Sherman E. Eley was the 23rd sheriff of Allen County, serving from 1914 to 1918. His most notable act as Sheriff took place in August of 1916 when he prevented the lynching of an African American suspect. Charles Daniels allegedly attacked and raped 23-year-old Vivian Baber in her home on the morning of August 30, 1916. With-in 2 hours of the attack, Sheriff Eley and a posse located and arrested Daniels.
The next day gossip began to spread that Baber had died as a result of her attack. In response to this news, a group of men and women assembled at the court house demanding Daniels. The crowd quickly grew to an angry mob of hundreds. They ransacked the county jail and when there was no trace of Daniels they then broke into the Eley home, located directly next to the jail. Sheriff Eley’s wife and sister-in-law were both assaulted. The mob then turned their anger towards Sheriff Eley’s 3-year-old daughter, Doris. Though she was sick and in her bed with a fever they ripped the covers from her body. There was talk of tossing the child into the air but it was decided that keeping her as a hostage would serve their mission best.
Under the advice of prosecutor Ortha Barr, Sheriff Eley had already transferred Daniels to the Ottawa Jail. When he arrived home to the mob he attempted to hide next door but was quickly discovered and forced into the street. Even after a noose was placed around his neck and he was forced to a pole, Sheriff Eley still refused to disclose Daniels’s location. A firetruck was brought in to help control the crowd but the mob slashed a rear tire within moments. Barr then made his way to the front of the crowd and convinced Sheriff Eley to divulge Daniels’s whereabouts. For the first time during this ordeal, Sheriff Eley told the mob that Daniels could be found in the Ottawa jail.
The mob quickly made their move and headed to Ottawa, abducting Sheriff Eley and tying him spread-eagle to the hood of a hijacked creamery truck. Hundreds of rioters were in route to Ottawa when Barr notified the Ottawa Police. Ottawa Police ushered Daniels toward Napoleon. While the mob entered the Ottawa Jail, citizens of Ottawa rescued Sheriff Eley and sought sanctuary for him in a hotel. And then moved Sheriff Eley again when the angry mob was held off by Lima Police after not being able to find Daniels.
Threats and rumors of violence remained after the night in Ottawa. Approximately 200 African American citizens quickly and quietly left Lima. What finally calmed the angry crowd? The death of little Doris Eley. Her last words recalled the terror she had lived the day before: “Mama, don’t let them get me!” When the news of her death traveled to the crowd still outside the jail they quietly dispersed. Law was then quickly restored. Nearly 30 rioters appeared in court and Sheriff Eley testified at many of their trials.
Daniels was found guilty of assaulting Baber and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Contrary to the rumors, Baber had survived the assault and gave birth to a baby girl in January of 1917.
In December of 1916, the NAACP awarded Sheriff Eley with a loving cup with the inscription “For devotion to duty in defending a colored prisoner from lynching, enduring injury and insult that the majesty of the law might be upheld at Lima, Ohio, August 30, 1916.”. He received the cup at a ceremony in Columbus.
Horsten, Greg. “Reminisce: Allen County Sheriff Prevents a Lynching in 1916.” The Lima News, 26 Dec. 2017, The Lima News .