The Vagabond – Etowah County crime in the 1800s: Part one


Think Etowah County crime is bad now? Turn back to the 1800s


Terrible Tragedy – On Saturday evening last one of the saddest took place between John C. Latham and Benjamin F. Hodges, resulting in the shooting of Latham by Hodges in the bowels and from which he died at 3 o’clock Sunday morning.  This tragedy has cast a gloom over the entire community. Both gentlemen were highly esteemed for their many good qualities, and were among our most enterprising and energetic citizens. The meeting took place in Echols’ saloon on Broad Street, in the presence of several witnesses.  Mr. Hodges went to his home and sent word to officers that he wished to surrender himself.  The Sheriff took him in charge, and Monday a preliminary examination was had before Notary Public D. C. Turrentine, and Mr. Hodges was committed for trial before the circuit court.  We learn a writ of habeas corpus has been issued by Judge Hamlin, and the case continued until Monday next.  Both families have the sympathy of the entire community.


Frank Slaton, of Marshall County, is in jail at Gadsden, charged with stealing a pair of shoes and a pair of pants.

Mr. Cook, who has been for some time conductor on the Gadsden branch railroad, was discharged a few days ago for embezzling the company’s funds. It seems from Mr. Cook’s statements and his extravagant living, the company was put on guard. Two or three local parties checked the passengers for several weeks and they compared notes from which it was discovered that Cook did not make correct returns of the passengers from whom he received money. The Times states that a detective was then placed after him, and from the 15th to the 1st of October, he had embezzled $60 of the fare of passengers. Col. Ball submitted to Cook to pay the company $250 in cash, or stand a trial in court. Cook paid the money and also signed a written instrument admitting his guilt.


Deputy United States Marshal Eugene Milliford and J. A. Milliford, acting under special authority from Collector E. W. Booker, have seized and destroyed an illicit distillery, near Coxville (Cox’s Gap), in Etowah County.

Since Etowah County was formed there have been 32 cases of manslaughter and murder on the docket, and but two convictions, and in those the penalty was light. This is a remarkable record.


Charles Johnson, alias Wade Holmes, was hung in Gadsden for the murder of Policeman Kinney last November.

Jim Busby, the young man who shot Ernest Daughdrill at Gadsden, was up before the mayor Monday under three charges, viz: Disorderly conduct, shooting promiscuously on the streets, and resisting and shooting at an officer. His fines amounted to $91 but being unable to pay it he was sentenced to 182 days on the street gang.

W. W. Wright, who was convicted of killing his cousin by the Etowah county circuit court, and sentenced to the penitentiary, has been granted a new trial.

William McGhee, a black man, working at Laney, Ala. a few miles east of Gadsden was shot by Jim Smith, also a black man, under the left arm, the ball striking the fifth rib. The difficulty was over a game of cards. Smith escaped. McGhee was carried to Gadsden and his wounds dressed.

Bob Welch, white, shot Ab Millet, a black man, near the new furnace, at Gadsden, Saturday night. Ab was passing along the road, and as he passed a crowd of men Welch threw out his hand with a 38 calibre pistol and fired, the ball passing entirely through the neck, just missing the jugular vein. Millet says Welch took him for another black man who had cursed Welch the day before and who Welch had threatened to kill.

On the Chattanooga Southern railroad near Gadsden, a black desperado took a Winchester rifle and after turning everybody away stole a mule and skipped.

Riot near Gadsden – One white man killed by black men and another wounded

Gadsden, Dec 7 – [Special] – News of a riot at Littleton, at the foot of Sand Mountain twelve miles from Gadsden, has just reached here. The sheriff has summoned a posse and will leave in a few minutes. It is reported one white man has been killed by the blacks.

Later news, just reached, says one white man was killed and others dangerously wounded and his horse killed as he was on his way to spread the news of the riot. A posse of twenty-five men have left on a special train for the scene of the trouble. Will give further details from the seat of war.


At Attalla Saturday night, during a fearful rain storm an attempt was made to break into Whaley & Buckley’s store. The robbers failed to break the door down, and then tried to set the building on fire, which failed also.

Prof. W. A. Miller a Calhoun county school teacher, was arrested in Gadsden for stealing a black woman’s pocketbook.

At Gadsden one night last week Deputy Sheriff Melton shot George Lee, a Chinaman inflicting a painful wound in the face. Melton was under the influence of whiskey.

Judge Talley fined Sheriff Chandler, at Gadsden $50 recently for allowing a part of a jury which was under his charge to go to a saloon for a drink of beer.

