This webpage collects several newspaper articles on this topic, spanning just under a year.

Timeline:

1876 May 16 (Tue)
James Kelley killed by Osborne
1876 May 18 (Thu)
The Robinson Argus prints article - Kelly murdered by Osborne
1876 Jun 23 (Fri)
Zachariah Osborne lynched
1876 Jun 23 (Fri)
Preliminary Examination (trial)
1876 Jun 29 (Thu)
The Robinson Argus prints article - Black Friday in Robinson
1876 Jul 06 (Thu)
The Robinson Argus prints article - Hanging Tree at court house
1877 May 06 (Sun)
Osborne's body dug up
1877 May 10 (Thu)
The Robinson Constitution prints article - Body removed from grave

A Cold Blooded Murder
James Kelly Shot Down on the Street in Broad Day Light

From The Crawford County Argus 18 May 1876

The people of this community were very much startled on last Tuesday afternoon by the intelligence that a man had been shot down in broad day light on one of our most public streets without provocation.

About 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, near Barlow’s corner, the report of a pistol shot was heard, which was rapidly followed by three more shots, and all so quickly that those who were near by scarcely had time to collect their thoughts, recover from the shock of the first fire, or ascertain who was doing the firing, until it was known that a most dastardly and cold-blooded murder had been committed in our midst.

On Tuesday morning a stranger, who says his name is Zachariah Osborn called at the boarding house of Mr. J.M. Eagleton and got breakfast. He did not pay for the meal, but stated that he was going to work for Walter in the brick yard, and would pay for board. He failed to return at dinner time, and it was ascertained that he was not working for Mr. W. Davis Eagleton met the stranger in the afternoon, a little while before the shooting, and said something to him about paying for his breakfast. James Kelley, who was present, then asked Osborn if he would be back for supper. Osborn then said to Kelley, "Come on you d-n s-n of a b-h, if you want anything out of me," and started off. Kelley started to follow him, not however, it is supposed with sinister design, when Osborn turned and immediately commenced firing at Kelley. Four shots were fired, three of which struck Kelley, two in the leg, and one in the right breast. The shot in the breast was the fatal one. Kelly exclaimed, "I am killed", fell to the ground, and expired in a few minutes.

The deceased had been employed in the brick yard at this place for some time, and so far as we are advised was an industrious and peaceable man.

As before stated, Osborn is a stranger here. He says he is from Omaha, Mississippi, Texas, and other places, and we understand boasted of having killed men before. He had in his possession a revolver and a dirk knife. He is no doubt a desperado of the worst type, and it is to be hoped he will now meet his just deserts.

Great excitement was occasioned in town over the shooting, and all felt that a cold-blooded crime had been committed on our street by a desperado who ignored law and laughs at murder. We ----- much mistake ----- -----per of this people and the justice of our courts, if such a deed of blood can be enacted in this community and the author of it escape the extreme penalty of the law.

Black Friday in Robinson
Attempt to Break Jail!
Osborne Hung by a Mob!
Having Made a Murderous Assault Upon the Sheriff!
Snapp Makes His Escape!

From The Crawford County Argus 29 Jun 1876

One of the most desperate and daring attempts to break jail, coupled with an assault to commit murder for its accomplishment, was made in our town last Friday night, the finale of which resulted in the tragic death from hanging by a portion of the crowd who had come to the rescue, who were exasperated and infuriated beyond control by the boldness and audacity of one who had already upon his hands the blood of an innocent and inoffensive man, wantonly and deliberately shot down upon our streets in open day, without the least cause or provocation, and the escape of another prisoner in the jail -- his companion in the attempt to break out, and accessory in the attempted murder of Sheriff Henderson.

