Madison County Historical Society

 
 

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 The Execution of Milton White

A crowd of ten thousand excited people converged on Anderson on a fall day in 1867 to witness a public execution.

Milton White was hung for the murder of his neighbor, Daniel Hoppes.  The story begins on April 8 of that yer when Hoppes found that some meat had been stolen from him.  Tracks from his smokehouse led to the house of his neighbor, Milton White.

Upon this discovery, Hoppes, who lived north of what is today 38th Street and a short distance east of Scatterfield Road, and a neighbor started for Anderson with the purpose of having search warrant issued.  Near what was known as the Junction, which today is the area immediately north of the former Philadelphia Quartz site, the two encountered White who agreed to go with Hoppes to White's home so that Hoppes could search for the missing meat.

Hoppes and White followed the Chicago & Cincinnati railroad(former Pennsylvania) tracks east to the East Anderson & New Columbus Pike(Scatterfield Road) where they turned south and proceeded to near 38th Street.  They went east following a path to a pasture in the woods.  Several persons later testified seeing the two men walking together that day.  The last witness to see them stated the two were headed for a pasture not far from the path leading in the direction of their homes.

That is where the body of Hoppes was found the next morning.  Severe blows had crushed his head and face.  The weapon, a four-foot sassafras club, was found a short distance away covered with blood and hair. 

 Governor Gets Involved

When Hoppes did not return home, his wife became alarmed and informed the neighbors.  The neighbors knew about the stolen meat and suspected White was involved since the two had been seen together earlier.  A number of them went to White's house that night to keep an eye on him until daylight.

The search party remained at White's house until morning when they began the search that resulted in finding the body on the edge of a hollow basin in the woods-pasture, not far from the path leading in the direction of their homes.

White was arrested and brought to trial accused of murdering Daniel Hoppes.  White's sister-in-law testified that upon his return home on the fatal day he was much excited;  that he came home about 11 o'clock, and said to her and his wife that Hoppes would not search any other house as long as he lived.

The evidence was entirely circumstantial as no one witnessed the murder.  However, the jury found him guilty and sentenced him to be hanged on September 20.  Since there was no positive evidence, efforts were made to have the sentence commuted by Governor Baker.  The governor was out-of-state and ordered a postponement of the execution until November 1.  Governor Baker later came to Anderson and interviewed White in the Madison County Jail.  After a thorough investigation, he chose not to commute the sentence. 

In 1867, the jail was a two-story brick building located on the northwest corner of Jackson and Ninth Streets.  The night before his execution, members of the press visited White in his cell.  They described him as "stolid and uncommunicative, and answered question in monosyllables.  The Rev. Father John B. Crawley, who tried earnestly to turn White's thoughts towards God, attended White.  The day of the execution, the crowd began to assemble from all directions, in buggies, wagons and ox carts.  Young men arrived on horses with faces all aglow from the anticipation of the hanging.

Around the public square in Anderson there was much boasting, among some of the 8,000 or 10,000 people assemble, about the number of criminals they had seen hung.  Interestingly, the population of the city was only 1,300 when Anderson was incorporated as a city two years earlier.  Obviously, there was wide-spread interest in the crime and scene that was to unfold over the next few hours.

While White paced in his cell, the area outside took on a circus-like atmosphere.  On one corner of the public square was a side show, "The Wild Men of Afghanistan," where passers-by were enticed to enter and see the attraction.  In the crowds were numberous young men selling what they claimed were pictures of White. 

Tickets To Get In

At noon, Milton White was escorted to the front gate of the jail yard.  Around his neck was the rope that would send him to eternity.  The crowd was so large that guards with fixed bayonets were used to keep them back.  With arms bound, the prisoner was then seated upon his coffin in the back of a wagon.

Rev. Father Crawley was on one side of White while Sheriff James H. Snell was on the other.  Escorted by guards with bayonets, the procession proceeded from the jail north to Anderson(Eighth) Street and turned west.  Many of the porches in front of the elegant homes on Anderson Street were full of people curiously watching the morbid sight.

White sat with his eyes closed listening intently to Father Crawley.  His conduct was sedate and dignified putting to shame many of those in the procession that followed him to the fairgrounds located in the area bounded today by Seventh and Third Streets and Madison Avenue and Hendricks Street.

The gallows had been erected in a thick forest of oak trees in the northeast corner of what is today the intersection of Seventh Street and Madison Avenue.  The area still exhibits many oak trees;  no doubt some are witness trees.  The gallows was a plain platform with a railing around it, a trap in the center and a crossbeam overhead.  It was surrounded by a high wooden enclosure capable of holding 200 people.  It required a ticket to be inside the enclosure.

Ten thousand people were crammed in the woods nearby, while an estimated 500 had climbed to the tops of neighboring trees to view the proceedings.  Sheriff Snell read the death warrant while White stood motionless keeping his eyes fixed upon the floor.  He then knelt with Father Crawley on the trap and repeated after him the Lord's Prayer, the Ave Maria, the Apostles' Creed and other prayers of the church.

Weapon on Display

He did not confess the crime publicly.  Instead, he claimed it was done by a respectable farmer of Madison County.  He may have confessed to Father Crawley, but that will never be known.

Final adjustments were then made to the rope.  Sheriff Snell placed a black cap over White's head as he cast a last and lingering look upon the scene around him.  The sheriff took a sharp hatchet, and with one quick, nervous blow, severed the rope.  There was a sickening thud as White's 200-pound body, with a fall of three feet, shot through the trap, making the beam overhead quiver.  His neck was broken by the fall, and not a single muscle moved after the body fell.

After 27 minutes, the body was taken down and doctors pronounced him dead.  His body was placed in a coffin and buried in the potter's field of the newly opened St. Mary's Cemetery south of town.

As if a reminder of the last public execution in Anderson was needed, the club with which Daniel Hoppes was killed was kept in the County Clerk's office until the court house was destroyed by fire in December, 1880.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian   

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) 683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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