A fine gold watch was stolen from S. M. Morrow of Gadsden on Sunday while he and his wife were at church.

Sam Welch, wanted for killing Jack Day at Gadsden in 1887, has been captured and is in Etowah county jail.

W. L. Echols of Gadsden, has offered $500 additional reward for the arrest of the party who fired his residence several weeks ago. This makes $800 reward offered for the capture of the incendiary.


John Wilson, a black man, was lodged in jail at Gadsden on a charge of breaking into the store of Midgby & Eaton at Rock Springs, six miles east of Gadsden.

The trial of Talley Welsh for the killing of Will Welsh on July 4, 1889 was begun in the city court at Gadsden Wednesday. A jury was selected by noon, and the testimony is now begin taken. It will be an interesting trial. He surrendered himself and confessed the killing, and since then he denied his confession. Lee Lancaster is serving a life sentence for the same killing.

Lancaster free-A life convict who is innocent, pardoned by Governor Jones: Capt. K. L. Cunningham, who has been representing Lee Lancaster, received a letter from Mr. Jackson, Private Secretary of Gov. Jones, which stated that the Government had pardoned Lancaster, who is serving a life sentence at the penitentiary.

It will be remembered that on the night of July 4, 1889 Wm. Welsh, while on his way home from Gadsden, was foully murdered. He was found lying in the public road with a bullet hole in this back of his head, cold and stiff in death with no earthly tongue to tell of his mysterious death.

Lee Lancaster was arrested and tried in the circuit court charged with the crime. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to the penitentiary for life but at last the guilty person came and confessed the crime.

In December last Tally Welsh confessed the killing of Wm Welsh to the officers in Georgia to which state he had fled and he was brought to Gadsden and lodged in jail. He also confessed the murder to some of the jurymen who convicted Lancaster. An indictment was found but when arraigned before the circuit court he pleaded not guilty.

The case consumed two days, and attracted may people to hear the evidence.

Strong evidence was against him, and he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He has taken an appeal to the Supreme Court, and is at present in jail awaiting the action of the highest court. Lancaster will return home tomorrow where he will meet his wife, several children and an aged mother with a hearty and loving welcome.

The Judge, Solicitor and some of the jurymen before whom he was tried signed his petition asking for his pardon.

Dick Hooper, of Ball Play, Etowah County, was convicted of counterfeiting standard silver dollars by the United States court jury Tuesday and given eight years in the penitentiary at Columbus Ohio. He was found guilty in two cases, and got two years in one and six in the other. Hooper is the son of Dudley B. Hooper, who was found guilty on the same charge at the fall term of the court and sentenced to six years in the penitentiary. Dudley Hooper was seventy-five years of age. He had already served a term for the same offense. John Kinnett, Hoopers’ son-in-law, was convicted at the same time and sentenced to four years imprisonment. He and his father-in-law were taken to Columbus at the same time. So three members of the same family will be in the Columbus penitentiary at the same time for the same offense.

Embezzlement: Ben. W. Reeves, postmaster at Walnut Grove, Etowah County, is charged with embezzlement of post office funds. He was tried before Commissioner Carlson and held under a $3000 bond.

Fighting in church The Brethern Draw Pistols and Inaugurate Bloody Work- One Fatally Wounded: At Pleasant Valley Church, near Attalla, Sunday afternoon, occurred a bloody tragedy, in which one L. F. Burgess shot and it is said, fatally wounded Samuel W. G. Atwood. Both were members of the church.

The altercation is said to have been brought about on account of ill feelings engendered between the families. It is charged that some time ago a son of Burgess attempted a criminal assault upon the daughter of Atwood. Young Burgess fled the county.

On Sunday, while a committee of the church was out trying to adjust the matter, they decided to fight it out there. The shooting began in the house. Mr. Marion Smith, in attempting to part them, was shot in the hand. Mr. Atwood was shot, and it is thought the wound will prove fatal. Burgess made good his escape.

The United States grand jury has returned indictments against Robert G. Wade, George W. Bacchus, and James E. Bacchus, all of Walnut Grove, Etowah County, charging them with making and using counterfeit silver dollars.

Thomas H. Jenkins, the Gadsden forger, has been sentenced two years in the pen. He has appealed his case to the Supreme Court.

Bud Cooper, who killed Charles Sweentey in East Gadsden last spring by shooting him, was acquitted in the city court this week. The coroner’s jury exonerated him, but the grand jury returned a true bill, resulting as above stated.

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