Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
The Olson Lynching
-As transcribed from pages 202 - 204
Hans Jacob Olson was lynched at his home about three miles from Blair on the night of Nov. 24, 1889. Olson, on June 8, 1885, was convicted of setting fire to the building of B. K. Strand, a Blair merchant, on Dec. 29, 1883, by loading a stump with blasting powder, the stump being afterward conveyed to Mr. Strand, who put it in his stove, where it exploded. Rumor had it that Olson did not take the stump to the merchant's woodpile personally, but furnished it at the request of another person and left it at a place agreed. Olson was sentence to five years in State's Prison. He was released in the spring of 1889 and almost immediately, upon the testimony of his wife and son, was put under bonds to keep the peace. Unable to furnish bonds he was sent to jail, where he served some six months. The term expired in November. Of the events which followed, it has been said:
"The hanging took place at his home on the 24th day of November, 1889. He lived in a small log house and a few feet from one of the windows was a burr oak tree with a branch sticking out from the tree almost horizontal, and on this tree he was hung. The day was Sunday and word had been quietly given out in the neighborhood for the people to come to a certain place near Charles Johnson's farm where there was a vacant house at that time. The place of meeting was about one mile from Olson's house. Charles Johnson was the instigator and leader, and had encouraged the mob of forty or sixty men, that no jury would ever be found to convict them. Most of the men who followed Johnson had the idea that the purpose was to drive Olson out of the country, but Johnson probably knew what would be the result from the beginning, for at this vacant house they provided themselves with two ropes, one a heavy well rope and the other a smaller rope, probably taken for the purpose of tying him, as they knew Olson to be a man of extraordinary strength and a very determined man. At the place that the mob met, a son of Olson's met with them, and after going within sixty rods of the house the mob sent Olson's son to reconnoiter. He went to the house and found his father asleep and came back and reported the fact to the mob. The mob went to the house and I think four men went in and took him from the bed and called him out under his tree. He refused to go and they put the rope around his neck and pulled him up, held him a short time suspended, then let him down and renewed their demand. Then they strung him up again, this time keeping him suspended so long that when they let him down they found he was not able to stand, so they carried him into the house, laid him on the floor until he revived. Someone in the crowd asked his wife what they should do with him and she told them to take him away. They then took him out in front of the house barefooted on the frozen ground, and asked him to leave the country. His reply was this: 'This is my home, and I will not leave it till God takes me away.' He was then strung up the third time and left hanging until morning. During the whole time he never resisted. His strength was such that probably no two or three men, or even more, would have been able to handle him had he made resistance. Whether his courage was moral courage or simply animal courage, it is difficult to say, but certainly the courage shown was of the highest kind in its class. After the hanging the mob dispersed, with the exception of two members who remained all night with the wife and children and to screen the window so that the corpse would not be visible, the woman hung up a blanket, and twice during the night made coffee for the men who stayed. Early the next day an inquest was summoned, and Charles Johnson was foreman of that jury, and the decision of the jury was that Olson had come to his death by hanging by persons unknown to the jury.
"The same day the district attorney issued a warrant for the arrest of Johnson and some thirty others on the charge of riot. Johnson went to the district attorney's home at midnight and made dire threats, but in spite of this, warrants were issued charging Johnson, the widow, the son, and a neighbor with murder. Charles Johnson, Bertha M. Olson (widow), Ole J. Hanson (son), and Ole J. Sletto were convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life. More than fifty others who took part were convicted of riot. Most of them paid their fines. All four were pardoned by Governor Peck after having been in prison for something over five years. The people who took part in this killing were most, if not all, good, peaceable, law-abiding citizens, and some were men of excellent character. Mr. Johnson, who was the leader, claimed to be afraid of Olson - afraid that he would burn his property or injure his family. Johnson was a men of acute intelligence, had been chairman of his town several times, was president of a Farmers' Trading Association, and in fact a leader in all municipal affairs in his neighborhood. Johnson, after his return from prison, stayed in and about Blair for several years."
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