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Chisago County Minnesota 
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Hanging of George Kelley

George Kelley hanged
George Kelley
Hanged at Center City for the Wyoming Murders

Stern Justice Dealt Out To Murderer George Kelly
Hanged at Center City Shortly After Midnight
Wyoming Tragedy Avenged

A Grewsome Scene in the Rude and Half Open Enclosure in Which the Execution Took Place – The Murderer Cool and Nervy Until the Last – He Weakens Sufficiently to Ask for a Minister in His Last Hours – Sheriffs and Deputies From Ramsey, Hennepin and Other Counties Present – His Story Of His Crime – His Last Hours

Center City, March 23 – With the wintry moon struggling to mingle its pale light with the dull glim of the kerosene lamps, which lit up the uncouth enclosure which but poorly covered the scaffold, George Kelly was hanged shortly after midnight at this place as a penalty for the brutal murder last July at Wyoming of Edward Paul and Jacob Hayes. The hanging, the first during the term of the present sheriff, was quietly arranged, and no detail was wanting in the dignified execution of the law. Kelly was a marvel of nerve and self-possession, and from the moment the death march began until the deadly drop fell he was apparently under perfect self-control.

After an evening of considerable tension all visitors were forbidden the condemned man’s cell, and he was told to prepare for the end he donned a quiet suit of black which Sheriff Anderson had provided, and settled down on a chair to finish his cigar. He grew more thoughtful, owing, no doubt, to Judge Nethaway’s request that he have a minister. Dr. Nelson sat outside the cell, read passages from the Bible and offered short prayers, which Kelly heard attentively.

At 12:15 Sheriff Anderson drew up a chair and read to the man the death warrant. Kelly listened, but made no sign. The time passed very slowly, but beyond a slight paleness and an occasional nervous movement he seemed unconcerned and half and hour later he was notified that all was ready, and he rose briskly and permitted the deputies to put on the black gown and pinion his arms. Ex-Sheriff Anderson led the way, followed by the prisoner and Dr. Nelson, the missionary and the sheriff. In the rear were Deputies Vaughan and Sever, and slowly the little party went across the district court room, down the main stairway and back through the rear office into the scaffold structure, where there were gathered the visiting sheriffs and a few spectators. The windows of the court room were filled with spectators, also, who looked down on the weird, dimly lighted spectacle.
Kelly mounted the scaffold with a firm step, and, looking neither to the right nor left, took up his position on the trap. Both he and the minister knelt, and Kelly repeated slowly and without a quiver the Lord’s prayer after the minister. Dr. Nelson, rising, said: “May God have mercy on your soul.” This, too, Kelly said after him.
As Dr. Nelson stepped aside to allow the sheriff to adjust the noose, Kelly said: “I want to say I am leaving this world without a hard feeling for anybody on earth.” He hesitated a brief instant, and upon being asked if he was through, added: “I have nothing further to say.”
The sheriff deftly placed the noose about Kelly’s neck, put the knot beneath the left ear and drew it up slightly, then pulled down the black cap, hiding the face from view. “I guess that’s tight enough,” he said, and scarcely had he said the words when Sheriff Anderson sprung the trap, and the body shot down straight the full nine feet. There was not a tremor visible, and after the body had swung around once or twice, Dr. Soderling, Kelly and Erickson, the last named being the county coroner, felt for pulsations at the heart and wrists.
The drop fell at precisely 12:56, notwithstanding which the pulse beat steadily for four minutes, when it grew weaker and weaker, and at the expiration of six minutes Kelly was pronounced dead. When the body had been cut down at the expiration of sixteen minutes, the medical men found that the knot had slipped around the back of the neck and that the unfortunate man’s neck was broken, death being practically instantaneous. The remains will be interred some time today in the potter’s field, near the poor farm, just thirteen miles from the spot where the wintry winds are chanting a sad requiem over the grave of the poor dishonored disgraced “Bob” Wilson, the partner in crime, who lies buried at North Branch.
