1901 Burned at Stake
The Daily Times Herald - March 13, 1901
& Obits for John Henderson and Valley Younger
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


HOME


Law and Order Index || Dallas Times Herald Index || Obituary Index
 
 

 

Note.  The following article was copied from the 1901 Dallas Daily Times Herald.  It depicts a very graphic account of vigilante justice which occurred in Corsicana, but was not uncommon anywhere in the US during the turn of the century. This article is posted with some reservations but I feel it is important to understand the issues, events, and emotions of the times as part of seeing the whole picture of our past.  John's Obituary and Valley Younger's Obituary were posted in the Athens Review and was submitted Feb 2003 by Janet Cook.   See also the account from the Decatur Illinois paper.

THE CORSICANA NEGRO BURNED AT THE STAKE

John Henderson, after being taken from the officers and carried across the country a distance of forty-five miles, made a full confession to the murder of Mrs. Younger, narrating all the horrible details, and was burned to death by citizens of the community where the the outrage occurred.

Special to the Times Herald:

Corsicana, Tex., March 13. - John Henderson, the negro who murdered Mrs. Conway Younger, near this city last morning at 7 o'clock and landed in jail for safe-keeping.  Six of the leading citizens of this county effected the capture, acting in behalf of the citizens of Navarro County.

Henderson had been confined in the Belton jail and the officers were taking him to Fort Worth, Sheriff Baker, of Waco, refusing to receive him.  The telegraph wires had been tapped at Hillsboro, and the citizens' posse was constantly informed of the movements of the officers with Henderson.  the train was boarded at Hillsboro and no attempt wa made to capture Henderson until near Itasca.  When the party started to enter the car the conductor tried to prevent them and tried to run to Fort Worth without a stop.  He was treated roughly and the men entered the car and secured the prisoner and the officers in charge.  A Johnson county officer pulled a revolver on the committee, but was disarmed before he could shoot.  After a lively fight the committee compelled the officers in charge of Henderson to accompany them across the country, a distance of forty-five miles, to Corsicana, changing horses and teams at Frost.

Henderson made no protest when captured and, although he knew that a probable death awaited him, gave no sign of fear.  The negro made a full confession after arriving here, telling how he went to the Younger home and of the attempt at assault; how Mrs. Younger fought for her honor; how, finally angered at her resistance, he attacked her with his knife; how the two children screamed in affright when they saw their mother's life blood crimsoning the walls and floors of the room, and how Mrs. Younger fell across the door step.

He then fled, but, looking back saw his victim staggering down the road aimlessly, falteringly, and she fell and lay still, then he turned and ran.

The first train this morning  on the Cotton Belt from Hillsboro was so crowded it could carry no more.  Runners were sent over the county announcing the arrival of Henderson here and all the morning people have been swarming into the city to  take part or witness the execution of the penalty to be inflicted on the negro.

After his confession it was decided to burn him at the stake at 2 o'clock, but news was received of the rangers and troops en route from Dallas due here at 12 o'clock and hurried preparations were made to anticipate interference.

A railroad rail was driven into the ground at the corner of the court house lot and boxes and wood piled around it and saturated with oil.

The crowd had increased to about two thousand; at 11 o'clock about forty made a rush from the jail across the street to the court house.  In their midst was the negro, handcuffed.  The men formed a circle, holding on to a chain which completely surrounded Henderson, to prevent any attempt of the enraged people to get him and tear him to pieces.  They rushed to the pile of wood prepared for the fire and fastened the negro to the iron rail with wire and chains.  Cans of oil were dashed over his clothes and dozens of lighted matches touched to the inflammable material.  At that time the fire bell was rung and the stores of the city were deserted and the streets were full of men rushing to the courthouse to witness the burning.

Just before the pile was fired Conway Younger, husband of the murdered woman, jumped at Henderson and slashed him across the face with a knife.  As the flames encircled the negro and ran over his clothing, the crowd yelled and Younger again attempted to cut the murderer with his knife.

