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Wesley Hicks and Jerry Taylor

Wesley Hicks and Jerry Taylor were two of the approximately 20 white men lynched in Kentucky between 1880 and 1950.  Their race and the unusual circumstances of the homicide accounts for the abundance of evidence.

Wesley Hicks, also known as Wes Hicks, was born around 1835, which put him around 50 years-old when he was lynched. He was a native of Simpson County, and his parents hailed from Pilot Knob, near Mitchellsville. He was married to Bettie Hicks, and they had a son William. Hicks served as a Union soldier and was injured in the line of duty during the Civil War.

Jerry Taylor was born around 1850 in Tennessee. He eventually moved up to Pilot Knob in Simpson County, Kentucky. According to the 1880 U.S. Census, Taylor lived a few houses down from Wesley Hicks. He was married to Lucy Taylor and had two sons and a daughter, Henry, John and Nancy. He was 35 when he was lynched. There is no record of employment on the 1880 census.

In early May 1885, Wesley Hicks and Jerry Taylor were accused of burning down the house and barn of James Wheeler in Simpson County, Kentucky. One newspaper described an old grudge between Hicks and Wheeler.  Two weeks after the burning of the dwelling and barn, the citizens apprehended Jerry Taylor and put a noose around his neck, forcing him to confess under the threat of hanging. The mob dragged both men to jail. A rumor circulated that Taylor intended to deny everything in court.  The mob broke into the jail and kidnapped Hicks and Taylor a second time.  The two men were told to confess to the crime or they would be shot on the spot. Hicks protested his innocence at first, but eventually admitted to the crime. Taylor did not argue his innocence.

Hicks and Taylor were also victim to criminally biased language used in newspapers at the time. The two men were called “firebugs” and “incendiaries” in two newspapers. The Louisville Courier-Journal printed a small article describing that law enforcement anticipated the lynch mob. Furthermore, the Hopskinsville Semi-Weekly Kentuckian condoned the homicide of both men, editorializing that “Simpson County needed a first class hanging for some time,” and that townspeople was reportedly very happy that the two men were hanged for their crimes, but wished the punishment was carried out by the due process of the law. Both men were hung from a tree near the Kentucky-Tennessee line, with “hundreds” of people showing up to see their bodies.

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