Friday, December 26, 2014

December 26, 1891: Robert Sims, Thomas and Young Savage

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) dated December 27, 1891:


Bob Sims and His Gang Swing to Limbs of Trees.


His House Surrounded by the Sheriff and His Posse.


And While the Posse Has Him in Charge, a Mob Takes Him and His Male Followers and Hang Them.

MOBILE, Ala., December 26.—An artillery detachment of the First regiment of state troops left here at a quarter of 3 o'clock this morning, and reached Shubuta, Miss., at 6 o'clock. At half-past 9 o'clock, the soldiers were en route for the scene of action in Choctaw county, Ala., twenty-one miles distant. A very heavy rain prevailed all yesterday forenoon, and a part of the night. The roads are very bad. The weather turned wintery during the night. The detachment has a six-pounder fieldpiece, and every man is armed. The colonel of the regiment, also the chaplain and assistant surgeon, are with the command.

A special messenger for the Mobile Register got into DeSoto from the scene of action this forenoon at 10 o'clock. He brings advices up to 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon as follows:

Preparing to Blow Them Up.

Sheriff Gavin on Christmas morning sent to Bladen Springs for cannon. When Sims heard of this preparation to blow his stronghold to splinters, he looked at his women folk and his heart misgave him. He began to parley with the sheriff. At 2 o'clock he said he would surrender if the posse would do him no injury, and if the posse would protect him from mob violence.

A meeting of the posse was held, which lasted more than two hours. There was great excitement and much diversity of opinion.

The Proposition Accepted.

At first the proposal was flatly refused, but the fact that there were women in the house was a strong point in favor of mercy to the inmates. The thought of shooting with cannon into a house harboring women was so repugnant that it overcame almost the wild longing for the blood of the men outlaws, so that at last the terms of Sims were accepted.

At 4:30 o'clock the Simses laid down their arms, and came out of the house.

The posse were astonished to see that, instead of seven desperate outlaws, there were only two men and a boy, as follows:  Robert Sims, Thomas Savage and Young Savage, a nephew of Sims. Four women—Bob's wife and three daughters—came out, also. The others were at once ironed and placed in a wagon. The women were placed in a second wagon and under guard.

At 5 o'clock the procession started to Butler, the county seat of Choctaw county. Sheriff Gavin commanded silence, fearing that should any words be said his men might become angry and kill their prisoners.

The Register correspondent describes the road to Butler as very rough and hilly and as bordered on either side by thick undergrowth, from which it would be very easy for a band of determined men to surprise and overpower the posse. The correspondent believed that such an attempt would be made somewhere along the route.

As showing the temper of the people of Choctaw it is said that John Savage, who was arrested the day before Christmas on the charge of being a member of the Sims gang, and was hanged to a tree at 10 o'clock the same day.

They Were Lynched.

LATER.—While the posse in charge of the Sims party were en route to Butler last night a mob of Choctaw men overpowered the posse and hanged the three men—Bob Sims, Tom Savage and Young Savage. It is reported that another of the Savage boys was hanged at the same time. This is in addition to John Savage, who was hanged Christmas Eve.

How They Were Hanged.

The Register's staff correspondence had just returned to town. He says Sheriff Gavin did not guarantee the safety of Sims against mob violence, but said he would do the best he could and give him and his friends a picked guard of fifty men. Sims accepted this, after saying, however, that he did not believe he would reach Butler dead or alive. He surrendered only to save the lives of his wife and daughters.

When the guard moved off with Sims and the three Savage men—for there were three of them, namely, Thomas Savage and two boys, sons of Con Savage—there remained behind the greater part of the posse that the sheriff had attracted to the scene, and these immediately held a consultation, and, after debate, decided it would not do to permit the desperadoes one chance of escape. So they set out in pursuit.

On the way they met Con Savage, another of the Simsites, and without any delay he was strung up to a tree. This is the man reported hanged on Christmas eve. Later the guard was overhauled, but made no resistance. Sims and the other three were taken back to the tree upon which Con Savage had been hanged, and four ropes were quickly adjusted to the branches thereof. Bob was asked if he had anything to say. He replied:  "Take my hand, feel my pulse and see if I'm a coward."

He and one of the Savage boys were placed in a buggy, nooses were adjusted and the horse attached to the buggy was driven was driven forward, leaving the men hanging int he air. The other two, father and son, were likewise speedily placed beyond the tears of this life.  

The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) dated December 26, 1894:



Thirty-Two Deaths Directly Traceable To This Bloodthirsty Band—Results of the Revolutionary Teachings of Robert Sims.