At no time during the burning did Henderson give any indication of pain or suffering.  He rolled his eyes so as to get a glimpse of the sea of angry faces which surrounded him and his hands moved slightly.

It was about ten minutes before he was dead, during which time the movements of his hands were becoming feebler.

At no time did he make any outcry, other than a groan.

At 11:30 Lee French, husband of the victim of the negro, Anderson Norris, who beat her to death with a piece of Iron pipe last November, and who was taken from the jail here last week by the officers and carried to a place of safety, climbed a tree and made an impassioned speech to the crowd asking them to help him get the murderer and deal with him as they had just dealt with Henderson.  The crowd yelled back that they would assist.

The northbound Central train, arriving here at 12 o'clock, was crowded with people from the southern part of the county, who expressed disappointment at being too late.  No militia were on the train.


CORSICANA IS QUIET AFTER THE BURNING

Intense Excitement has Given Way to a Peaceful Calm

WAITING GOVERNORS ACTION

All Interested in What Major Sayers May Do - Some Additional Details of the Awful Event

Special to the Times Herald:
Corsicana, Tex., March 14, - As fiendish a crime as ever civilization knew has been avenged in the most awful way the ingenuity of Navarro County people could suggest and the determination of resolute men could execute A negro murderer and attempted rapist has been sent to meet his God after a week of excitement that has tried the people of this county as they were probably never tried before.  Despite the anti-lynching statute, despite long dissertations against mob rule, despite the tireless vigilance of the civil authorities, despite the watchfulness of the State's chief executive, that unwritten law, one of the priceless heritages of the Anglo-Saxon race and which commands that none shall lay forceful hands on the body of woman, has been swiftly, awfully enforced.  Led and spurred on by as good men, and as prominent as there are in this community, 2,500 citizens yesterday ended the life of John (or Jonas) Henderson, murderer of Mrs. Conway Younger, by burning him at the stake.

It was an orderly crowd.  Excitement showed itself on the faces of the younger element, but the men who did the work exhibited no trace of fear or nervousness.  When their terrible task had been finished, the big crowd dispersed and only the relic hunters remained.  These were almost ghoulish in their search for mementoes.  Pieces of the negro's bones, fragments of charred flesh, chains, and other reminders of the mob's work were eagerly scrambled for.  A minister of the gospel carried away a part of Henderson's liver.  A Mexican, void of all feeling, attempted to take a bite of the remnant of the brute's heart, and only desisted when commanded to leave the ground.

No effort whatever was made toward concealment.  The burning was done in the court-house yard, the most public spit in Navarro county, just before noon.  All those who engaged in the violation of the anti-lynching law seemed proud of their connection.  Fears as to what Gov. Sayers ma do were laughed to scorn and the expression was often used that "Every white man in Navarro county pleads guilty."  This was the inscription, too, written on a piece of paper and attached to a fragment of Henderson's remains that was expressed to Gov. Sayers last night.

This was not done, however, by any of those in authority, and is characterized as an insult by all who have heard of it.

An interesting feature of the burning was the manner of the ignition of the inflammable material that had been piled around the negro.  When Henderson's funeral pyre had been made ready for the torch, all those close tried to set fire to the oil-soaked kindling wood.  A score of matches were applied at once.  It would be difficult indeed to find the principal of this part of the programme.  Another thing that attracted attention away from the burning negro even was the actions of the women who lived in the neighborhood of Mrs. Younger.  They threw wood on the flames and aimed several chunks at Henderson's head.  The frantic behavior of the murdered woman's husband, who was crazed with grief and anger, was described in these columns yesterday.

Corsicana never knew such a day as yesterday was and the event that startled the country has had only two parallels in the state's history.  To-day all that remains to tell the story is the recollection of a terrible deed terribly avenged and the heavy irons on which John Henderson was roasted to death.


