Embezzler Son of Illiterate Tax Collector Escapes Detectives at Ray’s Mill, GA

Read more about Ray City, GA history at http://raycity.pbworks.com/

On April 3, 1909 the Atlanta Georgian and News reported charges of malfeasance against the office of the Berrien County Tax Collector,  W.H. Studstill.   By today’s standards it seems difficult to believe, but just 100 year’s ago the Berrien tax collector was an illiterate who could not sign his own name.

All of this may have only indirectly affected Ray’s Mill residents, in that they and all other Berrien County tax payers were the victims of  the embezzlement. But a follow-up article (below)  from the Atlanta Constitution carries the drama to the Ray’s Mill stage.

 Atlanta Georgian and News
April 3, 1909


SHORTAGE IS CHARGED

Berrien Tax Collector Makes Affidavit.

    Nashville, Ga., April 3. – Tax Collector W.H. Studstill may be called upon to make good an alleged claim of $913 which is charged against him. A year ago Studstill’s bondsmen made good a shortage of several hundred dollars, after Studstill had sacrificed all his property. The county authorities permitted Studstill to continue in office to the end of his term, January 1, 1909, with the understanding that Silas and R.W. Tygart, of Nashville, have charge of the affairs of the  office.
When Messers Tygart undertook to collect the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Company’s taxes the company answered by stating that they had forwarded their check  for the amount during the latter part of December, and  that it had been paid, indorsed [sic] by W. H. Studstill, tax collector of Berrien county, per John F. Studstill, at the Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville, Fla., on December 27, 1908.
Studstill was in Nashville on Monday and signed an affidavit that he had not received the money, and that he knew nothing of the transaction. Studstill is an illiterate man, not being able to even sign his name. During his administration – except last year –  his son, John F. Studstill has, transacted all business connected with the office of his father.
Studstill’s affidavit, with a statement of the circumstances of the case, have been forwarded to Comptroller-General Wright.

On May 26, 1909,  the Atlanta Constitution reported  the following escape from  Detective Tucker in Rays Mill, GA (nka Ray City, GA):

 ESCAPES FROM DETECTIVE

John F. Studsill Charged with Getting Money Fraudulently.

    Milltown, Ga., May 25. – (Special)- John F. Studstill, who was recently captured in Bowling Green, Fla., on advices from Ashdown for getting money fraudulently, escaped from Detective Tucker, who had him in charge, while waiting for the train at Ray’s Mill, near here, Saturday afternoon.
   Studstill has been in considerable trouble here of late about money matters; he was for two years his father’s assistant in the tax collector’s office in this (Berrien) county, but was under no bond. Last year the county commissioners called for a settlement from the tax collector, but Tax Collector Studstill was unable to produce the books, claiming his son, John F. Studstill, had them. The commissioners finally checked up Sr.  Studstill’s books, and found him several thousand dollars short, which he promptly made good. It seems that his son, John F. Studstill, did all the work in the office, and it was through his hands that the money was short.
   Some time during the fall the Atlantic Coast Line railway sent W. H. Studstill a check to this place, as this is his home and postoffice, a check covering their taxes for 1908, the check amounting to $913.55. John F. Studstill got it from the office, and carried it to Jacksonville, Fla., and cashed it at one of the banks there. Studstill got word that they were on his track, so he left home here, and took a steamer from Jacksonville for parts unknown. After a delay of two weeks or more the Bank of Milltown, of this place, began to get sight drafts from Studstill at different points in Texas, finally winding up with a draft through the Ashdown bank, of Ashdown, Ark., for $5,-000.  All the drafts were turned down, as Studstill had withdrawn all his funds from the bank.

Perhaps a reader or additional research will provide the conclusion to this saga of family betrayal, embezzlement, and flight from justice.

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Cane Syrup Comes to Berrien County

Ray City History
Sugar Cane

Sugar cane cultivation was introduced into south Georgia by John Moore when he moved to Lowndes County around 1828. John Moore established his home in the sparsely populated area north of the Grand Bay swamp. At that time, the nearest village to the Moore homestead was called Allapaha, a community which later came to be called Milltown, and in 1920 became the city of Lakeland, GA. The Moores were among the earliest pioneers in this section of the country.

By 1876 sugar cane was one of the field crops of south Georgia, and an important staple in the farming and agriculture of Ray’s Mill (nka Ray City), and the section. “Sugar, Syrup, and Molasses are made on a considerable scale in the southern part of this State from tropical Cane.” Hundreds of gallons of cane syrup could be produced from a single acre of sugar cane. “Mr. John J. Parker, of Thomas County, produced in 1874, on 1 acre, 694 gallons of Cane Syrup, worth, at 75 cents per gallon, $520.87; total cost of production, $77.50—net profit, $443.37.”

