Your Children of Hell Have Broken Loose Again! – This Week in Historical Lynchings

This week in 1908 saw the lynching of an entire family in Hickman, Kentucky. Caught up in race prejudice and a land dispute, David Walker, his wife, and at least three of his children were gunned down as they escaped the fire set to their home by Night Riders. Using period newspapers, we’ll look at the details surrounding the lynchings, as well as how a local paper tried to blame the Walkers for their own massacre.

Between the Civil War and World War II, the black community, especially in the South, was terrorized by an epidemic of lynchings. As opposed to public executions, the point of lynching was to avoid the court of law, judge and jury. Often times, the victim, in a holding cell for an offense, was kidnapped by a mob before even being arraigned. According to a recent report issued by the Equal Justice Initiate, there were 4,075 lynchings of black Americans across the South between 1877 and 1950. 1In this case, “The South” pertains to the dozen states where the most lynchings occurred: Mississippi (614), Georgia (595), Louisiana (559), Arkansas (491), Alabama (363), Texas (344), Florida (307), Tennessee (238), South Carolina (184), Kentucky (170), North Carolina (122), and Virginia (88). See the EJI site here.

Kentucky Mob Massacres Entire Negro Family (1908)

Setting the Scene

In the spring of 1908, white Kentuckians of Fulton County banded together. Their original intent was to wrest control of a nearby lake from the private ownership of the West Tennessee Land Company. By the autumn, their brutality knew few bounds. Their objections were, at least initially, understandable. The lake was a source of income, as was the land around it. If the private owner fully closed off the lake to the locals, they would likely be deprived of their livelihoods.

These various direct actions became known as the Reelfoot Lake Uprisings. But what might have been remembered as a grassroots revolt in favor of collective use is now remembered at terrorism, lynching and murder.

Their first action was to burn Burdick’s Fish Docks. After several warnings, in April the Night Riders set fire to the boards and J.C. Burdick, who leased fishing rights from the lake’s owners, was soon forced to close. The following month, the Night Riders threatened another fisherman profiting from the lake.

Before long, any locals belonging to the West Tennessee Land Company had left the organization. But still the company remained in control of the lake.

‘We are the 800 Mounted’ – Attacks on Black Citizens

Just what local black families had to do with this seems almost tangential. On the same night that Burdick’s docks were burned, a notice was posed in the nearby town of Hickman.

“To the Nigros of Hickman You are expected to Be absent May the 1st 1908… We are the 800 mounted. Well armed. Fare Warning.”

Undercover officer in his disguise as a Night Rider.
Undercover officer in his disguise as a Night Rider.

Many of the whites in the county hired low-wage black labor and were now fearful that cheap source of income would soon be rushed out of town. When one local spoke up, saying that the “nergoes” were better than the Night Riders, he was beaten so badly by the vigilantes that he died of his wounds.

Starting in May, they began to make good on their warning. Blacks, as well as the whites who supported them, were whipped mercilessly. Their attacks were often symbolic. For instance, they kidnapped a black man and attempted to force him to whip a white man profiting from the lake. The black man escaped and ran to the police. No arrests were made.

Through the late spring and early summer, small attacks were carried out upon black community members. They would take pot shots at random black neighbors as warnings to get them to leave town.

By August, the local whites had had enough. They petitioned the governor to do something about the Night Riders. Their pleas mentioned their black laborers, as well as the threats to white citizens. The governor, however, refused to help. 2Grove, Jama McMurtery, “Uneasy Waters: The Night Riders at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, 1908” (2012). Electronic Theses and
Dissertations. Paper 1496. Thus far, all information was gathered from Jama McMurtery Grove’s thesis, available here.

David Walker

Dave Walker, as he was known around Hickman, was a family man. Both he and his wife could read and write. Together, they were raising a growing family. Their oldest of five was in his early teens, while the youngest was but an infant. Unlike many local black families, they were not tenant farmers. The house they lived in, the land they farmed, was their own.

Among their closest neighbors, both white and black, they were far more prosperous. Most, including all of the whites but a widow, rented the land upon which they farmed.

Mr. Walker first comes into our story with a dispute with Joe Williams and his wife.

Dave Walker was fined $10 and cost Wednesday by County Judge Naylor for using abusive language. The warrant for his arrest was sworn to by Joe Williams and his wife. Walker was also charged with flourishing a deadly weapon, but the evidence on this charge was not sufficient to convict. 3The Hickman Courier; Hickman, Kentucky; Fri, Jun 5, 1908 – Page 4Here.

