The Lynching of Joe Brown

Randolph Enterprise
March 25, 1909

Paid Penalty For Crime

Joe Brown, a notorious character who had earned the reputation of an outlaw expiated his crime in shooting Scott White, Chief of Police of Whitmer and a son of Wash White mayor of the same town, early last Friday morning when Brown was taken from the jail at Whitmer by an orderly party of masked men and strung up to a flag pole on the principal street of the town.

The crime for which Brown was so summarily dealt with was cold-blooded in the extreme. Brown who had been drinking heavily marched up to White who was on duty and appears to have shot the conservator of peace in cold blood. The bullet entered just below the eye and ranged around to the jaw bone, shattering the bones of the face to splinters, breaking blood vessels and killing the nerves. White sank to the street, it was at first thought mortally wounded. In the excitement following the shooting Brown escaped to the densely wooded hills. His frantic efforts to get away from the scene of the attempted killing were successful for a while, although Brown was in plain view as he climbed the mountain side. Several tried to stop Brown but brandishing his gun in their faces he continued on his way unmolested, a number at his heels. These pursuers were reinforced by a hastily organized posse who were instructed to take Brown dead or alive. For two hours this posse hunted down the would be murderer but encount[er]ed numerous difficulties in tracing him because of the heavy underbrush. Like bloodhounds on the scent they hung onto his tr[ai]l and about five miles from Whitmer overtook him and closed in on him. Always a fighter, quick on the trigger and sure of shot, he opened fire on them and engaged in a pitched battle. One member of the posse had just time to dart behind a boulder when a bullet flattened itself against the natural shield. Almost simultaneously a fusillade was discharged at Brown. His shooting arm dropped to his side limp and helpless, shattered in a dozen places. Further resistance was useless and Brown submitted to arrest. He was returned to Whitmer under heavy guard and two men deputized to guard him - N. Y. Nordeck and Charley Croy.

Dr. T. B. Crittenden of Whitmer in the meantime had given the wounded officer all the attention he possibly could but he was so seriously wounded that it was deemed best to send him to Elkins. He was brought to Elkins on the evening train and at once removed to the Davis Memorial Hospital where an operation was performed Friday morning, and White's life probably saved.

It was generally understood here that Brown also was to be brought to Elkins to have his arm dressed but these plans were altered and Brown retained in the Whitmer jail.

Brown having in his career of crime and outlawry having incurred the enmity of almost the whole of Dry Fork, spreading terror wherever he went, his deliberate attack upon White was the only spark needed to touch off long pent up desire for vengeance.

Waiting until the dead of night when the streets of the town were deserted, between fifty and a hundred masked men, without creating a disturbance or disturbing the slumbers of the town surrounded the jail, forced the two guards at the point of revolvers to vacate their posts and entered the jail. Brown was hustled from its protecting walls for a distance of about half a square, a noose adjusted around his neck, and hanged by block and tackle to a flag pole from which his inanimate body still dangled the next morning when the town awoke. After making sure that life was extinct___ the lynchers quietly dispersed.

The body was cut down about nine o'clock Friday morning and an inquest over which Squire Andrew Hedrick presided held to determine just how Brown came to his death. Examined by the coroner's jury the two guards - Bordeck and Croy testified that they had not been able to identify any of those engaged in the lynching. With no other evidence on which to base a decision the jury reached the conclusion that Brown had come to his death at the hands of a mob of unknown masked men.

While Brown's lynching is not condoned particularly in Dry Fork relief is expressed that he is out of the way. Brown had so ruthlessly disregarded the rights of his fellow men, living without restraint, that every man's hand was turned against him and realizing that he need expect little mercy at any time his Winchester was his constant companion. He slept with it within reach, he ate with it across his knees and he cuddled it in his arms when moving from place to place. A Virginion by birth he was a crack shot and did not scruple to make life uncomfortable for those upon whom he wished to practice his caprices. It is related that standing on one hill he shot a cant hook out from under a woodsman on another hill. He discomfited other men by shooting the suspenders off their back and the ties from off their neck.

Several years ago he brutally assaulted Captain Munson and was serving a sentence for this crime when he escaped and for some time was lost sight of, to return to his haunts near Whitmer a short time before his attack upon White, intimating that he would pay off a grudge he had against Washington White, Squire Hedrick and others who had been instrumental in securing his arrest once before, and had the opportunity been offered him it is generally believed th[at] he would have shot down Washington White, Mayor of Whitmer.

Learning of the lynching upon his return from Washington Governor Glasscock immediate[e]ly communicated with the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney, insisting upon a complete investigation. It is possible that the lynching may be investigated but it is doubtful if any more information could be secured than is now known for Brown was so cordially hated by the people of Dry Fork that those who composed the lynching party would be protected in every way even by those who did happen to known everything connected with the lynching.

