Wednesday, December 16, 2009
At length the horses gave out -- they could no longer draw the load through the mud; so three cavalrymen were ordered to take them in charge. The women protested, and begged consideration for their laces and valuable silk dresses, but without avail. They were compelled to evacuate the carriage and mount in front or behind the riders as each preferred, and thus they entered Franklin, literally covered with mud.
They were placed under guard at a hotel, and closely questioned by an officer, who seemed at a loss t know what to do with them, whether to send them south as spies, or send them adrift. At length, on Saturday [17th], the Federal cavalry came thundering along, and the women were left in their room. On Sunday night they arrived here, one of them riding behind a Federal guard, and the other two riding an old mule, and thus they were landed at the door of the Provost Marshal’s office, who, after taking evidence of their identity, discharged them.
Nashville Dispatch, December 22, 1864.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
On the Memphis Vigilance Committee:
EXPERIENCE OF A UNION MAN IN TENNESSEE.
His Arrest by a Vigilance Committee and incarceration in a Memphis Prison – Eighty five Union Men Whipped and have their heads shaved-the Cruelties of Siberia Exceeded-A Northern Woman Brutally beaten with a Knout – Escape to Cairo.
So many discrepancies have found their was into the statements published by me respecting my arrest, imprisonment and escaped, in and from the City of Memphis, Tennessee, that I must request the use of your columns to correct the, and reconcile what now see, and justly, conflicting statements.
I think no one will question the assertion, that in Memphis there exists a feeling of greater hostility to the North than in any other portion of the South; that the public sentiment of that people countenance and approve more flagrant outrages upon the persons and property of those known or supposed to have Union proclivities, that would be tolerated anywhere else. I presume this to be the fact, because there is scarcely an account of some indignity towards those who are indisposed to blacken their souls with treason, and subject themselves to the just censure of true men everywhere.
To those who are familiar with the state of affairs in that vicinity for the past five months, this has been known; and it has been accounted for solely upon the ground that .in no city [in the] South is there a larger proportion of Northern men, and of a class, too, who have no regard for the principles which should actuate all Americans in this crisis. Men who have learned, in the midst of starving, to forget all the principles which they were so well calculated to instill, and have become more Southern than the Southerner, and are now seeking, with the zeal of apostates, to prove themselves worthy [of] the of those among whom their lots have been cast; trampling under foot, in their eagerness to accomplish this end, all the claims of a common humanity, and rendering themselves amenable to the just vengeance of every man who loves his country, or abhors cruelty and oppression.
In the statement I am about to give, I shall speak only of “that which I have seen,” and in no case draw upon my fancy.
I am a Southern man myself, by birth, education and feeling all my prejudices have been with the South, and I would not now say one word to cast odium upon a people whom I love, and for whom I would willingly sacrifice my own life, were it necessary, in defence of their rights, or in the maintenance of any principle. But when no wrong has been inflicted, no injury sustained, and no principle is contended for on their part, I cannot, and will not, prove my devotion to the South by avowing myself a traitor the country, for the sole purpose of aiding in the aggrandizement of those who have long since proven themselves unworthy [of] the confidence not only of the South, but of honest men everywhere. Men who, were it necessary to accomplish their own ambitious ends, would lay their hands upon the pillars of the temple of liberty and pull them too the earth, though in the doing so they buried every hope of freedom throughout the world. Men politically and morally lost to all the principles of honor, and actuated solely by the selfish desire to elevate themselves event to ignoble positions, if they promise power and wealth.
It was my misfortune to view the present revolution in this light; and hence I became at once obnoxious to the good people of Memphis, who are unable to understand how it is possible for any one to regard it otherwise than as a war for freedom and the rights of man.
Being thus blinded, I had the temerity to address a communication to the New York Tribune, in March last, commenting somewhat severely upon the conduct of the Memphisians [sic] in according an honorable reception a band of sturdy souls from Mississippi, on their way to the seat of war in Florida. In that latter some surprise was expressed, and a body of men marching under a flag hostile to their own, with the avowed purpose of joining an army soon, as was expected, to engage ours in deadly conflict, should receive such cordial welcome, and bear away with them such unmistakable manifestations of friendship.
The character of Tennesseans had always been that of honorable men, and it could but excite surprise that, while receiving all the benefits and blessing resulting from the Union, they should permit those avowedly their enemies to march unmolested through their streets, and carry with them the impr5ession that Memphis was already as unanimous as Mississippi.
This was regarded as a crime far too heinous to go unpunished; and accordingly, when the contents of that letter became know to the people of that righteous city there was an universal demand for the author-couched, however, in such terms and promising him such evidences of their regard ad induced him-modest man as the was-to keep them ignorant as to his identity thus avoiding the hospitalities and honors which have been thrust upon him. Let no one imagine, however, that I was safe, unless some proof was brought forward and the authorship of the letter clearly established. Noting could be more erroneous than such an ideal Suspicion only as requisite, and this could easily be directed against me by any one who cherishes any ill will towards me.
