William Lonnie Royal and the Turkey Heist

William Lonnie Royal  (1897 – 1981)

Lonnie Royal, 1973.

Lonnie Royal, 1973.

William Lonnie Royal was born June 13, 1897, at  Homerville, Clinch County, GA.  He was a son of Gabriel Marion Royal and Vercy Lee Fender. Some time after 1910 his father rented a farm at Ray City, GA and this is where Lonnie grew to be a man.

On June 21, 1917  William  Lonnie Royal married Utha Gertrude Mixon in Berrien, Georgia.  The ceremony was performed by Lyman Franklin Giddens, who was Justice of the Peace at Ray City.  Utha Mixon was a daughter of Mary Elizabeth Clance and William Henry Mixon, of Ray City.

Marriage Certificate of William Lonnie Royal and Utha Mixon, Berrien County, GA

Marriage Certificate of William Lonnie Royal and Utha Mixon, Berrien County, GA

When the 1918  WWI draft registration occurred, Lonnie Royal was 21 years old and living and working at Ray City. He was of medium height and build, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. He was working for Daniel Jackson “Jack” Gaskins, a farmer in the Lois District just west of town. He listed Frank Royal, of Ray City, as his next of kin.

In the spring of 1919 Lonnie and Utha, now with an infant son, were trying to make a home. It’s unclear just how Lonnie came to such a desperate state, but  he was charged in a number of thefts in the Ray City vicinity. The first case involved the heist of a turkey, said fowl being the property of a Mr. Connell. A second case involved the burglary of the residence of Lonnie’s employer, Jack Gaskins.  Mr. Connell may have been Clinton D. Connell, who was a neighbor of Jack Gaskins. The disposition of these cases was reported in the Nashville Herald:

April 4, 1919 - Lonnie Royal was convicted of a misdemeanor theft.

April 4, 1919 – Lonnie Royal was convicted of a misdemeanor theft.

“Nashville Herald:  Two of the cases against Lonnie Royals, a young white man living near the Berrien-Lowndes line, were tried.  He was acquitted of stealing Mr. Connell’s turkey, but was convicted of burglarizing the home of Mr. Jack Gaskins.  The jury recommended that he be punished as for a misdemeanor.”

Lonnie was acquitted in the case of the turkey heist, and apparently the jury took pity on him in the burglary case as they recommended sentencing for a misdemeanor crime.

Lonnie and Utha made their home in the Ray City area for many years.

Children of William Lonnie Royal and Utha Gertrude Mixon:

  1. Samuel Clarence Royal, b.  Jul 26 1918, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia; married Mary Sue Smith; died  March 4, 2008 Louis Smith Hospital, Lakeland, Lanier, Georgia
  2. Clara Mae Royal, b.  Jan 21 1920, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia; died  Dec 25 1923, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia
  3. William Clyde Royal, b.  May 14 1921, Lakeland, Lanier, Georgia; married Dora Brown; d.  Feb 27 1997, Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia
  4. Velma Louise Royal, b.  Dec 26 1922, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia; died  Dec 12 1923, New Bethel Cemetery, Berrien, Georgia
  5. Alva Inez ‘Mickie’ Royal, b.  May 03 1924 Ray City, Lanier, Georgia; married 1) Woodard Bailey, 2) Horace L. Grayson; died  Jan 09 2010, Beaumont, Texas
  6. Gola Wylene Royal
  7. Agnes Kathleen Royal, b.  Jul 22 1929, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia; m. Dale Wilson; died  Dec 04 1972, Phoenix, Arizona
  8. Jewel Christine Royal, b.  Aug 23 1930, Ray City, Berrien, Georgia; died  May 28 1944, Lakeland, Lanier, Georgia
  9. Gladys Helen Royal, b.  Aug 18 1933, Ray City, Lanier, Georgia; m. Ralph Henderson ; died  July 23, 2006, Bryon, Olmsted, Minnesota

William Lonnie Royal died March 2, 1981 in Berrien County, GA.  He was buried at Fender Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Graves of Lonnie Royal and Utha Mixon, Fender Cemetery, Lanier County, GA

Graves of Lonnie Royal and Utha Mixon, Fender Cemetery, Lanier County, GA


Images and information on Mixon family history contributed in part by http://royalmixon.tribalpages.com/

Judge Holt and the Fish-Grass Case

It is said that Judge Thaddeus Goode Holt presided over the first session of the Superior Court of Lowndes County, GA in 1825, convened at the home of Sion Hall, and where Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the Grand Jury.

In Macon, the Honorable Thaddeus G. Holt  went into law practice with his brother-in-law, Allen Fleming, Esquire. A case of note was the Fish-Grass case, concerning the fishing for shad on the Ocmulgee River.

American Shad.

American Shad.

In The bench and bar of Georgia: memoirs and sketches, with an appendix, containing a court roll from 1790 to 1857, etc, Volume 2, Steven Frank Miller tells a story of the Fish-Grass case in which Thaddeus G. Holt and Allen Fleming represented defendants in the Superior Court of Twiggs County:

A little circumstance may be here related as occurring in 1832, or thereabout…

A well-known citizen of Macon, considerably advanced in years and of great wealth, had retained Messrs. Shorter and Gordon as standing counsel. The litigation in which he was engaged was quite extensive, and some of it very curious. Among other possessions he owned land on opposite sides of the Ocmulgee, and had resolved to permit no fishing on his property, except by his leave. In the shad-season, several poor men residing in Bibb crossed over, fastened their canoes to the Twiggs side, and threw out their nets for fish in the river. To warm themselves, they kindled a fire on the bank, burned pine-knots, and probably increased their comfort by adding a few sticks of other wood to the flame. This was the only ” breaking the plaintiff’s close and treading down his grass” for which his counsel were instructed to bring an action in Twiggs Superior Court, because it was for a trespass on the realty. The defendants employed a gentleman* [Thaddeus G. Holt] who had just retired from the bench of the Southern circuit, and his partner† [Allen Fleming] in the practice, whose modesty alone forced him afterward from the bar. The trial came on:  the plaintiff, trembling with bodily infirmities, yet resolute, appeared in court with his title-papers, scowling vengeance on the poor fishermen who had dared to trample on his rights,— “the grass aforesaid.”

The evidence showed a legal trespass of a very harmless character. Mr. Gordon argued the case for the plaintiff by stating the law, and maintaining that because the plaintiff was rich it was no reason why justice should be denied where a plain case of damage had been made out; for the law presumed damage whenever a trespass was committed. The effort was up-hill, a heavy strain to counsel, and the jury looked as if they had no disposition to encourage him by nods or smiles of approbation as he dwelt on the strong points of his argument.  After Mr. Gordon closed, the junior counsel of the defendants launched forth in a vein of goodhumored yet convulsive ridicule, and blowed the case so completely that the jury in five minutes returned a verdict for the defendants. Whereupon the plaintiff instantly paid the cost and entered an appeal, declaring that he would “give it to the rascals next time.” While the appeal was pending in the grass-fish case, Mr. Gordon found it inconvenient to attend Twiggs court, and the action was transferred into the hands of a gentleman‡ [John A. Cuthbert] who, as an advocate, (a former Representative in Congress,) evinced a high order of talent and very refined and uniformly-courteous address. His speech for the plaintiff was calmly logical, and was a fair specimen of Westminster deduction from small premises. The ex-judge, who was behind none of his compeers in blandness of manner, then touched the spark to the magazine of fun in the case, and away it exploded, causing much suppressed laughter, even at the expense of Mr. Gordon, who was accused of deserting his large practice in the court rather than appear in so pitiful a case or seeming to offend his rich client by a refusal,—a case so unequal, so much power on the one side and so much weakness on the other, as to remind one of a whale making war upon a minnow, if nature ever permitted such contests; a case where a rich man grudged a few straggling fish in a public highway (for all rivers in Georgia were such) to the poor families who looked to it for their daily support. The special jury readily gave a concurring verdict for the defendants. A motion was made for a new trial, on which a rule nisi was granted, and taken to the Convention of Judges, who advised a dismissal of the rule. Thus terminated the case,

* Hon. Thaddeus G. Holt, now of the city of Macon.

†Allen Fleming, Esq., then of Marion, but who for the last eight or ten years has been the Agent of the Marine and Fire Insurance Bank at Griffin.

‡John A. Cuthbert, Esq., then editor of the Federal Union, now a resident of Mobile, Alabama, and late judge of the county court.


Additional notes on Judge Thaddeus G. Holt:
His father, Thaddeus Holt, served for a short time in the state legislature and as a lieutenant colonel in the militia during the War of 1812. He participated in several duels during his life and was eventually murdered in October of 1813.


Obituary of Sheriff W. L. Swindle

William Lawrence Swindle,  eldest son of pioneer settlers James Swindle and Nancy Jane Parker, was born and raised in the Ray’s Mill district of Berrien County, GA.  He  owned property and resided at Ray City,  and also at Nashville, GA.

W. L. Swindle was a Mason, and in politics he was a democrat. He was elected to three terms as Sheriff of Berrien County, after which the Nashville Herald announced February 4, 1911, “Mr. W.L. Swindle, of Nashville, has accepted a position with his brother, Mr. J.S. Swindle, of this place [Ray’s Mill – now Ray City].”  Another of his brother’s, George Emory Swindle, died of Bright’s disease in 1909.

Family of William Lawrence Swindle, circa 1900.  Left to Right: May Ola Swindle, William Lawrence Swindle, Ada Belle (standing,rear), Callie Etta Swindle (center, front), Polly Nesmith Swindle, Emma Lee Swindle. Image source: Cher Newell.

Family of William Lawrence Swindle, circa 1900. Left to Right: May Ola Swindle, William Lawrence Swindle, Ada Belle (standing,rear), Callie Etta Swindle (center, front), Polly Nesmith Swindle, Emma Lee Swindle. Image source: Cher Newell.

