"Vignettes" of the Civil War

By Francis McRae Ward


Chapter Seven


The Killing Of Colonel Crane, Military Mayor Of Jackson, Mississippi


Governor Ames appointed Brevet-Colonel Joseph G. Crane, military mayor of Jackson on April 2, 1869. Ames had been promoted to the rank of major and was also serving as commanding officer of the Fourth Military District. Colonel Crane was a member of a very prominent Ohio family; his father was a capable lawyer, and had served in the United States House of Representatives. Colonel Crane was also a lawyer, and had served as Probate Judge for three years with an outstanding record. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed captain in the Federal Army, and with regular promotions, reached the rank of brevet-colonel. After the war was over Colonel Crane served as Chief Commissary of the Fourth Military District in Mississippi for a period of two years. Colonel Crane's wife was the daughter of a navy man, Commodore James Findley and a niece of General Robert C. Schenck, a member of the United States House of Representatives, and was serving in that capacity while Colonel Crane was living Jackson. The Cranes were parents of two sons, seventeen and fifteen respectively, at the time of the tragedy.[1]


The people in Jackson at the time were in a deplorable and destitute state. Before Colonel Crane took over the affairs of the city former Mayor N. D. Barrows notified all city officials that he could only pay them with Confederate money, which was worthless, and if they didn't want to accept this money, they need not serve any longer. Due to destitute circumstances, and for a few other reasons, there were many people in Jackson whose taxes were delinquent. When Colonel Crane assumed his duties as mayor he found that Colonel Edward M. Yerger had refused to pay his taxes for the years of 1867 and 1868.[2]


It was during the most trying times of Jackson's history, that Colonel Crane served as its mayor, however, it was evident he had won the confidence and respect of the citizens.[3]


Edward Yerger was a member of one of the most prominent families in Mississippi, and one of the most outstanding newspaper editors of the time. He had been editor of both the Mississippian and the Jackson Daily News. Colonel R. H. Henry, editor of the Clarion for many years, wrote the following relative to Colonel Yerger: "While I had no personal acquaintance with Edward M. Yerger--Prince Edward, as he was called--I do remember him as one of the editors of Mississippi who stood at the top of his profession. He was a finished writer and made the Jackson News a great paper." Yerger wrote fiery editorials, and would back them up in a fight, with either his fists, or guns. E. Barksdale was editor of the Clarion, and he and Yerger had agreed not to attack each other in their editorial writings. Early one morning Barksdale went to his office to prepare his copy for the printer. Barksdale started home for breakfast, and along the way he was reading Yerger's paper in which he saw an editorial criticizing him. As Barksdale came around a corner he met Yerger, and in the midst of a heated argument slapped his (Yerger's) face with the newspaper; then Yerger hit him and they went together or clinched. Barksdale caught Yerger's arm with his teeth, biting him painfully. A crowd had assembled to watch the fight, and Colonel Yerger asked some of them to "take the terrier off, he is biting my wrist." Barksdale was infuriated, and told Yerger he did not keep his word, as he had promised. Yerger pulled his pistol on Barksdale and told him he had taken all he was going to take. Friends in the crowd separated them, and prevented further trouble.[4]


Colonel Yerger had several brothers and uncles who were able and distinguished lawyers. One of his uncles, William Yerger, was a member of the State Supreme Court before the war, fought against secession, and was a Senator in the Confederate States Government from 1863 to 1865. Edward Yerger himself had been prominent in politics having served as a member of the State Legislature in 1856 and in 1857 ran for governor of Mississippi on the American Party ticket, and was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in 1868.[5]


There is no doubt that Colonel Crane felt that Yerger should pay his taxes, being a prominent man, and some of the citizens had informed Crane, that they would not pay their taxes until Yerger paid his. Of course, for this reason Crane felt that some action should be taken, so on June 3, 1869, a warrant of distress was issued for a piano in the Yerger home, to be sold at public auction to the highest bidder on June 17, 1869, so the city could collect the delinquent taxes against Yerger, which amounted to $409.24. Of course, at the time Colonel Crane did not dream that the seizure of the Yerger piano was to later cost him his life.[6]