It was this incident, however, that would give the Night Riders an excuse to pay David Walker a visit. It was not personal. David Walker’s “abusive language” toward Mrs. Williams was used as a reason for the visit. But as he was one of the most prosperous black citizens in the area, using him as an example would potentially drive out any “lesser” blacks.

On the night of October 3rd, the Night Riders made their move.

Night Riders Wipe Out Negro Family

Shoot Woman and Five Children One by One as They Leave the Farm

Hickman, Ky., Oct 5 – A band of about 30 or 40 masked men made a raid on the home of Dave Walker, a negro living 4 miles southwest of Hickman, early Sunday morning and shot the entire family of eight members and burned their home. Three were killed instantly, five were wounded so that one died Monday and one more cannot live.

The Public Ledger Maysville, Kentucky Tue, Oct 6, 1908 – Page 4
The Public Ledger
Maysville, Kentucky
Tue, Oct 6, 1908 – Page 4

Those killed were:
Dave Walker, age 40.
Walker’s wife, age 38, who died Monday.
Susan Walker, age 16.
Ransey Walker, age 2.

The wounded are:
A 12-year-old boy – shot about the shoulders – not fatal.
A 14-year-old boy – shot in abdomen and head – cannot recover.
An 18-year-old girl – shot in hand and arm – not fatal.
A 20-year-old boy – shot in foot – slight wound. He escaped and was found Monday near A.H. Leet’s home – bare-footed, hatless and in his night clothes.

Those dead were all shot in the abdomen, and No. 12 shotguns seem to have been the instruments of death.

It is hard to get the real facts of the case, but it is said that Walker was a bad negro. He was recently arrested on a warrant sworn out by Joe Williams, a white man of the same neighborhood, for cursing Mrs. Williams and flourishing a gun when Mr. Williams interfered. Judge Naylor fined the negro, and he was released upon payment of the same. He is said to have remarked to bystanders after the trial that he would be fixed for him next time. In other instance he was charged with being brazen and impudent.

Night Riders Surround the House

Shortly after midnight the riders rode up to the home of Mr. Williams and called him out, telling him they were going to get the negro a thrashing and wanted him to go with them. Williams did not want to go – telling them that his wife would be left alone – and the riders told him he could stay behind and look after the horses.

Three of the masked men remained with Williams and the horses and the rest of the party walked to the negro’s home, arrive there about 12:30. The wounded negroes say that the night riders called to Walker to open the door. This he refused to do. Arming himself and two sons, they prepared for the attack, which was being made from the outside.

When the masked men burst the door down, Walker begun shooting. The riders then opened fire on the negroes ,while a part of them poured coal oil on the house and set fire to it, forcing the occupants to flee from the burning building. As they ran out, all were shot.

Shoot Baby In Mother’s Arms

Walker was the first to go out and was shot first. When Walker’s wife appeared in the doorway, she held in her arms their infant child and begged the night riders for mercy. Disregarding her pleadings they infuriated mob opened fire and a bullet pierced the body of the infant in its mother’s arms. A second shot struck the mother in the abdomen and she fell, still holding the dead body of her infant.

The disturbance aroused Tom Bone, a white man residing not far away, and thinking the shots were fired for the purpose of giving a fire alarm, he started in the direction of the Walker home, but was suddenly stopped as he turned into the lane when two men grabbed his horse’s reign. He was told to try going back over the same road. He was only told once – he went. 4The Hickman Courier; Hickman, Kentucky; Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4. Here.

Walker Looking for Trouble

It is evident the riders took every precaution, and did their work with the greatest secrecy. They came from the direction of Lake county, and numbered from 30 to 50. Most of them wore black masks.

Walker was doubtless looking for trouble, as he as well armed and had a good supply of ammunition. He always carried considerable money with him, and it was reported that $800 was burned in the house.

The Dead Bodies Buried

County Coroner Smith held an inquest over the bodies Sunday morning, and the jury’s verdict was that the negroes were shot to death by unknown persons. As soon as the last victim fell, the night riders mounted their horses and rode away, leaving no trace whatever of the identity of any member of the band. For this reason it is hardly probable that the law will take hold of the matter.

A wagon load of coffins went out of Hickman Sunday – the first thing of the kind to happen in a long time – and the dead bodies were buried Monday, in Tennessee. 5The Hickman Courier; Hickman, Kentucky; Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4. Here.

“Walker Was No Saint”

News of the massacre spread quickly across the nation. Most papers ran an edited down, Associated Press version of the story. 6Such as this from South Dakota, or this from Vermont. The local paper out of Hickman, however, was disturbed by the bad press. Their article, printed above, was obviously slanted, as they virtually blamed Walker for his own massacre. In a follow up piece, they were no different.

