James Cullen Lynching
Posted By: Ken Wright (email)
Date: 4/5/2015 at 13:56:43
Dubuque Times-Journal, January 10, 1907
Special to the Times-Journal
Charles City, Jan. 10-
"God have mercy on my soul, I am an innocent man." These were the words to fall from the ashen lips of James Cullen, the brutal murderer of his wife and step-son, who was lynched by a mob of Floyd and Chickasaw county citizens last night. This denial of the crime of which he was unquestionably guilty coming as he stood in the shadow of death stamped Cullen as one of the most hardened criminals of the age and lent energy to the hands which jerked him into eternity.
Last night Charles City was all excitement. Today the tone is silent and voices are hushed when discussion of the first lynching in this county is held. Not that any remorse is shown over the lynching, for general opinion upholds the act, but that the fair name of Floyd county should hereafter bear the stigma of having such an act of lawlessness in its confines. The direct responsibility for the act, however, will not be taken by residents of this county, for it is claimed here that the leaders of the mob that hanged Cullen came from Nashua, Chickasaw county, the former home of the murdered woman and boy.
An inquest over the body of Cullen was commenced this morning and a score or more of witnesses summoned, but it is extremely doubtful if the identity of the actual participants in the lynching will be established. Coroner Dennis is conducting the inquest and the county attorney is present. The attorney has been in communication with Governor Cummins and has received orders to make a full report to Des Moines. It is probable that the governor will then act in the matter and with the local authorities make an effort to punish the ringleaders of the mob.
The lynching of Cullen was carried out with precision and determination. During the day there had been considerable talk of lynching on the streets, but they were regarded as empty threats and no apprehension was felt at the jail. Sheriff Schmerhorn had locked Cullen in a stout cell and barred the front doors.
About 10 o'clock last night a crowd of men from Nashua arrived here and soon the word was passed around town that an effort would be made to take Cullen from jail and hang him. In less than ten minutes a crowd of about 300 men gathered in front of the jail and tried to tear the bars off by hand. The the same battering ram that crushed the jail door down was brought into play and the bars were pryed off. Cullen was found cowering in his cell and immediately three or four men entered and grasped him. The terrible temper that made Cullen a dangerous man for years again asserted itself and he fought like a madman. "Leave me go, leave me go, I tell you." shouted Cullen as he vainly tried to wrest himself from the grasp of the men.
He was soon subdued and a rope placed about his neck. The half-mad, half-dazed murderer was then led or drugged to the bridge which spans the Cedar River, two blocks from the jail. The cries and muttered curses of Cullen and the imprecations of the mob rang out in the still night air as Cullen was being led to his doom and the mob was soon reinforced. When the bridge was reached it is estimated that nearly a thousand people were there. It is said that there were women and even some of the local ministers among the spectators, but the confusion was so great that this cannot be definitely stated.
After the mob with their victim reached the bridge the spectators stood with bated breath for a while and then out of the crowd came Ensign Roper of the Salvation Army. He pressed his way to the front and attempted to address the mob. "For God's sake men don't take the law into their own hands," he said. "Lynching is murder and you should take him back to the jail."
The words of the Salvation Army man fell on deaf ears and Roper made no further appeal. Then a tall young man from Nashua came out of the crowd and yelled to the men who were holding Cullen:
"String him up boys, that is the only thing to do with a fiend like him." The rope was thrown over a cross bar on the bridge and a dozen men grabbed hold of the other end, anxious to pull Cullen into eternity. Just then Ensign Roper asked Cullen to pray, as he was surely going to his death. "God have mercy on my soul," came from the trembling lips of the doomed man. "I am an innocent man. I did not know she was dead. They attacked me and I was forced to kill them in self-defense."
The denial of the crime and his claim to innocense further incensed the mob and again the command to "string him up" was given. A score of stout arms grasped the rope and pulled Cullen to his doom.
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