Three Hangings in Lafayette, Indiana: A True Story

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It was the first and last time criminals were hanged in Lafayette.

An image of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.
The three hangings were held on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, built in 1845, as shown in this postcard.

In the first few months of 1855, Lafayette saw a fire, a murder, and a series of confessions. By the time the Sheriff of Tippecanoe County had finished, he had three men who’d received death sentences: Abram Rice, a tinner by trade; Timothy Driskill, just twenty-three years of age, and David Stocking, who was from New York.

The sheriff decided to hang all three men on a cold January day in 1856, on gallows erected on the northwest corner of the courthouse square. Before the three were taken to the scaffold, they said farewell to the other prisoners. “Well gentlemen, I reckon there was never a willinger soul to die than I am,” said Rice, according to the Lafayette Morning Journal.

A large crowd started gathering outside the iron fence hours before the scheduled afternoon hanging. At 2:00 p.m., the bells of the courthouse and churches were tolled to announce the hour of the execution. That brought about a reaction from the people in the crowd, yelling and cursing. A rumor going around the crowd was that the governor had commuted the death sentences of Rice and Driskill and had given them life sentences.

The crowd became unruly and made an attempt to tear down the fence. Some threw stones and other missiles at police officers, who responded by arresting some of the offenders and hauling them off to jail. Twelve men were later fined for their crimes.

When things had calmed down, the sheriff resumed the hangings. Rice requested that a stool on which he was sitting be removed. He kneeled and said that he had seen men hanged this way.

According to the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Driskill said to him, “Abe, are you going to kneel?”

“Yes,” Rice replied.

Driskill then turned to Stocking and asked, “Stock, which way is the easiest to die—kneel or stand? I want to die the easiest way.”

Stocking replied that he should stand unless he thought there was a danger of the rope breaking. The sheriff assured them there was no danger of that happening.

Stocking stood, while the others kneeled as hoods were placed over their heads. At 2:22 p.m., the bolt was withdrawn, and the three men were sent to their deaths. It was the first and last time criminals were hanged in Lafayette.

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