Murderous riot will be subject of meeting

Learn more at July 22 program

submitted by Floyd Ham

Toulon – While searching the digital archives of The Stark County News last spring, Floyd Ham, a member of both the Stark County and Henry County Genealogical Societies stumbled upon a reference to “Kewanee and Mertz.”

This reference was offered “to prove” that the Catholic Church was an “enemy of free speech and a free press.”
Ham states that he has been to Northern Ireland on several occasions and was well aware that the people there had suffered substantially as a result of the deep seeded and centuries old hostility, hatred and violence directed by Catholics upon Protestants and Protestants upon Catholics.

Yet he was unaware that such animosity existed in Stark and Henry Counties in the 1890’s. So much so, that numerous members of the American Protective Association, a secret Anti-Catholic society, crisscrossed the area, speaking out against the Catholics, their beliefs, their leaders and their women folk—wives, daughters and mothers.

One such individual by the name of Mertz was described as an “imported, irresponsible, demagogue” and a “decoy tramp” that “belched forth immorality and lies” that “disturbed the peace and tranquility” of all the towns he visited.


On Monday, August 21, 1893, Mertz was scheduled to speak in Kewanee, but it was not to be.

Numerous citizens of Kewanee turned out to confront Mertz and deny him an opportunity to speak. As the crowd grew, it became unruly.


Initially, only a few “rowdies” seemed intent on “running Mertz out of town.” But as the crowd swelled into the hundreds, dozens wanted to “mob Mertz.” A great deal of pushing, jostling and hitting resulted in several bloody skirmishes and injuries as many were knocked to the ground or drug into the street.

Finally, the mob became a riot of over a thousand. Only because of the “heroic efforts” of the Village Marshall, Edward Swain, and his deputies—themselves pummeled and injured—was Mertz saved, locked in a closet at the depot and whisked out of town before he was killed.

The Kewanee Independent headline declared “Hoodlums Rule.” The front-page article began: “Last Monday night, our town was the scene of one of the most disgraceful mobs that was ever witnessed or ever permitted at this place. Mob rule always results in disgrace to those who take part in it and not only this, but reflects on the rest of the community severely.”

Other newspapers from Toulon and Bradford to Galva and Woodhull; even Bushnell, Orion and Geneseo condemned, reprimanded or castigated the rioters and called for them to be promptly arrested, swiftly brought before the bar of justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Ham’s presentation will outline his research into the causes of this “Murderous Riot,” the people involved, the numerous assaults and the trial and conviction of the worst of the rioters.

Previously, Ham has discussed his findings in three separate and well-attended presentations in Kewanee. The Kewanee Library Board Room was nearly at capacity and two presentations at Courtyard Estates were well attended. A great deal of discussion ensued and both Catholics and Protestants described long ago forgotten discussions with their parents and grandparents about discrimination and undercurrents of hostility or suspicion of each other.


This is a must-see presentation if you want to know what happened, who was involved and how the event was reported both in Kewanee and the surrounding area.

Ham’s presentation will begin at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, July 22, 2017 in the basement of the Toulon United Methodist Church at 229 W Main Street in Toulon.

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