This was soon apparent, and a few days after the letter had been copied from the Tribune into the Avalanche, I had the honor of being visited by a select number of the immortal “Vigilance Committee,” who respectfully requested to examine my effects. Nothing could have been more respectful than their demeanor; indeed, it was entirely too much so, and excited itself some apprehension and gave me a tickling sensation in the region of the thorax. After a thorough examination had been made, and innumerable questions asked, tending to fix the authorship of that particular letter upon me, all of which were in vain, I was politely informed that they “believed me to be a ____ Abolitionist, and intended to settle my case in the morning.
The precise meaning of this was readily understood, and I was locked up, that evening, under the firm conviction that it was my last night on earth. Excitement ran high, and the general demand was for the execution of an Abolitionist, or one supposed to be tinctured with this heresy. And, from what I knew and had seen of the disposition made of such, I was justified in regarding my position as exceedingly critical.
In the morning, however, I was brought before the Vigilance Committee and underwent another examination, in which all the members who desired participated. It was evident that there was no disposition to find me “not guilty?’ the only object being to find an excuse to justify my execution. Here I stood before sixty men, every man of who was eager to sign my death warrant. Not one of them evinced the least disposition to give me their benefit of circumstances in my favor; but all were actuated by the determination to find me guilty, and where justly or unjustly. And while admitting that there was no tangible evidence against me, going to show that I was even a Northern man, much less an Abolitionist, they communicated their intention to confine me in the dungeon of the jail until they could ascertain from their friends in Baltimore and Washington what my real sentiments were. Accordingly, I was thrown into an underground apartment, rendered horrible by the absence of light and air, and loathsome by the presence of the accumulated filth of years; a prison quite equal to the famous “Blackhole of Calcutta,” in its abominations.
The fare was in keeping with the quarters, and consisted of corn bread and as small quantity of water doled out in the morning of each day. Here, with the thermometer at about 95, I was compelled to remain from the 25th of April to the 6th of June, denied the privileges of communicating with my friends, and all access to me from them forbidden.
While here, I was frequently an eyewitness to some of the cruelest outrages that I believe it [is] possible for the ingenuity or depravity of man to devise. Outrages so entirely at variance with all my former conceptions of Southern character as (had I not witnessed them myself,) would have appeared not only improbable, but impossible, to have been committed by them, and I cannot believe that in any other portions of the South, or among purely Southern men, such acts would be tolerated for a moment-indignities and enormities towards not only men but women, which have almost frozen the blood in my veins, and aroused “a vengeance blood alone can quell;” a feeling of bitter and unrelenting hostility, which cannot be eradicated until a retribution as righteous as just, have been visited upon every an who has been a participant in such demoniac pleasures. Towards men, these cruelties were of daily occurrence, and the evidence of every man in Cairo connected with our army, will corroborate my statement-that more than eighty five men have had their heads shaved and their backs lacerated by the knout since the middle of last April. [sic] More than that number have found their way to Cairo, and are not waiting an opportunity to return and inflict summary punishment upon the people of that doomed city.
To this I had almost become accustomed, and looked quite naturally every morning for the perpetration of such outrages, but even this had not prepared me for what I had to witness before I left their prison. In all my imaginings, I never dreamed that in any moment of excitement there could be found, in any portion of this land, one single man who would be base enough and fiend enough, to lay the lash upon the back of an innocent and defenceless woman. [sic] Incredible as it appears, it was done in the City of Memphis, on the 19th of May. [sic] The victim was a young, beautiful, refined and accomplished lady, who had resided there for one year. Her offence was being from Maine, and expressing to loudly here wishes for the success of our arms.
She purchased a ticket for Cairo, and it appears was congratulating herself upon soon reaching a land of liberty, when an officer by the name of THURMAN arrested and brought here in the jail. She was confined all night, and in the morning about six o’clock she was brought in front of the rear door of the jail (in the yard), and after three men had been whipped with the knout, and their heads shaved, she was stripped to the waist, and thirteen lashes given her with a strap, and the right side of her head shaved. The wretch who did the whipping is named John Durall, and was originally a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, while this other fiend who held her arms, had recently left Syracuse, New York, and is named Thomas McElroy.
