Skeleton of Jeff Davis – Sugarcreek, Ohio - Atlas Obscura

Skeleton of Jeff Davis

Sugarcreek, Ohio

Remnants of 19th century vigilante justice. 


Jeff Davis never did a single good thing in his life. He stole, raped and assaulted his way across Ohio, all with his middle finger to the law. That’s the story you’ll get from most of the people of Ragersville, Ohio. Just keep in mind, they lynched him in 1873.

After arriving in the US from Switzerland before the Civil War, Jeff Davis quickly took up a new name and a life of crime. He was imprisoned in 1868 for four years for attempted rape, and vowed that after he was released, he would have his vengeance on those who locked him up. He was released in 1872, but was quickly picked up again. Although he initially escaped, he was rounded up a final time and his arrest drew large crowds to the jailhouse where he was being held.

As he was awaiting his hearing, he continued his bad streak, cursing the crowd. Fed up with his lawlessness, the people of Ragersville took it upon themselves to rid the world of Jeff Davis. In a flurry of activity, Davis was beaten and then knocked over the head with a fire poker. The impact didn’t kill him and he was shot three times. After that didn’t work, Davis was hanged from a tree on the outskirts of town, giving the town a nickname that stuck, Hangtown.

Although Davis was clearly dead, his spirit seemed to hang around in schlocky horror-movie style. Buried after his lynching, Davis’ body was exhumed and taken to the home of a local doctor. The doctor’s son traded the skeleton for a box of cigars, and Jeff Davis’ skeleton subsequently traded hands many times. Moving from the doctor to an undertaker, the skeleton finally reappeared in the 1980s.

Ragersville had long been embarrassed of the lynching, and many suspect that Davis’ skeleton was hidden for that reason. Whatever the reason, the 19th century skeleton resurfaced and was placed in the Ragersville Historical Society. Today, the museum hosts both the skeleton of Jeff Davis, and the alleged fire poker that started his violent demise at the hands of a mob.

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October 24, 2011

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