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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

St. Louis, 1836: Two Constables Killed by Bowie Knife

The first two police officers killed in St. Louis were stabbed with a bowie knife in the hands of Francis L. McIntosh, a mulatto freeman.
On April 28, 1836, the steamboat Flora was docked in St. Louis when two black deckhands were arrested for fighting. McIntosh, the second steward on the Flora, described as a large, powerfully built man, forcibly freed them from the arresting officer, Constable William Mull. George Hammond, the deputy sheriff of St. Louis County, who happened to be passing by, came to Mull's assistance and the two men arrested McIntosh. McIntosh seemed to be cooperative, walking with the constables toward the jail, while eating handfuls of peanuts out of the pocket of the large, loose coat he wore. McIntosh asked the officers what sort of punishment they thought he faced. When he was told he would get at least five years in the penitentiary, he pulled a large bowie knife from his pocket and stabbed Mull in the body, twice, mortally wounding him. As Hammond tried to pull him off the constable, McIntosh turned and stabbed him in the neck, severing the right carotid artery. Hammond fell dead on the spot and McIntosh took off running. Mull called for help and tried to give chase until he collapsed from his wounds.
A crowd of about fifty men chased McIntosh. He leaped over a garden fence and took refuge in an outhouse. There, knife in hand, he threatened to kill anyone who tried to take him. An Irishman picked up a large piece of timber, smashed open the door, knocked down McIntosh, and took his knife. The killer was taken to jail. As word of Hammond's murder spread, an angry mob converged on the two-story brick building, chanting for the sheriff to give up his prisoner. As the mob grew, the sheriff fled. A group of men broke through the door, dragged McIntosh out of his cell, and took him to the edge of town where they chained him to a tree, piled wood around him, and set it on fire while hundreds, some say thousands, looked on. Some in the crowd protested the lynching, while others said that he should at least be shot rather than burned. According to accounts, as the flames rose around him he began singing a hymn in a loud voice. It reportedly took some 20 minutes for him to die.
The St. Louis Republican published a report that McIntosh had once killed a man in New Orleans and had stabbed the mate of the steamboat Pawnee, for which he had been severely whipped.
While no one denied the seriousness of McIntosh's crime, the barbarity of his punishment shocked most Americans, who felt that no white man would have been treated in such a fashion. Charles Dickens and the travel-writer Harriet Martineau wrote about McIntosh's horrific lynching, which  was one of the galvanizing events of the abolition movement.

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