Thompson on Ray
Thompson tells a Ray tale

From the history book "Stories of Indiana" by James Maurice Thompson, published in 1898. The Fairfield-born author describes an event that occurred during the administration of James B. Ray, governor of Indiana in 1824-31. Ray, from Brookville, was governor long before Thompson was born in 1844, so this story may not be legitimate, but it probably has some validity. It's likely the two knew each other at some point. Thompson's account of a murder trial and public execution in Pendleton in 1825:

Governor James Brown Ray was, perhaps, the most eccentric man ever elected to the highest office in Indiana. He was very vain and fond of impressing everybody with a sense of his distinguished abilities and exalted official position. It was his habit to register his name in public places "J. Brown Ray, Governor Indiana," as if he were signing an official document. Whenever it was possible, he made a spectacular exhibition of himself before the people. In both dress and manner he sought to attract wondering attention. On one occasion he took advantage of the scene of a public execution of three murderers to make a melodramatic display.

It was in 1825. Three white men had been condemned to death by hanging for the crime of killing some inoffensive Indians. The execution was to be at Pendleton. The prisoners were a father and son and the father's brother-in-law. The son, a mere youth, had aroused the sympathy of the people, and an appeal to Governor Ray for clemency had been signed by a great many.

On the day set for the execution the two older men were hanged, while the boy sat by on his coffin, awaiting his turn at the rope's end. A vast crowd was present to witness the terrible stroke of justice. The murder had been a most revolting one, in which men, women, and children had shared alike, but when the poor, trembling boy stood upon the scafald, wildly and pathetically gazing around, everybody felt sorry for him, and hoped that Governor Ray would pardon him. Time passed, yet no word came from the executive, and the drop was about ready, when a wild shout went up from the multitude.

Then all eyes saw Governor J. Brown Ray galloping majestically along in the direction of the gallows. He was mounted upon a superb horse splendidly caparisoned, and was himself dressed in the finest attire. His face wore a look of supreme self-importance. While the crowd gazed, he rode majestically to where the half-crazed young culprit stood, sprang from his saddle, and mounted the scaffold.

"Young man," he said in a loud voice, "do you know who now stands before you?"

"No, sir," answered the trembling boy.

"Well, sir, it is time that you should know," continued the governor, drawing himself up stiffly. "There are, sir, but two beings in the great universe who can save you from death; one is the great God of Heaven, and the other is James Brown Ray, Governor of Indiana, who now stands before you. Here is your pardon. Go, sir, and sin no more!"

It is perfectly safe to say that a governor of Indiana who should nowadays grant a pardon with a display like that would be looked upon as crazy.



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