Cover image for Kansas Charley : the story of a nineteenth-century boy murderer
Kansas Charley : the story of a nineteenth-century boy murderer
Brumberg, Joan Jacobs.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 273 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
General Note:
Map on lining papers.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
HV6248.M4975 B78 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
HV6248.M4975 B78 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Most Americans regard "kids who kill" as a problem unique to our era. But in historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg's important new work, Kansas Charley , she reminds us that it is, tragically, a long-standing dilemma. Through the moving tale of Charles Miller, Brumberg takes us into a world of poverty, tragedy, and abuse, of people and places that shaped Miller's behavior, his crime, and his punishment. Orphaned at the age of six, Charles Miller failed to find a safe home, and, at the age of fourteen, was riding the rails under the self-styled moniker "Kansas Charley." Then, on a September evening in 1890, when he was only fifteen, Miller shot and killed two other young men in a boxcar headed for Wyoming. Guilt ridden, Miller gave himself up. His trial lasted just three days, ending in a death sentence that resulted in his controversial 1892 hanging. Some Americans thought the boy's execution was barbaric while others hailed it as an act of justice. Brumberg tells Miller's story with clarity and compassion, suggesting that then, as now, the decision to execute was politically motivated. Kansas Charley brings vividly to life a thought-provoking chapter in the history of American juvenile justice. It also sheds light on our contemporary predicament, encouraging us to think about what it means for the United States to continue to uphold the juvenile death penalty in the twenty-first century.

Author Notes

Professor of human development at Cornell University, Joan Jacobs Brumberg has devoted much of her energy to studying the social experiences of 13-21 year old girls in the United States over the past 100 years. Her numerous papers and books deal with a wide range of cultural issues: the changing social and cultural experience of menarche and menstruation; the changing nature of educational and work opportunities; parenting; popular culture and leisure; and diseases of girls. In 1988, she published Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease. In 1997, The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls was published.

Brumberg holds a B.A. in history from the University of Rochester (1965) and a Ph.D. in American social and cultural history from the University of Virginia (1978).

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this elegantly written but overly sentimental history, Brumberg (Fasting Girls: A History of Anorexia Nervosa), a professor of history at Cornell, delivers a doggedly compassionate portrait of a 15-year-old orphan who committed a seemingly motiveless double murder more than 100 years ago. On September 27, 1890, Charley Miller-who adopted the swaggering hobo sobriquet "Kansas Charley"-fatally shot two older teenage boys in a boxcar as it rolled through Wyoming, a crime that both shocked and fascinated the Victorian sensibilities of 19th-century America. Beset by guilt and living a desperate, transient existence, Miller later confessed to the crime, was arrested and naively told his story to an ambitious newspaperman. Soon after, sensational accounts of the "boy murderer" were making front-page headlines across the country, provoking a storm of debate about the morality of executing a juvenile. Several powerful political figures-some advocating leniency and others harsh justice-faced off over the issue, but two years later, Kansas Charley was convicted and subsequently hanged. Brumberg's scholarship is impressive (the extravagant media attention at the time produced an unlikely trove of documentation), and she diligently reconstructs the circumstances of Miller's short and unfortunate life, while exposing the class divisions and political motivations that ultimately condemned the boy. But it is also evident that Brumberg came to the project with preconceptions about the immutability of childhood innocence, and accordingly, her account is somewhat colored by personal sympathies and a proclivity for armchair psychologizing. Without excusing Miller's crime, Brumberg uses his story to advance an argument against the juvenile death penalty-a divisive issue that continues to be debated in American courts. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Historian Brumberg (Cornell Univ.; Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa) brings a deep understanding of the American adolescent experience to her careful research of the life and trial of Charley Miller, a 15-year-old who murdered two other boys while riding the rails out West and was eventually hanged in 1892. Refuting the idea that boys who kill are a modern phenomenon, she reconstructs Charley's life while drawing modern parallels with a justice system that doesn't differentiate between adults and juveniles. This riveting true story is propelled by Brumberg's passionate narrative, which never strays from the central question of adolescent responsibility. The book's first half follows Charley's rough journey from New York City orphanage to vagrant life along the railroads by age 13; the second half critiques the publicized trial and political pressure, resulting in the almost inevitable death sentence. The cumulative effect is a devastating portrait of a system that can seemingly only punish, not protect. A highly suitable choice for history collections of all sizes.-Elizabeth Morris, formerly with Otsego Dist. P.L., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Part 1
Chapter 1 The Cradle of Youthp. 11
Chapter 2 Becoming "Kansas Charley"p. 44
Chapter 3 "Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?"p. 66
Chapter 4 Attention, at Lastp. 85
Part 2
Chapter 5 In Courtp. 107
Chapter 6 Boys Don't Cryp. 126
Chapter 7 The Politics of Clemencyp. 155
Chapter 8 Acting Outp. 185
Chapter 9 A Stormy Aprilp. 202
Chapter 10 "I Can Die Game"p. 216
Afterwordp. 236
Notesp. 249
Indexp. 267