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Fourth of July Tragedy at Hyde Park


July and August 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, July 7, 1863.


Immense Crown—A Wild Riot—The Rioters Fired Upon—Innocent Persons Killed.

A series of aggravated disturbances, resulting in the immediate killing of five persons, and the wounding of about a dozen others, some of them fatally, disgraced the afternoon of the Fourth, at Hyde Park.

Extensive preparations had been made by the lessee of the Park, Mr. Kuhlage, to attract thither crowds of men, women and children for the enjoyment of the national festival, and multitudes flocked to the place. Among them came large throngs of soldiers, principally paroled Union prisoners, from Benton Barracks. Their officers had given them the day for recreation, and they were bent upon making the most of it. It is not true, as has been reported, that they came to the Park with arms, except so for as, like other citizens, they may have had knives or pistols concealed on the person. Nor does it appear that they were intoxicated when entering the Park. The cause and the occasion of the subsequent difficulty, so far as we could learn them, are about as follows:

Among the soldiers of Benton Barracks, or a considerable portion of them, had sprung up a feeling inimical to Mr. Kuhlage, they accusing him of being a secessionist, refusing to hoist the national flag till compelled, &c., &c. The Park being in the neighborhood of the Barracks, soldiers were frequently calling there for beer, and occasional difficulties occurred to aggravate the animosity. It is alleged that, when out of funds, some of the paroled soldiers persistently drank and failed to pay. It is also averred that, in view of the feeling of certain soldiers and in consequence of their threats, number of citizens refrained from visiting the Park on the Fourth, through apprehensions of a riot. On that day, however, affairs there seemed progressing as smoothly as could be reasonably desired until about 2 P. M.

By that hour, the beer and other liquors furnished at the place, having flowed copiously, produced their natural effect, rendering hundreds noisy and excitable, and producing frequent but comparatively harmless altercations. At the front gate much disturbance arose from the numbers crowding for admittance, while the entrance was narrow, and the slow process of ticketing was adhered to. Reckless youths, and bad “boys of larger growth,” forces ingress from all quarters by tearing off boards from the fence. A force of policemen was sent for, but order was restored by District Provost Marshal Allen, who was opportunely on the ground, and who stationed a half dozen guards, of the 2nd Missouri Artillery (a company of whom were quartered within the enclosure) at the front gate. Soon after 3 P. M. a violent quarrel arose in the bar-room in the east end of Kuhlage’s house, from the bar-keeper not returning, in one instance, the amount of change claimed. Becoming fearful of a riot, Mr. K. refused to sell any more beer to the applicants, who were thus only the worse incensed. The bar-keeper was so hardly pressed, and so impudent that he suddenly drew both a pistol and a bowie knife and with the latter cut a soldier in the arm. This was the signal for a general onset upon the establishment, the barkeeper and other employees, with soda and wine bottles, boxes, chairs, benches, rocks and every other missile available. The barkeeper and those with him were completely overpowered, but escaped with bruised persons and torn clothes, while the work of destruction went on till almost everything frangible was smashed. Doors were stoven in, window sash and glass broken, counters overturned and wrecked, shelves torn down, furniture shattered, stoves kicked over, pantries demolished, and the dining room and parlor sacked, while little and ineffective opposition was made. Consternation seized the peaceful visitors at the tables in the grove, and a multitude of frightened men, women and children rushed “helter-skelter” for the gate. Fair ones and weak ones were thrown down in the crowd, and several narrowly missed being trampled to death. The police and guards, however, kept back the crowds in time to prevent such disaster. Captain Allen hastened to the scene of strife at the first outbreak, and sought to employ a force of the artillery company referred to, but the men failed to recognize his authority; their Captain was not at hand, and they refused to “go in.” Taking, however, three of the guard from the gate, he led them with presented bayonets to the spot, and succeeded at last in quelling this disturbance. Meanwhile a policeman had attacked and kicked one of the rioters, who soon after returned upon him; but the officer was aided by a person who charged the disturber with stealing a coat, on which the “star” took the accused into custody and began walking with him toward the gate. Two military officers attended the policeman, and protected him from the crowd that thronged to effect a rescue. A “big bully” at length interfered and “pitched into” the policeman, who was compelled to let the prisoner go and defend himself. While doing this he found himself falling into a perilous minority, and concluded to retreat. Exhibiting a pistol to keep his adversaries at bay, he made fleet steps from the premises. Another policeman fared worse, and only escaped after very rough usage. The reinforcement of “stars”sent for arrived, but numbered only some fifteen, and being without muskets, could effect little. Mr. Kuhlage and family improved the earliest opportunity to leave the establishment, which had now no other protection than the few guards and police could give.

After restoration of quiet, things continued measurably tranquil till about 5 o’clock, when another cause of dissatisfaction appeared in the failure of the greatly advertised balloon to realize the anticipations excited. The hour of its ascension had long passed, and the protracted efforts to patch it and fill it excited the derision of the crowd. Added was the irritating fact that hundreds had each paid fifty cents to “see the balloon and horse go up,” while hundreds of others enjoyed equal facilities even if the ascension should take place, by having paid an admission fee of only 25 cents. Besides many declared that the Park belonged to the city, and that the lessee was prohibited from ever asking any admission fee. In half an hour more the partly filled balloon bag upset (!) and thereby upset entirely the self-restraint of a crowd of spectators, who first cheered, then [illegible], and next rushed upon the balloon! Seizing it by the [illegible] as they pulled it upon the fire, and soon saw it go up in [illegible] smoke. A party thereupon rushed for the small structure [illegible] were stored the “magnificent fireworks” that were to be “let off” from the place at night. The fireworks were summarily made a bonfire of, going off with a brilliant rapidity, rarely achieved in pyrotechnics. All this was done in three or four minutes. The rioters next made a rush for Kuhlage’s house, to extend if possible, the work of destruction already wrought there.

