(click to enlarge photos)
If you are inclined to write a history of Seattle then you must include the three bodies hanging here between two of Henry and Sara Yesler’s maples on the early afternoon of January 18, 1882. The trees were planted in 1859; and they appear first as saplings in the earliest extant photo of Seattle, which was recorded that year. By 1882, the shade trees were stout enough to lynch James Sullivan and William Howard from a stanchion prepared for them between two of the Maples.
As ordered by the judge, the accused couple expected to be returned to jail when their preliminary trail in Yesler’s Hall at First Ave. and Cherry Street was completed. Instead the vigilantes in attendance covered Territorial Supreme Court Judge Roger Sherman Green with a hood, bound the guards, and dragged like the devil the doomed couple up the alley to James Street. There the leafless maples suddenly exposed their terrifying landscape to Sullivan and Howard. Soon after being violently pulled from court – in a few pounding heart beats – these two prime suspects of the daylight killing the day before of a young clerk named George B. Reynolds, were lifeless and their swinging corpses played with.
In a few minutes more, the by now hungry mob pulled from jail a third suspect, a “loafer” named Benjamin Paynes, who was accused of shooting a popular policeman named David Sires weeks before. For a while the hanging bodies of the three were raised and lowered over and over and in time to the mob’s chanting, “Heave Ho! Heave Ho!” Children who had climbed the trees to cut pieces of rope from the cooling bodies tied them to their suspenders or, for the girls, to the pigtails of their braided hair. It was, we are told, for “show and tell” in school.
Although there were several photographers in town, none of them took the opportunity to record – or expose – a lynching. Who would want such a photograph? Judging from the local popularity of these killings of accused killers, probably plenty. A few weeks following the stringing, Henry Yesler was quoted in Harpers Weekly, “That was the first fruit them trees ever bore, but it was the finest.” It was Seattle’s first really bad nation-wide publicity.
In Andrew William Piper’s cartoon of the event, the easily identified Henry stands in the foreground busy with his favorite pastime: whittling wood. The cartoonist Piper was a popular confectioner who loved dancing and singing with his wife and eleven children. He was also a practical joker and the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council. We don’t know if Piper also joined the local chorus of acclaim for the hangings. Judge Green more than objected. Once free of his hood, he rushed to the lynching and tried to cut the ropes, but failed.
On the far right of his cartoon, the cartoonist-confectionaire Piper has included the sign of the Chronicle, a newspaper located in the alley behind the Yesler back yard. It was up this alley that the victims were rushed to their lynching. Printed next is a transcript from an 1883 issue of the Chronicle, which describes a resplendent new saloon in the basement of the new Yesler-Leary Building at the northwest corner of Front (First Ave.) and Yesler Way and so also at the foot of James Street.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes Jean, and most of it, again, links to past features related to the place and/or the subject. Most of extras – if one takes the opportunity to click and read – will be the several links that Ron Edge will be soon putting up directly below this exposition. Then, after the links, we will probably continue on with a few more features – if we can find them tomorrow (Saturday) night when we get to them. We should add that we do not encourage lynching of any sort, or for that matter capital punishment. It is all cruel, pathetic and even useless. Yes – or No! – we do not agree with the wood whittler Henry Yeslers. We have imprisoned within quote marks our title “finest fruit” borrowed from him.