The facts and circumstances of the shooting of James Kelley upon the principal street of our town, by a tramp giving his name as Zachariah Osborne, on the afternoon of the 16th of May, are still fresh in the minds of our readers. Osborne had been about town for two or three days, begging for something to eat, yet exhibiting considerable audacity about it. He claimed to be one of the parties who had been thrown out of employment by the suspension of work on the S., E. & S.E. R.R., yet he had not been at work, and it was evident had no intention of working. On the morning of the shooting he had gone to a boarding house near the depot, and got his breakfast, representing that he was going to work in Walter’s brick yard, and wanted board. Not coming back at noon, and it being learned he was not at work, he was met by a son of the boarding house keeper, Kelley, his victim, who was a boarder there, and one or two others, when something was said about the manner of his getting the meal. He started off muttering something, when Kelley started on, asked him if he was coming to supper. He turned cursing him, and deliberately commenced shooting, firing four times, hitting him three times. Kelley fell, and almost instantly expired. Osborne was arrested, and although there was some talk at the time of lynching him, he had a formal examination and was committed to jail to answer the charge of murder, and was kept confined in a cell. As his manner and actions, and the fact that while begging bread he was carrying a loaded revolver and a murderous dirk knife, showed him to a desperado of the worst character, there were mutterings that he would find some means to escape punishment -- that he would make a desperate and successful effort to escape -- and there were not only threats of taking him from the jail and executing summary punishment by hanging, but a few nights after his commitment quite a crowd assembled for that purpose, and a demand was made for the keys to the jail, but not getting them, and through a failure of some of the arrangements, no attempt was made to force the jail that night, and the fires of vengeance of an outraged people appeared to have burned out; but as circumstances have proven they were only smoldering in ashes to burst forth in a fury of flame should they be fanned by a breeze of any effort upon the part of the author to escape the punishment awaiting him at the sitting of court.

On the 12th inst. a man named Bill Snapp, a decidedly hard case, charged with horse stealing, was brought here from Marshall for safe keeping, having broken jail there and been re-captured, and caught in a second attempt to get out of confinement. As our jail is one vast iron structure inside -- hall, cells, and bedsteads -- he was thought to be secure, even when allowed the privileges of the hall with the other prisoners, save Osborne, who was kept confined all the time in his narrow cell. Had not Snapp had accomplices upon the outside to aid him he would, too, have been safe enough. That he had this aid the evidence is positive from the tools used and the bludgeon with which the assault was made upon Sheriff Henderson.

On Friday morning Sheriff Henderson went to Paris to witness the execution of Johnson for the shooting of his step-son in December last. He returned on the 8 o’clock train, and after waiting until after the mail was distributed, went home. The jail and the Sheriff’s residence are only separated by a hall. He observed that Snapp was near the door of the hall of the jail which is situated between the cells. He talked with him a few minutes. There are two doors to the hall of the jail, one a solid iron door, and inside this a bar door. There is a small aperture in these doors for the purpose of passing in provisions, water, etc., but as they do not fit well the habit had been to leave the bar door open through the day, and close it at night. The sheriff asked Snapp where the other prisoners were, and he said they had gone to bed. He told him to go to bed too, as he wanted to close that door. He walked across the hall to his cell, and the Sheriff’s wife bringing a lamp, he opened the outside door, in order to close and lock the inside one. He had barely got the door swung back a foot when he received a murderous blow on top of the head from a club, followed in quick succession by two or three other blows in the face. Although partially stunned he grappled with his assailant, and succeeded in getting in his rear, with his arms locked around him. By this time he had discover it was Osborne. Mrs. Henderson screamed for help, and Snapp rushed out and pushed her aside, knocking the lamp out of her hands and breaking it.

Mr. Henderson succeeded in forcing Osborne into the sitting room, but he got out of there, Henderson still holding him, and out of the back door of the hall. Discovering the door of the summer kitchen open, Mr. H forced him into that, where he surrendered. He then marched him back into the hall of the jail, and had him locked in there before help arrived.

When assistance came and a light was procured Mr. H. went into the hall for the purpose of placing Osborne in a cell. He (Mr. H) was bleeding about the head and face quite profusely, and considering that his wounds needed attention he was gathered up and carried off to the drug store of Dr. Mefford to have his wounds dressed.

The crowd being infuriated at this second daring attempt of the outlaw at murder, at once carried him from the jail, and to the court house yard, where, despite his efforts to prevent it, and his pleas for mercy, a rope which had been cut form an awning on Main street had a noose made to it, which was placed around his neck, the other end thrown over a limb about seven feet from the ground of a maple which stand near the southwest corner of the court house, and he was drawn up with his feet about a foot from the ground, the other end of the rope fastened around the body of the tree, and there left hanging, to die the death of a felon and an outlaw, and his spirit to take its flight to the presence of the Great Judge, with the guilt of all his crimes unpardoned.

