Friday, September 4, 2009

Harry Truman, "A Noted Criminal" and Kansas Red Leg

In January 1872, a St. Louis newspaper reported the strange case of Harry Truman:

"Alex. Manning representing himself to be a deputy sheriff of Carroll parish, Louisiana, and another man giving the name of Laddy, arrived here yesterday from Lake Providence, La., having in charge Harry Truman, whom they allege is a burglar and murderer, and was an associate of Quantrell in the Lawrence, Kansas massacre during the war, and for whom they state the Governor of Missouri offered $5,000 reward. They left their prisoner with Chief McDonough during the day, saying they expected the sheriff of an interior county to come and take him. Not having any authenticated papers, Chief McDonough suspected something wrong, and visited the prisoner in the calaboose and found him barbarously ironed. He ordered the removal of his shackles and heard his story, from which he (McDonough) believed the man had been kidnapped and refused to deliver him to his captors until they produced properly authenticated papers. To-day Chester Harding applied for a writ of habeas corpus, and Truman was brought before Judge Ewing and discharged, his captors failing to appear to show cause why he was arrested. The man, whose real name is J.W. Thurman, states that he was drugged in Lake Providence some ten days ago, and when he came to his senses he found himself on board a steamer, loaded down with irons, on the way to Missouri. It appears from the man's own statement and from that of others who knew him, that he was a Union scout and spy during the war, and that he rendered valuable service to the Federal cause. He served under Gen. Harding, who was his counsel to-day; also under Gen. Rosecrans and others in the department. It is further stated by those cognizant of the facts that in 1864, he was tried by a court at St. Joseph, convicted of seven different murders, and sentenced to be hanged, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in the Alton (Illinois) Penitentiary, from which he was pardoned after nine months' imprisonment. He was one of the original Kansas 'Red Legs,' and is said to have been one of Quantrell's gang. While acting as a Federal spy, he was much in the rebel camps, fought, was wounded in their ranks, was captured by Union soldiers on one occasion, tried as a spy, sentenced to be hanged, but pardoned by the President through the intercession of Gen. Harding, to whom he had always been true, and afterward he was sent to the Missouri penitentiary for passing counterfeit money. After serving two years he was pardoned by the Governor. Since then he has been living in Louisiana and Mississippi, working for Gov. Alcorn in the latter state. Altogether, by his own story and the statement of others, he is, or has been, a most desperate villain, and but for the illegal manner in which he was brought here, would have been held. He attributes his arrest to Quantrell's men living in Louisiana, who, he says, were afraid he would expose them, and took this way of getting rid of him."

For the most part this story is true. Truman was a very bad character and I will have more on him in later blog posts.

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