Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not His First Time

Somebody did
In digging through newspaper archives, I’ve been using the word “sodomy” as one of my search terms. Most of the items I find are either quite brief (a list of upcoming court cases and the charges) or are just too horrific to make light of here (bluntly, homeless men molesting small children). But there was an odd comment in this article on a sodomy trial, published in the Bismark Daily Tribune on June 25, 1900.
The complaining witness was a 16-year-old boy who has been living with the hoboes and it is stated that this is not the first time he has been before the court as a witness in a similar case.
Clearly, being homeless should not make you a target for sexual assault. And, in 1900, it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that if a teenager has been sexually assaulted you might want to get him out of that situation. Perhaps some of the evidence introduced did deal with the young man’s recurrent testimony. It does, however, carry on a theme I’ve seen in which those accused of sodomy, when there are details, are often described as “hobos.”
Here’s the whole text from the Tribune:
Judge Glaspeli and Stenographer Rose have returned from Valley City where a term of the district court was concluded. The sodomy cases were heard behind closed doors, the general public being excluded. The parties implicated were all hoboes—Peter Johnson, Henry Herman, Chas. King and George Gill—and were arrested on the 7th inst. The complaining witness was a 16-year-old boy who has been living with the hoboes and it is stated that this is not the first time he has been before the clout as a witness in a similar case. The whole outfit was about as tough as they make them.

King fought his case out and was found guilty. Johnson and Herman plead guilty. Some new testimony was produced in Gill’s trial and he was acquitted. The three convicted were each given a sentence of three years in the penitentiary.
Clearly something sexual happened, given that Johnson and Herman plead guilty. Given the vagueness of the term (sodomy is a sort of catch-all, covering a wide variety of sexual activities), it’s impossible to say what happened. In 1900, consent wasn’t an issue; oral and anal sex were illegal for anyone to engage in, all we're left with is the newspaper's description of it being a "revolting crime."

This article raises more questions for me than it answers. In the "similar case," was he living with a different set of homeless men? What was that "new testimony" that got George Gill off the hook? Did the young man accuse Gill of sexual activity when none had taken place, was there some variety of sexual act that didn't quite count as sodomy, or was he some sort of accessory without being culpable?

The names are too common to be certain about what the future held for any of these gentlemen (probably nothing good), nor would there be any easy way to determine the identity of the young man who issued the complaint (the stenographer's transcripts are possibly in the archives of the North Dakota courts).
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