In 1879 the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported, “The Berrien county News contends that cane planting can be made as profitable in Southern Georgia as in Mississippi, Louisiana or elsewhere, and that Southern Georgia syrup cannot be excelled by that made anywhere.”

See more about  Ray City History at Ray City, GA. / Sugar Cane.

For more about the historical and modern production of cane syrup in south Georgia, see http://www.southernmatters.com/

More Haints of Berrien County

Is Berrien County haunted?

The Columbus Daily Enquirer reported on a “mysterious apparition” that appeared in Berrien County, GA in March of 1879:

 

The Berrien county News has information of a ghost of some other mysterious apparition. It says: “On last Sunday night, as Captain Austin and Mr. J.A. Slater were returning from church, they beheld a strange phenomenon, in the shape of a ball of fire, about the size of a half bushel measure. When first seen, it was near the earth, and about five or six hundred yards distant from them. It rose rapidly until it attained a height of fifty feet when it took a northerly course and traveled at the rate of about twenty miles an hour. After going in that direction for perhaps a quarter of a mile, it turned suddenly and came back to where it started. When it arrived over the place where it was first seen it began a vibratory motion and continued it a few moments, when it fell to the earth and became extinct. The light from this strange body was of a pale, whitish color. Our informant assures us that, at a distance of six or eight hundred yards, the light from it plainly revealed the rough bark on the pine trees it passed.

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Mulberry Tree Strikes Down John M. Futch

The Holt County Sentinel (Oregon, MO), reported July 02, 1880 the random page two fact that “Farmers in Berrien County, Ga., grow mulberry trees for their fruit for hogs.”

Not always with good result, we learn From the Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun,  Feb 16, 1883  page 3

Mr. John M. Futch, of Berrien county, met with a very serious accident on Thursday of last week.  He was having a large mulberry tree dug up,  and when it fell one of the limbs struck him on the back of his neck crushing him to the ground, nearly killing him.  He was improving at last accounts.

John M. Futch lived on the road that ran  between Lastinger Mills at Milltown (nka Lakeland, GA.) and the Berrien county seat at Nashville. This road, one of the first roads built in Berrien county,  passed by the residences of Isben Giddens and  Levi J. Knight,  among others. John M. Futch was the father of Rhoda Futch Knight.  In 1875 he served as foreman of the jury in the case of The State vs Burrell Hamilton Bailey.

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For more Ray City, GA history see http://raycity.pbworks.com

Ray City Investors Receive State Bank Charter

News of  the granting of a state charter to the Bank of Rays Mill was published in the Atlanta Georgian and News, April 28, 1911 — page 3:

Atlanta Georgian and News, Apr. 28, 1911 — page 3
CHARTERS ARE GRANTED OF TWO STATE BANKS

Institutions at Douglas and Rays Mill Are Granted Permits To Do Business

    Two banks were granted charters and another put in its application to Philip Cook, secretary of state, Friday morning.
A charter was granted to the Bank of Douglas, Coffee county, capitalized at $50,000, with the following incorporators: Cr. Tidwell, F. Willis Dart, Elmo Tanner, all of Coffee county.
The Bank of Rays Mill was chartered with a capital stock of $25,000, and another financial institution to Berrien county. The following are the incorporators: J.S. Swindle, J.H. Swindle, M.T. Bradford, W.H.E. Terry, R.M. Green, and J. F. Sutton, all of Berrien county, and B.P. Jones, C.L. Jones, C.L. Smith, and J.B. Griffin, of Lowndes county.

The bank opened its doors for business on August 14, 1911.  Later, the name was changed to the Citizens Bank of Ray City.

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Civil War Bullet Dodger Hardeman Giddens Finally Catches One in 1887

Found an article in the Columbus Enquirer-Sun about the shooting of Hardeman Giddens that complements a previous finding  in the Valdosta Times.

Hardeman Giddens survived the Civil War unscathed, but on December 25, 1887  while attending a Christmas party he was shot by John Newbern.

Columbus Enquirer-Sun, Jan 5, 1887 –page 3
Christmas night there was a dance at Harris Gaskin’s in the southeastern portion of Berrien County. Quite a crowd were in attendance. Some time while the dancing was in progress John Ashley Newbern who, with others, was outside of the house, began firing his pistol. Hard Giddins asked him to cease firing, and attempted to take the pistol from him. Three shots were fired and the third one struck Mr. Giddins in the left side and ranged around and lodged in the right side. The wound is not dangerous. 

The Valdosta Times Saturday, January 8, 1887
A Good Soldier.
Mr. Hardy Giddens, of this county, went into the army at the commencement of the war and fought through till the close. In the Battle of Chickamauga his clothing was torn in twenty-seven places by bullets, only two of which touched his flesh, cutting the skin on the left hip and grazing the little finger on the left hand. One bullet cut  a shoe-string in two, another burst his canteen, one cut his cartridge belt in two, one tore the leaf of his cap off and one cut the breach of his gun in two while shooting. His regiment, the Twenty-Ninth, Georgia, went into the fight with about 700 men and came out with twenty-seven. His company, Company K, were all killed, wounded and captured, except one and his clothing was riddled with bullets. Mr. Giddens is now 46 years old, is hale and hardy, and is one of Berrien’s solid farmers.
-Alapaha Star.

We learn that since the above started on the rounds, Mr. Giddens has fallen a victim at last to a bullet fired by some one at a country frolic in Berrien County.

Related Posts:

Portrait of Hardeman Giddens and Martha Gaskins

Hardeman Giddens and the Big Fishing Frolic

Georgia Gossip about Hardeman Giddens

Berrien County’s Oldest Resident Dies at Ray City

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1910 Train Wreck in Valdosta, GA

Manassah W. Henderson

Manassah Henderson of Ray’s  Mill, GA was injured in the 1910 train wreck in Valdosta.  Read additional accounts at http://raycity.pbworks.com/

Atlanta Georgian and News, Jun. 29, 1910 — page 3
MANY ARE INJURED;
ENGINE HURLS REAR
COACH FROM TRACK

Two collide at Right Angle in
Valdosta Railroad
Yards.

PASSENGERS ARE HURT
BY FEARFUL IMPACT

Thrown in Heap Against Sides
of Car — Cut by Flying Glass
and Otherwise
Injured

    Valdosta, GA. June 29 – Ten or twelve passengers were more or less seriously injured in a wreck which occurred in the railroad yard in this city shortly before 11 o’clock today. The rear coach on a Georgia and Florida railroad train was struck at right angle and hurled a distance of 50 feet by a locomotive of the Georgia Southern and Florida railroad at a crossing of the two roads.
The passengers in the coach were thrown in a huddle by the impact, nearly of them being cut by flying glass, while some of them sustained internal injuries.
Among those injured were;
Mrs. Daniels and daughter, of Valdosta.
Mrs. W. F. Martin, of Madison, Fla.
W.T. Staten,
J.W. West,
G.M. Boyd,
W. T. Lane, of Valdosta,
W.M. Henderson, of Rays Mill, Ga.
It is not known yet whether the injuries of any of them will prove fatal.
The wreck appears to have been the fault of the Georgia Southern and Florida engineer.

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Joseph John Spell ~ Obituary, 1961

 

Daily Times
Spell, Joseph John
March 12, 1961

Joe Spell

    LAKELAND- Joe Spell, 65, died at the local hospital early Sunday morning following a sudden attack suffered Saturday morning. He was born and had lived all his life in the Lower Tenth District section of Berrien County where he was a prominent farmer.
Mr. Spell was a veteran of World War I and a member of the New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church at Ray City.

 

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Turpentine in Wiregrass Georgia

Turpentine and naval stores industry became an economic engine for Ray’s Mill, Berrien County and the other counties of Wiregrass Georgia.

Turpentine Still in Thomas County, GA circa 1895

Turpentine Still in Thomas County, GA circa 1895

An  1881 news item sums up the Wiregrass workman’s appraisal of the original growth pine forests.

Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, Jan. 15, 1881. Pg 3

— In regard to “The Turpentine Industry,” the Berrien county News says: “This comparatively new industry is attracting much attention in our vicinity.  The people of this section, who in a great measure, own the timber, have allowed it to lie idle and undeveloped, notwithstanding the turpentine is a great source of revenue.  This timber has stood upon the earth for centuries, and it may stand there as much longer, and the owners will derive no more benefit from it than from an equivalent sum of money locked up in a safe for the same length of time.”

As in other Wiregrass communities, turpentine and naval stores became major industries in Ray City, GA.  Robert S. Thigpen, a wealthy resident of Berrien County, GA,  owned a turpentine plant in Ray’s Mill.  The plant, sold in 1898 for $13,000, would have valued at more than $10 million in 2008 dollars.

Among  other Ray City and Berrien County residents who prospered in the industry was Walter “W.D.” Brown, who had a turpentine operation near Ray’s Mill in 1904. Wilson W. Fender  was in the turpentine business, as was Lorenzo D. Carter.  Arthur Shaw and brother-in-law, William Clements,  operated a turpentine still at Willacoochee, Georgia, Brothers Chester Shaw and Lacy Lester Shaw were also involved in the turpentine business.

John Whitford worked for one of the turpentine and naval stores concerns in the area.  His neighbor, Brass McKnight, was employed as “stiller” in the turpentine industry.  Another area turpentine barrel maker was William Watson.  Men like Jessie Norris, Elbert Thomas, John Fox, Levey Jones, Jack Jackson, Harrison McClain, Jessie Williams, Tom Thompson, Jim Stripling, George Taylor, and Daniel Holden and others worked on turpentine farms.  Many of these men may have worked one time or another for Lorenzo D. Carter, a naval stores operator and employer in Ray’s Mill (aka Ray City), GA in the early 1900s.

The firm of Sapp & Fender also conducted turpentine operations in Ray City.  David Asa Sapp was the manager; among his employees in 1917 were Leiland Scott, Si Randolph, Elisha  Graham, George Greene, James Hodges, Ellis Jenkins, Barney Johnson, John Jones, Robert Jones, Ruther Golden Jones, Ira Little, Will Mitchell, John Sam Robinson, Ernest Singleton, Arthur Stripling, Anderson Walker, John Waters, James Wooten, Turner Wooten, Willie Barnes, Arlie Brown and Handy Simpson. The company chauffeur was Henry Groover Page.

The Y. F. Carter Naval Stores concern began operation in Ray City about 1916 and by the 1930s it was the largest firm in the community, where approximately fifty men were employed.  This firm operated over ten crops of boxes, a “crop” consisting of 10,000 trees.  The turpentine rights for these trees were typically leased from local land owners..

Disputes over valuable lumber and turpentine rights sometimes ended up in court.  One such case was that of Shaw v. W.L.  Fender et. al., where the timber on land owned by Francis Marion Shaw  was being worked for turpentine  operations. William Lon Fender was a local turpentine man and in 1905 was treasurer of the South Georgia Turpentine Operators’  Association.

Collecting the turpentine was hard and sometimes dangerous work. The working conditions could be grueling and the pay was  meager.  But the vast, untapped pine forests of the Wiregrass provided abundant employment opportunities for those who could take it.  African-Americans, many sons of former slaves, came to the area to find work in the turpentine and sawmill operations. Other turpentine woodsmen, like Benjamin F. Morehead and Lewis Hudson, were born and raised in the local area of Ray’s Mill, Georgia.

Fire was a constant threat where the highly combustible turpentine rosin was present.  The March 22, 1905 Pensacola Journal related the disparaging ruminations of a Valdosta turpentine man about the low paid laborers and their risky work.

…I sent a negro with a team into the wood some time ago to haul drippings and the negro let the  wagon burn up, even the tongue. He was ‘totin’ the rosin up in a bucket, and I guess threw a match down on a dead pine top. When he looked around the pine top was in a blaze and the rosin-smeared wagon was catching. The negro tried to put it out and finally started the team toward a cypress pond but the wheel became locked against a tree and it was all the darkey could do to save the mules.”

As in other industries, African-American turpentine workers at the turn of the 19th century were subject to poor treatment by their employers. Violence could be the result. One such case was that of Joe Willmont.  Willmont was arrested while working turpentine at Ray’s Mill in May of 1911, where he was hiding out under the alias Will Nelson. Willmont/Nelson had arrived in Ray’s Mill after fleeing an alleged double murder at the West Bay Naval Stores Company in West Bay, Florida.  The killings occurred when supervisors at the Florida company attempted to ‘whip’ Willmont for quitting the company.

According to A. P. Malone, author of Piney Woods Farmers 1850-1900: Jeffersonian Yeomen in an Age of Expanding Commercialism, most black laborers who came to the Wiregrass to work in the sawmill and turpentine operations did not acquire real estate here.  Many lived in turpentine or sawmill “camps,” and moved on to other areas after the available timberlands had been exhausted.  “However, some – perhaps as many as one-fourth – married locally and stayed in the area, often because they had some skills which enabled them to purchase town or farm property. Examples in Berrien County of such individuals are Neil Shipman, Cap Taylor, and Nathan Bridges.”

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1879 Jasper Giddens shoots Calvin Hightower

Isaac Jasper Giddens was born in Cat Creek, Lowndes County, Georgia. Just across the county line, in Berrien County, was the Knight community, the homestead of General Levi J. Knight. As a young man, Jasper Giddens lived in Ware and Clinch counties, eventually coming back to south Berrien, in the general region of present day Ray City, GA

By 1879, Isaac Jasper Giddens was back in south Berrien county a where the shooting occurred.

Columbus Daily Enquirer,
Dec. 17, 1879.
Georgia News. Pg. 3

We learn from the Valdosta Times that a difficulty occurred recently, near the line of Berrien county, between Mr. Jasper Giddens and Calvin Hightower, in which both combatants were severely cut. Giddens ended the fight by freeing himself from his adversary’s grasp, and shooting him fatally.

 More details were reported by the Valdosta Times and the story made the state newspapers about how Jasper Giddens settled the Knife Fight.  Jasper Giddens fled from justice but was finally captured at Brookfield, FL in 1887.

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