Paolo, Kansas, 1883: Mob kills Child Molester
Posted by 1877 on 2015/08/19
While running an errand in the early evening of February 7, 1883, 9-year-old Maud Bennington was abducted by Henry Smith. Smith beat and assaulted her and left her for dead in the freezing February air. A few hours later, Maud was found and by morning gained consciousness, telling of what Smith had done to her. A mob headed by Maud’s father, Jack Bennington, quickly formed to kill Smith, known for having molested at least three other children in the area.
The following is a short article from Paolo, Kansas the morning after the mob was formed ending with an account of the incident from Harriet C. Frazier’s Lynchings in Kansas. The story is noteworthy not only because it documents a collective response to a local predator, but also because it shows the collective rage of a small-town, rural black population. Interestingly, tactics horrifically used by white mobs to inflict generations of terror upon black people are used here by the black mob: wearing masks, arming themselves, mobbing a jail, lynching (or threat of it). Interestingly, this mob, while predominately black, has at least some white members. One hopes that whites who joined in the mob did so as an act of interracial solidarity against a sexual predatory and not an act of white supremacy against, in their minds, another black rapist.
The begin of the article and other graphic details of the sexual and physical violence against the 9-year-old have been moved to the end. I don’t intend to further erase or make invisible violence against children—it’s just too upsetting a way to start off the article, especially since my interest is the collective response against the abuse. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you want to know those details.
Violence against children continues to be as prolific as ever with as many as 1 in 5 adults having been molested as children. The number is likely much higher given the rape culture we live in and the shame and distrust that culture puts on survivors. Age continues to be one of the only social categories that’s discrimination is openly codified in law (how many things can one not do legally until a certain age?, age-based curfews are in effect almost everywhere in america, elders are held to a higher scrutiny for things like driving tests and living alone assuming they are less capable of taking care of themselves*, etc). The miserablism of youth is often shrugged off by adults, insisting it’s something everyone grows out of.
In reality thousands of teenagers die every year in america: 1/10 of which die at the hands of a peer or an adult, another ten percent intentionally kill themselves and half die at their own hands by misadventure (car crashes, drownings, drugs and alcohol—things we do to escape or give purpose to our lives.) Being a child can often be terrible and many don’t make it through the transition to adulthood when sorting through the violence, the boredom, the breaking by routine and the realization of having no future.
Be warned that in addition to the violence against Maud, this article contains further graphic violence.
I wonder what this riot would have been like if it were primarily a mob of children and teenagers—potential or actual victims of child molesters? Though perhaps some where there and their participation ignored….
Towards a smashing of rape culture and a youthful revolt against the misery…
ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE THE JAIL AND LYNCH HIM FOILED—MANY KILLED
The Times from Paolo Kansas, February 9, 1883
Smith was arrested and taken to jail. The child’s father, procuring a shot-gun, followed and attempted to shoot the fiend, but was prevented by the bystanders. About 11 o’clock to-night an excited crowd, chiefly colored men, some in masks, gathered at the jail and demanded the prisoner. The Sheriff had prepared for the emergency, and warned them away, but the clamorous throng pushed forward and forced open the door of the building. The Sheriff struck the foremost man over the head. Then the mob opened fire, to which the Sheriff and deputies replied, and a general fusilade ensued. The front windows and doors of the building were perforated with shot. Ed Long, son of the sheriff, received a buckshot wound in the arm[, shattering his elbow]. James McGrew, colored, was shot through the head and instantly killed. Two other colored men received serious wounds. Several others were slightly injured. The mob retreated and without further effort to obtain possession of the prisoners dispersed. The Sheriff was supported by three or four deputies during the fight.
the streets are thronged with people numbering among them our best citizens, who are discussing the affair in a business-like, determined manner, and the indications are that the prisoner will be taken from the guards when brought for his preliminary examination this morning and summarily dealt with. The excitement is intense. The Sheriff is censured, though he probably did no more than his duty. This is the fourth case of the kind in which Smith had been involved. He committed a similar crime in Paolo about four years ago, and was shortly afterwards sent to the penitentiary from Linn County for a like offense, and a year ago was under arrest here for a repetition of his hellish deeds. He is a worthless rascal, and his death would be a blessing to the country.
the crowd had reformed and swelled to 1,000 in a town of 2,400. According to Frazier, they “again demanded the key to the jail. Sheriff Long refused, and the mob, made up of both black and white, broke open the jail door. Meanwhile, within his jail cell, Henry Smith, aware of the explosive rage against him outside, had concealed on his person an undetected penknife. He used it to cut his throat rather than allow the mob the pleasure of lynching him.
Once the integrated mob reached Smith’s cell, they discovered he was dead. Undeterred, as a newspaper in adjacent Johnson County describes the matter, the lynchers ‘placed a rope around his neck, dragged him like a log to the public square and hung his dead body to a tree, where it remained for several hours.'”
Last night about 11 o’clock Maud Bennings, a little colored girl 9 years old, was found lying upon the ground in the suburbs of the city insensible, stripped of most of her clothing, bruised and mangled in a most terrible manner, and evidently the victim of a hellish crime. The child’s arms and legs were frozen stiff. About 11 o’clock to-day she became conscious and told a story of fiendish treatment which she had suffered. She had been upon an errand early in the evening, and on her return, about 8 o’clock, she was seized by Henry Smith, a notorious negro, carried to a stable, choked and ravished and then carried some distance and thrown upon the street, apparently left for dead. . . . The girl is in a very critical condition and may die, but should she recover her limbs will in all probability have to be amputated.
*When my grandmother was in her late 70s she had a bad fall while living alone. She called 9-11 and was taken to the hospital. Towards the end of the her week long stay, her doctor informed us that she could not legally leave the hospital under her own care. The doctor was now legally responsible for her and if we wanted her discharged my parents would have to assume legal guardianship of her. After doing so she would either have to move in with us or she’d be confined to a nursing home (my parents would have to sign paper work swearing they were doing one of these two things). No police, judge or jury was involved in this process (not that I would want them to be), it was simply part of the everyday authority of this doctor over elders and other patients.
While visiting her in her assisted living home over the next six years I routinely encountered elders casually declaring they wished they were dead or were waiting to die. Frequently, when I asked my grandma or other residents if they enjoyed life or wanted to die, they said they wished to die. While stories like these are often used as evidence of the horrors of old age and add to people’s fears of aging, to me they are indicative of our culture’s discarding of the elderly—their conditions and death-wishes have more to do with the role our society has reduced them to, not an inherent element of old-age.