“There are two sides to a question,” read the paper. “Walker was no saint, neither his wife and 18-year-old girl, all of whom are said to have insulted a white lady with the most rank profanity.”

They denied that they were trying to “upload lawlessness,” but rather they wanted to “let truth prevail.” The Hickman Courier accusingly said that “the metropolitan papers, in their eagerness for sensation, seem to have lost sight of conservativeness and common honesty.” 7The Hickman Courier;
Hickman, Kentucky; Thu, Oct 15, 1908 – Page 5. Here.

The Stain on Kentucky

The conservative Courier complained further that the governor “jumps on with both feet” when he issued “a reward of $500 for the apprehension and conviction ‘of any person and each person of the band of some fifty men who banded together and went at midnight to the home of David Walker….”

The Governor’s proclamation continued:

This crime and the stain on Kentucky of the murder of four helpless prisoners at Russellville, both by bands of night riders, the outgrowth and logical result of the toleration of the night-rider crimes in the largest districts of the State, its only once removed from civil war and the very safety of our institutions and what we have of civilization, is involved, and the only salvation for the name, honor and character of Kentucky is for the whole people to rise up in their might to save their liberty, uphold their law and mercilessly put down murder, arson intimation and proscription wherever they dare to show themselves.”8Ibid.

The Hickman Courier Hickman, Kentucky Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4
The Hickman Courier
Hickman, Kentucky
Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4

Just Who Was Murdered?

This is something that is not easy to deduce. It appears that the obviously-slanted Courier is the only source for the names and ages of the family. This information, unfortunately, has to be taken as the most accurate we have.

In their October 8, 1908 issue, they claim that four had died: David, his wife, their 16 year old daughter Susan, and two year old Ransey (who is sometimes refereed to as “the infant”). They conclude that one more, a 14 year old boy, will certainly die. We must assume that they are correct in this.

We are left with the total of five dead. Yet, the Courier lists three others as wounded – a 12 year old boy, an 18 year old girl (the same they accused of cursing Mrs. Williams) and a 20 year boy who made his escape.

Hopkinsville Kentuckian Hopkinsville, Kentucky Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4
Hopkinsville Kentuckian
Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4

For further details, let’s take a look at the December 13th, 1908 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Several months had passed without arrests, but details of the story had a chance to be sussed out. They claim to have received their information from “the last daughter to fall” who “finally recovered.” She was, they reported, “the only direct descendant of David Walker left to tell of the terrible carnage.” This is likely the 18 year old girl who supposedly cursed Mrs. Williams (though the Enquirer gives her age as 17).

The twenty-year old boy is also mentioned: “A stepson of Walker escaped without injury by darting out a rear door into the night.”

As for the 12 year old boy, reported by the Courier as “shot about the shoulders – not fatal,” nothing can be learned of his existence. It’s possible that he died, but it’s also possible that in the confusion of the scene, he was either miscounted or not related to David Walker.

Unable to fully account for the 12 year old boy, we are left with five dead and two wounded. Other sources, such as the Hopkinsville Kentuckian, concluded early on that all perished in the fire, including the older daughter and step-son. Their account, however, is merely a sensationaized rewording of the Courier‘s and is hardly reliable. 9Hopkinsville Kentuckian; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; Thu, Oct 8, 1908 – Page 4Here.

The Aftermath

As already stated, there were no arrests. Though the governor offered a reward and admonished his constituents, he did little more. That is, until the Night Riders struck again. This time they kidnapped and lynched a white man – a local business owner named Quentin Rankin. To this, the governor responded immediately.

Instead of offering $500 for the lynching of an entire black family, he offered $10,000 for the lynching of a single white – a statement if there ever was one. When the family was murdered, he offered not a single state trooper to the area. But when Rankin met his end, three entire companies of militia were sent to the area.

With this pressure, one of the night riders, Frank Fehringer, finally confessed. He turned states evidence at the forthcoming trial (for the murder of Rankin), and was given immunity. He was kept in jail during the trial for his own protection, fell in love with an old sweetheart, married her, tried to kill himself, tried to kill her, tried to kill himself again, and was finally moved to St. Louis.

Though many night riders were convicted of various crimes (never for the lynching of the Walker Family – that never went to trial), they were all let off by the Tennessee Supreme Court due to technicalities in how the case was handled. 10This incredibly confused uprising can be studied in greater detail in Jama McMurtery Grove’s thesis, available here. Grove, Jama McMurtery, “Uneasy Waters: The Night Riders at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, 1908” (2012). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1496.

