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Skeleton of Jeff Davis.
Skeleton of Jeff Davis.

Skeleton of Jeff Davis in Hangtown

Field review by the editors.

Ragersville, Ohio

Among its varied collection of small town artifacts, the Ragersville Historical Society has preserved the copper kettle that made the first Swiss cheese in America, and the mementoes of Alta Weiss, an early lady baseball player.

But we were in town to scrutinize the skeleton of Jeff Davis, a well-preserved byproduct of the wisdom of crowds, 19th century style.

Jeff Davis was not Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. Ragersville's Jeff Davis was a drifter, thief, and assaulter of women who spent a lot of time in Ohio prisons. In fact, "Jeff Davis" was an alias (His real name was John Foanbeigen). "He was no good," said Ray Hisrich, president of Ragersville's historical society.

On July 26, 1873, Davis had just completed a jail term for attempted rape, and boasted that he'd get revenge on those who'd locked him away. He never had the chance. The citizens of Ragersville hauled him into the town schoolhouse for an impromptu re-trial, and someone whacked him over the head with a fireplace poker. Then he was tied to a horse and dragged through the streets. He was shot five times but was still alive, begging for mercy, when he was hanged from a tree on the east edge of town.

Ray Hisrich and prop skeleton.
Ray Hisrich shows off the prop version of Jeff Davis.

Davis's body was thrown into a sawdust pile, then dug out by a local doctor who kept it in his attic, then dumped just over the county line in an attempt to misdirect authorities who frowned on vigilante justice (It failed; for years Ragersville was nicknamed "Hangtown"). Davis was buried where he'd been dumped, later dragged out of the ground by another local doctor who boiled the meat off the bones and kept the assembled skeleton in his office.

When the doctor died, his son traded it for a box of cigars to a local barkeeper who wanted to hang Jeff Davis in the woods to scare raccoon hunters. His wife vetoed the idea, so the barkeeper sold the skeleton to a local undertaker, who hung it in a closet.

Davis passed from owner to owner for over a century, remaining a well-known local secret. It wasn't until 1980 that his skeleton resurfaced publicly in Ragersville, and in the 1990s it became a permanent exhibit in the historical society museum basement, sealed inside a glass case along with the original whackin' fireplace poker.

Historic schoolhouse was the court where Davis was summarily tried and sentenced.
Historic schoolhouse was the court where Davis was summarily tried and sentenced.

Ragersville no longer hides its past in a sawdust pile. Ray showed us a model skeleton and hanging noose that the town displays at its booth at the Tuscararus County flea market every June. Jeff Davis's glass case is festooned with newspaper accounts of his story, and with postcards and photographs of other vigilante hangings that have been sent to the museum over the years by supportive visitors.

"Everyone in town was involved, the entire town," said Ray of the lynching. "They took care of the situation. We really haven't had a whole lot of trouble since."

Also see: Elmer McCurdy, Hapless Criminal/Mummy

Skeleton of Jeff Davis in Hangtown

Ragersville Historical Society Museum

8800 Crooked Run Rd SW, Ragersville, OH
Ragersville Historical Society Museum. In the old Emmanuel Lutheran Church in the center of town, on the south side of Crooked Run Rd just west of Hwy 46/Ragersville Rd.
June-Oct. Su 1-4 pm or by appt. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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In the region:
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