In January, 1914, W. L. Swindle suffered a paralyzing stroke:


Tifton Gazette
January 30, 1914

Ex-Sheriff Swindle Paralyzed

Ex-Sheriff W. L. Swindle of Berrien County was stricken with paralysis Friday about noon while he was in the courthouse at Nashville.  His entire left side was affected.  His daughter, Mrs. C.C. Hall was notified and together with Col. Hall left for Nashville Saturday morning. Later advices from Mr. Swindle says that he shows but little improvement although he is able to take liquid nourishment.

William Lawrence Swindle

William Lawrence Swindle died March 5, 1915:

Obituary of William Lawrence Swindle

Obituary of William Lawrence Swindle

Tifton Gazette
March 12, 1915

Mr. W. L. Swindle Dead

Former Sheriff of Berrien County Passed Away Friday Night

    News was received in Tifton with deep regret Saturday morning that former Sheriff William Lawrence Swindle died at his home in Nashville Friday night at 9 o’clock.  Mr. Swindle had been in bad health for several years and last year suffered a stroke of paralysis.  He was taken seriously ill early in the week and his daughter here was summoned to his bedside.
Mr. Swindle was about fifty-eight years old and was born and raised in the Ray’s Mill section of Berrien county.  He was a son of James A. and Nancy Swindle and his father died last year.  Mr. Swindle was for some time in the mercantile business at Nashville and served Berrien county as Sheriff for three terms, making an able and zealous officer.
    Mr. Swindle was married twice.  His first wife died several years ago and one son born to them died in early manhood.  His second wife was Miss Collie Nesmith.  To this union four children, all girls, were born.  One, Miss Emmie, is dead, and three are living, Mrs. C. C. Hall, of Tifton, and Misses May and Callie Swindle, who are with their mother at the family homestead.
    The funeral services were held at Nashville Saturday afternoon.  Among those attending from Tifton were Sheriff Shaw, who was formerly Deputy Sheriff under Mr. Swindle, and Mr. W. E. Webb.
    Mr. Swindle was a Mason, a firm and loyal friend and a man who had many excellent traits of character.  He was well liked here where he had an extensive acquaintance.  This district which was then in Berrien county, contributed a strong vote towards his election each time he was a candidate.

Graves of William Lawrence Swindle and Mary Pollie Neesmith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Graves of William Lawrence Swindle and Mary Pollie Neesmith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Children of William Lawrence Swindle (1856-1915) and Mary Polly Nesmith (1853 – 1936):

  1. Ada Bell Swindle. Birth July 2, 1886 in Berrien Co., GA. Married Christopher Columbus Hall in 1904. Death January 16, 1941 in Washington, DC.
  2. May Ola Swindle. Birth May 6, 1888 in Berrien Co., GA.
  3. Emily Swindle. Birth April 6, 1890 in Berrien, GA.  Died of Typhoid Fever July 9, 1904 in Berrien County, GA.
  4. Infant Swindle. 1892.
  5. Callie Etta Swindle. Birth August 14, 1894 in Berrien County, GA. Married Walter Jordan Adams.   Death July 27, 1977 in Berrien Co., GA.

1922 Ray City Elections

January 10, 1922 was Election Day in Ray City, GA

Lyman Franklin Giddens and Essie Parrish Giddens.  L. F. Giddens was elected Mayor of Ray City, GA in 1922.

Lyman Franklin Giddens and Essie Parrish Giddens. L. F. Giddens was elected Mayor of Ray City, GA in 1922. Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Atlanta Constitution
Jan 11, 1922, pg 6

Ray City Officials

Milltown, Ga.,  January 10. – (Special.) – At the election for the town officers at Ray City.  Tuesday, the following were elected: Mayor, L.F. Giddens: councilmen. J.T. Phillips, A.W. Turner, J.S. Clements, Jr., and J.A. Griffin.  They were installed immediately

Lyman Franklin Giddens, Mayor of Ray City

Mr. Lyman F. Giddens (1876 – 1963) – better known as “Judge” – served the town as mayor, city clerk and justice-of-the-peace. As mayor he was involve in the effort to bring a power plant and electric lights to Ray City, GA. He was also probably Ray City’s longest standing barber.

Lyman Franklin Giddens was born in July 7, 1876 in Berrien County. His father, Hardeman Giddens, was a soldier in the C.S.A. His mother was Martha J. Gaskins. In 1900, Lyman F. Giddens, age 23, was still living in his mother and father’s household on the family farm, along with his brother William Giddens. His father owned the farm, free and clear, and the two sons worked as farm labor. He married Essie Daisy Parrish on Jan 29, 1902 in Berrien County, Georgia. On September 12, 1918 Lyman Franklin Giddens registered for the draft.  He was 42 years old, a self-employed barber working in Ray City, GA. The Registrar’s  report described him as medium height, stout, gray eyes and black hair. In 1920  Lyman F. Giddens owned outright a house on Park Street, where the Giddens family lived.  Lyman was 43 years old, his wife Essie was 34.  Living with the couple were their three children, Inez, age 15, Homer, 10, and Ida Lou, age 7.   At this time Lyman was already working on his own account as a barber.

Also elected that day:

James Thomas Phillips, City Councilman
James Thomas “Jim” Phillips, (1880-1963) was 42 at the time of election.  He was born and grew to manhood in Dodge County, GA., coming to Ray City some time before 1920, where he worked as a salesman.  His wife died prior to the 1920 census, after which he boarded in the home of Ray City merchant J. Fred Hinely.  About 1921 he married Maggie Lou Dugger. Elected councilman, Ray City, GA, 1922.  By 1930, the Phillips had moved to Nashville, GA where Jim continued work in sales in the hardware line, and later worked as a commercial carpenter.

Andrew Washington Turner, City Councilman
Andrew Washington Turner came to the Rays Mill district as a young man with his widowed mother, some time before 1880. In 1892 Turner married Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans and the couple made a home and raised their children in Rays Mill, GA. They were civic minded, helping to found the Methodist church, and constructing some of the first brick buildings in town. The Turners made Ray City, GA their home through the 1920s.  The Census of 1920 gives Andrew’s occupation as “Cotton buyer” working on his own account.  His son, Jesse Turner, was working as a drayman, for public work. The family residence was located on North Street in Ray City, next to the homes of Levi J. Clements and Lucius J. Clements, operators of the Clements Sawmill.  Andrew Turner was also engaged in the in naval stores and the mercantile business. The Turners later moved to Valdosta, GA.  (see Andrew Washington Turner and Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans, More on Andrew Washington Turner and Phoebe Isabelle Sirmans.)

J. S. Clements, Jr., City Councilman
Joseph S. Clements was a native son of Ray City. Born August 14, 1886, his parents were Levi J. Clements and Rowena Patten. His family founded the Clements Lumber Company, the big sawmill which operated on the north side of town.  On June 29, 1916 Joseph S. Clements married Effie Mae O’Quinn.  She was born April 19, 1893 in Wayne County, Georgia. When Joe registered for the draft on June 5th, 1917, Joseph gave as a reason for exemption from the draft, “on account of wife.” His draft card information shows that in 1917 he and Effie were living in Ray City. Joseph described himself as married, and self-employed as a lumber manufacturer and farmer. He was medium build, medium height with blue eyes and light hair.  In the 1920s, J. S. Clements was Treasurer of the company. Elected to the City Council in 1922, he was a neighbor of fellow councilman Andrew W. Turner. Joseph S. Clements later served as Mayor. (see WWI Boom for Clements Lumber Company at Ray City, GA).

John Albert Griffin, City Councilman
John Albert Griffin  was a son of Micajah and Mary Griffin, born October 22, 1889 in Ocilla, GA. As a boy, he helped his father with the family farm in Rays Mill, GA. In 1909, his parents hosted traveling evangelist Rebecca J. Fox in their home when her gospel tent was burned at Rays Mill. About 1911 J. A. Griffin married Beulah Griner and the couple rented a home on Pauline Street where they raised their children. J. A. Griffin became a merchant of Ray City. When he registered for the draft for WWI in 1917, he was described as medium height and build, with blue eyes and light hair. In 1922 he was elected to the City Council.  Beulah Griner Griffin died May 15, 1928; John Albert Griffin followed her in death just six weeks later on July 1, 1928. They were buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery.

An Antebellum Trial at Troupville

In 1932, James Nicholas Talley, a son of Berrien County, GA and member of the Macon Bar, published a dramatic account of court proceedings  that occurred in the 1840s in Troupville, county seat of old Lowndes County, Georgia.  Samuel Mattox, son of Aaron Mattox,  was charged in the September 7, 1843 murder of William Slaughter. The Studstill brothers,  Jonathan and Emanuel “Manny” Studstill, sons of Rachel Sirmans and Hustus Studstill (aka Eustus Studstill), were also implicated in the crime. In 1836, Samuel Mattox had been the first to discover Indians were active in then Lowndes county near Ten Mile Creek, prior to the Battle of Brushy Creek.  Ten Mile Creek, the locality of the Slaughter murder, lies slightly northeast of present day Ray City, GA.

Talley’s narrative of the murder of the Slaughter boy and the trials that ensued are transcribed below, along with contemporaneous news clippings of the events and other supplemental information.


By J. N. TALLEY, of the Macon Bar

Late in the afternoon of September seventh, Eighteen Forty-three, a fifteen-year-old boy, William Slaughter, rode through the pine woods near Ten Mile creek. He was driving up a herd of cattle, for it was milking time at his father’s pioneer settlement in the upper part of Lowndes.