Grove Hill (Ala.) special St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

The assassination of Murphee Pink by the Meachimites and the lynching of the murderers by a mob have again convulsed the people of this section with excitement, and it is safe to predict that the last of these outlaws will be wiped from the face of the earth before quiet is again restored. Some days after the citizens had publicly shot Tooch Bedsole, the leader of the Meachimites, in August, 1893, it was agreed that if the others belonging to this organization of cut-throats would surrender their arms they would be permitted to return to their homes. Moreover, they were promised immunity from the criminal courts for their past acts. These terms were accepted, and the fourteen outlaws, who for weeks, had been hiding in Hell's Hollow, a section of Clark county, almost impenetrable to man or beast, came to Coffeeville, and upon the steps of S. C. Powe's little store, made oath that they would never again take up arms against their neighbors to commit any other acts contrary to the peace of the community.

A murder was committed near Bladon Springs last May that looked very much as if the Meachimites had a hand in it, but they swore they were innocent. There was no evidence sufficient to convict them. The killing of Pink leaves no doubt, however, in the minds of the citizens of this county that the murderous organization once thought to have been exterminated is still in existence.

Robert Sims and His Creed.

Thirty-two deaths are directly traceable to this band of marauders, robbers, assassins and house-burners. The history of their crimes makes one of bloodiest chapters in the annals of the State. Four years ago there lived in the western part of Choctaw county a man by the name of Robert Sims. He was a well-to-do farmer, and had an interesting family, consisting of three daughters and two sons, who had been educated at the village schools. Sims himself was a classical scholar, having received a literary diploma from the University of Ohio in 1852. He was first a Baptist, then a Methodist evangelist. Finally he originated and built up a new and strange religion of his own. He taught that man owed allegiance to God only; that the State had no right to assess him for taxes, no authority to prevent him from having as many wives as he could support; and that in the manufacture of spirits from the fruit in his orchard and the grain from his field, he declared he had a perfect right to do as he pleased—a right given him by a higher power than governments. These ideas he advocated and practiced. He built a temple for the worshipers of his religion, and started the publication of a weekly journal, which his children printed. In the course of a few months he had converted half the people in his neighborhood to his way of thinking.

In September, 1892, a deputy United States marshal from Mobile, armed with a Winchester and a warrant, rode up to Sims's gate and told his business. He was given so many minutes to make his way back to the public road. He returned to Bladon Springs, organized a posse of thirty men, and again went to the Sims residence. This time, seeing that he was overpowered, Sims surrendered. He was handcuffed and started toward Bladon Springs. On the route a brother of Bob's was apprehended. The two seemed to take their arrest calmly enough. Arriving at Bladon, the officers discovered that they would have to wait forty-eight hours for a steamboat to take the prisoners to Mobile.

That night, while the guards were seated around the Simses, a mob, composed of about fifty of his followers, dashed in, unheralded, to the little village of Bladon and fiered [sic] into the guards, killing two and wounding four others. The rescue was made, and the assassins rode out of town as hurriedly as they had gone in. Sims returned to his home, barricaded his doors, and, arming each member of his family with a Winchester, defied the authorities. His followers flocked to him with arms and provisions, and in less than two weeks after the Bladon Springs tragedy over one hundred men were camped upon his premises, brazenly defying any civil officer to even show his head. The sheriff and marshal were alarmed at the daring of the outlaws, and made no effort whatever to capture them. This state of affairs continued for nearly three months.

The McIntyre Massacre.

On the 22nd day of December a merchant in the neighborhood by the name of McIntyre, a pronounced anti-Simsite, gave a party at his residence, not far from his mercantile establishment. It was a bitter cold night. About 1 o'clock in the morning, after many of the guests had departed, McIntyre, while passing through the hallway, was shot and fell dead on the floor. As the family and the remaining visitors ran to the scene, volley after volley of lead were fired into the crowd. Three were killed outright. The others rushed back into the rooms, only to be forced out again, for the house had been fired and was rapidly burning. As they ran down the steps and out into the yard they became easy targets for the murderers' bullets. One of McIntyre's children, age seven, who was endeavoring to escape through the back gate, was caught and thrown into the flames, where it was burned to a crisp. Then the Simsites looted the store and set it on fire. When the neighbors arrived on the scene that morning seven bodies, cold in death, were found frozen hard to the ground. Four others had been wounded, but had made their escape. McIntyre and his child had been incinerated.

