The story of Butler County’s first civilian execution, which happened 151 years ago today

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Stunning aerial view of downtown Hamilton

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Editor’s Note: This story was first published on Aug. 8, 2017

A traveling wrestler and old-time Hamilton political bosses played a part in the hanging of the first civilian executed in Butler County, which happened 151 years ago today.

Local historian Richard O Jones highlighted those details during a talk in August 2017 at Miami University Hamilton’s downtown location.

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Irishman John Griffin, a jovial, large blacksmith, was the first of only two people executed in Butler County, not long after the Civil War.

A traveling New Jersey, wrestler, Uzile Prickett, making the rounds of the Midwest, “fought the best wrestler in Butler County,” Jones said.

Afterward, Prickett was found dead, and Griffin later paid the price in Hamilton.

“Three deserters were hung during the fort days, but John Griffin was the first of only two executions other than that, in Butler County,” after the town of Hamilton was established, Jones said.

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“It’s a pretty significant part of the county’s past. The story’s related even in the early history books, the 1888 history of Butler County, but also it kind of gives an insight into what Hamilton was like, back in those early days,” he said. “We don’t really think of Hamilton as a frontier town, along the lines of Tombstone or Dodge City, but pretty much, that’s what it was, back in those days.”

Griffin’s hanging took place March 5, 1869, and gave an eloquent speech on the gallows, proclaiming his innocence.

At that time, “Hamilton is still a very growing, and bustling, industrial city, but it’s still run by old-school political bosses, and a lot of that figures into this as well.”

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Hamilton didn’t have a police department back then, but it did have an elected constable. Situations like the one involving Griffin led to the creation of a police department within about a decade, he said.

“He got in a little bit of trouble during the Civil War,” said Jones, a former reporter for the Journal-News. “He was accused of manslaughter, and got off on that one by enlisting in the military. He served in the Union Army, instead of being tried for that.”

The hanging took place in a former jail on Court Street. It wasn’t a public hanging. Instead, a ticket was required for admission.