The Vagabond – Mysterious men visited Gadsden in the late 1800s


By Danny Crownover

Two mysterious men appeared in Gadsden in the mid-1890s, and for several months afterward, there was much speculation as to their origin and their purpose.

During the first week of their stay, the men daily walked all over town. Many women and children began to call them the Wild Men, largely because of the haunted and even hunted look of the younger one, who appeared to be about 26 years old. He was well over six feet tall with black hair, an olive complexion and the build of an athlete. His eyes were sunk deep in his head as if he had just recovered from a long and severe illness.

The younger man wore finely tailored clothes, even to his shirts and ties, but dressed conservatively. There was nothing about him that indicated toughness; in fact, he appeared to be college-bred. He never said a word to anybody except ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ even to his companion, who was an entirely different character and called a “guard” by most observers.

The “guard” certainly was something of the kind, for he was always around to look after the younger man. Some of the men he met called him “dink,” but not to his face.  He wore ordinary clothes, stood about five feet, six inches tall, was about 40 years old and had a closely-clipped Van Dyke beard.

The older man was a chain smoker and rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth. He talked freely about his hometown of Chicago.

Both men registered at the Printup Hotel in downtown Gadsden. After they seemingly had settled down, the men took up headquarters in a saloon in the west half of what is now the Kress Building in the 300 block on Broad Street.

The well-dressed young man could be seen at about 8 o’clock every morning hurrying to the saloon with law books under his arm. He seated himself in a chair, leaned against the wall and studied law until about 11 o’clock, when he engaged in a game of ten pins with an elderly native selected by the bartender to play with him. The players never spoke, and the student always paid for the game.

At 11 o’clock, the guard, who stationed himself at a nearby corner and talked with some new-found friend, entered the saloon. Pretty soon, he and the younger man began a long walk.

The men did not drink, except when the student had a glass of beer placed on the floor near his chair. He sipped the beer as he pored through his volumes. When the younger man’s glass became empty, the barkeeper would refill it. The same routine was followed in the afternoon.

At 7 o’clock every Saturday night, the men would enter the Western Union telegraph office and sign for money. The student received $100 a week, the guard $55.

It looked for a while as if the student had decided to practice law here, with his office [located] in the saloon, for the two strangers had all but become citizens.

When they left the saloon at 11 o’clock, the men crossed the street to an Italian restaurant. Occasionally, they would stroll around for a few minutes, usually arriving at the hotel shortly after midnight.

Early one morning, however, the men checked out of the hotel and disappeared. Nobody ever learned anything about them,  certainly not about the student, who had a guard every minute he was here. Many old-timers recalled this pair, who were weird in every sense of the word.

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