HENDERSON' S CONFESSION

Corsicana, Tex., March 14. - Following is the confession of John Henderson just as he made it:

"County Jail, Corsicana, Tex., Navarro County, March 13, 1901. - I John Henderson, a negro, aged about 22 years, went to the house of a white lady unknown to me, who lived about three miles north of Corsicana, on the Houston and Texas Central, west of a  station-house, about one-fourth of a mile, on the afternoon of March 6, 1901, and killed her.  There was no one present when I committed the crime except the lady, two children and myself.  I killed the lady in the house and when I left she was lying in the door.  I used a new knife with two small blades and one large blade.  The knife has an iron handle.  I want to be hung.  I hereby give my body to C. M. Hornbeck and Dr. Hedge.  I did not attempt such violence upon Mrs. Younger as would deprive her of her virtue.  JOHN HENDERSON

The aboe was read to the crowd just before the burning.  The following letter was written for Henderson and forwarded to his father at Hearne: "Corsicana, Tex., March 13, 1901 - Frank Henderson, Hearne, Tex.: Dear Father - I am in jail on a charge of the murder of Mrs. Conway Younger, a white lady.  I am guilty of the charge.  I can't tell why I did this.  I am to die for the crime.  I have sent for a preacher to pray for me.  I never killed a woman before, but you know I killed Mr. Ward in Marlin, and served five years for this.  Tell my brother Charlie to be a better boy than I have been.  I went astray, but say to him I will die for my awful crime.  Good-bye, father.  JOHN HENDERSON


THE CORONER'S VERDICT

The following verdict of Corner Roberts on the Henderson burining is considered rather unique even in Corsicana:

"I find that the deceased came to his death at the hands of the incensed and outraged citizens and the best people in the United States, the citizens of Navarro and adjoining counties.  The evidence as well as confession of guilt by deceased show that his punishment was fully merited and commendable.  Given under my hand and seal of office at Corsicana, Tex., this the 13th day of March, A.D. 1901.  H. G. ROBERTS.

"Justice of the Peace, President No. 1, Navarro Cunty and Acting Coroner."


QUITE CAME QUICKLY

Corsicana, Tex., March 14 - in two hours after the fire about Henderson's body had burned up all the material in its way, the frenzy that had filled Corsicana for a week entirely disappeared.  Of course people talked of the incidents of the day, but there was no excitement.  All was peace and law and order.  Tired men sought their homes and the great crowd that filled the streets at noon rapidly melted away.  Last night Corsicana looked at though there has been nothing unusual during the day.  Services were held in many of the churches and the opera house was filled with people who looked at though they had never heard of a negro-burning.  The absence of excitement was remarkable.  This condition was a welcome change to those who have been under an abnormal mental stress for a week.

Henderson's crime was committed one week before it was avenged.  According to his own confession he murdered Mrs. Younger on the afternoon of March 6.  It was the last of a series of similar crimes that harrowed the nerves of the people of Navarro county till they could stand no more.  If the mob could have gotten hold of the negro who was in jail at Dallas, it would have required more than a sheriff and his deputies to have saved him.  It is told even now that quiet efforts will be made to get Norris.

Had state troops been ordered to Corsicana yesterday, much bloodshed would undoubtedly have been caused.  The report that troops were on the way hastened Henderson's end.  It is the opinion of all that it would have required 500 seasoned troops under competent officers to have saved the negro's life.


EYES ON GOVERNOR

Course of State's Chief Executive Awaited With Interest

Special to the Times Herald:

Corsicana, Tex., March 14. - Under the provisions of the anti-lynching law enacted during the administration of Gov. Culberson, the governor of the state may order the arrest of those he supposes to have been connected with the death of a man at the hands of a mob.  he may go further than this.  He may order their removal to and trial, in any county in the state.  To enforce these orders he may enlist the assistance of the state troops, the rangers and every peace officer in Texas.  The people of Corsicana have informed themselves as to this law - that's why they are so eagerly awaiting new from Austin.

So far as is known, Governor Sayers has made no sign as to his intentions.  That he has been in communication by wire with District Attorney Kirven and other authorities  here is well known.  Major Kirven wired the governor yesterday afternoon that the peace officers of Navarro county were "both blameless and helpless."  It is admitted that the state's chief executive can cause a would of trouble if he chooses to.  A knowledge of his intentions would be welcome information to the people of this city.  Any resident of Navarro county can give the names of the members of the committee who presided at Henderson's death.

