On December 10, 1918, at the Union Pacific Railroad yard in Green River, Wyoming, a mob lynched Joel Woodson of Omaha, Nebraska. He’d moved to Green River three months before for employment, leaving his wife and family behind in Omaha.
Woodson, an African American janitor at the Union Pacific Social Hall, had ordered breakfast at the lunch counter. He asked for sausage, but the unidentified white waitress delivered fried mush. When the waitress informed him that his order could not be fulfilled, Woodson became enraged and called her a “damned liar.” She then hurled three salt shakers at Woodson from the counter. It’s unclear whether she misinterpreted the order, the sausage was unavailable, or she didn’t care about Mr. Woodson’s preferences.
Railroad switchmen Ed Miller and E.J. Curtis were drawn to the ruckus. They took Woodson to the door, slapped him on the back, and advised him to leave before something worse happened. Woodson returned to his Union Pacific Social Hall room to collect his revolver, enraged by the treatment he had gotten in the company restaurant.
When Woodson returned to the restaurant, where Miller and Curtis had just finished their breakfast and were leaving, he drew his handgun and warned the two men that they would never touch him again. He started shooting, hitting Miller twice in the chest and instantly killing him.
Curtis was shot in the wrist while attempting to flee to the Union Pacific Depot. Woodson attempted to flee after both men were shot, but was apprehended nearby at Peter’s Garage by Special Officer Matt McCourt, who detained him and lodged him into the Sweetwater County Jail in Green River.
A big throng of outraged white men gathered and marched to the jail after learning of Miller’s death, demanding that Woodson be handed over to them. Attorney T.S. Taliaferro attempted to calm the crowd of approximately 500 men, but he just enraged them further. Meanwhile, officers worried about the mob’s intentions hid Woodson in the jail’s coal bin to keep him safe. He was located, apprehended, and hauled to the depot by the enraged men. Woodson’s head smacked the railway rail as they pulled him across the yard, knocking him out.
Joel Woodson was hanged in front of the Union Pacific Depot from a telegraph pole. The mob dispersed within five minutes following the hanging. Meanwhile, until Rock Springs coroner Frank Rogan arrived, Woodson’s lifeless body hung from the pole for three hours. The body of Joel Woodson was cut down from the telegraph pole and sent to Rock Springs for burial. Woodson’s grave has yet to be discovered.
County Attorney Fred W. Johnson promised to convene a grand jury to look into the lynching of Woodson. However, no one from the gang has ever been recognized. Joel Woodson was lynched on the morning of December 10, 1918, but no charges were filed.