At a distant clearing, the calves having been rounded up and penned, Samuel Mattox and his wife, Rachel, the milker, stood at the pasture bars. With them were two young men of the neighborhood, Jonathan Studstill and his brother, Manuel, who had come over to see Mattox and make plans for an early deer hunt. While they were waiting somewhat impatiently for the cows, Manuel displayed a gun which he had brought along, a rifle  so rusty and antiquated in pattern that he declared, to the amusement of the group, it wouldn’t kill a steer at fifteen steps. They were “all in a laugh,” when the straggling herd, guided by the mounted boy, came into sight a quarter of a mile away.

The ford was soon reached, but there horse and rider stopped and, scattering out over a wiregrass level, the cows began to graze.

Observing from the calf lot this delay at the ford, Jonathan with a loud halloo ordered the boy to “come on.” William doubtless did not hear the command, for he continued to await the arrival of a brother from across the creek. From his stand by the fence, possibly actuated by the instinct of the hunter, perhaps-for no reason at all, Mattox closely contemplated the distant youthful figure in the fading light dimly outlined against the dense foliage of the swamp. While Mattox was so engaged, Manuel handed him the rifle and suggested that he shoot. Jonathan likewise said “shoot,” adding that the old firearm wouldn’t hit the side of a house. “Moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil”, as was afterwards charged, Mattox took aim and sighted, first however, it is said, deliberately resting the rifle barrel on a heap of brush. “Stop” screamed Rachel, but the shot rang out, and through the clearing smoke the unoffending lad was seen to fall from his saddle.

Dropping the gun and leaving Rachel at the pasture bars, the men ran to the ford and found the stricken boy. Horrified they discovered that the ball, speeding with unexpected force and accuracy, had penetrated his skull. ­Realizing that the report of the gun had carried far and thinking to avert suspicion, Jonathan and Mattox roughly pressed a pine stick through the open wound into the substance of the brain. Upon receiving this shock, the prostrate and apparently lifeless form arose and for one awful moment stood, face distorted by pain and wide unseeing eyes fixed upon Jonathan. Seizing the horse, which had remained standing by its unconscious master,  Manuel rode away to summons help. Later when Samuel Slaughter, the brother, and [Captain John] Sanderson, a neighbor arrived, and the mother came up in her cart, they were told by Mattox and Jonathan how a random shot fired from across the creek had frightened the horse, how the boy had been violently thrown, and how in falling his head struck a pine knot. Pointing to the stick, Jonathan declared to the mother, “that snag proved your son’s death.”

Early next morning young Slaughter died. The locality where he was shot is still known locally as Slaughter’s Ford and is some five or six miles from the present town of Nashville in Berrien county.


Cause of Death Revealed by Hole in Hat.

The remote rural community had been thoroughly aroused. Samuel Slaughter, who heard the shot, maintained that it came from the direction of the calf pen, for at the time he himself had been “across the creek.”  The Studstills, Mattox and Rachel did much talking, and after several days Mattox acknowledged that it was he who fired the “random shot” which frightened the horse. The theory of accidental death was being generally accepted until one day Moses Slaughter at home took down his son’s hat and found a hole, clear cut and evidently made by a bullet. Then Sanderson, who had removed the stick, remembered that instead of being jammed it was loose and moved with the pulsations of the brain. The body was disinterred, a post-mortem made by Dr. Briggs of Troupville, and a rifle ball found imbedded in the left side of the head.

 A Warrant issued for the arrest of Mattox, who promptly sought refuge in the thickets about a secluded pool, afterwards called “the Mattox pond,” and now crossed by State Highway No. 11.

At this point in J. N. Talley’s story we can add that Samuel Mattox was captured and taken to Troupville, GA where he was incarcerated in the county jail. During this time the Jailor in Troupville was Morgan Swain, who was also a blacksmith and innkeeper.  Swain’s Hotel was favored by courtgoers, amicus curiae, and the just plain curious who flocked to town on court days.

As it happened, Mattox was held with cellmates Tarlton Swain and John Strickland.  Tarlton “Talt” Swain was the brother of Morgan Swain, and whereas Morgan represented law and order, Talt Swain and his posse were the community Bad Boys.  It is said that Talt  not being of a mind to take chances with a court trial, effected an escape.  The Milledgeville Federal Union reported the fugitives’ flight and the Governor’s offer of reward for their capture:

Samuel Mattox escapes from Troupville, GA jail, 1843.

Federal Union, Nov. 21, 1843 — page 1


A Proclamation

By Charles J. McDonald, Governor of said State.

Whereas, official information has been received at this Department, that SAMUEL MATTOX, charged with the offence of murder, and TARLTON SWAIN and JOHN STRICKLAND, charged with the offence of aiding prisoner to escape from Jail, in the county of Lowndes, have made their escape from the Jail of said county.  Now in order that the said Samuel Mattox, Tarlton Swain and John Strickland, may be brought to trial for the offence of which they stand charged; I have thought proper to issue this my Proclamation, hereby offering a reward of ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, for the apprehension and delivery of either, or THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS for all three, to the Sheriff or Jailer of said county; and I do moreover, charge and require all officers, civil and military in this State, to aid and assist in apprehending and securing said fugitives.
Given under my hand, and the Great Seal of the State, at the Capitol in Milledgeville, this the 7th day of November, 1843, and of the American Independence the sixty-eighth.


By the Governor,

J. W. A. Sanford, Secretary of State,

Nov. 7 1843.

The Governor’s offer of a reward was issued by Georgia Secretary of State John William Augustine Sanford.  Sanford had been prosecutor Augustin H. Hansell‘s commanding officer in the Indian Wars of 1836.

It is interesting to note that the legal classified advertisement following the reward announcement  above was for the law offices Samuel Spencer and H. S. Stewart.  Spencer’s presence in Troupville, or the lack thereof, would figure prominently in later court proceedings during the trial of Jonathan Studstill.

Mattox was apparently captured in a timely manner and remanded back to the jail at Troupville to stand trial.

Resuming the account by J.N. Talley:

Mattox Convicted

At Troupville, Mattox was put on trial for his life, convicted, and sentenced to death. The many vital questions argued by counsel were finally decided by the then highest judicial authority, a superior court judge, for there was no supreme court, and no appeal.

New York Herald, June 24, 1844. Samuel Mattox convicted of murder in Lowndes County, GA.

New York Herald, June 24, 1844. Samuel Mattox convicted of murder in Lowndes County, GA.

The execution took place in July (probably 1844) on a hill just east of the Withlacoochee river, and was conducted by sheriff John Towels, who happened to be an intimate friend of the victim. The hanging was witnessed by a crowd said to have been the largest, with one exception, ever assembled at Troupville, the exception being a circus in the late 50’s which for all time set an attendance record at Lowndes’ antebellum capital.

1844 Hanging of Samuel Mattox at Troupville, GA was reported in the Milledgeville Southern Reporter, August 13, 1844 edition.

1844 Hanging of Samuel Mattox at Troupville, GA was reported in the Milledgeville Southern Reporter, August 13, 1844 edition.

Milledgeville Southern Reporter
August 13, 1844

Troupville, Lowndes Co.,
July 30, 1844.

Messrs. Editors:  – Samuel Mattox was found guilty of the murder of William Slaughter, at the last term of our Court, and sentenced to be hung on Friday last, which was done in presence of one thousand persons, as we suppose; and the very next day, (last Saturday.) Alexander McFail killed Ebenezer J. Perkins, by stabbing him. Thus it is among us: one scene of murder succeeds another in such rapid succession, that it is alarming and distressing. McFail has fled.

Truly yours, &c.

J. N. Talley noted in his narrative that, “The records of the Mattox trial were destroyed when the courthouse burned in June, 1858.” From later news clippings, we know that one of the jurors was Ajaniah Smith, who later moved to Baker’s Mill, FL.

Tifton Gazette, March 8, 1901 clipping indicates Ajaniah Smith served on the jury at the trial of Samuel Mattox in 1844.

Tifton Gazette, March 8, 1901 clipping indicates Ajaniah Smith served on the jury at the trial of Samuel Mattox in 1844.

Tifton Gazette
March 8, 1901

Mr. A. Smith, of Baker’s Mill, Fla., is one of the old-timers in this section and was the first sheriff that Brooks county had.  He also fought the Indians in this section, and served on the jury which hanged Samuel Mattox for the murder of a son of Moses Slaughter, in Berrien county many years ago. – Valdosta Times.

Talley documents that  in the matter of the murder of William Slaughter the legal proceedings were an incredibly drawn out affair, stretching over a seven year period. His narrative picks up in 1848 with the trial of Jonathan Studstill, who allegedly aided and abetted the murder of Slaughter.

The Studstill Case

The Studstill brothers had been indicted for murder in the second degree, a capital felony. The charge against them was not tried until 1848, five years after the crime had been committed. Throughout this long period Jonathan languished in Troupville’s little jail near the banks of the Withlacoochee. In the meantime Rachel Mattox had become Rachel Bailey. This comely, young woman seemed dogged by the spectre of crime. Her second husband [Burrell Hamilton Bailey] some years later was also tried for murder, but found not guilty.  (SEE Showdown in Allapaha and  The State vs Burrell Hamilton Bailey)

Troupville in 1848, boasted of three hotels and four lawyers. The resident bar, normally adequate for local needs, was more or less eclipsed by the semi-annual advent of the circuit riders. These perambulatory dignitaries, traveling in gigs and sulkies or on horseback, that year had begun their ­”Fall’ riding at Dublin on the first Monday in September.