The outrage took place not more than five feet from where I was standing, inside the passage in the yard, and she fell back against the door when released. I spoke to her fully five minutes, and know her name and address, and have her likeness now in my possession. I shall never forget her appearance while suffering the infliction of this tremendous outrage. No one work escaped her lips; not a groan came up from her breast; not a sight was audible. But, the livid hue of her face, the compressed lips, the quivering of every muscle, attested how terrible was her woe, how keenly she felt the impious wrong. Would to God the advancing columns of our army could, at that moment, have entered that yard, and torn those incarnate devils limb from limb, and meted [sic] out to all concerned in this infamous proceeding-whether as participants or spectators-a punishment commensurate with their crime. And should the day come, when Union men dare to avow their sentiments in that city, and the presence of our army enable the eye witnesses to this transaction to return, there will be a terrible reckoning required at the hands of these barbarians.
I remained in this prison until the 6th of June, when, through the instrumentality of a true and noble woman, I was enabled to affect my escape. Money, of which there was a scarcity, triumphed on the fidelity of one of the attaches of the jail. My den was opened and I was free. That I lost no time in finding other quarters may readily be imagined, and I succeeded in securing a hiding place with an old Irish woman until I could leave the city. This I did on the 11th of June, with but five dollars in my pocket, which carried me to Jackson, and from that point I was compelled to make my way to Cairo-one hundred and twenty miles without one cent, and through a section country where I would have been hung in a moment if suspected of being from the North. I succeeded, however, after a journey of three days, with a mouthful to eat, in reaching the land of promise.
When I came in sight of the “Stars and Stripes” floating from the encampment at Bird’s Point, all fatigue was forgotten, and with horse speed I ran until I was with the line of our troops No mortal man, unless under similar circumstances, can form an idea of the feeling which possessed me at that moment-the deep and profound gratitude to God for having guided me through so may perils and dangers, and brought me once again to freedom….
~ ~ ~
July 18, 1861Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1861.
 Not extant.
Monday, July 27, 2009
THE WILD, WILD SOUTHEAST:
A BLOOD FEUD IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE;
THE MABRY, LUSBY, AND O’CONNOR KILLINGS, 1881-1882.
By James B. Jones, Jr.
In Tennessee history the term frontier most often brings to mind the period just prior to statehood, when Anglo- and African –Americans immigrated from the eastern shore inland, settled and displaced the indigenous Indian populations. In American history and popular culture the term often denotes the last period or the so-called “wild west” of the late nineteenth century. Images of deadly gunfights at the dusty O.K. Corral or in the streets of Yuma seem somehow familiar to all. But at least one east Tennessee city, Knoxville, shared this untamed characteristic with the towns of the wild west, where violence in Tennessee continuing from the Indian wars, the duels of Andrew Jackson, the battles of the Civil War, the coal miners’ strikes of the 1890s, to the murder of Edward W. Carmack in 1908, and labor unrest in Chattanooga in 1917. The violence in nineteenth century Knoxville expressed continuity with the state and national tradition of violence.
As in the surrounding mountains, a sense of familial honor and vengeance worked with the easy access to firearms to produce fatal conflicts. On Christmas Eve 1881, came the first of six murders revolving around the family and fortunes of General Joseph Alexander Mabry, a wealthy Knoxville landowner and speculator. (The title “General” was apparently a sobriquet inasmuch as Mabry never served in a martial capacity in the Civil War.)
The exploit, according to the Knoxville Daily Tribune, “has thrown a damper over the entire community, and the man who drinks his glass of whisky to produce gaiety does so with a shudder.” 1 Don C. Lusby, Constable of Knox County’s second district, engaged his friend Will C. Mabry in a horse race into town on Christmas Eve. Both, “chums you might say,”2 had earlier attended cock fights at Wade’s brick yard in North Knoxville and were flushed at the end of their galloping race at Alf Snodderly’s bar at Vine and Gay Streets. Mabry apparently harbored hard feelings against Lusby, who in his official capacity had earlier barred him from Mdme. Maggie Day’s establishment in Shieldstown, because of his rowdy conduct.3
Inside, an altercation developed in which Mabry refused Constable Lusby’s offer of a drink of apple brandy – hostile word were exchanged and soon he and Lusby fought a classic barroom brawl of the kind usually associated with cinematic depictions of the wild west. In the course of the row Mabry hit Lusby on the forehead with a one-half-inch thick coffee plate weighing a pound. Bleeding and enraged, Constable Lusby reached in his pocket and found his pistol. Mabry, realizing his predicament, straightaway ran for the door, chased closely by Lusby. Soon the antagonists were “out on the street. When Lusby shot the first time” said one witness, “I did not hear him cry. When the second shot was fired Marby grunted. The shots were simultaneous. Mabry dropped on Vine Street about thirty feet from Gay.” Dr. Sam Boyd testified at the preliminary hearing on Christmas Day that the first shot had lodged in Mabry’s neck while the second entered his left side, striking the seventh rib. He died of internal bleeding. Some fifty witnesses, exactly twenty five for each side, 4 would testify, but no clear picture emerged. 5 On January 11, 1882, Judge M.L. Hall determined that Lusby, while excited because of the blow to his head, “had brought his mind to the determination to kill him [Mabry] and under these circumstances he is entitled to no bail.”6 No verdict was reached.
