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The Near-Lynching of Houston Osborne, 1895

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Black and white photograph of inmate believed to be Houston Osborne, c.1895.

Photograph identified as Phil Rice but likely of Houston Osborne, taken c.1895. Phil Rice and Houston Osborne were both clients of Fredrick McGhee; however, Phil Rice was white, so he is unlikely to be the man in this photograph. A photograph identified as Osborne from the same collection resembles a courtroom sketch of Rice, so it is possible the attributions were switched.
Image reproduced by permission of Minnesota State Archives.

In the early morning of June 2, 1895, Houston Osborne, a young African American man, broke into Frieda Kachel's bedroom in her St. Paul home. When Kachel screamed, Osborne ran; he was caught and hanged from a cottonwood tree but let down before he died. He died in prison eighteen months later.

Race-based lynchings were a gruesome fact of life in the United States, especially in the South and Midwest, from the end of the Civil War until the mid-twentieth century. None is known to have occurred in the Twin Cities, but St. Paul came close with the near-lynching of Houston Osborne in 1895.

Osborne, born in Tennessee in 1867, appears to have been a rootless young man who drifted around the country working sometimes as a waiter. He arrived in the Twin Cities in the spring of 1895.

In the early hours of the morning of June 2, fifteen-year-old Frieda Kachel, sleeping in her house at the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and Iglehart Street in St. Paul, awoke to find Osborne in her room, his hand over her mouth. She screamed, rousing two sisters and her brother Anton, who lived next door at 1091 Iglehart. Osborne took off running west toward what was then open country.

Anton Kachel pursued Osborne, along with his brother-in-law and a neighbor. The three men also enlisted the help of some dairymen out with their animals. Though Osborne was later reported to be suffering from tuberculosis, press reports stated that the chase went on for over a mile until he was caught near Snelling Avenue and brought back to the corner of Lexington and Iglehart.

A crowd of about a dozen people gathered and someone suggested getting a rope. Anton Kachel fetched a long piece of window sash cord. As Osborne pleaded for his life, men pulled him to a cottonwood tree behind the house he had broken into. They tied one end of the rope around his neck and tossed the other over a bough. Osborne's feet were off the ground and his body twitching when Augusta Horst, a married older sister of Frieda Kachel's, persuaded the men to let him down. They then used the same rope to bind him and lead him to the Rondo Street police station.

Osborne's last-minute delivery from death was an unusual outcome for such a racially charged incident during the Jim Crow era. The St. Paul Globe treated the events as a thrilling adventure, with Osborne a "brute," his captors "resolute," their actions a "burst of righteous wrath."

The St. Paul Dispatch concluded—the next day—that Osborne was guilty of "the most dastardly and shameful crime in the annals of wickedness," and now "has no right to encumber the earth." That "shameful crime" was rape, presumably, though no rape had occurred.

Both the Globe and the Dispatch, however, expressed relief that Osborne had not been murdered. According to the Globe, only a "happy accident" had spared St. Paul "lasting regret." To the Dispatch writer, Frieda Kachel's sister had saved the city "the ineffable disgrace of a Negro lynching."

Lawyer Fredrick McGhee, one of St. Paul best defense attorneys, undertook Osborne's defense. The grand jury charged him with burglary and indecent assault. Though McGhee was known for taking his cases to trial, he quickly negotiated a guilty plea to the burglary charge (breaking and entering for the purpose of committing a felony). On June 24 Osborne received a ten-year sentence; he arrived at Stillwater Prison one week later.

Those who had urged Houston Osborne's death did not have to wait long. He died of tuberculosis at the prison on February 13, 1897. He was thirty years old.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Nelson, Paul D. Fredrick L. McGhee: A Life on the Color Line, 1861–1912. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002.

———. "'Hang him! That's the Best Way': A Lynching in St. Paul? Almost, in 1895, an Era of ‘Vigilante Justice' in the Nation." Ramsey County History 37, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 11–14.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of inmate believed to be Houston Osborne, c.1895.
Black and white photograph of inmate believed to be Houston Osborne, c.1895.
Black and white image of headline from the St. Paul Pioneer Press regarding the near-lynching of Houston Osborne, June 3, 1895.
Black and white image of headline from the St. Paul Pioneer Press regarding the near-lynching of Houston Osborne, June 3, 1895.
Black and white photograph of the police station at the intersection of Rondo Street and Western Avenue in St. Paul, c.1900.
Black and white photograph of the police station at the intersection of Rondo Street and Western Avenue in St. Paul, c.1900.
Frederick (or Fredrick) L. McGhee
Frederick (or Fredrick) L. McGhee

Turning Point

As Osborne hangs from a tree, Augusta Horst, Frieda Kachel's older sister, calls for him to be cut down. The lynchers relent, and Osborne lives.

Chronology

c.1867

Houston Osborne is born in Tennessee.

June 2, 1895

Osborne breaks into the home of the Kachel family at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Iglehart Street in St. Paul. He is confronted, caught after a long chase, brought back to the scene of the crime, and nearly lynched.

June 21, 1895

A grand jury indicts Osborne for burglary and assault. Bail is set at $1500.

June 24, 1895

Osborne pleads guilty to the burglary charge and is sentenced to ten years in prison.

July 1, 1895

Osborne arrives at Stillwater Prison.

February 13, 1897

Osborne dies of tuberculosis at Stillwater Prison.