The piano was personal property of Mrs. Yerger; she owned it before her marriage, and this evidence was brought out in the trial before the Military Court. The tax roles revealed that the piano and the home were assessed to Mr. Yerger, although the deed to the home was recorded in Mrs. Yerger's name. Under the laws of the State of Mississippi at the time, property incorrectly assessed could not be levied against. The fact that Crane was a capable attorney, it is hard to understand why he refused, or failed, to look into the legal status of the property.[7]


A meeting of the Memphis Commercial Convention was being held in Memphis, and Colonel Yerger, was chairman of the Immigration Committee of this convention. This was a promotional scheme on a large scale, which would have made Colonel Yerger fabulously rich, if it could have been worked out successfully. There were many large plantations idle because the Negroes had left them, and Colonel Yerger proposed the settlement of immigrants from Europe to work the lands. Colonel Yerger was in Memphis attending this meeting, when the piano was removed from his home.[8]


When the city marshal, W. S. Freeman, made the first attempt to seize the piano, Mrs. Yerger emphatically refused to let him remove the piano from her home, which resulted in the expiration of the first writ of seizure. Mrs. Yerger telegraphed her husband, who was still in Memphis, advising him of the first writ. On April 27th, Colonel Yerger telegraphed Colonel Crane, that a flood had washed away a brick wall in front of his house due to the negligence of the city officials relative to improper drainage facilities--and further stated that he was going to ask for remuneration from the city for damages caused by the flood, which he estimated to be about $1,200. Colonel Yerger was evidently determined in the matter, because he threatened to sue the city.[9]


Mayor Crane ignored Yerger's first telegram; ordered Freeman to seize the piano; told him if he failed in his duty, he would replace him with a man who would carry out his orders. From Memphis on May 7, 1869, Crane received the second wire from Yerger in which he asked him to take a look at the records regarding the ownership of the property, and reminded him again that he would appear before the city council and ask for remuneration for the damage caused by the flood, due to improper drainage.[10]


Colonel Crane, did not comply with Colonel Yerger's request to make an investigation of the ownership of the property, and issued another writ of seizure on June 3rd. On the same day Marshal Freeman went to the Yerger home, and informed Mrs. Yerger that he came prepared to take the piano, and if she refused to allow him to enter the house, or resist the seizure in any way, he would be compelled to break the door down. After Freeman related this to Mrs. Yerger she told him, "There would be one Yankee mayor badly whipped when Mr. Yerger returned." The piano was seized, and advertised for sale, in the Weekly Clarion, June 3rd, 1869, stating the sale would take place, June 16th.[11]


In my opinion, indeed, there is no doubt, that Mr. Yerger was concentrated in deep thought, perhaps brooding, over the way his wife had been treated. In that day and time women, especially those of the better class, were shielded, protected, and highly respected. Apparently, and from all indications, Colonel Crane had assumed an attitude of arrogance, which runs true to form with individuals who are a part of a government, whose affairs are operated under despotic rule. There is no doubt Colonel Yerger felt that Colonel Crane had taken advantage of Mrs. Yerger during his absence. Yerger became resentful and revengeful for the wrong inflicted upon his wife, which later cost Crane his life in the heart of Jackson’s downtown business district.[12]


As Mr. Yerger was still in Memphis Mrs. Yerger decided for the time being, to take the matter in her own hands and petitioned the Chancery Court of the Fourth Judicial District of Mississippi on June 5th, stating the facts of the seizure and ownership of the piano, and praying for an injunction preventing the city from selling it, and also that it be returned to the Yerger home. Mayor Crane contended the State Court had no authority in the case, as he had been appointed by the military commander, and he disregarded the order. Judge E. G. Payton, of the High Court of Errors and Appeals, issued the order June 7, 1869.[13]


The same day the order of injunction and restitution was issued, Colonel Yerger boarded a train for Jackson, as the business of the convention at Memphis came to a close. He arrived in Jackson during the late hours of the night. He knew Colonel Crane had refused restitution of the piano, which evidently worried him a great deal on the long tiresome trip from Memphis to Jackson. When he reached his home and retired, he was unable to sleep.[14]


About nine o'clock in the morning on June 8, Colonel Yerger walked to town, still angry and excited, thinking of the way his wife had been treated about the piano. About an hour after he reached the downtown district, he saw Dr. Carter and asked him to prescribe a drink of gentian and whiskey, stating he had ridden the cars most of the night before. Dr. Canter complied with his request. A Mr. Smith and a Mr. McLaughlin, who saw Mr. Yerger that same morning, testified that he was in a very upset condition.[15]


From all that is known of Colonel Yerger's movements, he drank to excess during the morning, and Dr. Carter warned him to stay away from Colonel Crane, knowing if he got into difficulty with him he would be placed under arrest. Colonel Yerger told Dr. Carter if he were placed under arrest he "would give him (Crane) a good cursing." Later on, perhaps about noon, Dr. Carter saw Verger again, standing in front of Ash and Lemly's Drug Store, and Yerger pulled from his pocket a copy of a note, which had been delivered to Colonel Crane by a friend of Yerger's, Dr. Harrington.[16]


The contents of the note read as follows: "Joseph G. Crane, Sir: Are you willing to disrobe yourself of all military protection, and meet me instanter on the street?" "Signed, E. M. Verger, June 8, 1869". W. S. Freeman Found This Note On Colonel Crane's Body, and it was quoted In The Clarion Weekly, June 24, 1869.


Dr. Carter tried to advise Colonel Yerger regarding his trouble, and told him if he started a fight with Colonel Crane, "it would secure his arrest and that would end the trouble and he would be bound over to keep the peace." Yerger replied to Dr. Carter, that if he were, "he would publish him." Yerger, no doubt felt that he would perhaps meet Colonel Crane most any time on the street, by chance or otherwise, so he handed Dr. Carter a pair of gold studs to keep for him.[17]


During the noon hour, Dr. Harrington called on Colonel Crane, and delivered Colonel Yerger's note. Dr. Harrington explained to the military mayor that the purpose of his visit was embarrassing, and after giving some thought to the matter, he decided it would he wise to hand him the note as the news might reach him from some source of agitation. After the colonel read the note, he told Dr. Harrington, he was not personally acquainted with Colonel Yerger, that he had his official duties to perform, had given Colonel Yerger twenty days notice or time in which he could pay his taxes, and "could not wait longer." During the conversation Dr. Harrington, asked Colonel Crane to stay off the streets that afternoon, if he did appear on the streets, Yerger would publish him in the papers the following morning. In order to avoid trouble the mayor told Dr. Harrington he would not appear on the streets until late in the afternoon, at which time it would be necessary for him to go to town and purchase some supplies. The colonel also told Dr. Harrington, he was not afraid of Yerger, and he would not be armed, as he did not carry arms.[18]


After Dr. Harrington's conversation with Colonel Crane, he immediately returned to Colonel Yerger, and told him that Crane did not want to meet him on the street. After Dr. Harrington conveyed the news to Yerger, he began to swear, became very excited, walked into the drug store, and began to drink. About twenty minutes from the time of the conversation between Yerger and Dr. Harrington, Yerger killed Colonel Crane.[19]


It is entirely probable the tragedy would not have happened if Colonel Crane had been governed by Dr. Harrington's advice and stayed off the streets, as it would have given Colonel Yerger long enough to regain his composure. However, within just a few minutes after his conversation with Dr. Harrington, he walked out upon the streets of Jackson's main business section, and of course, it will never be known why he changed his mind. Of course, Colonel Crane knew he had the Army and the Federal Government behind him, and perhaps thought that Yerger would think he was afraid of him. When Crane came upon the streets of the city, he was unarmed.[20]


Colonel Yerger after leaving the drug store, walked north on State Street, and seeing Dr. Cabaniss, stopped and talked with him, and in the meantime, Colonel Crane passed by, bowed to them as he walked on down the street headed south. He called at several stores trying to purchase some slate pencils, and finally found them at Ash and Lemly's Drug Store. When Colonel Crane came out of the drug store he headed north, walking rapidly and overtook Dr. Cabaniss and Mr. Yerger, who were walking rather slowly in the direction of Capitol Street. Yerger lived about a half mile north of the Capitol on State Street, and was perhaps on his way home for dinner, knowing Colonel Crane had declined to meet him. Before they reached Capitol Street Colonel Crane overtook them. After meeting Yerger twice in a very short length of tine, he no doubt thought Crane was making a deliberate effort to appear before him. As Colonel Crane walked up, Yerger stopped him; they shook hands, and started a conversation.[21]


It didn't take but a very few minutes for the conversation to get around to that fatal issue, the seizure of the piano. Of course, Yerger keenly felt wrong inflicted upon his wife, and the fact he had been drinking most of the morning gave him strength and courage as the argument became heated. The fact that the argument occurred in the early afternoon in the heart of Jackson’s busiest section, and both men being in high positions in life, caused a large crowd of witnesses to assemble.[22]


As the discussion continued, Yerger became enraged and lost his composure. Colonel Crane talked in a milder tone, and was more composed that Colonel Yerger. Crane said to Yerger, "you are drunk and had better go home," and Yerger replied, "I am not drunk and I want to tell you that you are a damn puppy." Colonel then told Yerger, " I don't know you and don't want to have anything to do with you." Yerger then reminded Crane of the telegram sent to him from Memphis, and said, "I telegraphed you not to take advantage of me during my absence," and as he spoke, he pointed his finger in Crane's face. Colonel shook his hand at Yerger, and replied, "I did not take advantage of you." Then Yerger replied, "take your hand out of my face you damn son of a bitch," at the same time struck Crane's hand away from his face. Crane then told Yerger, "I don't know you, and don't want to have anything to do with you except officially." Crane made an effort to leave and get out of Yerger's way, and at the same time Yerger gave him a push on the shoulder, and said, "go you damn dog." Crane turned around, faced Yerger, and hit him with his cane on the neck and shoulder; they immediately clinched, and Yerger began cutting Crane with a dirk. Crane caught Yerger's arm, but Yerger pulled away from him and began cutting Crane again. Colonel Yerger began slapping Crane, and pushed him into Brown's Store. As Crane lay in the doorway of the store

Yerger moved back a few steps, and began cursing him.[23]


The Chief of Police, Robert Isler, was notified about half past one in the afternoon while he was eating his lunch that Colonel Crane had been killed. He arrested Yerger at his home, and took him to police headquarters. A detachment of Federal Army troops proceeded to the city hall, took Yerger to the military post, and locked him up to be held for trial.[24]


The United States Army immediately began one of the most sensational and interesting trials in Mississippi's history, on June 10, 1869. The trial went on until July 16, 1869, when it came to a sudden end by brilliant maneuvering of Yerger's able legal talent, so the case could be brought before the regular Federal courts on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.[25]


Colonel Yerger was brilliantly defended by some of the greatest legal talent of the time. Members of his defense council were, his Uncle, William Yerger, Thomas R. Marshall, Judge H. F. Simrall, Amos R. Johnson, and several others. all of whom had outstanding and distinguished records.[26]


Before getting further into the story, if you will look back over the pages of Mississippi’s history, revealing evidence will be found that Mississippi has produced some great men; lawyers, statesman, and others. Mississippians are great defenders of the United States Constitution, States Rights, and the American way of life. Mississippians will not elect anyone to public office unless they think along these lines. Mississippi can boast of outstanding representation in Congress. Relative to President Kennedy's "Packed" Rules Committee, all of Mississippi's Representatives in Congress voted unanimously against it. Congressman John Bell Williams, Congressman William Meyers Colmer, Judge Tom Y. Brady gentleman and brilliant scholar, and that great patriot, Mrs. Mary D. Cain are all outstanding examples of distinguished political descendants of Mississippi's great leaders of the past.[27]


Colonel Yerger's able defense played for time using tactics to delay the trial whenever possible, apparently hoping Mississippi would soon be readmitted into the Union; no doubt thinking there was little chance of Yerger's acquittal before a military court, but felt they could win an acquittal in the County courts. They knew the bitter feeling among the people against military rule, and felt that the County courts would be their greatest hope for Yerger's acquittal. For a trial of this kind, it was delayed far beyond the usual length of time.[28]


Manipulation for delays continued. Meantime on February 23, 1870, Mississippi was readmitted to the Union. This ended the powers of the military commander, and the military courts had no authority.[29]


During the afternoon of March 2, 1870, Lieutenant W. H. Vinal, officer of the day at Jackson's Military Post, brought Yerger in custody to the city hall and handed him over to Judge E. W. Cabaniss of the Hinds County Court. Judge Canabiss in turn consigned the prisoner to Sheriff Lake, who gave Vinal a receipt for him.[30]


After numerous delays the case came before the Circuit Court, May 24, 1871. Judge Wiley P. Harris argued that Yerger had been tried before a military court and could not be tried twice as it would place his life in double jeopardy. One week later Judge Brown would not approve this plea, contending that no decision had been rendered by the Military Court, and it would not be placing Yerger twice in jeopardy in his (Judge Brown's) court.[31]


However, the charges were quietly dropped, and Colonel Yerger became a free man. The only punishment for the crime was the time he spent in jail.[32]


The Yerger case has an interesting and famous place in Mississippi's legal history. The laws passed by Congress, the Judicial System of the United States, citizens of the United States along with Colonel Yerger, were on trial. Liberty and freedom prevailed, derived from the great constitutional laws of the United States. "Tis better that one who is guilty shall go free, than to undermine the liberties of all the people."[33]



Captain Cole Younger


[1] Biographical And Historical Memoirs Of Mississippi, Goodspeed, Chicago, 1891, Vol. 2 Page 173; Also letter from Dayton Public Library, Dayton, Ohio April 16, 1954; The Weekly Clarion, Jackson, Miss, June 17, 1869

[2] History of Jackson And twenty-eight Years of Municipal Progress, Jackson Miss, No Date, By W. F. Powell, Pages 45 and 46; The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869; My Personal Knowledge of The Yerger Case

[3] The Weekly Clarion, Jackson, Miss, June 17, 1869

[4] R. H. Henry, Editors I Have Known, E. S. Upton, New Orleans, La, 1922, Pages 123-130

[5] Recollections Of Mississippi And Mississippians, By Ruben Davis, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1891; Official And Statistical Register Of The State Of Mississippi, Brandon Publishing Co., Nashville Tennessee, 1912, Pages 69 And 111 – By Dunbar Rowland

[6] Testimony of Dr. Harrington, In The Weekly Clarion June 24 1869; Copy of The Writ In The June 24th, 1869 Issue of The Weekly Clarion

[7] The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869

[8] The Weekly Clarion, May 13, 1869; Also Letter from The Dayton Public Library dated April 16, 1954, Dayton Ohio

[9] Copy Of Telegram In The Weekly Clarion, June. 24, 1869

[10] Copy Of Telegram In The Weekly Clarion, June, 24, 1869

[11] Copy Of Telegram In The Weekly Clarion, June, 3 and 24, 1869

[12] Copy Of Telegram In The Weekly Clarion, June, 24, 1869; My Own Convictions and Opinions

[13] Weekly Clarion June 24 1869. The Trial Of E. M. Yerger Before A Military Commission For The Killing Of Brevet-Colonel Joseph G. Crane, by H. M. S. Wilkinson, 1859, Jackson. Mississippi, Page 67

[14] My Personal Knowledge Of The History Of The Yerger Case

[15]The Trial Of E. M. Yerger Before A Military Commission For The Killing Of Brevet-Colonel Joseph G. Crane, Wilkinson Jackson 1869. Page 67; The Clarion Weekly, June 24, 1869

[16] The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869

[17] The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869

[18] The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869

[19] The Weekly Clarion, June 24, 1869

[20] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction; (A Thesis) Presented To The Faculty Of The Department Of History, Colorado College, In Partial Fulfillment Of The Requirements For The Master Of Arts, By Sever Landon Eubank, July 1950),(A copy of this Thesis may be found in The Department of Archives And History, War Memorial Building, Jackson, Mississippi

[21] The Yerger Case, A Side Light of Reconstruction, (A Thesis) by Eubanks, July 1950; Clarion Weekly, June 17, 1869)

[22] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis By Eubanks

[23] Harris Barksdale's Testimony Before The Military Commission, The Weekly Clarion, June 17 1869

[24] The Weekly Clarion, June 17 1869

[25] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 45

[26] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 45

[27] My knowledge of the history of Mississippi, and Mississippians, and my own opinions and convictions

[28] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 45

[29] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, pages 81 and 82

[30] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 83

[31] The Weekly Clarion, May 23, 1871

[32] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 90

[33] The Yerger Case, A Side Light Of Reconstruction, A Thesis, Eubanks, July 1950, page 100