Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:2 (Spring 2013).
“The most remarkable scene ever enacted in the heart of a great city was witnessed in Topeka last night, in the final act of the tragedy on which the curtain rose with the sunrise yesterday,” reported the Topeka Daily Capital on June 5, 1889. “Twelve hours after the spirit of Alonzo T. Rodgers had taken its flight, his murderer was hung in the very center of the capital city, under the broad glare of the electric light and by a body of ‘vigilantes’ which in its composition was equalled by no other in all the history of the western world.” Notwithstanding the hyperbole of the Capital, the lynching of Nat Oliphant, a white transient, by an enormous mob was a defining event in the history of Topeka, Kansas.
In the early hours of June 4, a burglar stirred Alonzo Rodgers from his sleep. Confronted, the intruder shot Rodgers three times and his wife, Bertie, once before they were able to wrestle the pistol from him. “The [prowler] weakened as soon as he lost his weapon and began to beg,” reported the Capital. “He said, ‘Let me go, I won’t hurt you!’” In response, Rodgers struck the man a blow and responded: “‘Get out of the house. I will be more merciful to you than you were to me.’” As the burglar fled, Rodgers collapsed, dying within hours. Bertie survived.