One of the most despicable crimes ever committed near Shawnee was a murderous assault made February 23, 1908, upon May Cuppy, an aged woman. Her attacker was Bill Johnson. Because of the attack, the unfortunate woman was lying at the Shawnee Hospital in critical condition. She was literally beaten to a pulp. Her assailant was locked up in the county jail at Tecumseh where he was taken immediately after his arrest to avoid a lynching.

MURDEROUS ASSAULT UPON AN AGED WOMAN

One of the most despicable crimes ever committed near Shawnee was a murderous assault made February 23, 1908, upon May Cuppy, an aged woman. Her attacker was Bill Johnson. Because of the attack, the unfortunate woman was lying at the Shawnee Hospital in critical condition. She was literally beaten to a pulp. Her assailant was locked up in the county jail at Tecumseh where he was taken immediately after his arrest to avoid a lynching.

The assault occurred between eight and nine o’clock on Sunday morning. Following the spread of the news, the most intense excitement prevailed in the city and for a time it looked as though an immediate lynching of the brute was inevitable. Cooler heads won the day, and although the talk of violence continued all through the afternoon and crowds assembled everywhere, the “neck-tie party” didn’t happen. It was the general opinion that the law be allowed to take its course. There was practically no doubt as to the guilt of the man arrested.

When assaulted, May Cuppy was on her way from her home in the west part of the city to the home of her son-in-law, about a mile and a half west. She had approached to within about half a mile of the place, going along the road west from the Katy Station, and had reached a deep hollow in the road when the man, who had evidently been following her, slipped up from behind and rained blow after blow upon her head and face with an axe handle. When the handle broke, he seized a two-inch bridge timber with which to finish his murderous work.

The sudden onslaught completely over-powered Mrs. Cuppy. She fell to the ground in an unconscious condition. He then seized her by the feet and dragged her down the steep embankment on the north side of the road. When her body reached the bottom, her head was lying near the mouth of a small culvert. Into the culvert he dragged her by her hair. They emerged on the south end and he continued to drag her across the road. Then following the gully north, they reached the Katy Railroad.

He then went east along the railroad to the home of Dave Noles, an Indian with whom he had been living. Here he slipped a pair of overalls over his blood-stained and muddy pants, changed his coat and washed his face and hands; preparing to leave the vicinity.

In the meantime, Mrs. Cuppy, despite her terrible condition, recovered consciousness and made her way to the home of A.H. Heinkel about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the assault. Here, she told her story and the police were immediately notified by telephone. Deputy Sheriff Jim Pierce and Fire Chief L.A. Brown happened to be in the police station when they received the message.

Brown immediately hitched up the fire department’s rig, and taking Pierce with him, drove to the scene. They went at once to the Noles house and there found Johnson in the pasture trying to catch a horse to make his getaway. When questioned, he made no denial, but confessed nothing.

Mrs. Cuppy, at the time of the assault, carried a purse in which there was about $30. It was supposed at first that the motive for the assault was robbery, but after finding the purse, the money was still in the bag.

Johnson was locked up at first in the city jail, but because of the intense excitement, it was thought best to move him to Tecumseh. Policemen Jack Kelley and Deputy Bud Willy took him over on the 11 o’clock Interurban.

SHERIFF HOLDS OFF 500 WOULD-BE LYNCHERS

County Sheriff E.A. “Dink” Pierce and his deputies made good on the night of February 23, under most trying circumstances. Quietly and without the use of violence they restrained a mob of 500 determined men who marched upon the county jail bent upon securing the assailant of Mrs. May Cuppy, or some other upon who to vent their wrath. By standing the mob off until their anger cooled and reason again took hold, the sheriff and his deputies doubtless saved the lives of the inmates of the jail.

Public sentiment, which was at a fever heat of excitement all day because of the assault by Bill Johnson, crystallized by evening. Those who wished to participate in the proposed lynching chose to meet at the river bridge south of Shawnee. Others loaded upon the Interurban and traveled over to Tecumseh. The cars were all crowded.

Hundreds were treading the streets and marched quietly up Main Street from the north, six abreast in perfect order. So quietly did they come along the darkened street that no one noticed their presence until they reached the courthouse and turned toward the jail.

They demanded the prisoner. They were met by Sheriff Pierce, who suggested that they select a committee to search the jail. A thorough search failed to discover Johnson. This infuriated the mob and they demanded admission to the jail. Sheriff Pierce and his deputies addressed them time and again, assuring them that the man had been moved and warned them against shedding innocent blood.

The crowd was not so easily pacified however, and demanded a victim. Many professed to disbelieve the Sheriff’s assertions. He finally convinced them that deputies Jim Pierce and Bud Willy had taken Johnson out and he did not know which way they went.

After another search of the jail by the mob, the crowd then quietly dispersed. During the entire ordeal, the officers kept their heads, although open threats were freely made against them. After about 11 o’clock, the crowd left for Shawnee and Tecumseh assumed her accustomed tranquility about town.

(These stories and many more will appear in the comprehensive history of the city of Shawnee, due for publication in 2019. The 1,000-plus page book will be available in traditional, hardcover style, or digitally on flash drives.)