The next time someone tries to sell you on the idea that our culture is becoming more violent and less civilized than it used to be in our grandparents’ era, please remind them of this story and others like it. They were not uncommon.
On the morning of October 27th in 1895, the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin was mobbed by hundreds of men ready to take vengeance on the man who was accused of killing Tiffin City Marshal, August Shultz, just a few days before. The object of their murderous hatred was one Leander Martin, an area farmer south of Tiffin. The story of what led up to Shultz’s death was recounted by the New York Times.
“Martin runs a small farm near Watson Station six miles south of Town. Wednesday afternoon he got into a controversy with the son of a neighboring farmer. The boy who is scarcely 15 years of age refused to obey some trivial request of Martin and the farmer flew into a rage. He struck the boy with his fists and siezed him by the neck nearly strangling him. The boy finally succeeded in breaking away and half dead, though he was, he reached town where he told his story to police.”
The Times goes on to report that Marshal Shultz, along with an Officer Pat Sweeny went to Martin’s farm to investigate the beating incident and when they arrived and approached the house, Martin opened fire on them. Officer Sweeny was hit twice and Shultz was shot dead. Word of the shooting spread quickly and when reinforcements arrived at the farm, Martin quickly surrendered peacefully and was taken to the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin.
August Shultz had been a popular Marshal and his death was not accepted routinely. A day following his funeral, at 1:30 in the morning, a crowd of over 150 infuriated men, many according to the NY Times, “under the influence of liquor”, attacked the jail in an effort to secure Martin and hang him. Their effort made some progress as they managed to break a lock and get inside the jail itself. But they were met by Seneca County Sheriff Joe Van Ness who warned the crowd to back off. The enraged mentality of the mob had abandoned all common sense and they persisted in trying to get further into the jail. As the snarling crowd surged forward, a half dozen newly appointed deputies opened fire. The barrage of gunfire sent two men to the floor with mortal wounds. They were lated identified as 23-year old Henry Mutchler Jr. and 33-year old Christopher Matz. The sudden shock quieted the angry mob for only a awhile and Sheriff Van Ness, fearing even more violence and a return of the mob, called for reinforcements from the state militia. Company C of the 16th Regiment of the Ohio National Guard were called in to stand guard at the jail where by daybreak on Sunday, more crowds began to assemble. The tension grew and there were reports that the men would return with dynamite to blow up the jail to avenge the killings of Mutchler and Matz. Sheriff Van Ness telegraphed Ohio Governor William McKinley for even more troops to quell what he feared could be a a civil uprising. McKinley agreed and throughout the day more troops arrived from Fremont, Sandusky, Toledo and other communities.
What the vigilante’s did not know was that after their failed attempt to drag Martin from the jail, Sheriff Van Ness ordered other deputies to remove the accused killer from the lock up and move him by horseback to the safety of the nearby Sandusky County Jail in Fremont.
Leander Martin would eventually go to trial and was found guilty of Marshal Shultz’s murder. He was sentened to hang, but never did. Many years later he was released from prison, only to die in a fall from a roof.
Patrolman Pat Sweeny who survived the shooting on Martin’s farm did eventually die in the line of duty. He was shot to death in a gunfight with a burglar in downtown Tiffin in 1913.
The narrative of the angry lynch mob is a sad and tragic chapter in our history and one that left an ugly stain on the legacy of the American justice system. They were violent episodes that were not some infrequent abberation that happened somewhere else, but took place in many towns and communities. Even here – in our own backyard, not all that many years ago.