General Mabry was a Knoxville land owner, of one of the areas oldest and most prominent families. During the Civil War he had offered to clothe many Confederate soldiers. Prior to the war he had been president of the Knoxville and Kentucky railroad. In that capacity and after the Civil War he worked with General Maney, President of the Tennessee and Pacific Railway Company. Mabry likewise was a lobbyist with great influence with his personal friend, Governor De Witt Clinton Senter (1869-1871). Generals Mabry and Maney worked together to secure public funding for their mutual railroad project, but Mabry’s expected payment for his influence with the State’s Chief Executive was not forthcoming. Subsequently Mabry took $25,000 from the T&P treasury as a loan. The subsequent lawsuit went against Mabry and he began selling land and his stables of blooded racehorses to meet his obligations. Nevertheless, the General continued to speculate in land and was still a noted businessman/developer in the city. In fact a street in Knoxville bears his name. He was said to have a terrible temper and prone to violence, 7 for example, “that during his career as a sporting man he killed a man whose name is not now remembered.”8 General Mabry was also in heavily in debt as so was engaged in nearly constant litigation. All his property, it was reported, “was involved in law and was time and again sold for taxes and to satisfy judgments, but somehow he always managed to hold on to it.” 9 General Mabry was a member of the decaying postbellum old south land owning aristocracy. Certainly he was preoccupied with maintaining his social authority and political influence and bequeathing it to his sons, one of whom was now dead.
By May, 1882, the criminal court again began proceedings in the matter of the State of Tennessee v. Don C. Lusby. The Criminal Court jury acquitted him of murder in the first degree but were divided on the question of whether or not his offense could be considered manslaughter. Ultimately finally was released on bond after a mistrial was declared. 10 One newspaper editorialized in response that when a citizen was approached by a peace officer known to carry a pistol, the smart man should “arm himself with a musket or double-barreled shot gun.”11 A yearning for justice by vendetta was growing in some rather prominent Knoxville circles, and the feeling of bitter enmity intensified between the two families. While many contemporaries may not have thought of it this way, blood feuds were products not only of the wild West and the Tennessee mountain clans, but occurred in more urban settings as well. Indeed, a “deadly family feud has existed between the two families” and soon the second chapter growing out of that feud would unfold. 12
On August 27, Don C. Lusby, who was out on bond, and his father, Moses, were shot while in the presence of General Mabry and his attorney son, Joseph A. Mabry, Jr., and others inside the Recorder’s Court chambers. The Knoxville Daily Tribune called the shootout “A Terrible Sequel to the Bloody Tragedy of Last Christmas Eve.” The General was told that morning that Lusby was “hunting him and would probably kill him and to keep him out of his way.” Apparently taking the information seriously, the General, although he was armed with a pistol, avoided Lusby when he saw him on the corner of Clinch and Gay streets around 10:30 a.m. Mabry went into McCampbell’s drug store to avoid a confrontation, and Lusby crossed the street positioning himself at the side door, facing Clinch Street, apparently watching for Mabry saying in no uncertain terms that he would kill the General. His father, Moses Lusby, was heard to have said “he would be damned if he (Don) did for he intended to do, it himself.” 13
It was at this juncture that Knoxville Police Chief W. Harper arrived. Lusby, complained the General was following him in a threatening manner. As Chief Harper left the drug store and stepped into the street followed by Mabry, Lusby called to the General several times, but the General paid no attention. Lusby’s fervor only increased as he began shouting curses at the General saying, according to Chief Harper, “You see he will not speak to me, the damned old scoundrel!” and other bitter words. It was then Harper placed Lusby under arrest. Lusby resisted arrest for some time, but was finally subdued and taken to the Recorder’s Court. His armed father joined his son in the chambers, where a warrant was taken out against Don Lusby for creating a disturbance. The General, his son – also armed with a pistol – Chief Harper, Moses Lusby, the City Recorder and a few city policemen were in the room. The warrant was sworn and Harper then moved to disarm Lusby, to take his pistol. In the ensuing scuffle some five shots were quickly fired. Moses was shot in the chest and because the bullet lodged near his spine, he was dead instantly, while Don was mortally wounded. It was 11:15 am Don was taken towards his home borne on a cot by friends who were unable to get any further than a private house, ironically on Mabry Street, where he died.14
Eye witnesses testified that while they had seen the elder and younger Mabry with pistols immediately prior to and during the shooting, no one testified that they saw either actually shoot them at the Lusbys. Sheriff C.B. Gossett arrested the two Mabrys on charges of murder and felonious assault. Both the Mabrys posted a $2,500 bond, yet as the newspaper paraphrased Knoxville Justice Alex Allison, “he would not presume to say that a jury would find them guilty.”15 Even though the Mabrys were indicted for the double murder, they were acquitted of the charge of murder in Criminal Court. While they were acquitted, 16 it was widely believed they had committed the crime.17 In summary, they had gotten away with murder.