The hanging was done so quietly that quite a number who were about the jail when he was taken away, and others who came immediately after, knowing the purpose of those who had taken him away, yet did not know where the work was being done, although it was within three hundred yards of the jail. He was left hanging about a couple of hours, when Justice Browning, acting as Coroner, summoned a jury, and he was taken down and carried into the court room and an inquest held, and the following verdict returned:

We, the jury empanelled to hold an inquest over the dead body of Zacharias Osborne find, after making examination of the body, that deceased came to his death from the effects of strangulation on the night of the day of the 23rd of June, 1876, by a small cotton rope, by the hands of some person or persons to the jury unknown.

S.H. Newlin, Foreman,
Oscar Hancock,
Elijah Tracy,
G.E. Kesler,
Ulysses V. Widener,
D.N. Fowler,
S.F. Shank,
Fount J. Cooper,
H.B. Lutes,
R.B. Drake,
T.J. Cullom,
I.L. Firebaugh, M.D.

We were absent from town Friday night, and did not see the body until about 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. It presented quite a horrible appearance then from the marks of strangulation and mortification. The blood had run profusely from his mouth and nose, and his clothing was torn onto shreds, probably much of this being done in his tussle with the Sheriff.

A plain walnut coffin was made for him, and the Coroner had him washed and a new suit of clothes placed on him, and at about one o’clock on Saturday the corpse was conveyed to near the first railroad bridge north of town, where a grave had been dug on the hill side, and there he was buried. The general sentiment of the community is that if there can be any excuse for lynch law that excuse can be found in this case.

The manner in which he escaped from his cell was by the steeple of the lock having been sawed off by an instrument of some kind in the hands of Snapp, which, beyond question, had been furnished him, together with the club, by accomplices from the outside. Not wishing to do the murderous work himself, he cut Osborne out of his cell, and put the bludgeon in his hands, and he and his accomplices are responsible for what has been done.

The other two prisoners -- Franklin and Green were in their beds, and claim to have been asleep until the alarm was raised, and that they did not know that Osborne was out of his cell. They made no effort to escape.

During the time Osborne was in jail he gave no information as to where was his home, or as to his past history. He received no letters, and only wrote one, which was in characters, and addressed to a party in New Orleans. This was forwarded by the Sheriff to the Chief of Police of that city.

Blood Under a Tree

From The Crawford County Argus 06 Jul 1876

There stands near the southwest corner of the court house yard a maple tree, and the branches of which spread out in all directions, thus furnishing a cool and refreshing shade to whoever may choose to lounge on the green grass beneath its foliage. There are a great many more trees in the same yard quite as attractive, and the question may be asked, "Why do we speak of one particular tree?". For the same reason you would speak of "Charter Oak", which a short time ago succumbed to the ravages of time and fell to the ground. "Charter Oak" had a history. The particular tree in the court house yard has a history, too. It has been visited by a large number of persons lately, who have viewed it with a peculiar feeling of horror, not that there is anything about the tree itself that is repulsive, for it does not, like the famous but mythical Upas, emit an odor that would be death to inhale. On the contrary, it is a very pretty and altogether harmless growth of the forest. A fortnight ago there was nothing connected with or in the appearance of the tree in question to attract the attention of the most curious. Persons would pass by it and walk under its lovely spreading branches without even stopping to admire its beauty or give thanks that is had protected them for the rays of the scorching sun. No so now. Men, women, and children gaze at it with an earnest and fixed look -- with a shudder -- and we may add, with an increased pulsation of the heart. What is it, then, that causes this tree to be the object of so much attention now?

Well, we will tell you, and the story will be told over and over again for generations to come. Babes in their cradles of to-day, when they have grown to be old men and women, will repeat the terrible story, and as long as that tree stands and its branches are gently rocked by the winds, will it continue to be an object of interest. Why? We said there was nothing peculiar in the tree itself. It does not sing. It does not cry. It does not talk. It does not move, only as it is swayed by the winds. Why is it, then, that this tree is singled out and pointed at among so many others in the same yard? This would naturally be the question asked by any one not acquainted with its history, and we will proceed to tell. Because a murderer perished under its branches in the still hours of the night, and left some of his blood there!

Taken from the Grave

From The Robinson Constitution 10 May 1877

Our readers all remember that last August a man named Osborn who killed one John Kelly, a brickmason, at this place, was taken from our county jail and hung in the court yard, and that he was buried near the railroad just north of the corporation limits. Well, his remains are not there now. On Sunday night last some person or persons opened the grave and carried off the skeleton. Some M.D., we suppose, was in need of a skeleton, and has this one hid under his bed. The hair and flesh is said to have been scraped off and scattered about the grave.