125th anniversary of only fatal law-officer shooting in Mitchell’s history

One hundred twenty-five years ago today, City Marshal John Tyler Pierce was fatally shot in a Mitchell saloon.

It’s believed to be the only fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer in Mitchell and, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, was the first-ever death of a South Dakota law enforcement officer by gunfire.

Following is the weekly Mitchell Capital’s account of the incident, published two days afterward:

A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY

J.T. Pierce the City Marshal Shot Dead while Attempting to Arrest Hank Lewis, a Saloon Keeper.

Between two and three o’clock Wednesday morning a most horrid tradegy [sic] was enacted in Mitchell. The story is an old one, oft repeated and easily told. A midnight carousel in a saloon, a report of fire arms and the lifeless form of a human being rolls upon the floor. It comes home to us in an aggrevated [sic] form in this case because it has happened in our midst and the victim is a high officer of the law. But every night the tragedy is re-enacted in some corner of our fair land and every morning some community is stirred to its very center and some family gathers around the mangled form of a dear one whose life blood has gone to swell the offering which society makes on the alter of the traffic in rum.

The facts in the case as gleaned from eye witnesses who testified at the corner’s [sic] inquest are substantially these: At a late hour Tuesday night or rather early Wednesday morning, the night watchman, Louis Eller saw a light in the “Parlor Saloon” on Main street which has been kept by a notorious character named Henry Lewis. As the saloon was open at that hour in violation of the city ordi-nance the night watchman ordered Lewis to close the place. This Lewis refused to do, whereupon the officer attempted to arrest him and would have accomplished his purpose had it not been for the interference of bystanders. Eller then reported to police justice Abbey where he was instructed to secure a posse and have Lewis arrested. Eller secured the assistance of J.T. Pierce, the city marshal and John Lowell and Dan Collins both deputies of sheriff Alterton. These four proceeded in a body to the saloon, Collins taking his position at the front door, the other three entering from the rear with Pierce unarmed in advance. On entering Pierce said “what is the matter Henry?” Lewis dashed around behind the bar seizing a shot gun which he had loaded a short time before and leveling it at Pierce’s head, fired. The charge entered the right side of the face near the nose carried away the base of the brain and came out behind the right ear. Pierce fell heavily to the floor and death must have been instantaneoas [sic]. Lewis escaped through the back door to his rooms over the paint shop of Crawford & Bloss, where he is reported to have kept a house of ill fame and where he was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Collins soon after. He was arrained [sic] before Justice Abeby [sic] at the court house on Thursday afternoon. The examination was set for Wednesday, the 23rd of April, at 10 o’clock a.m.

An inquest was held at the court house Wednesday afternoon before A.S. Curtis, coroner. Night watchman Louis Eller, Dr. W.E. Crane, deputy sheriff D.W. Collins, deputy sheriff John Lowell and W.A. Sherwin one of the editors of the Mail testified to the facts as above. The jury composed of M.M. Hitchcock, Oliver Cronk and L.N. Gross rendered a verdict in in [sic] accordance therewith.

Henry Lewis the murderer is a man of more than ordinary intelligence, but is generally considered a hard character. He had been engaged in a number of rows the past winter and at the time of the shooting was under indictment for assault with intent to kill. Under these circumstances some people wonder why he should have continued to hold a saloon license from both city and county authorities.

John Tyler Pierce, our murdered marshal, has been a citizen of this county for the past two years. He removed here from Manches-ter, Iowa, in the spring of 1882, during the large emigration of that place to this part of Dakota. Mr. Pierce resided on his farm near Rome the first summer. Last year he had charge of the Mitchell Creamery, and had been City Marshal for about eight months. His term of office would have expired on the day of the shooting. In his official career he had gained the esteem of all classes of citizens by his impartial efforts to enforce the law. Mr. Pierce was a member of the G.A.R., having served his country three years in the war of the rebellion and having been engaged in nineteen different battles. A meeting of the members of Ransom post was held Wednesday, and committees appointed to take charge of the funeral and see that the family wants are supplied. Friends of the deceased have been telegraphed for and are expected here Thursday afternoon. The funeral will probably take place on Friday. The deceased leaves a wife and an adopted child.

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