Suddenly, on a rain-soaked Thursday morning, October 19, 1882, just after 10 am and within a period of two minutes, three leading Knoxville citizens lay prostrate on Gay street on the West side of the block, between Church and Clinch streets, “their life blood gushing from ghastly wounds.18” Shortly, only the cold, pallid, corpses of General Mabry, his son Joseph A. Mabry, Jr., and Major Thomas O’ Connor remained.
The General, after his business reversals and legal troubles, had never been the same man, and had been “of late years…drinking deeply.” His son Will had been murdered in the streets of. His other son, Joseph, Jr., was born and raised and for the most part educated in Knoxville, and was a attorney of local merit and recognition. It was said “recontre [sic] and altercation were distasteful to him.”19 Nevertheless, as events would demonstrate, he was at least competent with a pistol.
Major Thomas O’Conner, the third victim of this urban blood fued that day, was born in Virginia. He had come to Knoxville in the 1830s as a harness maker. His business improved, and at the time of the Civil War he enlisted as a Lieutenant of Captain Howald’s artillery. His unit after being held a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie. He made his fortune thereafter in Atlanta and returned to Knoxville and was acclaimed as one of the shrewdest politicians in the state, having been a member of the National Democratic Committee. The Major had also “rapidly risen among the monied men of the day” and became the major owner of the corporate giant Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. He lived in Nashville, in the Maxwell House Hotel, and in his home in Knoxville. He was a noted local philanthropist, a “whole-souled man” whose latest business venture was the formation the Mechanics’ National Bank on Gay Street.20 He was the epitome of the New South entrepreneur, whose thriving and preeminent class helped created envy and status anxiety among the remaining and rapidly displaced antebellum aristocratic class.
That the General and the Major would come to share such bitter enmity can be explained. Some time before Will Mabry’s death by Constable Lusby, Major O’Conner had purchased from the General a rather agreeable Knox County properties, the Cold Spring Farm and the Chevannes place, with the condition that the Major should at some later date give the farm to Will. Of course, once Will was dead there was nothing to hold O’Conner to the deal, or so it was reported that the General reasoned.21 Apparently the General’s mental capacities had been strained by his years of business failure, by the killing of his son, his alcohol abuse, the murder of the Lusbys, and now his anxious conviction that the Major had actually plotted his son’s death to maintain a claim to a piece of real estate. One paper reported that after the Lusby killings “the General has seemed to be further than ever off mental balance.” A hint of this animosity occurred during the double Lusby murder trial in September, when Mabry first gave utterance to accusations that O’Conner had been responsible for his son’s death. Yet there was more the sour relations between the two men. Jospeh, Jr. and O’Conner had been partners in an agricultural implement business which had failed. General Mabry had applied for a security loan from O’Conner’s Mechanics’ National Banks and had been denied the money on the grounds that he was over extended.22 Certainly this sustained and stoked the General’s status anxieties, but the first indication of unequivocal rancor came at the Fair Grounds, south of the Tennessee River on Wednesday, October 17, 1882.23
At the Wednesday afternoon races, at the Fair Grounds, an armed and incensed General Mabry, in the presence of many witnesses, confronted an unarmed and flabbergasted Major O’Conner and upbraided him, making loud threats against him, thundering that he was responsible for the murder of his son, calling him a “G_d d_d robber and murderer.” [sic]24 The General declared his passion to shoot the Major “then and there.” The Major replied calmly that the race course was neither the time nor place for gunplay. Later that evening a frenzied General Mabry sent word to the Major “that he would kill him on sight.” O’Conner’s supporters advised him, in light of these threats, he would be justified in carrying a weapon and shooting the General on sight. Forewarned was forearmed.
