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Brutal Justice in the 1900s

Mickey Starling: Greene Publishing, Inc.

In the early 1900s, justice in Madison County often resembled an episode of "Gunsmoke."

If the locals were relatively certain an individual committed a crime worthy of their attention, swift actions were sometimes taken that colored well outside the lines of the law. Such was the case involving John Waldrip and Wash Jarvis, back in 1903.

Waldrip managed to stoke the ire of Jarvis for reasons that have been lost or forgotten. Whatever the motive, the results were preserved in a notebook about Madison County murders that can be read in the Treasures of Madison County Museum. The information from this crime was printed in a May 21, 1903, article taken from The Madison Enterprise-Recorder.

On Sunday, May 10, Waldrip was shot to death by Jarvis, somewhere in the Hamburg precinct of the county. Jarvis was subsequently arrested and taken to jail. The judge presiding over the case determined that Jarvis was deserving of bail, which was set at $3,000. Jarvis remained in jail while trying to come up with the money. On Monday, May 18, Jarvis was asleep in his cell as midnight was approaching. The town night watchman, Stockton Smith, was standing guard over the jail, when he was lured into a nearby alley by a disturbance.

What he found was a number of six guns aimed in his direction, and a mob demanding that he relinquish the keys to the jail, which he denied having. After further persuasion, Smith handed over the keys and was marched back into the jail to retrieve Jarvis from his cell. Both Smith and Jarvis were hooded and taken into the woods by the gang. Smith was tied to a tree and Jarvis was taken further into the woods. Jarvis was then tied to a tree and filled with an array of bullets from handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Having completed their gruesome task, the mob untied Smith, returned his emptied handgun to him and disappeared. When the sun rose the next morning, Madison was buzzing with news of the event and the road leading to the scene of the crime was busy with curious townfolk who went out to see the slumped body of Jarvis, clothed only in his underwear and missing much of his face. The news reporter described the nose and eyes as having been "carried away by the bullets."  Some who viewed the scene were made nauseous and soon departed.

County Judge Martin empaneled a jury that heard evidence on the crime and pursued the case further. The outcome of their findings is unknown.

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