Flag announcing lynching, flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City. 1936.
Flag announcing lynching, flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City. 1936.

Nearly Eighty Other Lynchings This Week

What follows is a list of all known racially-motivated lynchings between October 3 and October 9, 1877-1950. It should be in the forefront of your mind that the “crimes” listed are only what the victims of the lynchings were accused of committing. They were allowed no trials, and thus they were not guilty in the eyes of the law. Certainly some may have done what they were accused of doing, but in a constitutional society that values law and order over mob rule, each and every lynching was a miscarriage of justice and a horrible wrong. 11For more information on all of this, please see our post here.

It must also be remembered that this list is incomplete. Not only were there unreported lynchings, but the databases I draw from are understandably inadequate.

Year	Victim	  City State	Race	Sex	Form    Alleged Offense

October 3

1882	Henry Holloway	 		  Giles	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Outrage on a married white woman
1885	Bud Mebane	 			Caswell	NC	Black	Male	Hanged 					Rape and murder of a married white woman
1887	Oscar Jeffreys	   Little River	AR	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Eloping with a white girl, daughter of  a wealthy planter, and marrying her; miscegnation
1892	Alexander Bell			  Obion	TN	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Attempted assault of white widow woman and her unmarried daughter
1900	— Williams				   Lake	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Murderous assault and robbery of an Italian peddler from Kentucky
1901	Walter McClennon		Carroll	TN	Black	Male	Shot					Assaulted a white man, a prominent citizen
1908	David Walker			 Fulton	KY	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Cursed white woman and threatened a white man
1908	Mrs. David Walker		 Fulton	KY	Black	Female	Shot					Race prejudice
1908	Baby of David Walker	 Fulton	KY	Black	Unknown	Shot					Cursed a white woman and threatened a white man with a pistol
1908	Child of David Walker  	 Fulton	KY	Black	Unknown Shot					Race prejudice
1908	Child of David Walker    Fulton	KY	Black	Unknown	Shot					Race prejudice
1908	Child of David Walker    Fulton	KY	Black	Unknown	Shot					Race prejudice
1908	Daughter of David Walker Fulton	KY	Black	Female	Shot					Race prejudice
1910	Bush Withers		  Covington	AL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Criminal assault of a prominent young married white woman
1913	Wilson Evans			 Copiah	MS	Black	Male	Hanged and shot			Criminal assault on an 18 year-old white woman, daughter of a prominent planter
1916	Mary Conley				Calhoun	GA	Black	Female	Riddled with bullets	Mother of accused murderer of a white man, a well-known farmer, and accessory to the murder
1916	Allen Nance				Leflore	MS	Black	Male	Riddled with buckshot	Assault on multiple white and black persons
1937	J. C. Evans			   Okaloosa	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with buckshot and bullets	Attacking 12 year-old white boy

October 4

1879	Cicero Gilmore			Baldwin	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Race prejudice
1886	Thomas Israel			Screven	GA	Black	Male	Hanged					Outraged a 10 year-old white girl
1892	Charles Goff			 Rankin	MS	Black	Male	Hanged					Robbery and murder of a white man, and shooting a black man
1892	Gabe Meeks				 Rankin	MS	Black	Male	Hanged					Robbery and murder of a white man, and shooting a black man
1895	Toby McGrady			Bullock	AL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Assaulted a married white woman, a farmer’s wife
1895	Neal South				   Dade	GA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Raped white girl
1901	Unnamed Negro #1 of 4  Marshall	TN	Black	Female	Shot					Shot at white man
1901	Unnamed Negro #2 of 4  Marshall	TN	Black	Male	Shot					Shot at white man
1901	Unnamed Negro #3 of 4  Marshall	TN	Black	Male	Shot					Shot at white man
1901	Unnamed Negro #4 of 4  Marshall	TN	Black	Male	Shot					Shot at white man
1902	Utt Duncan			   Columbus	TX	Black	Male	Hanged					Entering office of woman, improperly clad
1904	— Rivers				 Taylor	FL	Black	Male	Unreported				Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman
1911	Frank Mack				  Dodge	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Attempted rape of the wife of a prominent white man

