By Diane Euston
Some of Kansas City’s darkest days don’t get the attention they deserve, and as historians take a fresh look at some events that stain our past, we are able to learn more about a city in midst of massive change – a community made up of new arrivals from across the ocean and other places.
These people had much in common even though they came from different cultures – they wanted a better life for their families. Kansas City in the 1880s was a melting pot, and sometimes this melting pot reached a boiling point as it pertained to race relations.
The second death of a Kansas City police officer by gunfire in the city’s history was a sad event on its own. However, the events that followed included the only documented lynching of a Black man in our city’s history.
He was innocent.
On April 3, 1882, two men – one a white, Irish-born police officer and the other a Black, Mississippi-born laborer, were murdered. Both were described as being loving husbands and devoted fathers.
The stories of these men are equally important; however, the aftermath of this tragedy was far from equal. Some could even argue that both victims never got the justice they deserved.
Born in 1843 in Ireland, Patrick Jones landed in Kansas City after some time in Omaha. There, he married 22-year-old Irish-born Mary Flahive in 1869.
Irish immigrants were attracted to Kansas City due to the community built here. This started with Bernard Donnelly seeking out the Irish to cut away the bluffs and continuing with the work required in the railroads, stockyards and other growing industries.
Evidence of the Irish influx in Kansas City can be seen just by uttering the last name “Pendergast.” Starting with James (1856-1911), the Pendergasts became influential in the politics of the city. He got his start in the West Bottoms, and in the 1880s, he purchased a saloon and hotel in the West Bottoms. There, many Irish families had established themselves.
Patrick Jones worked as a laborer and lived in what was then known as “West Kansas” – and what we know now as the West Bottoms. By the mid-1870s, Patrick was working as a fireman as the driver of the hose carriage for Hose Company No. 1 where he was “a faithful and popular member” of the department.
He hung up his fire hose to become a patrolman for the Kansas City Police Department and continued to live and work in the West Bottoms. By 1882, he and his wife, Mary had welcomed five children: Mary, Patrick, James, John and Margaret and had set up a nice little home at 1327 St. Louis Ave.
Levi Harrington was born about 1851 in Mississippi although many accounts indicate he was born around 1860. By 1870, he and his family were living in Lincoln County not too far away from 14-year-old Maria Robinson. The two would marry within three years and start their own family.
History tells us that Reconstruction post-Civil War lasted until 1877. In order to protect African Americans, federal laws were established in order to ensure that the South re-entered into the Union and persecution of newly-freed slaves was pacified. This included placing federal troops in the South. When these troops left, crime against African Americans increased dramatically.
In 1879, a large influx of African Americans fleeing the South (predominantly from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) headed to Kansas. This group of approximately 6,000 African Americans became known as “Exodusters.”
It’s very likely that Levi Harrington was one of the Exodusters who fled Mississippi in order to build a better life with his growing family. Levi and Maria had four daughters before leaving Mississippi in 1879: Florence, Rose, Dora and Luella.
Joining Levi and his family to Kansas City was his older brother, John and his wife’s entire family. His father-in-law, Isaac Robinson (b. c.1835) was born into slavery and wanted to ensure his children were given every opportunity available. In his eyes, this meant ensuring his children were educated. He, along with Levi and Maria, couldn’t read or write, and it’s quite possible that both Levi and his wife, Maria were former slaves. When the Robinson’s left Mississippi, they traveled with their nine children and Levi’s family.
These families chose the West Bottoms on the Missouri side of the state line where jobs were readily available. Isaac Robinson set up his large family in a home at 1714 W. 9th St. and Levi and his family lived in “the rear” of the home.
The Murder of Patrick Jones
On Monday, April 3, 1882, Patrick went to work as usual patrolling the West Bottoms near his home. About 7 pm when he was off-duty, he walked along St. Louis Ave. toward his home when a local grocer name George Miller stopped to talk to him about the upcoming elections. The two men went next door to Fleming’s Boarding House.
Patrick’s wife, Mary stepped outside to let her husband know dinner was on the table. At nearly the same time, two African American men walked by. One was carrying a pail of butter and another had a sack over his shoulder.
George Miller thought they looked suspicious, and he turned to Patrick and said, “Stolen goods.” Patrick then took chase of the two men down St. Louis Ave. At a vacant lot on 9th St. between Hickory and Liberty Streets, one of the men turned around and fired three shots at the police officer.
Everyone in the neighborhood heard the shots echo throughout the community. Mary Jones dropped everything in her kitchen and ran toward the gunfire. In the vacant, dark lot, she found her husband lying on the ground with his club and pistol secured at his waist. One bullet in the left side of his chest had torn through his lungs.
Patrolman Patrick Jones was dead.
The men that were said to have shot him split in two different directions and disappeared into the night. They left behind the pail of butter; the description on the bucket confirmed that the men had stolen it.
The community immediately went on the hunt to find whoever murdered Patrick Jones. Within minutes, it would develop into an uncontrolled mob.
The Lynching of Levi Harrington
31-year-old Levi Harrington headed to Monahan’s Saloon at 9th and Hickory St. to attend a political meeting. There, Levi met his friend Henry Lewis. The two grabbed a beer and stepped outside to talk before the meeting began. Joining them was Isaac Robinson, Levi’s father-in-law.
The three shots caught the men off-guard, but curiosity got the best of Levi. Knowing it was better to stay out of situations like this, Henry Lewis stayed behind as Levi went toward the gunshots.
It didn’t take long with the crowd gathering for Levi to figure out that Patrick Jones had been killed. The two knew each other; in fact, both got along quite well. As Levi turned around to return to the saloon, a blacksmith named M.V. Jones found Levi’s actions suspicious. He later claimed that the crowd had yelled that Levi was the man who shot Patrick Jones.