Kelly’s Last Day
Kelly passed the last day of his life in the improvised cell in the county court unmindful to all outward appearances of the fate which the hastening hours were bringing nearer and nearer to him. Even walking past the window in the district court room accompanied by a deputy, with the rude shed and stout gallows in plain sight, he gave no sign that he saw either.
In the temporary cell built just for the court room referred to, the condemned man sat reading or chatting lightly with his death watch deputies, M. F. Vaughn and John A. Johnson, who have been with him since he was brought from Stillwater on Saturday. The quaint frame court house stands facing the main street of Center City on the northerly end of a dignified little peninsula from any point of which one can hurl a stone into the waters of picturesque Chicago lake, or its several sloughs. Kelly was cheerful when he roused himself at 7:30 from a night of undisturbed rest. He exchanged good wishes for the day with Deputy Vaughn, and called for his breakfast which consisted of a generous portion of steak, boiled eggs, toast, coffee and a plate of steaming hot pancakes.
He has by his quiet easy demeanor won the friendship of his guards with whom he converses freely on all topics, save his crime and history. When he had finished his breakfast, he laughingly remarked that he guessed the shave he had received in St. Paul on Saturday would have to do. He talked books to Vaughn and Johnson, and the Globe reporter, to whom he expressed a preference for Mark Twain. “Roughing It” and Huckleberry Finn,” he was especially fond of. He made no denial that his real name was not Kelly, but expressed thankfulness that the grave would draw the final curtain on his record which he did not wish to reach the ears of his family. He disclosed his real name and residence to a confidential friend, but was given a promise that both be kept sacred. It is learned that he came from the Sought, where also belonged “Bob” Wilson, who was killed by the posse. Wilson is also a fictitious name, and was taken as a convenient one by the dead man who was a horse jockey and a “short card” man who was from the South, and a pal for some years of Kelly. Kelly rose from his cot to greet Rev. E. C. Nelson, who has a mission some four miles from Center City, and who called about the middle of the morning to see the murderer. The deputies withdrew, but the clergyman did not remain long. When he had gone, Kelly remarked: “I haven’t much time for the ministers. I am not convinced that there is a hereafter. I would like to believe all these pretty little stories, but I have never been able to do it.” Urged to speak of his crime the prisoner declined, save to deny that he had ever confessed. He was wrath at the statements made in some of the Twin City papers, which were shown him purporting to contain his admission of guilt.
“I admit having been where the shooting was done,” he explained, “but I say again as I testified in court that Wilson was the man who had the big revolver and who did the shooting. I have not made any confession and I do not mean to.”
The deputies to whom, during the past few days, he has recited odd disconnected bits of his history, say that Kelly was widely traveled both in the southern and western part of this country and knew much of the territory through which he had gone. They gathered that he had spend considerable time in Mexico and further, although he made only indirect allusions – that he had been guilty of a number of offenses, only a part of which he had ever paid the penalty for. He had formerly learned and followed the trade of tiler, or mantel maker.
The warm sun without shed a glow alike on the snow covered ground and the quiet court house. A loving ray of sunshine fought its way through the small latticed window and bent itself only the dingy wall. Noticing this, the unfortunate man looked up, smiled rather pathetically, and, as his eyes rested upon a solitary crow perched outside on one of the bare limbs of a tall poplar, he remarked: “There’s the first crow I’ve seen. It must be almost spring.” He grew thoughtful but said nothing and seemed glad when a deputy changed his train of thought by bringing in a substantial lunch of roast mutton, macaroni, baked beans and milk. Kelly topped this off with a generous slice of cranberry pie. The afternoon hours dragged slowly enough. Kelly, who has been shown the most marked nerve without a particle of bravado, gossiped with the members of the watch or dictated portions of his life to the friend mentioned above. Although there is the well grounded feeling in Chicago county that Kelly was given a well merited reward for his horrible crime, there has not been the slightest excitement or cause for alarm, and the several rifles, shotguns, cartridge boxes, etc. which adorn the room just outside the cell room are in sharp contrast with the almost funeral stillness which hangs like a pall over the peaceable little neighborhood.
