glorious sunshine, and a gentle breeze toyed with the falling leaves and sported with the fleeing thistledown. The neighboring forests were radiant in the golden gleam ; the green, the crimson and the orange of the dying foliage presented a picture of surpassing beauty. A man with any poetry in his soul would have been more than ordinarily loath to leave so beautiful a world on so beautiful a day, but it mattered little to the stolid wretch about to take his last look of earth from the scaffold floor. The crowd began to gather from all parts of the compass, on foot, on horseback, in buggies, wagons and ox carts, the old, the young, the hale, the lame and the blind, male and female, dusty and sweat-begrimed. The buggies came loaded with people ; in many instances the whole family were present, from the old grandma, with wrinkled parchment skin, yellowed by time as the maple leaf, down to the infant in its mother's arms. Young girls with rosy cheeks came in troops smiling, chattering and coquetting as if it were but a gala day. Young gentlemen mounted on sleek, well-fed horses, sitting on brand new pig skins, with hats gorgeously decorated with red, white and blue streamers, rode proudly into town with faces all aglow with the inspiration of the hanging festival. Lank and ague-shaken backwoodsmen, dressed in linsey woolsey wammuses, types of an almost extinct race, trudged wearily through the woods followed by gaunt and half-starved dogs for the pitiful sake of being in the neighborhood of a poor, fellow human being who was about to be choked to death for his sin.

The scenes around the public square in Anderson on this bright day were a sad commentary on human nature. Among the eight or ten thousand people assembled, all the talk was of the hanging. There was much boasting among some of the people of the number of criminals they had seen launched into eternity at the rope's end. A man who had not seen more than five men hung did not command much respect from the crowd. The twenty-five or twenty-six execution man could secure the attention of the crowd, and the returned California!!, who had witnessed ninety-three hangings, was looked up to with a feeling akin to awe. Old men gaped with open mouths, and young boys-stood by with staring eyes with the noble ambition to see as many hangings as possible, so that they might boast a little when the down on their chins ripened into stiff beards.

At one of the corners some men were bleating out the attractions of a side show, "The wild men of Afghanistan," and were splitting many a sensitive tympanum with their vociferous shouts to walk inside the dirty canvas and view the wonders of nature in the shape of a couple of idiotic Negroes. To and fro among the crowd were numerous young men selling pictures of White, and who earnestly protested that they were bona fide photographs of the man who was about to be hung.

During all this time, within a few rods of this scene a poor wretch strode miserably to and fro in his cell, counting each tick of the clock which brought him nearer to the frowning gallows, the dreadful noose, the yawning grave and the dark, dread hereafter, which not even the best of us can face without a shudder.

PREPARING FOR THE MARCH

At 12 o'clock preparations were made to take the prisoner to the scaffold. The rope, artistically knotted and well greased, was examined and found all right. The jurors, county officers, reporters and others entitled to admission within the enclosure, were assembled in the jailer's room below, and when all was ready proceeded up stairs. The sheriff opened the cell of the condemned man who walked out into the corridor. He looked calm and self-possessed with the exception of the restless wanderings of his e\es, here, there, everywhere, but resting upon nothing. His arms were now pinioned, the rope was placed around his neck, and he was escorted down to the front gate of the jail yard.

The crowd was large and densely packed, and it required guards with fixed bayonets to keep them back. The prisoner was then seated on his coffin, which had been placed in a common spring wagon, the Rev. Father Crawley on one side, and Sheriff James H. Snell on the other. The reporters and others fell in behind, and the guards with bayonets turned outward, formed a line on each side, and thus the procession began the dead march. From the prison the procession marched to Anderson, now Eighth street, and turned west down that beautiful thoroughfare, lined on each side with elegant dwellings. The cortege passed slowly along amid a cloud of dust, the crowd pressing frantically forward to get a view of the prisoner, and were unmindful of the bayonets. Hundreds of women, many of them with babies in their arms, were borne along with the crowd, their dresses torn and dragging in the dust, and themselves in danger of being trampled to death. Many of the verandas in front of the residences were full of people, while from behind the green leaves of the vines shone the fair faces and bright eyes of young ladies too modest to show themselves on such an occasion, yet with enough of morbid curiosity to make them look upon the dreadful sight.

Throughout the horribly tedious march the prisoner was unmoved. He sat with his eyes closed and with his ear inclined to Father Crawley listening to the exhortation of that good man. He seemed to have gathered strength as he went on, and his nerves acted as if made of steel. He spoke rarely, and then only in response to questions asked him by Father Crawley. Occasionally, as some epithet would fall upon his ear, he would look quickly up, and a tiger-like gleam would for a moment flash from his eyes. He was decorous and dignified throughout, and his conduct put to shame many of those who followed him to the grave.

