Weld County's Past

Explore the fascinating history of Weld County's rustlers, killers, outlaws and lawmen.

Part VII: Newspapers across Colorado and America report the lynching of W.D. French

The Greeley Tribune
December 30, 1888
Judge Lynch Takes Charge of Suspected Murder

Ever since the arrest of W. D. French for the murder of Harry Woodbury, public feeling has been very strong against him not only in Evans, which was his home, but also in Greeley and everywhere in the county where he was well known.


The Howitzer
F. C. Messinger, Publisher
Greeley, Colo., Jan. 4, 1889

The end of the murder case was reached last Friday night by the hanging of French in the yard of the jail by persons unknown to us or others not engaged in the work. The preliminary examination before Justice Willard was nearly completed at the hour of adjournment on Friday afternoon and we heard the opinion expressed that French would most probably be turned loose on bail.


The Denver News
French, the Murderer of Woodbury, Hung to a Cottonwood

Greeley, Colo, Dec. 29 – A cottonwood tree, a dangling rope encircling a man’s neck and a grim, determined crowd were the final features in the life of French, the murderer of Woodbury, at Evans on the 14th instant. Early risers this morning were horror stricken to observe, as they passed the Court House, the body of a man suspended by the neck to a tree. Everyone knew without question who the victim was, as threats have been made for some days that the only sure way to mete out justice in this case was to take the case away from the courts, where the indications were that punishment inflicted would be inadequate. Although the community was shocked, it was not surprised.


Ft. Morgan Times
Jan 4, 1889.

A Masked Mob Takes a Change of Venue to Higher Court.
The dawn of morn on Wednesday revealed a ghastly spectacle to the citizens of Greeley. On a cottonwood tree in front of the court house, suspended at the end of a rope, dangled the lifeless body of W.D. French, the accused murderer of Harry Woodbury.


The Aspen Daily Times
Jan 1, 1889

The quiet town of Greeley has been the scene of a lynching affair. A murder had been committed under peculiarly brutal circumstances and the people of that generally law-abiding place, fearing that the wealthy criminal would escape punishment, took the law into their own hands and strung the wretch up to a convenient tree. Such occurrences forcibly bring to mind the fact that the law itself is partly responsible for them.


Castle Rock Journal
Jan 2, 1889

The Villain who Murdered Woodbury at Greeley two Weeks ago. Particulars.

Greeley, December 28. A large body of men secured Sheriff Wolaver last night, and failing to get the keys of the jail, tore away the brick work around the door. They opened the outer door, broke the locks off, destroyed the cages and took out W D French and hanged him to a tree near the jail.


Fort Collins Courier
Thursday, January 8, 1889

The hanging of W.D. French last Saturday morning at Greeley by a vigilance committee should be a lesson to those whose ungovernable passions prompt them to estimate so lightly the value of a human life. French was charged with murdering Harry Woodbury in the presence of the latter’s wife and children on the 14th of December last at the little town of Evans, in a cowardly and unprovoked manner. French was wealthy and his victim poor…


The New York Times
December 30, 1888

DENVER, Dec. 29. Word from Greeley, Col., has been received to the effect that a mob early this morning overpowered the jailer, broke open the jail, and took out W.D. French, who, two weeks ago murdered Harry Woodbury, and hanged him to a tree near the Court House. None of the men are known.


LANCASTER, Mo., December 29. (WD French’s hometown newspaper)

A telegram was received here today from Sheriff Welaver, of Greely, Colo., that Wilber D. French was taken from the county jail at that place last night and hanged on a tree for the murder of Harry Woodbury on December 14. Wilber French was raised in this county, and was the second son of Edwin French, one of the pioneers of the county, and for many years a leading merchant and now a wealthy and respected citizen of this city. Wilbur was for several years Deputy Circuit Clerk here, and went to Colorado about fifteen years ago and amassed a fortune in livestock. The news of his lynching creates a sensation here, as his immediate relatives are prominent in our social and business circles.


Fort Worth Daily Gazette
Dec. 30, 1888
A Colorado Lynching

Indignant Citizens Cannot Wait for the Law to Take its course in the case of W. D. French.


Helena Independent
Jan 1, 1889
Hung him to a tree


Omaha Daily Bee
Dec. 30, 1888
Lynch Law
A Murderer Taken from the Greeley, Colo. Jail and Hanged.


Los Angeles Times December 29, 1888
W. D. French Lynched for Murder.


Salt Lake Daily Herald December 29, 1888


The Mineola Monitor January 3, 1889



St. Paul Daily Globe Dec. 30, 1888
Judge Lynch’s Prey


Tombstone Daily Prospector Thursday Jan. 1, 1889
A Murderer Lynched

Up Next: Witnesses testify at the WD French Coroner’s Inquest.

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  1. Mary November 19, 2017

    “He was wealthy and his victim poor. ”
    Someone thought that relevant. I guess they thought the wealthy man could pay his way out of jail and flee. Maybe so.

    “No perpetrator of the lynching is known. ”
    Somehow I doubt that.

    • admin November 19, 2017 — Post Author

      Astute observations Mary. We will be addressing “…at the hands of persons unknown” going forward. In fact, we will name several we believe we’re participants in the lynching!

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