October 5

1882	John Brooks				Calhoun	AL	Black	Male	Hanged					Rape of little white girl
1903	Edward McCollum			  Grant	AR	Black	Male	Shot					Murderous assault on a white man, a constable
1907	William Burns		 Cumberland MD	Black	Male	Beaten, Shot			Murder
1912	Babe Yarbrough			  Macon	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Attempted rape of 12-13 year-old white girl, daughter of a well-known family
1916	William Spencer		   Graceton	TX	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Dueling with a sheriff; unpaid cotton
1919	Mose Martin				Lincoln	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Praised murderer of a white deputy sheriff.
1920	Benjamin Givens			  Baker	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Implicated in the murder of a white man, a well-known farmer
1920	Fulton Smith			  Baker	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Implicated in the murder of a white man, a well-known farmer
1920	Rayfield Givens			  Baker	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Implicated in the murder of a white man, a well-known farmer
1920	Samuel Duncan			  Baker	FL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Possibly implicated in the murder of a white man, a well-known farmer

October 6

1878	John Thomas			 Williamson	TN	Black	Male	Unreported				Rape of 5 year-old white girl
1885	— Huntley				Jackson	AR	Black	Male	Shot					Attempted criminal assault on an unmarried white woman
1894	Henry Gibson		  Fairfield	TX	Black	Male	Shot					Assault on a white woman
1897	Harry Crowell			 DeSoto	MS	Black	Male	Hanged and shot			Miscegenation with a 15 year-old white girl
1906	Unnamed Negro			Jackson	MS	Black	Male	Unreported				Attempted criminal assault on a married white woman
1906	Corneilius Robinson		 Mobile	AL	Black	Male	Hanged/strangulation	Assaulted multiple white girls
1906	William Thompson		 Mobile	AL	Black	Male	Hanged/strangulation	Assaulted multiple white girls
1909	Ap Ard				 St. Helena	LA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Murderous assault on a white man, a prominent planter
1919	Jack Gordon				Lincoln	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Murder of a white deputy sheriff
1919	William Brown			Lincoln	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Accomplice in murder of white deputy sheriff

October 7

1879	Bill Rearson			   Rhea	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Murder of white man, a store keeper
1879	Tom Jones				   Rhea	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Murder of white man, a store keeper
1896	Charles Williams		Emanuel	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Murder of a white man at voting polls
1906	Homer G. Blackman		Pulaski	AR	Black	Male	Hanged and shot			Mistaken identity
1910	John Dell			 Montgomery	AL	Black	Male	Shot					Race prejudice
1911	E. B. Wheeler			  Dooly	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Unreported
1911	Andrew Chapman		  Wilkinson	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Attempted assault on one “of the best known” young white woman
1916	Charlie Smith		 Washington	GA	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Wounded a white man, a deputy
1919	Eugene Hamilton			 Jasper	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Attempted murder of a white farmer and sawmill operator
1934	Curtis James		   McIntosh	GA	Black	Male	Shot					Stealing turpentine and bootlegging it in Florida

October 8

1902	Curtis Brown			   Dyer	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Murder of a white man, a well-known farmer
1902	Garfield Burley		  	   Dyer	TN	Black	Male	Hanged					Murder of a white man, a well-known farmer
1905	Thomas Seabright		Decatur	GA	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Rape of two black girls
1906	Anthony Davis			 Miller	AR	Black	Male	Beaten and strangled	Attempted rape of a 15-16 year-old black girl
1910	Unnamed Negro		 Rockingham	NC	Black	Male	Shot					Numerous robberies
1916	Frank Dodd			   Arkansas	AR	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Insulted two young white women; annoying a young white woman
1924	William Bell			Chicago	IL	Black	Male	Beaten					Assault on white girl
1926	Bertha Lowman			  Aiken	SC	Black	Female	Shot					Accomplice in the murder of a white sheriff
1926	Clarence Lowman			  Aiken	SC	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Accomplice in the murder of a white sheriff
1926	Demmond Lowman			  Aiken	SC	Black	Male	Shot					Murder of a white sheriff
1926	Herbert Bell			Stewart	TN	Black	Male	Hanged/RwB				Murder of a white man
1933	Benjamin Thompson	  Greenwood	SC	Black	Male	Beaten					Arguing with and threatening white man; pulled a pistol on a white man

October 9

1883	Wesley Brown			Madison	AL	Black	Male	Hanged 					Murder of a white man, a policeman
1891	Joe Coe					  Omaha	NE	Black	Male	Hanged					Assault of white girl
1893	John Booker Davis		  Henry	AL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Found in a white girl’s bedroom
1893	Bob Hudson				Weakley	TN	Black	Male	Shot					Defending his wife from whitecaps
1896	James Anderson		  Jefferson	AL	Black	Male	Riddled with bullets	Murder of a white man, a well-to-do farmer

References   [ + ]

Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.
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