Lynched Man's Career Sketched

Joe Brown was born in Taz[e]well County, Va. about 48 years ago. About 10 years ago he in company with some of his relations settled in Mercer County, W. Va., one of the roughest places in the state. About 10 years ago he invaded Randolph County for the first time, locating on Middle Mountain and since that time he has at intervals been roaming through the County. On Christmas eve, 1905, he in company with Andy Mcberry were in the saloon of Geo. Nethken in the town of Whitmer. Each of them had a large revolver and Winchester. An altercation took place and it took 15 or 20 citizens to arrest the two men. G. E. Bond was chief of police then but happened to be out in the suburbs of the town on other business. J. F. Nordeck wrestled a pistol from Maberry and fired two shots bringing Mr. Bond to the scene immediate[e]ly and in a short time after Mr. Bond arrived the two men were securely placed in the iron cells of the city lock up. They were tried by the Mayor G. W. White and managed to pay a large fine but immediate[e]ly upon their release, C. E. Hedrick, a constable at that time, told Mr. Brown he would have to put him under arrest on a capias he had for an indictment in the Circuit Court of Randolph County. He was taken to jail for several months and was not seen by the people of Whitmer for some time afterwards. When he walked down the main street of Whitmer with a pistol in each hand shooting right and left. W. J. Sponaugle, chief of police, was at the lower end of town doing some work, and being unarmed did not attempt to arrest him. Mr. Brown went about one mile to the home of Solomon Elzas, and there met J. W. Munson, an aged citizen, who was returning from his farm. Brown struck him with a revolver and beat him till he was uncon[s]cious . Munson was helped to town, and a posse of men were detailed and surrounded Mr. Elzas' house. Not finding Brown and expecting him to be at Elzas' camp about 8 miles from Whitmer up Gandy Creek, another posse was organized consisting of G. W. White, Levil White (of Calib) Perry White, Harness Barkley, Loyd Coberly, W. J. Sponaugle and Andrew Hedrick, who pressed a hand car, belonging to C. L. B. and L. Co., into service, and arrived at Alf Elzas camp just before day break and after a fu[sil]ade of about 35 or 40 shots, captured Brown. It was in making this arrest that one shot cut a gash on his head which he said was fired by Scott White. Sometime after this he broke jail at Beverly and has been running at large through the county since. He has repeatedly designated to parties the number of men he intended to kill viz, G. W. White, Scott White, Andrew Hedrick, W. J. Sponaugle, J. F. Nordeck and G. E. Bond. On the 18th of March 1919, Brown made his appearance in Whitmer, passing the residence of Andrew Hedrick, J. P. He was drunk, singing his favorite song, "Going down South where the Sun shines warm." Until he met Scott White in front of Geo. Nethkens saloon. Mr. White called on him to go inside that he was to drunk too be on the street. With a oath he drew a revolver and shot White just below the orbit of the right eye. He stood over White a moment looking to see if he had given him a deathly shot, decided he had, wrested the mace from White, threw it away and then ran, ascending the hill where he was seen going for a mile. Squire Hedrick pressed about 15 men with guns into service and put them in pursuit with orders to take him dead or alive. Brown stopped at a house and secured a shot gun and before he got to the next neighbors house decided he did not have ammunition enough. He ran to the dwelling house and told them he wished to borrow some shells, that he had jumped a wild cat. He ran straight for Dry Fork when Ralph Dolly, James Platt and William Graham captured him after a severe battle with Winchesters and pistols. Brown was mangled so badly that they pressed a wagon and team belonging to Bob Lambert into service and hauled him to Whitmer. Arriving with him at Whitmer the crowd was so great and angry that Squire Hedrick appointed several officers to preserve order. He was hauled to the Mayor's office, and Dr. Crittenden was summoned at once, rendering medical aid. It being so late in the day and prep[a]rations was being made to send Scott White to the hospital that Squire Hedrick decided to hold Brown till morning. The motl[e]y crowd being so great that he was afraid they would take Brown from him before he could get to the depot with him. At 7 o'clock Squire Hedrick pressed Lafe Croy and J. V. Nordeck into service to guard the Mayor's office with instructions not to allow any one in. About 1:30 some party knocked at the door, Mr. Croy yelled "no admittance." At that moment several men broke the door down and in an instant 8 or 10 men stood over the guards with guns, while the rest took the prisoner to the flag poles in front of Geo. Nethkens and lynched him. None of the men could be identified. The guards notified Squire Hedrick of the lynching but Brown was then dead.

At break of day the Squire impanneled a coroners jury and ordered them to take charge of the body the jury brought in the following verdict:

We, the Jury, find the deceased came to his death by being lynched by some unknown men.

Squire Hedrick had hard work getting ground to bury the deceased and it was only through orders from the States Attorney that he was burried in the Potters field.

Joe Brown was a man of desperate character, not brave but took delight in shooting a man and then running. He never was without a revolver on his person.

He has but tew sympathizers in this county and those are people about of the same character. Brown has been in the West Virginia Penitentiary two times, in the Virginia State prison one term. He has committed several murders, among them it is claimed he held his first wife in one corner of his dwelling house and cut her throat from ear to ear.

Brown is supposed during his career to have killed two United States Marshalls for which, it is understood large rewards had been offered.

In the capture of Brown, Messrs. James Platt, Ralph Dolly and William Graham were instrumental.


Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History