Five men hanging from a tree. What a sight to see early in the morning.


image by http://flickr.com/photos/73977402@N00/186920185/

In the late summer of 1897 my great grandfather, Albert H. Bultman, drove his team and wagon back to his Laughery Township farm in Ripley County, Indiana, to show his wife, Anna, his receipts from the livestock auction he had just attended.  It amounted to $200.00–a small fortune by their standards.  Little did he know that a band of home invaders were hot on his trail.

Albert had barely changed from his “dress” bib overalls into his work clothes before the bandits burst into the house demanding the proceeds from the sale.  They took Albert outside while two of the men held a hot poker to the feet of his wife to force her to divulge the whereabouts of the cash.  It was to no avail, however, as she did not know where the money was.  I did not know my great grandfather nor his emotional attachment to his wife as compared to the money so I can’t say to what degree he attempted to come to her rescue.  In any event the cash was in the bib pocket of his overalls laying on the bed and the bad guys left empty handed.  Hang on to this thought.  I’ll return to it.

Versailles is the seat of Ripley County (it’s pronounced  Ver-sales, not like the French city).  On the 15th day of September, 1897, folks woke up to find five guys known as the Levi Gang hanging from an oak tree outside the jail.  Needless to say it caused quite a stir.  A grand jury was seated but no suspect was ever indicted as no true bill was ever handed up by the panel.  After several months Attorney General William Ketcham was ordered to conduct an investigation into the lynchings and make a report to Governor James Mount.   First I will give you a brief rundown of the official account of the incident.  Then I will relate a newspaper report of the hangings.  You can then decide which one to believe…or neither, as you choose.

Ketcham concluded that Lyle Levi broke out of jail, somehow managed to get to the town of Osgood five miles to the north.  There he broke into McCoy’s store and stole a pistol his brother had pawned earlier, returned to Versailles, and broke back into the jail.  He then shot and killed prisoners Henry Schuter and William Jenkins and hung them from a nearby tree.  He later hanged Messers Andrews and Gorden while they were still alive.  (Early news reporting did not always deal with given names and I have not been able to retrieve these two.  Family anecdotes provided the others.)  Ketcham told the governor he believed the five jail guards on duty at the time to have been “asleep at their post.”  He then suggested that Levi shot himself but not mortally and eventually committed suicide by hanging himself alongside the others.   Ketcham reported that “…no one else was abroad that night as all the saloons were closed…” and the matter was brought to a close with Levi being named the killer of four of his own gang members and then taking his own life.   That was the official report.

According to a story in The Journal-Press, a newspaper in the adjoining county, what really happened was a group of vigilantes met in the small community of Napoleon about eight miles from the jail and close to the Bultman farmstead.  Tired of the Levi gang’s rampage of thefts, arsons, batteries and killings, they allegedly drew straws to determine who among them would storm the jail. 

The men overcame the jail guards and locked them in a cell and then beat the Levi gang members before dragging them to the hanging tree.  According to the newspaper account, only one died of strangulation, four were beaten to death and none was shot.   A contributor to The Journal-Press would write that the official report “…must have been the biggest stretch of imagination ever put into an official record.”

Family anecdotal reports suggest the Levi gang was the group of men who invaded the Bultman household, however, there has been no connection between the lynching and my great grandfather.  I carry his genes.  Don’t burn my wife’s feet.

17
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  • unown971 on Oct 10, 2009

    Great story!

  • Lady Sunshine on Oct 10, 2009

    Scary stuff, Ken. You don’t have a book published, do you?

  • Sn0W1310 on Oct 10, 2009

    If you don’t have a book published, I think that there’s deffinately a book in that story. You would have to spin it a bit obviously but it, like the article, would make for a very interesting read.

  • lillyrose on Oct 10, 2009

    Very cheeky! I enjoyed that and I think the journal was the most likely. You did great work there my friend uncovering history.

  • James DeVere on Oct 10, 2009

    Un effin believable! Whoa. thanxk for blowing me away . j

  • Jenny Heart on Oct 10, 2009

    Thought provoking inded!

  • Daisy Peasblossom on Oct 10, 2009

    Interesting story. We forget our own recent past sometimes.

  • chitragopi on Oct 10, 2009

    Interesting. To take law into their hands and meting out such a punishment! No one would have dared after that.

  • Olivia Van Logum on Oct 10, 2009

    Remind me to not get on the wrong side of you or your family :OD

  • deep blue on Oct 10, 2009

    It is a humble story but the message is Ken Bultman has the genes of heroism by his veins. It’s just funny how the authorities of the time speculated on how the incident happened to be spared from the responsibility of a thorough investigation on how it actually happened.

  • Darla Beck on Oct 10, 2009

    Very interesting story.

  • willie wondka on Oct 10, 2009

    very enjoyable read ken, you are famous at last from your relatives past, gread read.

  • Ruby Hawk on Oct 10, 2009

    Ken, I believe the last account. The official account just seems too far fetched. It’s an interesting story. Stories like this make you want to dig back in your ancesters past to find more of this interesting stuff.

  • ahmad joko setyawan on Oct 10, 2009

    What a very fasinating story Ken! I bet when you first heard this story yoy were absolutely amazed and I can just imagine what you would be thinking!I know what I am thinking and your gramp pa could very well have played part,or perhaps just a conicidence but if it looks like a duck walks like a duck and sounds like a duck chances are??? Brillaint write,loved it!!

  • Brenda Nelson on Oct 10, 2009

    Both stories seem a bit off. Either the guards were sleeping – or beat up.. that would disprove either story but both sound a bit amiss, perhaps the guards strung the men up themselves – tired of dealing with them.

  • Emma Green on Oct 11, 2009

    This just kept me reading and reading! Great work.

  • Leonardo da Vinci E. on Oct 11, 2009

    So glad the days of taking the law into our own hands are mostly over. Justice waylaid is no real Justice.

  • lostash on Oct 11, 2009

    I wonder what other skeletons lurk in the Bultman cupboard? Regardless, I look forward to hearing about them!

  • martie on Oct 11, 2009

    It’s funny that the guards did not talk. If they were beat and left alive, they must have seen something. I think the entire town was covering up.

    Though my vote is your grandmother hotfooted it into town and punished those miserable rats!

  • Toni love on Oct 12, 2009

    Wow, wonderful story.

  • clafleur on Oct 15, 2009

    I am glad this is not 1897.

  • Patrick Bernauw on Oct 25, 2009

    Great story!

  • PR Mace on Oct 28, 2009

    I have to wonder why the guards didn’t talk. Great story. Hey, I had to post this again. I found the forbidden sign.

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