It was the first hanging in this county since Anders G. Anderson has been sheriff and he did not look forward to the task with undue glee.
The Scaffold
The afternoon train brought to this place a number of visiting sheriffs, some of whom kindly offered such assistance as Sheriff Anderson might.
Among the visiting sheriffs and their deputies were John Wagener, Charles Chapel, George Irish and George Allen, or Ramsey; Phil Megaarden, of Hennepin; Ole Mausten, of Aitken; Smith of Washington; Jacobson, of Isanti; Lundquist, of Goodhue; Jim Donovan and Ed Jensen, of St. Louis. The visitors inspected the gallows and the rude shed in which it was constructed.
Fitted into an L at the southeast corner of the court house, stands an improvised shed 16x20 feet, in the center of which the scaffold is built. The shed is of rough pine, the slanting roof over which covers but half the distance, leaving the condemned man as well as the limited number of spectators exposed to the chill night air. The scaffold – of white oak – is a staunch affair, patterned after the machine upon which Brooker, the Pine City murderer, expiated his crime. The drop was through a big trap, five feet square, a distance of nearly nine feet.
Directly after lunch Sheriff Anderson tied on a bag of sand weighting 200 pounds to the 7-16 manilla rope to be used and tested both the rope and the drop. This rope, which came from Chicago, was substituted for the Italian article, which failed to properly stand the test.
Kelly Talks
They do things formally in Chicago county as a rule, and the Kelly case is no exception. With the arrival of the crowd of sheriffs, deputies, and others on the evening train, Sheriff Anderson had his hands full playing host and looking after his man. Although an effort was made to exclude all but the death watch, there was little or no trouble experienced in getting into the small room in which the cell is built. The reporter for the Globe stood outside the big iron grating and talked fifteen minutes with the condemned man who was as collected and as much at ease as the officials. He, from the start, made it plain that he did not care to discuss his crime. When plied with questions he admitted that he hailed from the Southwest, and was of Southern origin. His father was a Nova-Scotian and his mother a Virginian, and he rather leaned to the Roman Catholic belief. He insisted that he had led a perfectly honest life as mantel or tilemaker, up to three years ago, although he had done a little gambling. Three years ago, owing to the meddling of an aunt, he says, he became estranged from his wife from whom he has not heard in that time. He explained that he was thirty-two years of age and an only child. Wilson, he said, knew his identity, but Wilson was dead and he had nothing to fear from that source. Wilson, whose real name has not come out, was mixed up with horse racing and gaming, and was an old pal. Kelly talked in rather a desultory fashion about Arthur Johnson, who has been twice acquitted, “Johnson could have said something,” he explained, “which would have granted me at least a respite and possibly a new trial. I have no complaints to make though. I told him not to do it. The public would think I was trying to swear him free and he was doing the same thing for me. Johnson has not come to see me since he was acquitted, but that’s all right, maybe he didn’t care to.” Kelly said that Judge Nethaway would bear out the statement that Johnson could have helped him (Kelly) by his testimony. Kelly had very little time for ministers whom he dubbed “sky pilots”. He said he was not prepared to accept their ministrations, although he might change his mind before the end came. While talking Kelly was seated on a plain chair facing a second upon which had been placed his dinner. Before seating himself he borrowed a comb from a deputy and combed his hair before a small mirror which hung in his cell. At the conclusion of his meal, he lighted a cigar and coming up to the small grated window chatted nonchalantly with his visitors. Some one told him that Johnson had been re-arrested, charged with some old offense, near Chillicothe, Mo., but Kelly merely raised his eyebrows and said nothing. He scoffed at the idea of making any confession or other statement on the scaffold, and said he had told nothing of himself save to give a few scraps of his life to Editor J. H. Huber, of the North Branch Review, who attended his trial, and who has come to know the condemned man quite well. Kelly, in referring to the fight in the swamp with the posse, said he never would have been taken alive except for the fact that he hoped to save the life of Johnson, who was wounded, by surrendering.
It was stated that a request had been made for Kelly’s body for medical purposes, but the local authorities say that the body will be interred in the paupers field adjoining the county poor farm.
