​​​Clay County 1890 Jail Museum 

 

                              "Almost Lynching"

                                                   from an article written by Mrs. Lucille Glasgow, and printed in the Clay County Leader

 

    

One of the essays by Mrs. Mable Glasgow Pope's students in the 1930's. is one that deals with hangings in Clay County. One of the main points of interest in the museum, especially to teenagers, is the dummy of "Wild and Wooly Willy, the Horse Thief", hanging from the skylight beam in the foyer. We always explain that our old jail is one of the few left in the country that were equipped  with a gallows for executing convicted criminals, but that no one, to our knowledge, was ever hanged there, but elsewhere in the neighborhood.


There has never been but one legal hanging and one illegal would-be hanging in Henrietta. The legal hanging took place out at the "Mound", a big cliff about one mile northwest of here. (Some sources say the bluff out by the rodeo grounds). Anyone have anything definite on this? The one illegal would-be hanging took place at the 1878 county jail located between the museum and the courthouse square. (The 1878 building was recently bought and renovated by Mr. Glen Gonzenbach).


The jail, a two-story stone building, was occupied by the Jailer on the top floor and the prisoners on to the lower floor. The man, Stegall, was being tried in the courts of Henrietta, but the people got rather wrought up over the matter and decided to take matters into their own hands.    


One man went to the Sheriff's Office two doors down the street to talk to him about paying his taxes so the Sheriff wouldn't interfere. He locked the door as he came in.


The mob then seized the prisoner and put a noose around his neck. Someone came to tell the Sheriff, Cooper Wright, but could not get in. However, he yelled and told Mr. Wright what was taking place, and Mr. Wright jumped out the window and got to the scene in time to cut the prisoner down before he died.


The man was then convicted by the courts in Henrietta and sentenced to be hanged. However, as the case was appealed to a higher court, it was taken to Gainesville where Stegall was sent to the penitentiary for ninety-nine years. He was pardoned on good behavior a few years ago.   Another version of this story said Cooper Wright beat his captor with a chair leg, climbed out the window and retrieved one of the many Winchesters he kept hidden around town and shot the prisoned down. His sympathy was not with Stegall, but he was not about to let a mob have their way with one of his prisoners.