M.V. Jones apprehended Levi Harrington and turned him over to the police at an outpost near Union Depot. A dozen officers had arrived at the scene.
George Miller, the grocer who had been with Patrick Jones before the shooting, took a look at Levi and said it didn’t look like either of the men he saw carrying the stolen goods.
Despite this, liquor freely poured in the saloons and the tragic event itself fueled a large crowd that demanded that Levi Harrington be turned over to them. The police grew concerned about the mob and decided to move with Levi to a safer location. The plan was to take him to the main prison near the City Market.
As the police moved with Levi down the street, they sought cover temporarily in a restaurant on Union Avenue. In just minutes, that location became dangerous. The crowd swelled to over 300 people as the officers exited the restaurant and rushed Levi down the street. The mob followed the police officers and Levi Harrington up Union Ave. and over a bridge carrying traffic over Bluff St.
Officers were pelted with stones, and someone (possibly the blacksmith M.V. Jones) threw a noose around Levi’s neck. The mob overpowered the officers on the bridge, and two unidentified men threw Levi Harrington over the side.
People in the crowd then shot Levi until the noose gave way and he fell on the railroad tracks below.
The crowd was unaware that Kansas City, Kan. police officers had apprehended a notorious criminal named George Grant shortly after the shooting on suspicion he was the murderer and were holding him in the Wyandotte County Jail. The police kept this quiet because of the mob.
It was too late. Levi Harrington, who had left the South to escape growing racial tensions, was dead.
George Grant, “a large man with a countenance unusually repulsive,” was announced just days later as the likely murderer of Patrick Jones. Several reliable witnesses said Grant had told him that he had shot Jones. When he was arrested, officers found several 32 caliber cartridges in his pocket.
In July 1882, his first of several trials began. Witnesses said he had made statements in the past “that he would kill the first blue coat who tried to arrest him.” He was found guilty after a 20-minute deliberation and was sentenced to be hanged. The Kansas City Star reported, “It is now known as certainty that poor Harrington, the man lynched by the mob in West Kansas on the night of the murder, was an innocent individual.”
The success was short-lived. His case was overturned by the supreme court multiple times. Even though two juries had found Grant guilty, the supreme court “decided there was reasonable grounds for granting a new trial and remanded the case for its fourth hearing” in December 1883.
When prior witnesses couldn’t be located, the prosecution presented Grant with a plea deal. He pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Levi Harrington’s death was also investigated by the police commissioners. After listening to witnesses, it was said there was no guilt by any of the officers present; the crowd had overpowered them. Testimony from witnesses placed blame of the lynching on blacksmith M.V. Jones and grocer George Miller. A grand jury indicted them in June 1883 for first degree murder.
Miller’s case was later dismissed for lack of evidence, and M.V. Jones was tried twice. Both trials ended in a hung jury.
In all, one man served two years in prison for the murder of Patrick Jones, and Levi Harrington’s murderers – whoever they were – never served time.
The Widows and Children
Mary Jones and her five children were left without a husband or father. Patrick Jones didn’t have life insurance, and Mary was pregnant with her sixth child that would be born four months later.
Patrick Jones’s fellow officers got together and ensured that Mary was taken care of, and the police commissioners made sure that Mary would receive her husband’s salary for the rest of the year.
All of Mary’s children lived to adulthood, and one daughter married John J. Pendergast, Jim and Tom’s brother. Patrick Jones’s widow died at the home of one of her daughters in 1925 and had six grandchildren.
Levi Harrington’s family did not receive as much financial support from the community. One white man who had employed Levi did write the Kansas City Star asking for people to donate to the funeral expenses. Levi is buried at Union Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Maria, Levi’s widow, was “left with four small children and no means of support except the wash tub.” She continued for several years to live in the rear of her father, Isaac’s home with her children. In the late 1880s, the family moved to Kansas City, Kan.
Maria later remarried a man who worked in the packing houses named Mitchell White. Her father, Isaac passed away in 1904. As a true testament to overcoming obstacles, it was noted that Isaac and his wife, Elizabeth were the parents to 12 children and were able to send most of their children to college. Four of their daughters became teachers, one became a minister and another was a contractor.
Their daughter, Maria didn’t get the chance to go to college, but her life was spent ensuring her children had better opportunities. When Maria passed away in 1923, there was no mention of the lynching of her first husband or of the tremendous obstacles put in front of her. Instead, her obituary noted she “was one of the most beloved women of the community and at no time, hour of the night was it too stormy for her to go to the rescue, or give service to those who called upon her.”
I always try to find living relatives in order to complete these stories I write, and I was quite surprised to find that Levi and Maria’s daughters were all married but only one had a child. Levi and Maria’s grandchild was born in 1892 and was named Frederick Douglass Lytle. He passed away in 1962 without having any children; thus, Levi Harrington’s direct line died out.
Remembering Levi Harrington and Patrick Jones
Levi Harrington’s lynching is commemorated in a plaque placed at Case Park in 2018 overlooking the spot where the Bluff St. Bridge once stood. In 2020, the marker was cut from the pole that supported it and was thrown over the cliff below.
Those wishing to honor this tragic yet important part of our city’s history didn’t lose their determination. In 2021, another ceremony took place and the marker was restored in its rightful place.
Patrolman Patrick Jones is one of 119 Kansas City police officers that have died protecting our city. Levi Harrington is one 59 documented lynchings in Missouri between 1877 and 1950. The marker and the events in April 1882 are important to our past – they are important in order to honor the progress we have made and the wounds that still must be healed.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com