 


 

OBITUARY - Athens Weekly Review  (full story)

March 15, 1901; page 30

BURNED AT STAKE

The negro, JOHN HENDERSON, who was brought back to Corsicana for examination Tuesday confessed to the crime of the murder of Mrs. Younger, and the enraged citizens fastened him to an iron stake and burned him. It was revolting crime, the most so in the catalogue of crimes, and he paid the penalty with a horrible death, but a death justly deserved.

Notes:

  • Submitted by Janet Cook, Feb 2003

 


 

Athens Weekly Review - March 8, 1901; page 18 (full story)

TERRIBLE DEED.

The Wife of a Farmer FOULLY Murdered in Navarro County. Corsicana, Tex., March 7 --Every officer in this portion of Navarro County and a large part of the population are scouring Chambers Creek Bottom, three miles north of town, for a negro who has committed a crime revolting in its atrocity.

MRS. VALLEY YOUNGER, the wife of a farmer and the daughter of Capt. DALE, well known in Navarro county, was butchered after an attempt had been made to assault her.

Her father found her body about 4 o'clock Wednesday afternoon about about fifty yards from her home, which is three miles north of Corsicana, near the Houston and Texas Central track. There were perhaps a dozen knife wounds on her body. Her jugular vein had been severed and toward the back of her neck there was a big gaping wound. On the right of the neck she had been stabbed, while the left cheek was laid open with a slash of the knife. The right hand was cut as if she had caught at the knife. Hastening to the house, Capt. Dale found both the woman's children, a girl of 3 years and a boy only a year old, locked in the kitchen. The girl was still almost paralyzed with fright, and for a time could only cry, but finally succeeded in saying "A nigger hit mama."

Every room in the house was bloody, and in one of them the furniture was so disturbed as to indicate a terrific struggle. The assault was made in the house, it is believed, that afterward the body was dragged to where it was found. There was nothing from which a clew (sic) could be deduced, unless it was a piece of a suspender found in one of the rooms.

The crime, it is thought, was committed about 3 o'clock. This supposition is based on the circumstance that a negro carrying a knife was seen to pass a house about a mile away a short time after that hour. He stopped some children in front of a farmer's house and asked them if their mother was at home. Simultaneously their father stepped out of the house and the negro hastily continued his journey, going toward Chambers creek.

Notes:

  • Submitted by Janet Cook - Feb 2003


CHASE A NEGRO WITH DOGS

Texans on the Trail of a Black Who Murdered a White Woman.

CORSICANA, Texas, March 7. - Mrs. Conway Younger, a farmers wife, was murdered last night by a negro.  A posse of 200 men, headed by Younger, are, by the aid of bloodhounds, following the trail of the murderer, who doubtless will meet a terrible death at the hands of the pursuers.  Younger returned from the fields last evening to find his wife missing.  His three-year-old child was playing about the house, and after searching the house, Younger asked the child where it mother had gone.

"A big negro knocked mamma down and dragged her away." lisped the little one.

Younger gathered some of his neighbors and after a short search, Mrs. Younger's body was found in the brush path not far from the house.  There were signs of a terrible struggle between the woman and her murderer.  A gash in her throat extending from ear to ear had ended her life.  Aroused to an extraordinary pitch of fury over the crime, men gathered from the surrounding country, bloodhounds wre procured, and the party mounted for the chase of the murderer.  Up to a late hour this evening he has succeeded in eluding his pursuers.


NEGRO BURNED AT THE STAKE

Corsicana (Texas) Mob Punished the Murderer of a White Woman, After He Had Confessed.

CORSICANA, Texas, March 13. - John Henderson, colored, who several days ago brutally murdered Mrs. Younger, a farmer's wife, living just outside this city, was burned to death in the Court House Square here at noon today.  A written confession of the crime, attested by Justice Roberts, was secured from the prisoner.  Five thousand people witnessed the burning and business was practically suspended for a time.

