Lynch mob hangs two Snohomish Indians in Seattle's Pioneer Square on April 12, 1854.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 8/28/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3521
On April 12, 1854, a lynch mob hangs two members of the Snohomish tribe in Pioneer Square. The Native Americans are accused of murdering a man believed to be Pennsylvania native James B. McCormick, who had been reported missing in July 1853. Duwamish River settler Luther B. Collins (1813-1860) eggs on the mob. A third suspect is saved from the mob by Sheriff Carson Boren (1824?-1912) and will later be cleared of the murder charge.

James B. McCormick was reported missing by his family in Pennsylvania in July 1853. In April 1854, after the furor over the murders of William Young and Dr. Wesley Cherry by members of the Snohomish tribe, David T. Denny (1832-1903) overheard some Snohomish talking about another killing. Salmon Bay Curley (Su-quardle) told Denny that three Snohomish had killed a man from a lumber schooner. The body of a white man was found buried on the shore of Lake Union at what would become Eastlake Avenue E and N Valley Street. The body was assumed to be that of McCormick. Sheriff Carson Boren took three Snohomish into custody for murder.

At the cookhouse of Yesler's Mill, Duwamish River settler Luther Collins spoke out forcefully against the suspects. Sailors from a vessel moored at Yesler's Wharf retrieved a block and tackle from their ship and the mob broke into the cabin where two men were being held. They were dragged to a tall stump at the corner of 1st Avenue S and S Main Street, and hanged.

The mob then went to the home of Sheriff Boren, where the third man was being held. Boren was distracted away and the suspect was seized. Boren caught up with the mob and cut the rope before it was too late. The suspect was taken to Steilacoom where he was later tried and cleared.

Historian Clarence Bagley in his History of Seattle asserts that the hanged men were tried and convicted in court before being lawfully executed. Bagley also relates the story about Sheriff Boren rescuing the third man from the lynch mob.

The weekly Pioneer and Democrat, Puget Sound's only newspaper at the time, reported that the suspects were hanged by other members of the tribe on the orders of the chief. This was a second-hand account from a Captain Moxley. Arthur Denny's (1822-1899) first-hand account, written in 1888, supports the lynch-mob version.

Luther Collins was indicted for lynching an Indian in July 1853. That case was dismissed at trial in October 1854.


Sources: Arthur Armstrong Denny, Pioneer Days On Puget Sound, (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1979), 42-43, 67; Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West: The Story Of Seattle, (Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1931), 166-168; Sophie Frye Bass, Pig Tail Days In Old Seattle, (Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1937), 52; "Hanging," Pioneer and Democrat, April 22, 1854, p. 3; Clarence B. Bagley, History of Seattle: From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 53.
Note: This essay was expanded slightly on October 10, 2006.

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