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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Charles S. Parham ~ A “Sandlapper” Comes to Rays Mill

According to sciway.com, the term Sandlapper is a friendly nickname for South Carolinians. Charles S. “Charlie” Parham was a  transplant to Berrien County,  a “Sandlapper” originally hailing from South Carolina, and at other times living in Alabama , Florida, or Georgia.  He came to live  in Rays Mill, GA (nka Ray City) around 1898, when he was about  25 years old. Although he had just completed a program of study at the Georgia-Alabama Business College, he occupied himself in farming upon his arrival in Berrien county.  His brother,  Edwin P. Parham,  had previously settled in Berrien County and  was living at Rays Mill when enumerated in the census of 1900 and again in 1910.  Charlie Parham  farmed at Rays Mill for a couple of years and continued his studies.  He does not appear in Rays Mill in the Census of 1900, perhaps being away at school at the time the census was taken.  Around 1901 he spent a year in Abbeville, Ga attending Georgia Normal College and Business Institute. He taught many years in Berrien schools and served on the county school board.

By 1902 Charlie Parham was living in Nashville, Ga  and on February 8, 1903  he married Lola Lee Giddens of Rays Mill, GA.  She was a daughter of  Fannie Baskins and  William Knight Giddens.

Marriage Certificate of Charles S. Parham and Lola Lee Giddens,  February 8 1903, Berrien County, GA.

Marriage Certificate of Charles S. Parham and Lola Lee Giddens, February 8 1903, Berrien County, GA. Image Src: http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/u?/countyfilm,187825

In Nashville, Charlie Parham found employment clerking in the local stores. He also found time for public office and taught in local schools.

1926 Poplar Springs Consolidated School opening. Inscription on building reads "Poplar Springs School District, Minerva Academy. Trustees: A. J. Guthrie, Chairman, J. L. Hughes, Secretary and Treasurer, N. L. Singletary; Originators of Consolidation, Moses G. Sirmons, S. M. Green, Dr. J. R. Lasseter; William G. Avera, Designer of Building, W. E. Register, Builder 1926." Teachers, Annie Lee Nix Maddox, Golie Spells, _____Sike, Charlie E. Parham, Alice Knight. (It is thought that many of the above-named persons are in this photo; Wm (Bill) G. Avera, School Superintendent, is the man with left hand against his chest, near middle of 2nd row.) Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com

1926 Poplar Springs Consolidated School opening. Inscription on building reads “Poplar Springs School District, Minerva Academy. Trustees: A. J. Guthrie, Chairman, J. L. Hughes, Secretary and Treasurer, N. L. Singletary; Originators of Consolidation, Moses G. Sirmons, S. M. Green, Dr. J. R. Lasseter; William G. Avera, Designer of Building, W. E. Register, Builder 1926.” Teachers, Annie Lee Nix Maddox, Golie Spells, _____Sike, Charlie E. Parham, Alice Knight. (It is thought that many of the above-named persons are in this photo; Wm (Bill) G. Avera, School Superintendent, is the man with left hand against his chest, near middle of 2nd row.) Image courtesy of berriencountyga.com

In the 1920s, C.S. Parham was situated with Miller Hardware & Furniture Company, his name appearing on the company letterhead.  At that time the firm had stores in Ray City, Nashville, and Milltown (Lakeland), GA.   

  
C.S. Parham appeared on the letterhead of Miller Hardware & Furniture Company in the 1920s.

C.S. Parham appeared on the letterhead of Miller Hardware & Furniture Company in the 1920s.

In 1937, the Nashville Herald ran a biographical sketch of Charles S. Parham that included additional details.

Nashville Herald
May 6, 1937
Flowers for the Living: CHARLES S. PARHAM

The subject this week is a South Carolina “Sandlaper” [sic] by birth, but a Georgian by preference.  Mr. C.S. Parham, known locally as Charlie, was born and reared in Malboro county, S.C. in 1873, making him 64 years old at this writing.  His father was the late C. J. Parham, who died in 1914 at 75 years of age, and his mother passed away in 1887 at 40 years of age.  Both were natives of South Carolina and lived all of their lives in that state.
       At the age of ten years Mr. Parham moved to Florida where he lived for the next ten years.  At twenty years of age he came to Georgia, enrolling at the Georgia-Alabama Business College in Macon.  The following year he was graduated.  It is strange to learn that prior to his business college education he had attended school only three weeks.  The education he had acquired was soaked up through his teens of his own accord.  He applied himself well for the chance he had.
In 1897 he left for Montgomery, Ala. where he worked for a year.  From there he came to Ray City, (old Rays Mill), his first time in Berrien county, where he farmed two years, and at the same time attending school at Lakeland (then Milltown). After that he took a teacher’s course at Abbeville for one year.  Since that course he taught school off and on for twenty years.
       He came to Nashville to live in 1902, and here he has resided ever since.  He first clerked for A. E. Bullard, General Merchandise, later taking a job in the store of S. T. Tygart, hardware dealer, which he held for over six years. During his time with Mr. Tygart he was elected Clerk of the Berrien Superior Court. This was in 1910.  He served two successful terms, four years, then offered and was elected county treasurer.  Before he could take over his duties, the office was abolished. This was his last time offering for public office.
       However, he has over the years served twelve years on the Nashville school board, and one term as city councilman. He is a member of the Nashville Baptist church and for years has been church clerk.
In 1903 he was married to Miss Lola Giddens, sister of Rev. A. H. Giddens of Nashville. There are two children, Mr. C. V. Parham of Atlanta, and Mrs. Charles Norwood of Nashville.  There is only one brother, Mr. E. P. Parham of Brooks county.
Mr. Parham is strictly a business man, and does not have much time for foolishness.  He does, however, like to go fishing when they bite, but does not care for hunting, explaining that there is always too much walking.  He likes to see a good basketball game.
      He is known to be one of the county’s most able business men, attending to his duties, which practice has brought him success and financial stability. He is honest, clear-cut in his views and frank to say what he thinks and believes.  No one can accuse Charlie Parham of being two-faced, the worst feature of so many.  He will certainly call his shots as he sees them. This is one of his most admirable traits. At present he operates a number of farms near Nashville, and   each year makes money.
      Mr. Parham is a good citizen, and Berrien county people are glad to know they have a “sandlaper” in their midst. He is highly regarded and for a very good reason.

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

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

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

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

 Atlanta Georgian and News
April 3, 1909


SHORTAGE IS CHARGED

Berrien Tax Collector Makes Affidavit.

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

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

 ESCAPES FROM DETECTIVE

John F. Studsill Charged with Getting Money Fraudulently.

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

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