Henderson was captured yesterday after a long chase.  He was trailed by bloodhounds from the Younger homestead, many miles back and forth across the country, and was finally captured near Hillsborough.  The officers took him to the latter place, and where impelled through fear of mobs, to start for Fort Worth.  When the train reached Itasca, a party of Younger's friends overpowered the guards and hustled Henderson from the train.  He was conveyed across the prairie, a distance of forty-five miles, to Corsicana, where he was placed in jail to prevent the Infuriated citizens from tearing him to pieces.

A committee was appointed to see him and pass finally on his guilt or innocence.  He made a written confession that he had murdered an "unknown white lady three miles north of Corsicana, March 6."  There was no one present, he said, but himself and the woman's two little children.  He said he did not know why he did it.

When it became public that Henderson had confessed, people swarmed around the jail.  It was decided to burn the prisoner at the stake at 2 o'clock P.M., but news was received that troops had been started from Dallas, and the execution was hurried.  A railroad rail was driven into the ground in the corner of the Court House square.  Boxes and dry timber were piled around it and saturated with oil.

Just before noon about forth men rushed from the jail across the square to the place where the rail had been planted.  Among them was henderson, handcuffed.  The negro was fastened to the rail with wire and chains.  Cans of oil were emptied over his clothing and dozens of lighted matches touched the inflammable material.  The fire alarms were rung and the stores of the city were deserted as their occupants rushed to the square to witness the burning.

Just as the pile was fired, Conway Younger, husband of the murdered woman jumped at Henderson and slashed him across the face with a knife.  Henderson gave no indication of pain or suffering.  he rolled his eyes to get a glimpse of the angry faces which surrounded him, and there wa a slight movement of the hands.  In ten minutes Hendersonwas dead.  At no time did he make any outcry other than an occasional groan.

Justice H. G. Roberts held an inquest on the body of Henderson and gave the following verdict:

"I find that the deceased came to his just death at the hands of the incensed and outraged feelings of the best people in the United States, the citizens of Navarro and adjoining counties.  The evidence, as well as the confession of guilt by deceased, shows that his punishment was fully merited and commendable.


TEXAS LYNCHERS DEFIANT

No Effort to Punish Men Who Burned the Negro Henderson, Although Governor Has Full Power.

DALLAS, Texas, March 14.  So far as is known, Gov. Sayers has made no sign as to his intentions in connection with the burning yesterday of John Henderson.  That he has been in communication by wire with District Attorney Kirven and other authorities of the Corsicana Judicial District is well known.

Major Kirven wired the Governor yesterday afternoon that the peace officers of Navarro County were "both blameless and helpless," but any resident of Navarro County can give the names of the members of the committee who presided at Henderson's death, since no effort was made toward concealment.  The burning was done in the Court House yard, the most public spot in Navarro County.  All those who engaged in the violation of the anit-lynching law seemed proud of their connection.  Fears as to what Gov. Sayers might do were laughed to scorn and the expression was often used that "every white man in Navarro County pleads guilty."

This was the inscription, too, written on a piece of paper and attached to a fragment of Henderson's remains, that was expressed to Gov. Sayers last night.

Under provisions of the anti-lynching law, enacted during the administration of Gov. Culberson, the Governor of Texas may order the arrest of those he believes to have been connected with the deaths of a man at the hands of a mob.  He may go further than this; he may order their removal to and the trial in any county in the State.  To enforce these orders he may enlisted the assistance of the State troops, the Rangers, and every peace officer in Texas.


NEGRO SCHOOLHOUSE BURNED

Blacks Fear a Race War as a Sequel to a Corsicana Burning.

CHICAGO, March 16. - A special from Corsicana, Texas, says: "A negro schoolhouse at Corbet, eight miles west of Corsicana, has been burned by incendiaries.  The negroes in the neighborhood were warned to leave in forty-eight hours.

"Several shots were fired into a negro's house, but none of the occupants were injured.  The negroes fear a race war as a sequel to the recent burning of John Henderson.

 


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox