| It is
highly probable that Mrs. John Giles Hunt of the Delassus community is
the only living witness of the hanging of Charles Hardin -- an event
which took place in January of 1880 on the Farmington courthouse
square. It was the only legal execution by hanging ever carried
out in St. Francois County.
Mrs. Hunt, at that time, was Cora Kinzer, nine year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Alexander Kinzer who lived on a farm on the outskirts of Farmington. She observed her ninety-fourth birthday anniversary in February of this year and is still living in the Farmington rural area. We visited last week with Mrs. Hunt and the little white haired lady protested that she had not done anything to write about. It was our impression, however, that she is an extremely interesting person and one who is somehow typical of a fine, rugged breed of American womanhood.
Despite the fact that she is subject to certain infirmities of advanced age and seldom gets out of the house anymore, she is certainly not vegetating. On the contrary, Mrs. Hunt is a remarkably well-informed person who can discuss the events of our time with great perception. She keeps up with events by regular reading of newspapers and periodicals and through the media of television and radio.
Mrs. Hunt has not lost the awareness and curiosity which prompted her, as a child, to go to the hanging on the courthouse square. Her father, she recalls, did not want her to go -- in fact, he promised to buy her material for a new dress if she stayed home. Nevertheless, Cora Kinzer and her mother made the scene, along with a great crowd of other viewers of the execution.
The gallows, according to unexplained tradition, had been erected on the southwest side of the courthouse yard. In the milling crowd the little girl was close to the wooden structure of death -- close enough to hear Charles Hardin, convicted murderer, say a few words before a black hood was slipped over his head and the trap was sprung. It was a memorable event, but not a traumatic experience for Cora Kinzer. In later years, as wife of the sheriff, she came to know many men of criminal inclinations, men marked for death.
Mrs. Hunt was born in 1870 at Williamsport, Tennessee, where her father, John Alexander Kinzer, operated a flour mill and saw mill. Mr. and Mrs. Kinzer moved to Missouri around 1876, with their daughters, Cora and Nettie. A boy named August (Gus) was born after the family moved to the Farmington-Delassus area. Mrs. Hunt is the sole survivor of the group. Her parents, now long gone, were followed in death by Gus Kinzer (a long time resident of Flat River) in 1934, and by Nettie (Mrs. John Overall of Farmington) who died in 1964.
Cora Kinzer taught school for about six years at French Village and Delassus before her marriage to John Giles Hunt. He served as sheriff of St. Francois County from 1921 through 1925. During this period of her life, Mrs. Hunt and her family lived in the jail. It was her duty to feed the prisoners and when occupancy was high the job was a demanding one. She fed prisoners the same good, substantial fare the family enjoyed. Mrs. Hunt was glad to resume a more normal life in the country when her husband's term of office was over. Mr. Hunt passed away several years later and his wife continues to reside at the comfortable home they built in 1913 on a tree shaded slope near the Delassus rail line. Living with her is her widowed daughter, Mrs. H. C. (Ruth) Bennett. She also has a son, William Hunt of Farmington; and a daughter, Mary McKinney of Little Rock, Arkansas. One son and one daughter are deceased. Descendants include five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The story of Mrs. John Giles Hunt would not be complete without noting that she has been a faithful member of the Methodist Church for eighty years. As long as she was physically able she was faithful in attendance and an active participant in the work of the Memorial Methodist Church in Farmington. Mrs. Hunt continues development of her spiritual life through daily Bible reading, following of devotional guides and prayer.
From her vantage point of age and experience, Mrs. Hunt can ponder on the changes marking the patterns of life. She observes that: "meanness" is becoming more prevalent -- and that too many miscreants go unrealized or punished too leniently; that society has come to accept a lowered state of morals; and that we have moved into an era when a man's word, which was once binding, must be secured with legal trappings.
Yes, Mrs. Hunt, we think that a high principled woman so vitally aware of the problems of the world at age ninety-four is worthy of special recognition.
[Note: Mrs. Hunt died on December 10, 1968, at 98 years of age.]
The above article was published in the Lead Belt News of Flat River, St. Francois County, Missouri, on Wednesday, August 26, 1964.