Part 16 - The Night of Horrors
After Everest had been taken away the jail became a nightmare--as full of horrors as a madman's dream. The mob howled around the walls until late in the night. Inside, a lumber trust lawyer and his official assistants were administering the "third degree" to the arrested loggers, to make them "confess." One at a time the men were taken to the torture chamber, and so terrible was the ordeal of this American Inquisition that some were almost broken--body and soul. Loren Roberts had the light in his brain snuffed out. Today he is a shuffling wreck. He is not interested in things any more. He is always looking around with horror-wide eyes, talking of "voices" and "wires" that no one but himself knows anything about. There is no telling what they did to the boy, but he signed the "confession." Its most incriminating statement must have contained too much truth for the prosecution. It was never used in court.
When interviewed by Frank Walklin of the Seattle Union Record the loggers told the story in their own way:
"I have heard tales of cruelty," said James McInerney, "but I believe what we boys went through on those nights can never be equaled. I thought it was my last night on earth and had reconciled myself to an early death of some kind, perhaps hanging. I was taken out once by the mob, and a rope was placed around my neck and thrown over a cross-bar or something.
"I waited for them to pull the rope. But they didn't. I heard voices in the mob say, 'That's not him,' and then I was put back into the jail."
John Hill Lamb, another defendant, related how several times a gun was poked through his cell window by some one who was aching to get a pot shot at him. Being ever watchful he hid under his bunk and close to the wall where the would-be murderer could not see him.
Britt Smith and Roy Becker told with bated breath about Everest as he lay half-dead in the corridor, in plain sight of the prisoners in the cells on both sides. The lights went out and Everest, unconscious and dying, was taken out. The men inside could hear the shouts of the mob diminishing as Everest was hurried to the Chehalis River bridge.
None of the prisoners was permitted to sleep that night; the fear of death was kept upon them constantly, the voices outside the cell windows telling of more lynchings to come. "Every time I heard a footstep or the clanking of keys," said Britt Smith, "I thought the mob was coming after more of us. I didn't sleep, couldn't sleep; all I could do was strain my ears for the mob I felt sure was coming." Ray Becker, listening at Britt's side, said: "Yes, that was one hell of a night." And the strain of that night seems to linger in their faces; probably it always will remain--the expression of a memory that can never be blotted out.
When asked if they felt safer when the soldiers arrived to guard the Centralia jail, there was a long pause, and finally the answer was "Yes." "But you must remember," offered one, "that they took 'em out at Tulsa from a supposedly guarded jail; and we couldn't know from where we were what was going on outside."
"For ten days we had no blankets," said Mike Sheehan. "It was cold weather, and we had to sleep uncovered on concrete floors. In those ten days I had no more than three hours sleep."
"The mob and those who came after the mob wouldn't let us sleep. They would come outside our windows and hurl curses at us, and tell each of us it would be our turn next. They brought in Wesley Everest and laid him on the corridor floor; he was bleeding from his ears and mouth and nose, was curled in a heap and groaning. And men outside and inside kept up the din. I tried to sleep; I was nearly mad; my temples kept pounding like sledge-hammers. I don't know how a man can go through all that and live--but we did."
All through the night the prisoners could hear the voices of the mob under their cell windows. "Well, we fixed that guy Everest all right," some one would say. "Now we'll get Roberts." Then the lights would snap off, there would be a shuffling, curses, a groan and the clanking of a steel door. All the while they were being urged to "come clean" with a statement that would clear the lumber trust of the crime and throw the blame onto its victims. McInerney's neck was scraped raw by the rope of the mob but he repeatedly told them to "go to hell!" Morgan, the stool-pigeon, escaped the torture by immediate acquiescence. Someone has since paid his fare To parts unknown. His "statement" didn't damage the defense.
THE HUMAN FIEND
But with the young logger who had been taken out into the night things were different. Wesley Everest was thrown, half unconscious, into the bottom of an automobile. The hands of the men who had dragged him there were sticky and red. Their pant legs were sodden from rubbing against the crumpled figure at their feet. Through the dark streets sped the three machines. The smooth asphalt became a rough road as the suburbs were reached. Then came a stretch of open country, with the Chehalis river bridge only a short distance ahead. The cars lurched over the uneven road with increasing speed, their headlights playing on each other or on the darkened highway.
Wesley Everest stirred uneasily. Raising himself slowly on one elbow he swung weakly with his free arm, striking one of his tormentors full in the face. The other occupants immediately seized him and bound his hands and feet with rope. It must have been the glancing blow from the fist of the logger that gave one of the gentlemen his fiendish inspiration. Reaching in his pocket he produced a razor. For a moment he fumbled over the now limp figure in the bottom of the car. His companions looked on with stolid acquiescence. Suddenly there was a piercing scream of pain. The figure gave a convulsive shudder of agony. After a moment Wesley Everest said in a weak voice: "For Christ's sake, men; shoot me--don't let me suffer like this."
On the way back to Centralia, after the parade rope had done Its deadly work, the gentlemen of the razor alighted from the car in front of a certain little building. He asked leave to wash his hands. They were as red as a butcher's. Great clots of blood were adhering to his sleeves. "That's about the nastiest job I ever had to do," was his casual remark as he washed himself in the cool clear water of the Washington hills. The name of this man is known to nearly everybody in Centralia. He is still at large.
The headlight of the foremost car was now playing on the slender steel framework of the Chehalis river bridge. This machine crossed over and stopped, the second one reached the middle of the bridge and stopped while the third came to a halt when it had barely touched the plankwork on the near side. The well-dressed occupants of the first and last cars alighted and proceeded at once to patrol both approaches to the bridge.
Next page: Part 17 - Lynching: an American Institution