The few visitor’s who were in the cell room at 9:30 when Judge J. C. Nethaway, of Stillwater, who defended Kelly when on trial for his life, entered the place.
“Judge, I’m awful glad to see you,” said the condemned man, coming to the door of his cell. “You’re a true friend. You made a hard fight for my life, and I want you to say just a few words over my body when I am dead.”
The judge looked a moment at the man in whose eyes tears glistened, and those about expected that he would break down. “Don’t ask me to do that, Kelly. I fought for your life as hard as I knew how. Let me send for a minister.”
The man whose thread of life was so soon to be snapped hesitated but a second, and then said in a firm, but impressive, tone: “All right, judge. I will. I don’t know much about there being any hereafter, but if there is any such thing there as memory, I will be grateful to you.”
Judge Nethaway then sent for Rev. Nelson, who, in a short time appeared and was admitted to the man’s cell.
Judge Nethaway stated to the newspaper men that, notwithstanding any statements to the contrary, Kelly was a single man. He came from the state of Illinois, being born in Alton. He had not seen his parents since he was twelve years of age. He had told his counsel he was one of three brothers, had worked in the mines in Mexico, and had ridden on every road from Ohio to ‘Frisco. Kelly was, in Judge Nethaway’s opinion, no ordinary crook but a cool, nervy desperado, no educated but naturally bright and quick witted. The only communication he has had since his incarceration was in a letter sent to a relative, who, he told his counsel, was to be given his dead body upon making a certain form of request. Judge Nethaway explains that he believes Kelly to be genuine bandit well posted in the intelligent use of fire arms, and possessed of a keen wit. As illustrating this, the judge said Kelly had told each of his guards a different plausible story of himself.
The Crime
On June 20, 1896, there was committed in the little village of Wyoming, on the St. Paul & Duluth railway, one of the most atrocious crimes that darkens the pages of Minnesota history.
The scene of the crime was the little restaurant which stands directly opposite the depot in the village.
The family of Dr. Burnside Foster, of St. Paul, were spending the summer at Osceola Mills and he was on his way to join them in response to a telegram that had informed him of the illness of his wife. He had been unable to get to Osceola and had gone to Wyoming with the intention of hiring a team there that would carry him across the country. Dr. Foster was the only passenger to alight from the train at Wyoming when it arrived at that point shortly after midnight that night and was informed by the conductor of the train that he could hire a team from Edward Paul, whom he would find at the restaurant. He found the restaurant in the darkness and was obliged to use his fist quite vigorously before he succeeded in awakening the inmates. Then Paul came to the door and the doctor made known his wants, at the same time telling Paul that he would pay him liberally for the trip. Paul admitted him and then lighted a lamp. In the light the doctor noticed another man, who had been occupying a cot in one corner of the room. At the time of the doctor’s entrance he was sitting on the foot of his bed. This man was Jacob Hayes. The two men began preparations for the trip while the doctor took a chair, with his back to the door. The doctor had been occupying the chair but a moment when the three men were startled by the sudden entrance into the room of two men wearing masks, while a third was noticed just outside the door. The first words uttered by the intruders was a sharp command to “throw up your hands,” and were accompanied by a flourishing of revolvers. One of the men assumed the position of a guard while the other approached Dr. Foster and began a search through his pockets. In the right hip pocket of the doctor’s trousers the fellow found a wallet containing some $75 in bills. After carefully putting this away in his own pocket, he commanded the doctor to elevate his hands a little higher and started to take his watch out of his vest pocket, but the vest was one of the fly-flap variety, and the robber was obliged to lay aside his revolver for the time being and devote both hands to the work of getting the chain through the button hole. The doctor evidently concluded that this was an opportunity to stop the hold-up, and grasping a couple of flat irons, that stood on the stove near him, threw one of them at the man who had been going through his clothes, at the same time yelling to the other men to take a hand in the affray. The conflict was a short one, for at the first intimation of resistance, on the part of the doctor, the man who had been standing guard began to use his revolver, and after emptying three loads in the direction of Paul and Hayes, sprang to the assistance of his pal. The doctor was borne to the floor, and while the men did not shoot him they beat his head almost to a pulp with the butt ends of their revolvers. This was the finishing touch of the fiendish work of the men in the restaurant and they ran out of the building and made off with all possible haste, under cover of the darkness.