An Old Indictment

The following indictment had been returned against Jonathan and Manuel Studstill:


The Grand Jurors, etc., in the name and behalf of the citizens of Georgia, charge and accuse Manuel Studstill and Jonathan Studstill, both of the County and State aforesaid, with the offence of murder, as principals in the second degree. For that one Samuel Mattox, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 7th day of September, 1843, with force and arms in the County aforesaid, in and upon one William Slaughter, in the peace of the State then and there being, feloniously, unlawfully, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, then and there did make an assault, and that he, the said Samuel Mattox a certain rifle gun of the value of twenty dollars, the property of Manuel Studstill, then and there being found, the said rifle gun being then and there charged with gunpowder and a leaden bullet, which rifle gun he, the said Samuel Mattox, in both his hands then and there had and held at, against and upon him, the said William Slaughter, then and there feloniously, unlawfully, and of his malice aforethought, did discharge and shoot off; and that he, the said Samuel Mattox, with the leaden bullet aforesaid, by force of the gunpowder aforesaid, so by him, the said Samuel Mattox as aforesaid, discharged and shot off, him, the said William Slaughter, in and upon the left side of the head of him, the said William Slaughter, then and there feloniously, unlawfully, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did strike and wound, giving to the said William Slaughter, then and there, with the leaden bullet aforesaid, out of the said rifle gun, so as aforesaid discharged and shot off, in and upon the said left side of the head of him, the said William Slaughter, one mortal wound of the breadth of one inch and depth of two inches, of which said mortal wound he, the said William Slaughter, on and from the said 7th day September, in the year aforesaid, until the 8th day of September, in the year aforesaid, at the house of one Moses Slaughter, in the County aforesaid, did languish, and languishing did live, on which said 8th day of September, in the year aforesaid, about the hour of nine o’clock, in the morning, he, the said William Slaughter, at the house of said Moses Slaughter, in the County aforesaid, of the mortal wound aforesaid, died.

And the jurors aforesaid, on their oaths aforesaid, do say, that the said Manuel Studstill and the said Jonathan Studstill, on the said 7th day of September, in the year aforesaid, in the County and State aforesaid, then and there feloniously, wilfully, unlawfully, and of their malice aforethought, were present, aiding helping, abetting, comforting, assisting and maintaining the said Samuel Mattox in the felony and murder aforesaid, in manner and form aforesaid, to do and commit, contrary to the laws of said State, etc.

This indictment language, convoluted and legally flawed as it was, became an exemplar of indictments, and was cited in legal forms encyclopedias for decades afterwards.  Although the Lowndes court records of this trial were also lost in the courthouse fire of 1858, we know from other court records that the foreman of the jury was Thomas M. Boston.

The Court Room

The State against Manuel and Jonathan Studstill, murder, was sounded for trial at the December term, 1848. The small scantily furnished court room was crowded. Within the bar a dozen or more lawyers occupied cowhide bottom chairs irregularly arranged behind plain pine tables. These tables supported sundry well-worn but highly prized volumes of law, a nondescript collection of ink wells and quill pens, and numerous resplendent stove pipe hats carefully deposited upside down. Trained under his uncles, Eli and Lott Warren, the presiding judge James Jackson Scarborough had become one of the outstanding lawyers of two circuits. His reputation at the bar, however, it is said, was surpassed by that which he attained while on the bench, and “there was a child-like simplicity about him which blended with his legal acumen and judicial ability made him a refreshing character.”  Augustin H. Hansell, solicitor general, appeared for the prosecution. The following year he was to succeed Scarborough as Judge of the Southern Circuit, a station which he occupied and conspicuously adorned during forty-three years. To assist in the prosecution had been retained Samuel Rockwell, rich in garnered experience and gifted in forensic oratory. On behalf of the Studstills appeared the learned Carlton B. Cole, twice judge of the Southern Circuit and destined in after years to preside over the courts of the Macon Circuit, and with Clifford Anderson and Walter B. Hill to form the first faculty of the Law School at Mercer University.

Procedure Reviewed

The State being ready, the first motion came from the defendants who asked for a severance and that they be tried separately.  This granted, Hansell announced that Manuel’s case would be taken up first. Cautiously refraining from announcing that Manuel was ready for trial, Cole informed the court of a pending plea of autrefois acquit.  Issue being joined, there was a complete trial, which ended in a verdict against the plea. Thereupon Hansell announced that the State elected to put Jonathan on trial. This unexpected action was vigorously protested by Cole who insisted that the prosecution could not abandon the case on trial and take up that of Jonathan; Judge Scarborough held, however, that the disposition of the plea was merely the removal of an obstacle out of the way and not a part of the main trial, and directed Jonathan to plead. Cole now moved for a continuance of Jonathan’s case on account of the absence of Samuel Spencer, a member of the Thomasville bar, who was then at Tallahassee in attendance on a meeting of the Presidential Electors, the first to be held in the new state of Florida. In support of this motion it was shown that one [William] Holliday had been subpoenaed by the State for the purpose of proving that in a conversation Jonathan had confessed his guilt. Spencer was expected to testify that Holliday afterwards admitted being “so beastly drunk” on the occasion in question as to have been utterly incapable of understanding the conversation or anything else. The motion was overruled, but the prudent Hansell during the trial was careful not to call Holliday as a witness, thus avoiding the effect of a favorable ruling which might constitute reversible error.  These preliminaries disposed of, at a word from his attorney, Jonathan slowly walked to the prisoner’s dock and awkwardly stood there for arraignment and plea. Already knowing what the State held against him, the prisoner soon tired of listening to the verbose indictment, and turned his gaze straight to a window by the judge’s bench. There, beyond the moss draped trees fringing the Withlacoochee he saw the very hill where a few years before an enormous crowd had gathered to make of Mattox’ hanging a Roman holiday.

With jury in the box the stage was set for the trial of Jonathan’s case upon its merits.


The Trial Proceeds

The attention of all in the court room centered upon Augustin H. Hansell as he arose to open the case for the State. In appearance the young solicitor general was tall and strikingly handsome, clean shaven, his abundant hair worn rather long as was the fashion, and his dress, that affected by gentlemen of his profession – dark frock coat, trousers neatly fitting over high boots, waistcoat of gaily flowered silk, surmounted by the folds of a black stock sharply contrasting with his gleaming linen. The prosecuting attorney told the jury that if the State produced that proof the nature of which he had outlined, it would be their duty to find Jonathan guilty.

Before any evidence was submitted, the dignified Cole, addressing the judge, stated that even if the State’s proof should measure up to the expectations of the learned solicitor general, yet the jury would be bound to acquit the prisoner, and moved the court for a directed verdict of not guilty. It was pointed out by Cole that although the indictment charged Jonathan with murder in the second degree, it nowhere directly charged Mattox, the principal, with the offense of murder. While the offense had been described in the body of the indictment, nevertheless, argued Cole, there was at its conclusion no express allegation that Mattox had murdered the deceased, and that the omitted expression, technical though it was, could be supplied by no other. 2 Hawk. Pl. Cr. 224.

The attorneys for the State could not controvert the proposition that this objection to the indictment was fatal at common law. They contended, however, that the rule laid down did not apply to a principal in the second degree, but could find no authority. Driven from the principles and precedents of the cherished common law, the prosecution was reluctantly forced to fall back upon that section of the penal code of 1833, which provided that every indictment shall be deemed sufficiently technical which states an offense in the language of the code or so plainly that the nature of the offense may be understood by the jury. Prince 658.

Notwithstanding the indictment was an imperfect specimen of the draughtsman’s art, yet its meaning being understandable, the judge was constrained to overrule the motion.

Over the objection of the defendant, the indictment against Mattox, together with verdict and judgment and certain confessions made by him, were offered in evidence by the State, and then from the stand was narrated the story of how the boy while driving up his father’s cattle had been shot at the ford on Ten Mile Creek.

Rachel, the chief witness for the prosecution, and perhaps the only woman in the crowded court room, found herself in a trying situation. On the one side was fixed upon her the stern gaze of the unrelenting old pioneer settler, and on the other she beheld the kindly pleading eyes of Jonathan, friend of her former husband. Under these circumstances she clung to the anchor of remembered truth and testified that she heard Jonathan and Manuel tell Mattox to shoot, that the gun wouldn’t hit a boy at fifteen steps, but that she did not know whether her husband took aim or fired at random. Opposing her statement was that of Manuel who said he did not hand Mattox the gun, that so far as he saw or heard, his brother had nothing to do with the killing, and that he did not hear Rachel tell Mattox not to shoot,

The evidence concluded, on the law Cole argued that because of the great distance, the killing was not a probable consequence of the negligent act, therefore, the homicide was reduced to involuntary manslaughter as to which there could be no principal in the second degree. The State, however, contended that since the shooting itself was an unlawful act, the defendant was guilty, if the killing was even a possible consequence.


Argument Long and Loud

As soon as the first outburst of impassioned eloquence put the village on notice that jury speaking had begun, men came running from the square, the groceries, the taverns, and stables, and soon taxed the capacity of the courtroom. The anticipation of this probable consequence, it may be remarked without impropriety, did not prevent the aforesaid outburst from being made both early and loud, for it should be remembered that in those days the perambulatory attorney usually had in mind not only the case in hand but two others in the bush, and frequently also political preferment in the offing.

To most of those present, the jury speaking, which embraced argument, anecdote, pathos, oratorical flights, and sharp clashes between counsel, was the high point of the semi-annual entertainment presented by the court. The distinguished and resourceful antagonists no doubt made free use of all the material afforded by the case on trial, and we may imagine how in the disputation poor Rachel was bandied and buffeted back and forth – now thrown down as weak, simple, dominated, untrustworthy –  now exalted as a paragon of unswerving truth and womanly virtue. 

In his charge Judge Scarborough no doubt “summed up” the testimony as is still done in the United States Court, and may have expressed his opinion. Certain it is, the Judge stated to the jury if Rachel swore the truth the defendant was guilty. In view of the hard circumstances of this unusual case and the prominence given her testimony, it is not unlikely the jury conceived the practical question to their determination to be, Did Rachel swear the truth? Since an effort at her impeachment had miserably failed, it was perhaps, easy for them to conclude that she was a truthful witness, and, therefore, to decide, as they did, that Jonathan was guilty of murder.

