MADISON COUNTY, INDIANA
Famous Murder Case—The Arrest Of The Murderer—His Trial And Execution.
THE MURDER OF
DANIEL HOPPES BY MILTON
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Several seemed on the point of trying
it, but in deference to public sentiment, their better judgment
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 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
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.
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
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