The first man to make his appearance on the scene was Wilson Lyle, a section hand, who it was afterwards learned, had been occupying a bed in the rear of the restaurant building the entire time of the encounter, but did not make his presence known until after the men had been gone some little time. Lyle was followed quickly by J. H. Steuer, a section foreman on the Duluth road, who had been aroused by the shots. When he arrived at the restaurant he found Dr. Foster sitting in the middle of the floor covered with blood, which he was trying to wipe off with his handkerchief. Hayes was lying on the floor near his bed, while the body of Paul lay just behind the counter, that ran down one side of the room. Both men were dead.
Steuer left the building at once and aroused the whole town with his cries for help. The station agent was among the first to appear and he went at once to the depot and telegraphed for General Manager Miller, who went to Wyoming in a special accompanied by Doctor Wheaton, arriving at the scene of the crime about 4 o’clock in the morning.
In the mean time Dr. Foster had been taken to the house of a man living in the neighborhood, and on the arrival of Miller, he was brought to this city and taken to St. Joseph’s hospital, where his injuries were attended to. It was found that he had been severely cut about the head, although none of the wounds were of a serious nature, and he was about the streets in a few days.
With the arrival of General Manager Miller a posse was formed under the directions of Milton Tumbler. It was thought that he men would make an attempt to get into the state of Wisconsin and every effort was made to head off any such move on their part. Sheriff Anderson was sent for and assumed the general directions in the hunt for the criminals. During the next day the whole country was informed of what had taken place during the night, and they turned out to a man in the chase for the murderers.
Gov. Clough issued a proclamation offering a reward of $300 for the arrest and conviction of the men. Their trail was followed closely by the men in pursuit, and on Sunday morning they were rounded up in a swamp near North Branch on the Duluth road. A detail of fifteen men were sent into the swamp after them and followed their tracks, which were plainly visible in the soft mud, until they were suddenly met with a volley of shots which came from behind a log directly in front of them. Luckily for the pursurers none of them were hit, and they all sought the nearest shelter, and then began a pitched battle which could have but one ending. The men behind the log kept up a continual firing, but every time that one of them would raise any portion of his body an inch above the protection afforded by the fallen tree, it was the signal for a volley from the besiegers.
The men were finally compelled to surrender, and it was then found that one, known as Robert Wilson, had been killed. The second man, who gave his name as James Cunningham, had received a charge of buckshot in his face and chest, while the third, George Kelly, was unhurt.
The two prisoners and the body of the dead man were first taken to North Branch and were then conveyed by train to Stillwater.
On the arrival of the men at Stillwater, the man who had given his name as Cunningham made a confession in which he said that his true name was Arthur Johnson, and that he was the man who had stood outside of the door during the shooting. It was ascertained later that he was the owner of a very bad reputation, and that he had been released from the state penitentiary at Jefferson City, Mo., only a short time. He said that he had fallen in with Wilson and Kelly in that state, and they were all three on their way to the gold fields of Montana. He denied any connection with the shooting, and in his trials later, both for the murder of Paul and Hayes, he was acquitted.
The trial of Kelly was held at Center City last October. His chief defense was that it was Wilson who owned the large revolver with which the shooting had been done, and that it was he who had fired the fatal shots. He practically admitted that he was the man who had had charge of the search of Dr. Foster’s pockets, but said that he had not fired a shot while in the restaurant. It was held that under the law he was equally guilty with Kelly, even though he had not discharged his revolver, and the instructions of the judge to the jury were very plainly put along that line. The jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree, and recommended the death sentence.
An inquest was held over the remains of the man Wilson, and at its conclusion his body was consigned to the potter’s field in Center City.
[The Saint Paul Globe – St. Paul, Minnesota – March 23, 1897 – Transcribed as written by D. Donlon]

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