At this instant was heard the long roll beating to quarters the soldiers of Captain Lauman’s company, 2d Missouri Artillery, located in the rear of the house and at the north end of the park. Speedily about twenty of the men were formed in line and advanced on a “double-quick,” and with muskets at “ready,” upon the riotou[s] crowd at the house. The depredators seemed in no hurry to cave, and [illegible] the word “Fire!” rang from the lips o[f] the commanding Lieutenant, and was answered by a crashing volley from the guns. A portion of the weapons were directed towards the southeast and others discharged in a southwesterly direction. The crowd east, ran, and that part of the field was cleared, but exhibited no person fallen or wounded. It is claimed the Lieutenant ordered the men to fire with blank cartridges only, and the order may have been to some extent obeyed, but bullets were distinctly heard whistling over the heads of the crowd.

In the other direction five persons were shot fatally. One was outside of the Park on the west of it. A ball passed through his head, killing him almost instantly. He was one of the paroled soldiers. Two others, also paroled soldiers, were shot down. One had a portion of his forehead and skull removed. He was afterward lifted, apparently dead, into a soda wagon and carried off. It is not since learned whither the body was taken, but no doubt is entertained of his death. A third was instantly killed by a ball shot through his person, entering at about the middle of the back. It is ascertained that his name is J. M. Smith, and that he was a private in Company B, 3d Mo. volunteers.

A young man of sixteen years, named Louis Francis Demette, a Frenchman, was instantly shot dead, the ball entering the back of the head and passing out at the right eye. He resided with his widowed mother at the corner of Broadway and Palm streets, and was here sole support as well as that of his younger brothers and sisters.

Another young man, by the name of Henry Nieters, ages sixteen years and a half, was similarly killed. The bullet entered the forehead and lodged in the lower portion of the back of the head. The youth sank and at once expired. He had just been conversing with a young man of his own age who had accompanied him to the Park, and who urged him to immediately leave. He declined, saying “Let’s go and see what’s the matter!” The other left, and Nieters proceeded a few steps after the charging soldiers, when the fatal ball pierced him. He was an orphan, a native of St. Louis, and employed by Mr. Siemers, jeweler, on the South side of Franklin avenue, between Fifth and Sixth streets, by whom he had been reared and was highly esteemed.

Among the wounded was James Odell, laborer, who received a bayonet cut in the head, another in the back and a third in the breast, besides being badly beaten with the butt of a musket. We do not learn what provocation, if any, he had given. He lies at his residence on the west side of 6th street, between O’Fallon street and Cass avenue.

Michael Banier, a youth of seventeen years, was wounded while standing at the front gate of the Park. The ball struck and broke his leg. He was picked up and conveyed to his home at Ninth and Wash streets, where amputation had to be performed.

A soldier of the 29th Missouri, who was on guard at the front gate, had his leg broken in like manner. He was taken to his quarters at Benton Barracks.

A woman whose name was not learned, received a severe wound in the mouth. Other persons whose names do not transpire, left or were carried from the ground with injuries of a less serious nature.

At about 11 o’clock Saturday night the Coroner held a brief inquest at Hyde Park, upon the bodies of Nieters and Demette, arriving in each instance at the conclusion that deceased had been murderously shot by a person or persons unknown to the jury. The name of Nieters could not be learned at the inquest upon him.

An inquest will to-day be held at Smither’s Undertaker’s shop, on Chesnut street, on the body of J. M. Smith. It is to be hoped that time and care will be taken to get impartial and intelligent witnesses, whose combined testimony will place the facts of this sad tragedy in their true light. Extreme statements are current for and against the actions of the soldiers in firing, and only the patient collection of details personally known to individuals, and the examination of their evidence can satisfactorily show where the truth lies.

To instance these extreme and contradictory statements—on one side it is opinioned that the crowd was fleeing when the order was given to fire, and on the other that the rioters were then about applying fire to the Park house, in the upper portion of which numbers of women and children had taken shelter.

The District Commandant, General Strong, has ordered that Colonel B. L. Bonneville, commanding at Benton Barracks, and Colonel Henry Almstedt, of the 2d Missouri Artillery, each instantly proceed to investigate the affair. It may be expected that their inquiries, with these of the Coroner’s jury, will assign the awful guilt of last Saturday’s bloodshed to the proper parties. It is important to know if the deceased were conducting innocently or otherwise, precisely what order was given, the occasion of it, and whether it was transcended in the firing.

At six o’clock yesterday morning a party of marauders and despoilers entered the deserted park and resumed the work of destroying what they could break. They helped themselves freely to the liquors remaining in casks, and actually rolled away without hindrance certain barrels of whisky from the premises. This conduct was in the vein of that of the previous day, when an entire load of lager casks were seized and drank. Yesterday noon District Provost Marshal Allen ordered Capt. Brown of the Provost Guard, to send twenty-five men mounted if practicable to take possession of the park, and keep off the thieves and malicious destroyers. At 6 P. M. the guard was relieved by police and a guard from the company of Capt. Lauman.