The pageantry of the trial over, its excitement and suspense ended, a wave of sympathy appeared to move the hushed crowd of curious onlookers.  As they heard the fearsome pronouncement of the judge, interrupted only by the stifled sobs of Rachel, and saw Jonathan standing at the bar, with his staring gaze fixed upon the barren hilltop beyond the Withlacoochee.


Conviction Affirmed

The conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court sitting at Hawkinsville at the June Term, 1849. Studstill vs. State  7 Ga. 2. 

In sustaining Judge Scarborough’s ruling that the indictment was good, although it did not meet the technical requirements of the common law, Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin used the following language:

 “The age is past for the civil and criminal justice of the country to be defeated by the absence or presence of one or more ‘absque hocs,’ ‘then and theres,’ videlicts,’ etc. And for one, I rejoice to see edifices built, although they may be ‘with the granite of Littleton, the cement of Coke, the trowel of Blackstone, and the Masonic genius of a hundred Chief justiciaries, and covered with the moss of many generations,’ swaying beneath the sturdy blows so unsparingly applied by the hand of reform. Why should the spirit of progress which is abroad in the World, and which is heaving and agitating the public mined in respect to the arts, sciences, politics and religion, halt upon the vestibule of our temples of justice? Why not penetrate tearlessly, the precincts of the Bar and Bench, and remodel the principles and practice of the old common law, to accommodate it to the enlightenment of a rapidly advancing civilization? Our courts should co-operate cordially with the Legislature in building up a modernized jurisprudence, upon the broadest foundations.” _­Studstill vs. State, 7 Ga. 2.


Jonathan Receives Pardon

By an act approved February 6, 1850, the General Assembly granted to Jonathan Studstill a pardon and declared him entirely exonerated and discharged from the pains and penalties of his conviction and sentence “as fully, freely and entirely as if such conviction and sentence had never taken place or the offense committed.”

After this disposition of Jonathan’s case, apparently the prosecution against Manuel was abandoned.

Pardon of Jonathan Studstill, Acts of the State of Georgia 1849-50.

Pardon of Jonathan Studstill, Acts of the State of Georgia 1849-50.

 AN ACT to pardon Jonathan Studstill of the county of Lowndes.

Whereas at a Superior Court held in and for the county of Lowndes, at December Term, 1848, Jonathan Studstill was convicted of the crime of murder; and whereas petitions from a large number of the citizens of said county of Lowndes have been presented to the General Assembly, asking the exercise of legislative clemency:
Be it therefore enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and immediately after the passing of this act, the said Jonathan Studstill be and he is hereby declared to be freely, fully and entirely pardoned, exonerated, and discharged from the pains and penalties of his said convictions and sentence as fully, freely and entirely as if such conviction and sentence had never taken place or the offence committed.
Approved, February 6, 1850.


The Dumb Act

 It is significant that the same legislature passed a statute, approved February 21, known as “the Dumb Act of 1850,”which made it unlawful for any superior court judge in his charge to the jury to express or intimate his opinion as to what has or has not been proved or as to the guilt of the accused. There was at the time a considerable sentiment in favor of curbing the judiciary, but the Studstill case was probably one of the leading factors which crystallized that sentiment in Georgia.

The bill which became known as the Dumb Act was introduced by Richard H. Clark, then a senator living at Albany. Incidentally it is interesting to note that the author of the bill himself subsequently occupied the judicial station for twenty-two years. We are told this distinguished jurist would sometimes lose sight of the restraints thrown around the judge by our peculiar system of jurisprudence and appear to invade the province of the jury, and that most of the reversals of his judgment by the supreme court were based upon exceptions to alleged expressions of opinion before the jury. 99 Ga. 817

Judge Clark was familiar with the Studstill case, and in 1876 he referred to it as “one of the most interesting cases in the judicial annals of the State.” (58 Ga. 610).


Old Troupville

Lowndes County in 1843, when young Slaughter was killed, lay between Thomas and Ware, extended from the Florida line northward ninety miles, and was very sparsely settled. Its first county seat Franklinville, on the Withlacoochee two miles west of Cat Creek, had been abandoned ten years before and a permanent capital established at Troupville, a village situated in the angle formed by the confluence of the Little and Withlacoochee rivers, some six miles distant from the site of the present city of Valdosta.

At the time of the Studstill trial in 1848 Troupville was still a small village the next decade however, being a gateway to the new state of Florida, and supposed to be on the line of a projected railroad from Savannah, its growth was almost phenomenal.  At one time its bar consisted of thirteen members. Its newspaper The South Georgia Watchman, was the predecessor of the Valdosta Times.

When attending court, the judge and lawyers usually stopped at a tavern widely famed for its hospitality and presided over by a genial host, who was affectionately called “Uncle Billy Smith”. Across the street from the inn was the public square. On this was situated not only the court-house and jail, but also the stables belonging to the stage line and a convenient “grocery”.

The orderly decorum of the court room at Troupville was occasionally disturbed by energetic but short-lived fist fights on the square, but another disturbance occurring periodically had the more serious effect of halting the court. This was preceded by the shrill blasting of a bugle, followed by the measured“ beat of galloping horses and the loud, reverberations of the lumbering stage coach from Thomasville, as it rattled across the boards of Little River bridge. The forced recess continued until the stage with four fresh horses crossed over the Withlacoochee bridge and departed on its long journey through the pines to Waresborough.

A source of interruption within the court room itself was the practice of having grand jury witnesses sworn in open court. From time to time, more or less inopportune, a grand juror escorting two or three witnesses would appear at the bar, where upon the business in hand was suspended until the oath could be administered. These interjected proceedings were narrowly watched, and not infrequently a bystander, whose conduct was about to be investigated would be seen to make a hurried departure for the purpose of securing temporary immunity from punishment should the grand jury return a presentment.

The general complexion of a court crowd in those times differed somewhat from that of the post bellum period in that the black population remained at home, excepting the family coachman. These privileged and interesting characters contributed their bit to entertain the transients on the square, while their influential masters within the courtroom occupied chairs and hobnobbed with the dignitaries of bench and bar.

Court Week always attracted a great concourse of people. Some attended from necessity or compulsion, some to enjoy the feast of erudition and eloquence; others to trade, traffic or electioneer, but to many it was an occasion for much drinking and horse swapping, and for indulgence in cock fighting, horse racing, and other “Worldly amusements” for which Troupville became somewhat notorious. Indeed, among the Godly, it was regarded as a wild town – almost as wicked as Hawkinsville.


A Vanished Town

Now beneath a spreading oak that shades the old Stage road, a granite marker points out to passers-by the place where once stood Troupville – the far famed capital of Lowndes.

Only the rivers there remain, eternally the same –
Black waters, musically slipping,
Whose ripples sway the gray moss dipping
From hoary overhanging, trees
That murmur to the whispering breeze
Old tales of ancient memories.


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June 2, 1967 Jack Knight heads up Alapaha Bar

The late Judge W.D. “Jack” Knight, of Berrien County, grew up  and attended grade school at Ray City, GA before going on to college and entering the law profession.  The news clipping below, from the Clinch County News, June 2, 1967 reports that Knight was elected President of the Alapaha Bar Association.

(L to R)  ER Smith, Jack Knight, and Vickers Nugent at a function of the Alapaha Bar Association, 1970.

(L to R) ER Smith, Jack Knight, and Vickers Nugent at a function of the Alapaha Bar Association, 1970. Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com

Jack Knight

Knight Heads Bar Association

NASHVILLE – At a recent meeting of the attorneys of the Alapaha Bar Association held in Nashville, Georgia at Ivy Restaurant, Colonel W. D. Knight was elected President and Judge.  E.R. Smith, Sr. was elected Secretary-Treasurer.

    The new president is a native of  Berrien County, having been reared at Ray City, attended the Ray City public schools, was graduated with a B. S. degree from Valdosta State College, received his L. L. B. degree from the University of Georgia Law School and has practiced law in Nashville, Georgia for the past 9 years.  He served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 3 terms and is married to the former Jane Stallings and they have one daughter 3 years of age.

    The new officers take office immediately and serve for the year 1967.     Colonel Fred T. Allen of Nashville, Georgia is the outgoing President and Colonel Fed Belcher of Nashville is the outgoing Secretary-Treasurer.

    The Alapaha Bar Association is made up of attorneys in all of the 5 counties which compose the Alapaha Circuit.  These counties are Atkinson, Berrien, Cook, Clinch, and Lanier.  Judge H. W. Lott of Nashville, Georgia is the presiding judge and Vickers Neugent of Pearson, Georgia is the Solicitor General of the Circuit

In 1967 Jack Knight was elected President of the Alapaha Bar Association.

In 1967 Jack Knight was elected President of the Alapaha Bar Association.

Wild Men in the Wiregrass

A previous post Counterfeit Coins in Berrien County noted the involvement of the Dedge brothers in a rash of fake $10 gold eagle coins appearing in Berrien County, GA in 1910 :

“Dr. J.R. Dedge, a dentist at Nicholls, Coffee county, Ga. and his brother, E. E. Dedge of Milltown, Berrien county, were arrested by United States secret service men and  brought to Valdosta to-day, charged with being implicated in the disposal of counterfeiting $10 gold pieces.”

