On May 12, 1857, Jakob Barth, a German peddler, aged 39-40, and resident of Madison County, was murdered by three men while traveling near Troy. Barth first met the three men at a tollgate between Collinsville and Troy, where they ask Barth to let them ride in his wagon. Barth, not trusting the men, answered that they could not, unless they paid him. Barth continued on his way, as well as the three men, who were traveling to Highland in search of work. Near Troy, the three men saw Barth again, just as they crossed a bridge. Barth had stopped at a tavern for about an hour, then started towards Highland. In Silver Creek Bottom, near a bridge, the men came up, catching the mules by the reigns, demanding money. On the spur of the moment, without giving much thought, two of the men shot Barth, using an old U. S. musket and a six-barreled revolver, simply because he wouldn’t let them ride in his wagon. Following the shooting, the three men fled.
Jakob Barth did not die immediately, but was found and taken to his home near Highland, in Helvetia Township. He had nine buckshot wounds in his side and left shoulder blade, with eight shots striking the shoulder blade and one passing through and coming out between his ribs. John R. Swain, Justice of the Peace, went to Barth and obtained his dying statement. Three men – George Gibson (alias George W. Sharpe), Edward Barber (alias John Johnson) and Joseph Watson – were arrested and brought before the dying Jacob Barth. Barth stated the man named George Gibson held his mules and demanded his money. He also stated that Edward Barber and Joseph Watson shot at him. Barth stated, “If I had a knife, I would like to cut their throats (note: another witness said that Barth wished for his rifle, and that he would shoot them).” Barth died the third day after he was shot, May 15, 1857.
The three men were indicted on May 16, 1857 by a grand jury and taken to trial on May 21, 1857. The three men were defended by Attorneys Seth T. Sawyer, Friend S. Rutherford, and John Trible. The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Watson, one of the murderers, was a mere youth, and had his death sentence commuted by executive clemency. During the Civil War he was pardoned. He entered the army and served faithfully to the end, and later resided in St. Louis as a respected citizen.
While in jail awaiting their sentence of hanging to be carried out, a mob of five hundred men, headed by Mr. Savage and Smiley, appeared in the streets of Edwardsville at the county jail, and vowed to take the men from jail and hang them where Barth had been murdered. Zephaniah Job, County Sheriff, aided by prominent men in Edwardsville, succeeded in quieting the mob. Savage and Smiley were taken forcibly from their horses by John S. Wheeler, and secured away. Speeches were made by Hon. Joseph Gillespie, F. T. Krafft, and Solomon Koepfli of Highland to quiet the mob. Authorities sent word to Alton, and the Alton Guards came to Edwardsville and remained in charge of the prison for about 10 days. The citizens of Edwardsville organized a military company, officered by J. H. Sloss, Captain, and J. G. Robinson, Lieutenant. This company acted as guard and police on the day of execution.
On June 19, 1857, thousands of people arrived in Edwardsville to watch the hanging, which was held on the grounds of the Poor Farm. The two men were led to the gallows and shook hands farewell. Barber stood erect and perfectly composed. Gibson was terribly affected, and his eyes lost all expression, and had a death-like stare. His face was pale, and he uttered and moaned an incoherent prayer. Gibson exclaimed, “O Lord! Have mercy on me! I dare not die! I’m afraid I’m not prepared!” The ropes were placed around their necks and their arms tied behind their backs. White muslin caps were drawn over their heads. Sheriff Job, who was a kind-hearted man, performed the dreadful duty of execution with firmness, but when he struck and cut the rope which held the platform in position, he sank to the ground from sheer emotion. The two men struggled at first, and then Barber ceased to show any signs of life after two minutes. Gibson continued to struggled for a full five minutes. The knot of his noose had slipped to the back of his head, and the fall had failed to break his neck, and he literally choked to death. After thirty minutes, the bodies were taken down, placed in walnut coffins, and buried there in the Poor Farm Cemetery.
Franz Jakob Barth is buried in the St. Joseph Cemetery, Highland, Illinois.
Contributor: Bev Bauser (46973644)