THE GALLOWS

Arriving opposite the gallows, which had been built in a thick forest of oaks about half a mile from the city, and two hundred yards north of the main road, the procession filed down the narrow county road with a thick undergrowth of hazel bushes on either side. The gallows was a plain platform with a railing around it, a trap in the center and a crossbeam overhead. It was surrounded by a high enclosure of green oak trees, capable of holding 200 persons. The scene around the gallows was at once striking and humiliating. Ten thousand persons were scattered through the woods, while probably five hundred had climbed to the tops of the neighboring trees, and hung like squirrels among the branches, almost determined to break their necks in order to view the final proceedings. Adventurous women followed the prisoner to the gallows, and looked up enviously at the fellows in the trees who had the opportunity of viewing the execution from an elevated standpoint, seeming to regret the right vouchsafed to man that was not granted to woman, that of climbing a tree.
Several seemed on the point of trying it, but in deference to public sentiment, their better judgment prevailed.

ON THE SCAFFOLD

All who had tickets marched into the enclosure, and the armed guards set about the task of keeping out the crowd. Sheriff Snell, Father Crawley, and the prisoner mounted the scaffold, and the latter was set on the proper place over the trap. He was a large man, nearly six feet in height, and weighing about 200 pounds. He was dressed in a complete suit of black cloth ; he wore gaiters, had on a black felt hat and a white collar. He was cleanly shaven with the exception of a mustache and chin whiskers, which partially concealed the sensual and cruel expression of his mouth. Many women would have pronounced him good looking, even handsome, in fact, one's first impression would be, that he was not a bad man. There was nothing repulsive in his appearance to the casual observer except his eyes, which were set closely together, and had a suspicion of strabismus about them.

Sheriff Snell read the death warrant to him, but White heard it without moving a muscle of his countenance, keeping his eyes steadfastly-fixed upon the floor. He then knelt with Father Crawley on the trap, and repeated after him the Lord's prayer, and the Ave Maria, the Apostles' creed, and other prayers of the church. His voice, though low, was clear and distinct, without the slightest suspicion of tremor.

It had been expected that the prisoner would make a public confession upon the gallows, which, however, he failed to do. Sheriff Snell informed us that he made to him and another gentleman, a sort of confession in which he asserted that he did not himself commit the deed, but that it was done by a respectable farmer of Madison county. This is understood to have been a gentleman who severely horsewhipped White while he was a boy for cutting up his harness, and against whom White held malice ever since. This alleged confession was considered as not being entitled to any sort of credence. The prisoner may have probably confessed to Father Crawley, but what he confessed is between Father Crawley and God alone.

THE DROP

The rope was finally adjusted to the right length after several trials, during which the prisoner stood erect with every muscle as rigid as iron. There was no sign of failing except the limpid expression of the eye, and an occasional gulping motion of the throat as if trying to swallow something. While the rope was being adjusted he stood firm, and occasionally cast a glance at the fastening which sustained the trap. Sheriff Sncll drew the black cap over his head as the poor wretch cast a last and lingering look upon the world and the scene around him. The cap was drawn tightly over his face and tied under the chin, shutting out forever from his gaze the glorious sunshine.

The .sheriff then took a sharp hatchet, and with one quick, nervous blow, severed the cord. There was a sickening thud as the body, with a fall of three feet, shot through the trap, making the beam overhead quiver. Thus was the body of Milton White suspended between Heaven and earth, while his guilty crime-stained soul went into the presence of its Maker. His neck was broken by the fall, and not a single muscle moved after the body fell.

CONCLUSION

But little remains to be told. Whatever may be thought of capital punishment, the people of Madison county are well enough satisfied that Milton White is out of the way. The execution was well managed, and Sheriff Snell is entitled to much credit for his coolness and self-possession.

Father Crawley proved himself a devoted friend to the condemned man and stood by him to the last. Everyone was disappointed by the demeanor of White in his last moments. It was believed that he would be unmanned, but on the contrary, no man ever met death with less sign of trepidation. The behavior of the crowd at the execution was commendably quiet.

The body hung twenty-seven minutes, after which it was taken down, and examined by Drs. Thomas N. Jones and Stanley W. Edwins, who pronounced life extinct. It was placed in a coffin and buried in the Catholic cemetery, whence it is possible it may have found its way into some doctor's dissecting room. If the articulated bones of Milton White assist some medical student in his study of anatomy, it will be probably the first good use to which they were ever put.''

As many newcomers of Madison county are not familiar with the scene of the execution, we will state that it took place on the old fair ground, on what is now known as west Eighth street. The gallows was located on north Madison avenue about 151 yards northwest of the palatial residence of James Donnelly.

Many stories are told of White in his younger days being of a naturally cruel disposition. It is said that he would catch pigs- goslings, young ducks and other fowls, and cut their legs off in order to see them hobble around in their misery.

James H. Snell, the sheriff, who executed White, is still a resident of Anderson. Dr. Thomas N. Jones, one of the physicians who examined the body, died in the year 1875, while Dr. Stanley W. Edwins is at this writing a prominent physician of Elwood.

The club with which Hoppes was killed was kept in the county Clerk's office until the destruction of the court house in December, 1880.

Historical sketches and reminiscences of Madison county, Indiana: a detailed ...By John La Rue Forkner, Byron H. Dyson

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