The Dedge brothers, sons of Joseph Gore Dedge and Louvenia Johnson,  were John R. Dedge, I.L. “Leb” Dedge, Estill E. Dedge,  and Calvin Warren Dedge. They were a family of dentists and doctors  who became notorious for questionable and violent dealings.  In 1896 Dr. Leb Dedge, D.D. S., was described as “a wild and desperate young white man” after he and Charles J. Medders assaulted a marshal, engaged in an armed stand-off with Dr. Julian and M. M. Knight in court, and led a riot along with Medders, L. Holzendorf, Sam Holzendorf and Charles Holzendorf at Pearson, GA.  Dr. Calvin Warren Dedge was shot to death in 1901 by Leon Roberts in an apparent justifiable homicide. Roberts was acquitted on trial, but later murdered by  James Dedge, son of C. W. Dedge, who was himself gunned down in by a marshal in Dunnellon, FL.

Dr. John R. Dedge, D.D.S.  perhaps gained the widest notoriety of the Dedge brothers. He was born March 11, 1865,  a native of Baxley, GA.   Dedge lived, worked, and swindled his way across the Wiregrass.  He was tried in Valdosta, GA and acquitted on the 1910 charges of counterfeiting.  In 1911 he campaigned for governor of Georgia. In the 1920s  J. R. Dedge and son, Floyd Dedge, would be tried for the shotgun murder of C. J. Medders at Alma, GA.  After two mistrials, Dr. J. R. Dedge was finally convicted of murder in a third trial and sentenced to life in prison, but was freed on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court after serving only three years. But long before his sensational murder trials, even before he made a 1911 bid for the Governor’s office, Dedge was making headlines. As noted by the Waycross Journal ,  “It is an off year in South Georgia when Dr. Dedge does not announce some astounding piece of freak work …”

Around 1901 Dr. John R. Dedge, along with Charles J. Medders, hatched a scheme to exhibit a “Wild Man of Central America”   Their plan capitalized on a Victorian Era fascination with the exotic that was reflected in pseudo-scientific accounts of “wild men.”  Newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s had sensationalized stories of  primitive humans with horns, reported from history or far away locales.  “Human horns are anomalous outgrowths from the skin and are far more frequent than ordinarily supposed,” George Milbry Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle had written  in their 1894 book Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, in which they described hundreds of cases of horned men. The popular belief in these horned men had been further reinforced by the 1897 work of  Army Medical Surgeon J.J. Lamprey, Horned Men in Africa.

Dedge  and Medders began their scam with Dedge making a trek to Central America, ostensibly to practice dentistry.  The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprise noted his departure from that city on June 5, 1901:

drdedge1 (2)

Thomasville Dailey Times-Enterprise
June 5, 1901

Dr. Dedge left here yesterday for New Orleans and thence to Hot Springs for a month’s stay, after which he will go to Central America to practice dentistry.  Dr. Dedge is one of the most skillful men in the profession.

At Hot Springs, Dedge submitted his application for a U.S.  passport to go abroad, in which he stated:

I solemnly swear that I was born at Baxley, Ga in the state of Georgia, on or about the 11 day of March 1865; that my father is a native citizen of the United States; that I am domiciled in the United States, my permanent residence being at Waycross, in the State of Georgia, where I follow the occupation of practicing Dental Surgery; that I am about to go abroad temporarily;  and that I intend to return to the United States, with the purpose of residing and performing the duties of citizenship therein.     Further, I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; So help me God.

J. R. Dedge, D.D.E.

Dedge’s description was given as 36 years of age, six feet one inches tall. He had a thin face with a light complexion, high forehead, black hair, dark eyes, regular nose, medium mouth, and round chin.


The real purpose of Dedge’s  trip to Central America may have been twofold. First, in a precursor to his later counterfeiting schemes, it appears that Dedge obtained a large number of Honduras silver pesos while in Central America.  These Honduran coins matched U.S. silver dollars in size, but were worth less than 50 cents in exchange. Dedge’s agents would later pass the foreign coins on unsuspecting Wiregrass merchants.


Second,  the excursion to the little known region gave a plausible explanation for Dedge’s introduction of the “Wild Man of Central America.”

Calvin Byrd was billed as the Horned Man of Central America

Calvin Byrd was billed as the Horned Man of Central America, 1902.

When Dr. John R. Degde returned from Central America and announced his discovery of a man with horns and tusks, the story made a sensation in newspapers all over the country.

Atlanta Constitution
March 8, 1902


Waycross, Ga., March 7. -(Special Correspondence.) – Dr. J. R. Dedge, of this city, has just received from Central America one of the greatest natural curiosities ever seen in these parts, and the presence of the freak in our town has created widespread interest.
     This freak is a man with two well-developed horns, similar in appearance to the horns of a goat, growing out of the top of his head and turning slightly back, with about the same angle and curve as goat’s horns.  He also has two prominent tusks protruding from his mouth, extending probably 2 inches from his gums. They grow out in the place of eye teeth.
    The man resembles the North American Indian in appearance very much, being probably a shade darker in color.  His father is said to be an American negro and his mother an Indian of the Black Hawk tribe.  He has  long jet black hair, a piercing eye, but seems rather stupid.  He is 6 feet high, weighs 190 pounds and is said to be 23 years old. In every respect, except the deformities mentioned, he seems to be a perfect specimen.
    This freak of nature is said to be the result of a fright his mother received, and the horns and tusk represent the goat and the elephant.  She was attending a circus one day, when in passing too near one of the goats, it jumped upon her, butted her to the ground and came near killing her.  In the scuffle with the goat she got almost into an elephant’s mouth, being right under the monster beast’s tusks.  When the child was born it had horns of a goat an in place of its eye teeth came tusks probably 3 inches in length protruding fully 2 inches from its mouth.  The horns measure about 5 inches in length.
   It is said the man speaks both English and Spanish fairly well, but can be induced to talk but very little.
    Dr. Dedge secured him from his parents. The freak was born in Mississippi, but was reared in Central America.

1902-mar-3-horned-manDespite the apparent medical skill with which this fraud was perpetrated, not everyone was convinced by Dedge’s story. Noting a proliferation of wild tales from Waycross, GA   The Dahlonega Nugget commented on the horned man ,  “Editor Greer, of the Waycross Journal, has discovered a bull frog with feathers on it. Dr. Dedge, of the same town, recently brought out a horned man, while the numerous jugs shipped into the place have created a whole museum full of boa constrictors, anacondas, and other monster reptiles.”

Even with the elaborate build up by Medders and Dedge, their “Wildman of Central America” fraud, along with the plot to pass off Honduran pesos as silver dollars was exposed in less than a week.  The story first appeared in the Atlanta Constitution, and a few days later more detailed coverage was reported in the Waycross Weekly Herald, March 22, 1902:

1902-mar-22-horned man-exposed1

Waycross Weekly Herald
March 22, 1902

Waycross Freak Exposed

The “Horned Wild Man” Comes To Grief in Valdosta.

Valdosta, March 14 – The horned wild man from South America, via Waycross, came to grief in this city this morning and one of his managers may have to face the charge of cheating and swindling, in that he has been passing silver dollars from Honduras for Uncle Sam’s coin, the Honduras money being worth less than half of the American.
    The story of grief began last night when the policemen arrested the wild man himself for discharging his pistol in the neighborhood of California hall where the negroes were having an entertainment.  The wild man, whose name was placed upon the police docket this morning as Calvin Byrd, went out on the town after his performance and was picked up by the policemen a little later for having fired his pistol on the streets.  The arrest disclosed one of the cleverest fake freaks that has appeared in this section in a long time.
    Byrd is an ordinary ginger-cake colored man and weighs about 160 pounds.  He has had an incision made in his scalp and a thin piece of metal slipped under the skin.  This piece of metal was attached to two knob screws about half an inch long and the horns were screwed to these little knobs for exhibition, give an appearance as though the horns grew from his head. His eye-teeth were gold-mounted and fixed so that the long tusk could be fastened to them so as to appear to be growing from the gum.
    Byrd professes to know nothing of how the operation was performed on his head, and says that it was done while he was sick with fever.  The incision has entirely healed up, though the place is still sore.  Byrd came here from Waycross with a couple of men from there, one of them said to be a dentist.  A week ago all the papers of the state had a sensational story of the great horned wonder.
    The man who was arrested for passing the Honduras dollars gives his name as J. C. English.  It is said that he has several hundred dollars of the money and passed them on a number of people here.  The amount of the coin which he is said to have had with him gave ground to the belief that he was engaged in a swindling game – on money as well as with the freak.

In the same edition of the Waycross Weekly Herald, frontman J.C. English told his side of the story:

1902-mar-22-horned man-exposed-jc-english-explains

Waycross Weekly Herald
March 22, 1902

J. C. English Explains.

The Man Arrested For Passing Honduras Dollars Has His Say.
Below we publish a statement from J. C. English. A notice of Mr. English’s arrest, last Friday, in Valdosta, was published in Saturday’s Herald. He was tried before a special session of the City Court of Valdosta Saturday afternoon and convicted of cheating and swindling. The fine and cost in the case amounted to $56. Mr. English paid the amount and was released and returned to Waycross Sunday morning.  Following is Mr. English’s statement:

Waycross, Ga., March 17, 1902.
I, J. C. English, the man that was arrested in Valdosta on the charges of passing Honduras dollars as Uncle Sam’s coin and cheating ans swindling, and as having hundreds of the coins in my possession, state that the charge is false.  Therefore I desire to explain the whole thing fully to the public, and will truthfully do so.
     Mr. Elias Howell is the man who had full charge of the said Calvin Bird and everything pertain to the concern, even to the Honduras dollars mentioned, and kept them in his possession in a large leather grip, and he took it with him all the time, to boarding places, etc.  I did not own any interest in either tent, negro, coins, or anything else pertaining thereto. I was only employed by Dr. J. R. Dedge to go with Mr. Howell and act as door keeper and talk on the outside to the people for him for so much per day and railroad and hotel expenses paid;  and as to my passing the coins across the counters as Uncle Sam’s money, I deny the charge.  I did not do anything of the kind, and can safely say that if any of the Honduras coins were put across the counters that Mr. Howell is the man that passed them, and not I, and his manner of acting is almost full proof of it; for he left me in the night-time without letting me know anything of his leaving, which in my belief is sufficient evidence that he was uneasy about his doings and afraid to remain in town for fear that he would be dealt with, therefore he left me there to be accused and dealt with for his misdemeanors.   J.C. ENGLISH.

[The Herald felt satisfied from the first that Mr. J. C. English had not been guilty of the charges made against him at Valdosta, and is pleased to publish the above statement from him.]

Despite this setback, it appears that Dedge and Medders were not deterred.  It is said that they amassed a fortune touring the country to exhibit their horned man, variously billed as the “Wild Man of Central America,”  “Wild Man of the Okefenokee,” “Wild Man of Africa,”  or “Wild Man of Borneo.”

Calvin Byrd’s part in the story continued when he surfaced at a Syracuse, NY hospital.

1902-aug-25-wildman-wants-horns removed

Waycross Journal
August 26, 1902

Wild Man from Borneo Again

He turns up at Syracuse N. Y. and Wants Horns Removed.

Calvin Bird, the “wild man from Borneo” who started his career from Waycross some months ago and ran amuck at Valdosta a few days later, has again come to the  front, this time at Syracuse, New York.
    Dispatches from that city say that Calvin Bird, a negro who hails from Pearson, Ga., and who has been touring the country with side shows ans circuses as the “Wild Man of Borneo,” appeared at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd today and informed the house surgeon that he had come to have his horns removed.  The physician was somewhat amazed at first, but upon noting the earnestness of the man, made an examination of his head.
    Under his scalp was found that a silver plate had been inserted, in which stood two standards.  On these standards, when he was on exhibition, Bird had screwed two goat horns, and thousands of people have paid admission to see his horns and hear him bark.
    Bird says he met a doctor in Central America who took him to the hospital in Pearson [GA] and had the plate inserted, first giving him an anaesthetic, and when he awoke he found the plates in his scalp, with two horns protruding.  The plate will be removed tomorrow morning.  The operation, the doctors say, will be a simple one.

In 1905, the Syracuse Journal of New York state reported once again on the “Wild Man from Borneo.”


The Syracuse Journal
Syracuse, NY
January 4, 1904

“Wild Man” is Better

    Although a diligent search has been made by the police for James Woods, the negro, who it is alleged stabbed Calvin Bird, the “Wild Man from Borneo,” in the Oriental hotel last Saturday morning, no trace of him has been found.
    It was stated at St. Joseph’s hospital that Bird’s condition has improved and it is expected that he will be discharged in a few days.

Showdown in Allapaha

In previous posts Phil Ray, a descendant of Hiram Ray of Berrien County, has shared his research on the land deals and connections between the Ray and Bailey families that ultimately ended in death (see Burrell Hamilton Bailey Sells Out in 10th, The State vs Burrell Hamilton Bailey).

Here is the story  of  how Bradford Ray was gunned down by Burrell Hamilton Bailey on the streets of Alapaha, GA in 1873.

Bradford Ray was the son of  Hiram Ray and the husband of Martha J. Swan.  In 1872,  Bradford’s father, Hiram swapped his place near Cat Creek with Berrien county farmer Burrell Hamilton Bailey for another farm in the 1307 Georgia Militia District, Lowndes County.   When Hiram Ray moved his family to their new place, son Bradford Ray remained behind to work for Bailey as a tenant farmer. But in the summer of 1873 a dispute arose between Burrell Bailey and Bradford Ray over some family matter. On the 23 of June, 1873, while the two men were in the community of Alapaha, GA  the argument turned violent; Bailey shot Ray in the stomach. Bradford Ray lingered with the wound for two weeks before it proved fatal. Burrell H. Bailey was indicted for murder.

Albany News, July 4, 1873. Burrell Hamilton Bailey shoots Bradford Ray.

Albany News, July 4, 1873. Burrell Hamilton Bailey shoots Bradford Ray.

Albany News
July 4, 1873

Pistol Fighting at Allapaha.


Allapaha, Ga., July 1st, 1873.
Editors Albany News: – Quite a serious difficulty occurred at this place (Allapaha, Berrien county,) on Saturday, 21st June, between Bradford Ray and Bill Bailey.  The following are the particulars:
   Some two or three months ago, threats were passed between Ray and Baily, in regard to some family matters, which were carried into effect at this place, as the following will show:
     The meeting of the parties here, I am informed, was a premeditated arrangement. – Soon after their arrival in town, Baily got considerably under the influence of liquor, and fuel was added to the already kindled flame – the long pent-up passions were soon to leap beyond their bounds.  But through the influence of friends, they were kept apart. Baily, with pistol in hand, walked away, telling Ray (who was then making desperate efforts to follow him) not to follow him, if he did that he would hurt him.  After Baily got away all became quiet, until about four o’clock in the evening, when the parties met again in front of Mr. Dormind’s store, where the fatal difficulty was renewed, with the addition of another party, James Brogden, who was very drunk.  Had it not been for Brogden, I am confident that the affair would have passed off without the loss of life.  He approached Ray with abusive language, which caused several blows to be passed between them.  Seeing that Brogden, who was very drunk, was getting the worst of it, he was parted from Ray several times, but could not be controlled.  While this was going on, words were passing between Ray and Baily, who were in ten feet of each other, and as they were about to get together, Daniel Turner came up and tried to quiet the fuss; but by this time the row became general.  Ray had his knife drawn, and Baily his pistol. – Baily told Ray that “if he approached him, he would shoot him.”  Daniel Turner spoke and said: (I did not learn what he said only from Baily after the fight was over)  “If you shoot Ray I will shoot you!”  As soon as these words were spoken, Baily fired at Ray – the ball entering the stomach – then turned upon Turner, fired the second shot, which was immediately returned.  Baily then fired the third shot at Ray, inflicting a painful wound in his left hip.  Ray was at this time retiring from the scene of action.  The balance of the shooting passed between Turner and Ray – fortunately neither was hit.
     The pistols being emptied, all became quiet, and attention was turned to Ray, who was considered mortally wounded.  Baily was arrested by a Bailiff and turned over to Sheriff Mathews, (who was absent from town at the time of the difficulty) and held in custody until Monday morning, when he gave bond;  but as Ray daily grew worse, Baily’s bondsmen became uneasy, and on Friday, 27th, he was lodged in Nashville jail to await his trial at the August Term of the Superior Court, for the murder of a fellow-being.
    Ray lived until Sunday morning, 1 o’clock, 29th ult., when the spirit of the unfortunate man passed away.  Thus were the hearts of two families made to mourn over an irreparable loss.


Related Posts:

The Vanceville Affair

Reader comments on this blog have expressed further interest in the life and death of Benjamin William Furlong, perhaps Berrien County’s most infamous desperado of all time.

See The Ghost of Ben Furlong, Berrien County DesperadoMore on Berrien County, GA Desperado, Benjamin William Furlong, and   Back Story on Benjamin William Furlong

In particular, there have been questions about what became of the children  of Ben W. Furlong and his wife, Pocahontas, after his death in 1886.

Their youngest son, Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong was born in February, 1886 just months, before his death. The mid decade birth of Joe Furlong explains his early childhood absence from census records –  he was born after the 1880 census, and the 1890 census records for Georgia were lost in a fire.

The father, Benjamin William Furlong, desperado of Berrien County, GA, died in 1886 by his own hand. Afterward, it appears that the children of Ben and Pocahontas were divided among other family members for care.  Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong went to live with his Aunt, Ellen Furlong Gray, and her husband, Benjamin B. Gray. Benjamin Gray operated a sawmill at Pinebloom about a mile from Willacoochee, GA. He was also the owner of the Ocilla, Pinebloom & Valdosta Railroad, and principal owner of the Nashville Sparks Railroad.

Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong is enumerated as Josie A Furlong  in the census of 1900 in the household of B.B. Gray and Ellen Gray residing at Willacoochee, GA.

Later, Jack Alsea “Joe” Furlong regarded and referred to his Gray foster parents, “Ben and Ellen,” as his real parents, and his cousins with whom he was raised, as his siblings. You can view photos of B.B. Gray and Ellen Gray at the Berrien County Historical Foundation: Historical Photos website.

The transcripts of 1883 news clippings below provide further details on the Benjamin William Furlong and the brutal beating of his wife, Pocahontas,  which roused the citizens of Wiregrass Georgia.  The news stories establish that Benjamin B. Gray is the brother-in-law of Benjamin William Furlong.

“Vanceville, at the 125 mile-post, is a new and bright looking little settlement. Here Furlong Bros. have a sawmill which cuts 15,000 feet of lumber per day. They have a tramway started, the engine and iron on the ground. The country is rolling and beautiful. There are many lovely building sites on this road Nature has made them beautiful, and in a few short years our eyes may be permitted to see beautiful gardens, vineyards and orchards, where now the wiregrass flourishes. Lawrence & Guest have here a turpentine farm. Vanceville is their postoffice. They run twenty crops. Mayo & Sons have also a turpentine farm of twenty crops.” – Railroad Advertising Pamphlet


Brunswick Advertiser and Appeal
August 4, 1883 pg 6

Wife Beating.

A disgraceful affair occured at Vanceville, on the B. & W. road, the past week.  Mr. Ben Furlong, becoming enraged with his, chastised bere severely with a whip, and because she attempted to get away, struck her with the butt of the whip, knocking her senseless.  He then stood in his doorway with a double-barrel gun and told all outsiders to keep off or he would kill the first man who attempted to enter.  He remained master of the situation for several days, and finally surrendered.  Meanwhile his poor wife was lying extremely ill without attention.     Later. – He has had a preliminary trial and been bound over in the sum of $2500.


