La Crosse County SO

(Click above for a picture of the County)

 
 
 

MOMENTS IN HISTORY

A HANGING

On the evening of October 6th of that year, more than 2,000 people had gathered near the intersection of 4th and Main streets.  The Republican Party of La Crosse had planned a gala to celebrate the primary victories of their presidential candidate.  There was to be a torch-light parade, fireworks, speeches and band music.

 

Frank Burton, head of the local Republican Party, was to lead the parade.  He was arranging the ranks of the Plumed Knights Marching Club when a man by the name of Nathaniel "Scotty" Mitchell stepped from the crowd.  Mitchell pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired 4 shots into Burton's back.  He then drew another pistol and fired 5 more shots into Burton's body as he lay on the ground.

 

Mitchell was standing in the street kicking the body when 3 city policemen arrested him and rushed him off to the jail a block away.  The crowd, carrying torches that were intended for the parade, followed and surrounded the jail.  They demanded Scotty Mitchell be brought out and hanged.

 

Sheriff Robert Scott, his undersheriff, the city police chief and several officers stationed themselves near the entrance to the jail and refused the crowd entry.

 

Sheriff Scott tried to address the crowd which had grown to over 3,000.  People started to pound on the heavy metal doors with their fists and the sheriff couldn't be heard over their clamor.  The standoff lasted for 2 hours.

 

A dozen men lead by a black man named Nathan Smith went to the Colmen lumber yard and brought back a timber measuring 16"x16" being 40' long.  They used the timber to bash down the door of the jail.  As the crowd rushed in, the prisoners all pointed out Mitchell's cell so no mistake be made who they were after.

 

Sheriff Scott refused to surrender the keys, so some of the crowd went to a nearby blacksmith shop to get the tools they needed to open the cell.  When Mitchell was hauled outside, a rope was fastened around his neck.  The other end of the rope was tossed to men seated in a nearby tree.  As Mitchell was pulled up, the rope broke.  While another rope was being brought, they allowed Mitchell to speak.  He said he killed Burton and he was glad he did it.

 

The second rope did the job.  The crowd dispersed and half an hour later, police officers cut the body down.  A corner's jury was convened and their verdict read:  "The aforementioned Nathaniel Mitchell, alias Scotty, was forcibly taken by a large number of people from the La Crosse County Jail where he was recently confined for the shooting and killing of Frank Burton, and between 10 and 11 PM on the 16th day of October, 1884, he, the said Nathaniel Mitchell was taken to a tree on the courthouse yard in the City of La Crosse and then and there hanged by the neck until he was dead, by a great number of persons, to the jury unknown."

 

Mitchell's open coffin was placed in the hallway of the courthouse and several hundred people came to view the body during the day.  That night he was taken to a secret location and buried.  People had expressed concern that his grave would defile the cemetery and officials were concerned the grave may be disturbed.  It is thought he was buried north of what is now the Oak Grove Cemetery.

LCSO HISTORY
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV