Trial and Incarceration of James Thomas Beagles

Jame Thomas Beagles (1861-1911)

James Thomas Beagles (1861-1911)

In October of 1899, James Thomas Beagles, aka J. T. Biggles, of Rays Mill, GA sat in the Berrien County jail in Nashville.  At that time the jailhouse was a log building that had been constructed some 25 years earlier.  Beagles was being held for trial for  the 1887 killing of his brother-in-law on the steps of Henry H. Knight’s store at Rays Mill.

At that 1899 term of the Superior Court of Berrien County,   the jail where Beagles  and 11 other prisoners awaited trial was found by the Grand Jury to be in deplorable condition.

Berrien County Grand Jury, October 1899.

Berrien County Grand Jury, October 1899.

Tifton Gazette
Oct. 13, 1899 — page 1

GENERAL PRESENTMENTS

Returned by the Grand Jury, October Term, Berrien Superior Court.

     We, the Grand Jury, chosen and sworn to serve at this term of the court beg leave to submit the following General Presentments:
     We have examined the jail of our county and find it in bad sanitary condition, owing to the size and arrangement of said building, the same being entirely too small and badly arranged, prisoners having to be crowded together, male and female. We attach no fault whatever to the sheriff and jailer in charge, believing that he is doing all in his power to keep the same in order under existing circumstances. And we recommend that our Board of County Commissioners, at as early date as is expedient, build a new jail house and procure sufficient jail cells and arrange said building and cells so as to keep sexes separate and apart, as well as white and colored persons incarcerated therein, considering as we do the present jail a disgrace to the county…

Despite the findings of the Grand Jury, it would be another four years before the now historic building now known as the “old jail” was constructed.

The Berrien Superior Court convened that fall on Monday, October 9, 1899 with Judge Augustin H. Hansell presiding, and Jonathan Perry Knight acting as Clerk of the Superior Court. The docket was full that session and the judge postponed the civil cases, dismissing the witnesses, in order to get on with the trial of the criminal cases. Among the Grand Jury members were Warren L. Kennon, Henry Griffin, and Jonathan L Herring, editor of the Tifton Gazette. Silas Tygart served as clerk, and the jury members selected for their foreman, Malcolm J. McMillian.

 Ex-Senator M. J. McMillian, of Alapaha, is not an office-seeker, but the people know him to be an honorable and upright man, and insist on having his services.  He is foreman of the grand jury this week, though he hid, in an effort to escape the honor when the jury was about to make the selection.
– Ocilla Dispatch.

In addition to the charge of murder against James Thomas Beagles, the criminal docket included: Emma Reese charged with assault and attempted murder; Jim Oscar Stearns charge with the murder of Amos White; Warren G. Moss on the charge of burglary at Lenox; Allen Cooper charged with the killing of Philip Johnson at Kissemmee, FL; Rachel Thomas on counts of assault and battery; John Davis for burglary of the store of Mr. I.D. Ford; Robert Bell for simple larceny from Mr. W.M. Thurman; North Cochran for highway robbery.

The session of the superior court drew a significant crowd, and so was also prone to interruptions of every sort.

The woman “with the hoe” turned up at the last session of Berrien superior court.  She was colored, lived near Cecil, and laid open the cheek of another woman during a rucus, with that useful plantation instrument.

The attorneys arguing before the court were colorful and well-known characters of the Wiregrass judicial circuits.  Colonel Hammond, for example, was one of the prosecuting attorneys but was himself facing prosecution for shooting and wounding Colonel A. L. Hawes at Thomasville the week before.

But it was the Beagles case that generated the most interest.  The case had dragged over a decade because of the flight and subsequent return of Beagles. Beagles was defended  by Col. William Hamilton Griffin,  who was judge of the Valdosta City Court and a former mayor of Valdosta. Col. Griffin was a native of Berrien County and had served previously as clerk of the Berrien County court and as Ordinary of Berrien County.

SUPERIOR COURT IN SESSION.

Berrien’s Mills of Justice at their Semi Annual Grind.

Berrien’s superior court convened Monday morning at ten o’clock, that grey-haired veteran of the bench, Judge Aug. H. Hansell, presiding.  Besides the county bar, those of Worth, Lowndes, Thomas, Colquitt and Albany were well represented.
   The grand jury organized by electing Hon M. J. McMillan foreman and Silas Tygart clerk, and after an able and comprehensive charge from his honor, settled down to work, with a volume of business before it.

*****

Nashville, Oct. 10. – The entire day (Tuesday) in superior court has been consumed in the trial of Thos. J. Beagles for the killing of Madison G. Pearson, at the justice court grounds at Ray’s Mill, Nov. 4th, 1891.  [Note: actual date was 1887]
   Beagles had married Pearson’s sister, and to this marriage Pearson was violently opposed.  Growing out of this opposition, there was bad blood between the two for a year or more, and Pearson had threatened Beagles’ life, and gone to his home and cursed him in the presence of his wife.
    Beagles then swore out a peace warrant against his brother-in-law, on which he was arrested and gave bond for his appearance at justice court the next day.
    In the court house the row was again raised, and Pearson invited Beagles out to fight him, starting out at the door and pulling off his coat as he did so.   As Pearson was on the steps, going down, Beagles, who was standing near, drew a pistol and shot him in the side of his head, killing him instantly.
    Beagles then went to Florida, where he staid [sic] several years, and on his return was arrested and finally admitted to bail.
    Sometime ago, Beagles’ bondsmen gave him up, and he has been in jail for two months.
At the trial to-day, the state was represented by Solicitor-Gen. Thomas and Col. W. M. Hammond, while Cols. Jos. A. Alexander and W. H. Griffin represented the defendant.
    The battle has been a hard-fought one throughout the day, and every point of the evidence thoroughly sifted.  At adjournment to-night, the fight is not concluded, Cols. Thomas and Alexander having addressed the jury, while Cols. Griffin and Hammond will address them tomorrow.

*****

Oct. 11.  –  The morning session of superior court was occupied with the speeches of Cols. Griffin and Hammond on the Beagles case.  That of Col. Griffin, for the defendant, was a masterly arrangement of law and evidence in behalf of his client, and delivered in the clear, concise manner for which Col. Griffin is so well known.
    The argument of Col. Hammond was eloquent and strong, well supported by law, and his arrangement of the prisoner was scathing and masterly.  The arguments were concluded before one o’clock, and Judge Hansell delivered his charge to the jury before adjourning for dinner.

Oct. 13 … Judge Griffin made a most eloquent and affecting appeal in behalf of his client, Beagles, for a light sentence, and every one in the court room was moved by his strong and well-chosen words.
   Sentences were then pronounced as follows…

J. A. Beagles, white, convicted of manslaughter, with recommendation, two years in penitentiary.

But James Thomas Beagles did not spend his two year sentence in the penitentiary.  The very same issue of the Tifton Gazette that carried the outcome of the October 1899 term of the  Superior Court of Berrien County also carried an interesting note on the convict lease system:

October 13, 1899 Tifton Gazette on the Convict Lease System

October 13, 1899 Tifton Gazette on the Convict Lease System

“There is a big boom in the value of state convicts.  Recently there has been a strong demand for the convicts, and lessees under the new system are anxious to get all the men that they can even at advanced prices”

Under the convict lease system, J. T. Beagles was sent to the convict camp at Fargo, GA.   G.S. Baxter & Company operated the convict camp at Fargo to provide labor for the firm’s large sawmill operation. The sawmill at Fargo was the largest in Clinch County, and by 1903 the State Prison System of Georgia was leasing more than 1,000 convicts to the firm. (see Connie Moore and the Fargo Convict Camp)

After serving his sentence, J. T. Beagles returned to Ray City to make his home and work.

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Connie Moore and the Fargo Convict Camp

Convict labor and guards in South Georgia

Convict labor and guards in South Georgia

Connie J. Moore was born about 1881 in North Carolina. It appears that his father died while he was a young child, and his mother was remarried in 1885 to Charlie Fawcett, also of North Carolina.

Some time before 1900, perhaps as early as 1885,  Charlie Fawcett moved his family to Georgia. In the census of 1900 Connie and his mother, his step-father, and half-brother, Elijah Fawcett, were enumerated in Mud Creek, Clinch County, GA. Charlie Fawcett rented a farm there, and Connie assisted his step-father with the farm labor. Shortly after that, Connie J. Moore relocated with his family from Clinch County to Rays Mill, GA.

By 1903, Moore had given up farm labor and was working as a convict guard for the the Baxter & Company’s convict camp at Fargo, GA. The G. S. Baxter & Company sawmill at Fargo was the largest in Clinch County, and the State Prison System of Georgia had leased more than 1,000 convicts to the firm under the convict lease system.  It was at the Fargo Convict Camp where James Thomas Biggles, of Rays Mill, served his sentence for the murder of Madison Pearson.

The G. S. Baxter & Company sawmill was located at Fargo on the route of the Georgia, Southern, and Florida Railroad. The GS&F opened about 1900 and ran from Macon via Valdosta to Jacksonville, FL.

According to Folks Huxford’s History of Clinch County, GA:

The building of this road opened up a new section of the county hitherto undeveloped. Almost simultaneously with the completion of the road to Jacksonville, a big saw-mill was built by Eastern capitalists on the new road where it crosses the Suwannee River. The town which grew up here was named “Fargo.” The partners in this enterprise were George S. Baxter, E. P. Long and Walton Ferguson.

The town of Fargo was laid out on the banks of the Suwannee River, and is to-day one of the most flourishing towns in the county. It has several stores, a large hotel and other establishments. The mills which are owned by G. S. Baxter & Company, are about the largest in the county.

Around Christmas of 1903, Connie Moore planned to return to his home at Rays Mill but failed to arrive in Valdosta as expected. No trace of his wherabouts could be found. In early January 1904, Francis Marion Shaw and his step-son John Levi Allen, both of Rays Mill, went searching for the missing man, travelling to Fargo, GA and retracing the route back to Valdosta. Connie’s half-brother, Elijah Fawcett worked for John L. Allen, according to later records.

CONVICT GUARD MISSING

Family and Friends of Connie Moore Fear Young Man Has Been Murdered or Accidentally Killed. He Had Money with Him.

Valdosta, Ga. January 8. -(Special.)- The family and friends of Connie J. Moore, a young man whose home is near Hay’s Mill [sic], in Berrien County are greatly distressed over his mysterious disappearance, and fear that he has either met with a fatal accident or been murdered.

The young man was employed as a convict guard at Baxter & Company’s camp at Fargo, Ga., for several months, and wrote to his parents about December 20 that he expected to return home to spend Christmas, and requesting that they have a conveyance meet him in this city. The conveyance was sent on the day appointed, but the young man failed to meet it, and a prolonged search since then has failed to find any trace of his whereabouts. Enquiry at Fargo disclosed the fact that he disappeared from there about the date on which he wrote his parents he would start for home, but no clue was obtained of the direction which he went.

Young Moore is about 22 years old and unmarried. He is a young man of exemplary habits and greatly attached to his mother, communicating with her regularly up to the date of his disappearance. He informed his employers that he would return to his duties after the holidays, and as evidence of the fact that he expected to go back to Fargo left nearly a month’s wages uncollected. It is understood that he had a considerable sum of money when he left there.

F.M. Shaw and J.L. Allen, of Berrien county, were in the city today on their return from Fargo, where they had been in an effort to secure a trace of the missing man.

What ever became of Connie J. Moore is not known.  His Fawcett family continued to live in Ray City, GA through the 1930s.

J H Touchton Raided Giant Moonshine Still at Fargo, GA

In 1967 J. H. Touchton,  Agent for the Georgia Department of Revenue, was living in Ray City, GA. On January 29 of that year he was in on the bust of a giant moonshine still down in the Okefenokee Swamp near Fargo, GA.  It seems amazing that they were still making serious quantities of moonshine down in the swamp as late as 1967.  Perhaps they still do…

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Clinch County News reports giant moonshine still busted, January 29, 1967.

Clinch County News reports giant moonshine still busted, January 29, 1967.

Clinch County News
February 3, 1967

Giant ‘Shine Still Was Seized Close to Fargo

FARGO –Revenue agents knocked over a 14,400-gallon moonshine whiskey still, described as operated by a state-wide syndicate, near Fargo Monday night. In the process the agents made five arrests, including one juvenile.
    The still was a mile east of Fargo on the Suwannee river and consisted of eight 1800-gallon distillery vats containing 10,800 gallons of mash.  Confiscated were 240 gallons of liquor, which was dumped, a 1963 model pickup truck with 7 butane gas cylinders, a 1962 luxury automobile, and thirty 60-pound sacks of sugar.
    Gordon Warren, head of the federal alcohol and tobacco tax office at Valdosta, said three adults arrested are part of a “big liquor syndicate in the state. They have prior records and are well known to our department.” He described the still as “one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.”
    Arrested and charged with manufacture of the non-tax paid whiskey were Ray Jackson Cribbs, 29, Lyons, Ga., James Lenten Parrish, 27, Vidalia, Ga., Oscar Delmar Ogilvie, 44 College Park, Ga., a 16-year old Fargo youth, and Jim Steedley, 66, of Fargo.
    The still was capable of producing 1,920 gallons of moonshine a week at a cost to the taxpayers of $28,800 which is the amount of taxes the government is cheated of in the sale of that much whiskey, according to W. W. Davis, regional supervisor for the Georgia Dept of Revenue.
    Participating in the raid, according to Davis, were state agents K. D. DeVane of Lakeland, W. D. Gillis of Pearson, J. H. Touchton of Ray City, Federal agents from Valdosta, and Sheriff Charlie Smith and Deputy Lawton Allen.
    Warren said the site had been under observation for several days. He said investigation shows a state liquor syndicate has started moving its operations in this south Georgia area.  “There are some big operators back of this thing,” he said.

The big bust of 1967 was at Fargo, GA but State revenuers worked also worked their share of moonshine stills in and around Berrien county.

Destruction of a Berrien County moonshine still, 1960. On the left is Georgia Department of Revenue agent Kay Devane. The man kneeling on the right may be Revenue Agent J. H.Touchton of Ray City, GA. (Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com)

Destruction of a Berrien County moonshine still, 1960. On the left is Georgia Department of Revenue agent Kay Devane. The man kneeling on the right may be Revenue Agent J. H.Touchton of Ray City, GA. (Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com)

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