Americus Weekly Republican
August 10, 1883  Pg 2

The Albany News and Advertiser says that Furlong, the man who beat his wife near Tifton last week, was tried before a committal court Wednesday and bound over in the sum of $2,500 for assault with intent to murder.  Judge G. J. Wright, of that city, was retained by the prosecution.


Albany Weekly News and Advertiser
August 11, 1883  Pg 3

The more we hear of the Furlong wife beating, at Furlong’s Mill, the more diabolical it appears.  Furlong, it is said, most brutally beat his wife, and stamped her to such an extent that it is thought she will die.  We have heard related the particulars of her injuries, and they are of such a nature that we can not publish them.  The idea of such a brute being out under bond is perfectly horrible.


Americus Weekly Republican
August 17, 1883  Pg 3

Ben Furlong was in the city to consult with his lawyer – Col. W. A. Hawkins and Ed. G. Simmons, Esq.,  – Friday.


Americus Weekly Republican
August 17, 1883 Pg 2

The Vanceville Affair.

Worth Star.

     We have so far abstained from mentioning the Vanceville affair, because we have heard several versions of it, and feared we might publish the wrong one.  We hoped to get a correct report of the matter in last week’s Berrien News, but as it was not mentioned, we must confine ourself to what we know to be true, i.e., that Furlong beat his wife unmercifully, that he was arrested, that a committal trial was held and that he was bound over to the Superior Court in the sum of $2,500.     We have no plea to make in behalf of Furlong, for there is none that could be made, but we want to place the blame for this brutal outrage where it properly belongs – at the door of whiskey. Had Ben Furlong not been drunk, his hand would never have been raised against his defenseless wife.  A gentleman who lived neighbor to him a number of years said to us the other day: “I have known Ben Furlong a number of years, and I never had a better neighbor and friend in my life, and all the time I lived near him I never heard of him mistreating any one.”     No, it was not Ben Furlong who beat and bruised his wife, it was a hellish demon created within him by a too free indulgence in whiskey – that great and towering curse, the priviledge to sell which, according to some of the whiskey advocates, was purchased by the blood of our ancestors.  Out upon such a blasphemous charge against the honored dead! An intelligent people will never believe that our ancestors shed a single drop of blood in order to bequeath such a blighting, withering curse to their posterity.     We point to the bruised and bleeding wife of Ben Furlong, and charge the crime to WHISKEY.


Albany Weekly News and Advertiser
October 20, 1883 Pg 3

On the Rampage Again.

Furlong, the Wife Beater, Jumps His Bond.

    B. W. Furlong, who will be remembered by the readers of the NEWS AND ADVERTISER as the man who beat his wife o mercilessly at his home in Berrien county, on the B. & W. railroad, some time ago, and who spent several days in jail in this city, has been on the rampage again for the last week or two, and although under bond to keep the peace and for his appearance at the next term of Berrien Superior Court, has been into two or three more difficulties and making himself a nuisance generally.     Upon learning that Furlong was not keeping his promise to them, and that he was behaving badly again three of his bondsmen, Messrs. W.J. Nelson, of Alapaha, B. B. Gray, of Gray’s Mills, and Col. L. J. Boyt, of Dougherty county, notified the Sheriff of Berrien county that they would not remain on his bond any longer.  The Sheriff refused to relieve the of their responsibility, however, until Furlong was delivered to him.     With the intention of arresting Furlong and delivering him over to the Sheriff, Mr. Nelson, accompanied by Mr. A. J. McCrea, Marshal of Alapaha, started Sunday night to Albany, where the expected to find Furlong.  They met him at Sumner, however, and started back to Alapaha with him.  They did not tell him what their purpose was, but he evidently suspected that something was wrong, and just after the train started, jumped off, and has since been making himself scarce.


    Furlong came to the city on Tuesday night, and was jailed  between 10 and 11 o’clock.  He got drunk and  ‘rared round’ considerably, abusing his best friends and making himself disagreeable generally.  Some of his bondsmen were in the city and had him arrested for the purpose of giving him up and getting released from his bond. Marshal Westbrook and Policeman Bennet made the arrest, and carried him to jail.  He swore at first that he would not go to jail, but he went all the same.     Furlong is wanted in Berrien county, but will not be turned over to the authorities of that county until he is either tried on three indictments which stand against him in Dougherty, or gets his cases continued and makes a new bond.  Two indictments for carrying concealed weapons were found against him at the last April term of Dougherty Superior Court, and Messrs. C. M. Mayo and John Ray became his bondsmen.  There is also an indictment against him here for assault and battery. Wednesday morning Messrs. Mayo and Ray notifed Sheriff Edwards that they desired to be relieved as his bondsmen.  This leaves him without bond in the cases standing against him here, and he will be kept in jail until tried unless he succeeds in giving a new bond.  He will probably be tried for his offenses here at the present term of the Superior Court.
We learn that his brother-in-law, Mr. B.B. Gray, who is also one of his bondsmen in the case that grew out of his assault upon his wife, desires to get him back to Berrien county for the purpose of having him committed to the lunatic asylum – he being satisfied that the man’s reason has been destroyed by strong drink.  It matters not whether his conduct be due to insanity or to liquor, something ought to be done with him, for he has gotten to be a man of such violent disposition and habits that he is not only a nuisance to his friends, but a terror to the community.


Brunswick Advertiser and Appeal
October 20, 1883 pg 6

B. W. Furlong, who will be remembered as the man who beat his wife so severely some time since in Berrien county, and who was in our city a few weeks since raising quite a stir, has been behaving so badly of late that his bondsmen concluded to give him up, and started with him to the Sheriff, but he jumped from the train, and, up to this writing, has not put in his appearance.  His bondsmen in Brunswick will feel somewhat uneasy, as he will be wanted here at the next term of court to answer certain charges.     Later. – He has since been captured in Albany, and is now in jail.

Related Posts:

Attack of the Yeggmen

In the first half of the 20th Century, stories of Yeggmen  and their explosive work abounded in the media, even in rural South Georgia.   The famous detective, William Pinkerton, was a expert on the “The Yeggman” and published professional articles on the subject.

The Yeggman, by William Pinkerton.

The Yeggman, by William Pinkerton.

On December 6, 1921 the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the attack in Ray City. Postmaster at the time was James “Joel” F. Fountain.

Ray City, GA post office wrecked by dynamite. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 6, 1921.

Ray City, GA post office wrecked by dynamite. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec 6, 1921.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Dec 6, 1921


As a result of dynamiting by yeggmen, the post office in Ray City, Ga., in Berrien County, was almost totally wrecked Sunday night, according to word received Monday morning. Immediately, inspectors were assigned to investigate the case by Louis A. Johnson, inspector in charge. No word was received as to the extent of the loot secured.

The followup on December 8th reported the safecrackers were still at large.

The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprised reported on the Ray City Post Office robbery, December 8, 1921

The Thomasville Daily Times-Enterprised reported on the Ray City Post Office robbery, December 8, 1921

Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise
December 8, 1921

Live News From Towns in South Georgia

No Clue To Robbers Of Post Office At Ray City

Valdosta, Ga., Dec 8. – Although post office inspectors have been at work on the case continuously, no clue has been found in connection with the robbery of the post office at Ray City, when the safe was blown by a high explosive on Monday night.  Only a small amount of mony was secured, but several blank money order books and other records were taken.  These are only valuable to the post office and worthless to the robbers.  The building was entered by means of a crowbar and the high explosive used blew the door from the safe and broke all the windows in the building.

Attack of the Yeggmen

The Argot of the Vagabond,
by Charlie Samolar, published in American Speech, 1927, by the American Dialect Society, Duke University Press:

The bluebird sings by the lemonade springs in the rock-candy mountains …

From a Vagabond Ditty.

A few of the words used in the early days of vagabondage in this country have undoubtedly been handed down to the present, but it is difficult to segregate them, as the old-timers are surly or short-memoried and the vag leaves practically no literature. The word drill, a relic of the Civil War, is still in use; it means “to hike.” Counting ties and beating trains, now well-know phrases, probably originated in the days of young railroads.

Hobo gang-life in the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century produced a great many terms, but most of them are now archaic, having passed out of use with the death of the gang-form. A few, however, should be mentioned. A yegg was a burglar who travelled by beating trains. The word is supposed to be derived from “John Yegg,” who is said to have been the first safe-cracker to use nitro-glycerine as an adjunct to the prosecution of his art. A gang of yeggs was generally known as the folks. Sometimes, they were called the Johnson Boys, from the “Johnson-bar,” the reverse lever of the locomotive of those days; yeggs used a tool somewhat similar to it. Any kind of a gang was known as a push, a word credited to Australia, but I think it is a sister of the mob of the city underworld. An obie, or O.B. was a post-office. O.B., I believe, is P.O. reversed with the P. made into a B. The yegg pushes specialized in obies for two reasons; they were easily broken into and Federal big-houses were more comfortable than state penal institutions. Handing the match was a custom practiced by pushes in their open-air hang-outs. The intruding stranger was handed a match, which signified: “Go and build your own fire.” This was always done when a job was being hatched or when one of the folks was making soup (nitro-glycerine). A uniformed officer, now termed a harness-bull, was called a finger, from his itching desire to get his fingers on one. A plainclothesman, now called a fly-dick, was an elbow, from his way of elbowing through a crowd when he saw someone he wished to keep in sight. A lighthouse was a vag who knew all the ropes in a particular territory and tipped off the visiting vag regarding rocks and shoals. A light-piece, still used, but rarely, was a piece of silver money; probably because of its color. Stamps was, at one time, a name for money, yeggs handled considerable quantities of stamps, part of the proceeds of obie jobs.


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