At very nearly ten o’clock on the rainy morning of the 19th of October, the General and a friend, Robert Steele, Esq., appeared walking south down the west side of Gay street toward Church street. [see contemporary diagram] Standing across the street in the doorway of his Mechanics’ National Bank was Major O’Conner. Suddenly, as the General reached a point across from the Bank, O’Conner brought out a double-barreled shotgun, stepped out on the pavement, cocked the weapon, raised it to his shoulder, took deliberate aim and fired at Mabry, who was about one step in front of Steele. Mabry fell instantly on his face “and as he fell O’Conner emptied the other barrel into Mabry’s body.”25 Steele ran to the nearby People’s Bank, failing to perceive that Joseph, Jr. had arrived on the site. After the younger Mabry saw his lifeless father he had reached a point on Gay Street, where he drew his pistol, took premeditated aim, and fired at the Major some fifty feet away. His marksmanship was excellent, and the Major was instantaneously hit with deadly effect. At the same instant the Major turned to the right and fired his shotgun at Mabry. Young Mabry sunk to the ground and before a second had lapsed Major O’Conner “sank to the pavement falling on his back, [throwing] his arm wide open and [dieng] without tremor. Young Joe Mabry attempted to rise but only got about half way up, then fell on his back and died in a few seconds without uttering a word and no struggle was perceptible except the twitching of the muscles and the death gurgle in his throat.”26 Four shots had been fired. One eyewitness newspaper account elegantly described the incident this way:
The reverberations from wall to wall of a few successive explosions, the curling up of a little sulphurous cloud upon this and that side of a narrow street and and forms prone upon the wet and slippery flagging [pavement], then the hurried tramp of curious feet and pale lips are busy with eager questions. The dead are carried to houses upon either side of the street, which is made dismal by rain and the gathering throng of funeral umbrellas that block the way. The first palsey over, I hurried and fragmentary explanations are given while the curious throng gather around the bullet hole in the wall and the horrid pool of blood on the pavement that is mingling with the descending rain.27
The scene was quiet after the shootout. Three of the most prominent men in Knoxville dead on the wet street. The frame of mind was subdued, “everybody was cool, calm, and sorrowful…All heads were bowed in sincerest sympathy….” The Daily Tribune, however, reported that it’s all time record breaking sales reached five editions before the public’s thirst for news was slaked.
What had been learned from this violence which had “never been approached before in our history, and which are never likely to occur again…”? There was something inherently awful in these events, and they were not held to be characteristic of Knoxville. Perhaps, philosophized an editorial in the Daily Tribune, it was a generational lack of respect for the old cultural canons. After all, up until the recent killings “not even the most bitter feuds – which have existed here as they do everywhere – have terminated so fearfully….The old code of adjusting difficulties is regarded by the rising generation here as something to be shunned, and personal animosities, if entertained at all, very seldom come to the surface of society.”28 The clash of the new and old social and entrepreneurial codes had borne bitter fruit.
Funeral services for the Mabry’s took place at their home on Mabry Hill, on Dandridge Pike on October 20. At about 10 o’clock two hearses conveyed the remains of General and Joseph Mabry Jr. to Old Gray Cemetery, where a double grave was prepared next to Will C. Mabry’s cenotaph in the family lot. There were but six of fourteen survivors. A Methodist service was held. Later, on the 21st, Episcopalian funeral obsequies were held for Major O’Conner at Melrose. He was survived by his wife, sister and a brother. His remains were attended by many friends from Nashville and across the state. He was laid to rest also in Gray Cemetery.29
The feud that terminated in the streets of Knoxville claimed six lives. That such a bloody lawlessness occurred in a Tennessee city in the nineteenth century seems somehow out of character, a temporary aberration not characteristic to the civilized East. Yet the allegory of Knoxville’s Mabry, Lusby, and O’Conner homicides were not affairs of honor. Instead they indicate that in our past violence was sometimes resorted to by established, conservative men of wealth to settle with irrevocable finality certain real or imagined economic, familial, and social disputes. President Harry S. Truman reputedly said: “There is nothing new but the history we don’t know.” Perhaps this sketch of the onerous and tragic Knoxville blood feud of 1881-1882 is an operative example of his opinion.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
THEY COULDN’T BREAK THE “RULE.” VIOLENCE AND JOURNALISM IN 1880s KNOXVILLE, OR, MARK TWAIN WAS RIGHT.
THEY COULDN'T BREAK THE "RULE." VIOLENCE AND JOURNALISM IN 1880s KNOXVILLE, OR, MARK TWAIN WAS RIGHT.
BY DR. JAMES B. JONES, JR., PUBLIC HISTORIAN,Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Violence involving newspaper men in Knoxville seems to have paralleled that in Memphis. William Rule, editor of the Republican Knoxville Chronicle, was accosted in the streets on the evening of March 11, 1882 by the editor of the Democratic Knoxville Tribune, James W. Wallace. That morning's Chronicle contained an article in which the youthful Wallace found offense. The trouble stemmed from intense political enmity but was sparked by an apolitical article in the Chronicle charging that the Tribune was guilty of unfair and even salacious advertising. According to Rule, "a few Sundays ago…after advertising that it would do so, published a sensational romance, and then, in order to escape punishment, lied out of it, and begged and whined like the cowardly puppies that they are." It was a variety of journalism the Chronicle would never engage in and "which no gentleman could take pride. But the Tribune boasts of its enterprise." It also branded the editors of the Tribune as "cowardly puppies," a common and insulting appellation of the day. Wallace met Rule on the street that evening and demanded a retraction. Rule refused and according to his account:
Thereupon the irate young man, who appeared to be writhing under some irrepressible grievance, hoarse with pent up wrath, trembling with excitement, commenced some sort of formal denunciation, which he had evidently been practicing for the occasion. In order to assist the young man in his explosion, we struck him a blow with a small cane about one-half inch in diameter at the larger end, about the neck, whereupon he drew a revolver and commenced firing. He fired two shots, the first at such close range that one side of our face was slightly burned with powder. We retreated a few feet behind one of the pillars in front of the store of Ross Brothers, when he fired again and then ran around the corner of the store, when we passed into the store, but came out, immediately and stood on the side-walk. Then Jim went in a dog grot across Gay street into the Tribune office, and thus the curtain dropped on the first act which was intended to be a thrilling tragedy."
Wallace had acted entirely in self defense, claimed the Tribune, and while Rule was not hurt one of the bullets had "went through his hair." Wallace turned himself in and "leading Republicans were on the streets soon after making all kinds of threats." William F. (the Governor) Yardley, the notable African-American Knoxville Republican attorney swore out a warrant for Rule's arrest while other Radicals "tried to make themselves equally officious." The reason for the altercation claimed the Tribune's editor was simply…we have advocated unswervingly the success of the Democratic party in national, State, county and city affairs, and shown up fearlessly the corrupt practices of the Republicans whenever and where ever they are in power. Our efforts to show the thievery and rottenness of some of our local politicians have no doubt won us the bitter hatred of the Chronicle and the Republican leaders in Knoxville. Rule's Republican friends and colleagues surprised him the next evening with the presentation of a brand new cane, the one used in the altercation having been broken over Wallace's head. "Capt. Rule acknowledged the presentation, replying that this occasion was much more embarrassing than the previous one." Apparently no legal action was taken for the incident and it was regarded as satisfactorily concluded.While one member of the Rule family had escaped physical harm because of an offending editorial opinion, it was only the first of a second similar yet more violent editorial encounter in the streets of Knoxville. William Rule's brother, James (Jim), city editor of the Knoxville Journal, found himself in a much more serious situation six years later, and in a matter of local politics and family honor stemming from an insult in the paper.At the services at St. John's Episcopal Church on Sunday, January 29, 1888, the church organ resonated deeply and thunderously as a matter of editorial commentary stimulated a street brawl that would leave one man dead and two wounded. Just minutes before, James P. Rule, city editor of the Knoxville Journal was escorting his spouse and daughter to religious services and had taken her to the door. Rule was advised that three men on the opposite side of the street wished to speak with him, His wife entered the church and Rule walked across the street to meet with John and William West, and their companion Goodman. The three had visited Rule's house earlier that morning, but were unable to find him. They were told "he was probably not at home as he had an engagement to sing at St. John's Episcopal Church." Rule was afterward warned that they were making threats to attack him. The cause of the threats was a letter printed in that Sunday's Journal in which a doctor complained that the current city physician was unqualified for the position. Indeed, a series of communications on the topic had been printed in the Journal. Now the matter had demanded drastic scrutiny, claimed a letter written by physician "XYZ."
The Board of Aldermen had earlier passed an ordinance requiring the city physician, whose job was to care for sick poor, must have recognized medical degree. They had not for a period of two and now Board of Aldermen had incredibly reappointed the notoriously incompetent individual who held the place during the past, for two years, instead of one, and at a salary increased from six hundred to one thousand dollars! And to accomplish this an ordinance was repealed that required the city physician be a graduate of some reputable medical school….rather than…someone else who might call himself "doctor" and perhaps make himself useful at elections for aldermen….Taking everything into account, the transaction as a slap in the face of the regular profession and certainly no physical, with proper self-respect can afford to countenance, much less give any assistance to the appointee. Not only has the board put an unqualified person in the office of city physician…but should such a calamity as a severer epidemic visit our city within the next two years, it might prove to be very unfortunate to have the place of city physicians filled by one made obnoxious to the whole body of the profession.
Dr. A. T. West was the city physician to whom the letter from "XYZ" referred. Some time about 8:30 am Dr. A. T. West his sons John and William and a companion, Will Goodman, foreman of the M. L. & Co. candy factory, called at the offices of the Knoxville Journal insisting they be given the name of the name of the physician who had written the scathing letter. He was told that he knew nothing of it, but the managing editor of the Journal, William Rule and he no doubt would give him the answer on Monday morning. "The doctor was very angry and replied that that would not satisfy him. "'This thing has gone far enough,' he exclaimed, 'and has got to be settled now, To-day.'" West would not wait until Monday, but William "Captain" Rule was home asleep "and could not be disturbed." In the meantime the West brothers and Goodman left the newspaper office. Asked again if he would wait for a clarification on Monday, Dr. West told the clerk: "No, the boys have gone over to settle it now, I am waiting on them."The hostile trio went to William Rule's house and demanded an audience which was refused. He was asleep at his regular hours and promised them an answer the following morning. Mrs. Rule added that Jim Rule, city editor of the Journal, would be informed of the matter and provides an explanation. They asked about Jim's whereabouts and were told he was on his way St. John's Episcopal Church where he was scheduled to sing. The three men hastened to the church and tried to call Rule out, but he was not yet at the church. They waited at the corner of Walnut and Cumberland and Rule, his wife and sister appeared one of the threesome was heard to say: "I will rip him from head to foot when I get to him." All three were now stationed at the church's Walnut street entrance. When Rule made his way to the church one of the hostile young men "accosted him with the inquiry: 'Is your name Jim Rule?'" The answer was in the affirmative. The man then said, "I want to see you about an article in the Journal."Jim Rule suggested the cross the street to discuss the matter as Mrs. Rule and Cora entered the church. They demanded to know "XYZ's identity but Rule declined, citing the newspaper's policy in such circumstances required notifying the author of the letter that complaints had been made. He promised to act with alacrity in the process. "This did not satisfy them and they said it must be done at once." Rule said it would be impossible as he was about to sing in St. John's and it was past time for him to be there and so it was impossible for him to discuss the matter further.They then began to parody him saying he was "a damned nice man to sing in a choir." The indecent epithets escalated and Rule continued to insist that in front of a church door was no place for settling the matter. But they could not be persuaded. Their threatening language and posture continued to intensify and Rule continued to suggest this was not the time or place to straighten out the question.John West drew a long knife and William a revolver. Probably forewarned, Rule likewise drew his revolver as the two West boys attacked.
Rule kept…kept backing down the street until he struck the hitching rack in front of Dr. Boynton's gate and fell. The two men then covered him, one of them beating him over the head with a pistol, the other striking him in the back with a knife.
Meanwhile, in St. John's church the congregation settled down for their hour of worship. The reverend rector read the opening sentence "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth deep silence before Him." The choir had finished singing "'O' come let us sign unto the Lord,' the sweet melody made sweeter than ever by the added voice of Mrs. Rule, who for the first time was joining in the happy strains, when from the street came the awful sounds of the pistol shots with dull tones as if the brutal weapons had smothered their murderous throats before the awful Presence.'" Mrs. Rule immediately left choir and witnessed the melee.A churchgoer reacted first to the first of four gunshots as the thrashing was going on in the street. The second shot passed thorough Rule's wrists, while the third went wild. With great difficulty Rule found his pistol and, at close quarters, fired the fourth shot blindly at his attackers, mortally wounding John West. A bystander saw that Rule was struggling to his feet and took his pistol from his hand and offered to help him lie down. Rule said, no "I am not as badly hurt as your think I am", even though blood was streaming from his wounds. It appeared as though "the whole top of his head was shot off." But Rule, although wounded, was very much alive. He was taken home and his wounds attended to.The attackers left the scene with great haste thinking they had killed Rule, going in three separate directions. William West, following a circuitous route, was found by the constabulary on Central Avenue Pike. He was taken to City Hall in the midst of "an immense throng of people" where he was to be tried then next day. William Goodman had received a wound in the shoulder. He claimed to have accompanied the West brothers as a peacemaker. John West was taken to his father's residence on Mabry street. He was wounded in the abdomen. He lingered there, insisting on his innocence. In his deathbed confession he contended
I said to Jim Rule, if you don't tell me I will hold you responsible for it. I then said that anybody who would write such a slanderous piece and not sign the name was a black s___ of a b____. Rule then stepped back about four feet, drew his revolver and shot me. I did not go there for a fuss, but only to find out who wrote it. I was unarmed.
Question-Did you stab Rule?Answer-As it was to be seem I defended my _____Here broke completely down and was unable to speak again. He died just a few minutes after the clock struck twelve.A jury of inquest was held shortly after West died and decided that the dead man came to his end by a gun-shot wound at the hands of J. F. Rule. The remains were sent to Dandridge accompanied by a large number of friend and relatives.
Research and writing by
Dr. James B. Jones, Jr.,
He who giveth not attribution the curse of hell shall bear.
 Mark Twain, Journalism in Tennessee, (ca. 1871) Knoxville Chronicle, March12, 14, 1882. See also The St. Louis Globe, March 12, 1882, and The North American (Philadelphia), March 13, 1882. Knoxville Journal, January 31, 1888; The Daily Picayune, January 30, 1888; Milwaukee Sentinel, January 30, 1888; Boston Daily Advertiser; The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), January 20, 1888;The News and Observer (Raleigh), February 1, 1888