Lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson (1911)

Group of families on a bridge with the hanged bodies of Laura and Lawrence Nelson over the North Canadian River, six miles west and one mile south of Okemah, Oklahoma.
The lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson, Okemah, Oklahoma, May 25, 1911
Photograph by George H. Farnum, courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division under public domain

Laura and L.D. Nelson were a mother and son who were dragged from a jail and lynched in Oklahoma, on May 25, 1911. Austin Nelson married Laura in 1896, and their son, Lawrence, was born the following year. The Nelson family lived on a farm near Paden, Oklahoma, a largely white town. The 1910 census lists the Nelson family living in Pottawatomie County, with two children; L.D. (13 yrs old), and daughter Carrie (2 yrs old).

On May 1, 1911, Sheriff George Loney received a complaint of stolen cow from Claude Littrell’s property in Paden. Littrell obtained a search warrant from Justice of the Peace A. W. Jenkins, that allowed him to search the Nelson farm. The Sheriff meanwhile formed a posse, consisting of himself, property owner Littrell, neighbor and witness Oscar Lane, and Constable Cliff Martin. The group arrived at the Nelson farm on May 2, around 9:00 pm, and read the warrant to property owner Austin.

When meat allegedly from the stolen cow was found in the barn, L.D. grabbed a Winchester rifle hidden behind a trunk, while Laura grabbed another gun. A gunfight began, resulting in Constable Martin being grazed in the leg by a bullet. Sheriff Loney had taken shelter behind a wagon, but the bullet hit him in the hip, and entered his abdomen. No one knew he was shot until a ceasefire was called, and the Sheriff stood up, asked for a drink of water, walked outside, collapsed, and died within minutes. The Nelsons fled to a nearby relative’s home, but were arrested later that day.

Austin Nelson admitted the theft of the steer, and his son L.D. later confessed to pulling the trigger that killed Sheriff Loney. Although the Nelsons hired lawyers Blakely, Maxey & Miley, a firm in Shawnee to represent them, Austin pleaded guilty to larceny, and was sentenced to three years in Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Both Laura and her son L.D. were charged with murder, held on bail, while Baby Carrie, Laura’s child was taken into custody and jailed with her mother. Laura and her son, L.D., were set to be arraigned on May 25, but at around midnight on May 24, a mob of approximately 30 to 40 men arrived at the jail, and caught the jailer off-guard as he waited for an arriving detective.

The mob bound, gagged, and blindfolded the jailer. They took his keys, and dragged the Nelson family out to a bridge over the North Canadian River, six miles west and one mile south of Okemah. The men gagged and raped Laura repeatedly, while she clutched baby Carrie in her arms.

Both Laura and her son L.D. were hung from the bridge, and L.D. was castrated. The following morning the bodies were found hanging 20 feet below the middle span by a young boy gathering water, but were not cut down until after 11:00 am. Photographs were taken and later sold as postcards by photographer George Henry Farnum. A local woman picked up surviving baby Carrie from the ground where the mob had discarded her.  The woman took the baby home and raised her. What happened to Baby Carrie later in life is unknown. Perhaps her identity was changed for her protection. District Judge John Caruthers convened a grand jury investigation of the lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson on June 11, 1911 but no members of the mob were ever identified.