News of the slaughter of this innocent family traveled very fast, and before nightfall 200 armed men had surrounded the Sims residence. He refused to surrender, and warned the posse that if they approached the house any nearer than 200 yards that they would be killed. Shots were exchanged on both sides for several hours, but no one was hurt. On Christmas morning the posse planted an old cannon, that had been left by Sherman's army on its march to the sea, in front of the house. Sims was given ten minutes to surrender. He allowed the time to expire and the cannon's mouth was trained on the building, when Sims walked out of the house with his two hands uplifted above his head. He gave himself up and begged for protection from the howling mob, who wanted his neck there and then. While parleying with him most of the inmates of the house escaped through the lot and reached Oaktuppa swamp ahead of their pursuers. Seven were captured, however, handcuffed, and the crowd started with them to Butler, the county seat, twenty miles away. Before they had proceeded a miles Sims's three daughters, with rifles in their hands, overtook the posse and attempted to rescue their father. They were disarmed and tied with a rope to a tree, where they spent Christmas Day.

Ten Men Lynched.

About five miles from where they had started a live oak tree, with strong limbs hanging conveniently near the ground, was observed standing near the public roadside. Twenty minutes later seven bodies were dangling from its branches at the end of ropes. The posse then separated into five different squads, and in less than twenty-four hours three more Simsites had paid the penalty of their crimes with death. The girls were released from where they had been tied, placed in a wagon and driven to Shubuta, Miss., thirty miles distant. They were commanded to board the first train that passed, and they obeyed orders. They have since resided at Moss Point, Miss., a delightful winter resort near Mobile.

In the zenith of his fame as an outlaw, there appeared at Sims house one evening, Samuel Meachim, an ex-justice of the peace, who resided in Clarke county, across the Tombigbee river from Choctaw. He was anxious to learn more about the very attractive religion advocated by the original Choctaw apostle. He was instructed and innoculated with the dangerous germs. Meachim returned home and began practicing the theories he had listened to at the fireside of Robert Sims. He, too, got him another wife, much to the discomfort and chagrin of Mrs. Meachim No. 1; he made and sold whisky, spat in the tax collector's and shot at the deputy sheriff who had the temerity to approach him with a warrant. When the ten Simsites had been killed and the remainder run out of the country. Meachim was temporarily, terrified into obedience of the State laws. He sent word to the civil officers that he had been a fool and was sorry for it, but promised that in the future no one would more patriotically obey the commands of his Government than he; and so he did untill the spring of '93. Alex. Gowan, the wealthiest merchant in the county, was shot from ambush one night. He fell upon his doorsteps and expired before assistance could reach him. It was proven at the coroner's inquest that one of the Meachim's sons had made threats against the merchant because he had been refused credit at the store. The evidence, circumstantial as it was, convinced the people that young Meachim was the assassin. A deputy's posse started in pursuit of the culprit, and it was then that that the people discovered that the entire country was alive with the followers of Bob Sim's religion. There was a fight, and two more persons died with their boots on.

A County Up In Arms.

The entire county rose up in arms—the lawful against the lawless. Weeks went on, however, without further bloodshed. Circuit Court, which was to have sat at Grove Hill in the early summer, had no session, for the Judge had been warned that if he attempted to interfere with the Meachims he would be killed.

Then "Tooch" Bedsole joined the gang. Bedsole was aged about twenty-six years. He was a graduate of the University of Alabama, at Tuscaloosa, and was regarded as being about the best-informed young man in the country. He was as straight as an Indian, and his clothing, which fitted him neatly, was made at a fashionable tailor's in Mobile. He was handsome and enjoyed the society of young people at dances and parties. He owned a prosperous farm, where he resided with his devoted mother. He was a model young man, prominent in politics, and aspired to a seat in the State Senate. When he announced that he was a Meachim sympathizer, believed in the doctrines for which Bob Sims had been slain, and declared he was ready to join any revolutionary organization that had for its object the subjection of the plutocrats, his friends argued with him, but in vain. Not long after his conversion he became involved in a quarrel with a neighbor, and he shot and seriously wounded his adversary, who was unarmed. He fled to the swamps. Soon he was joined by several of the Meachimites. Becoming emboldened because the officers failed to hunt for him, he took to the highways, where the citizens were shot at on their travels, houses were burned, fences torn down, gin stands destroyed, bridges demolished, and as often as they came across an enemy there was an assassination.

Meantime old man Meachim, becoming alarmed at the threats of the citizens, for they verily believed he was at the back of all these crimes, publicly denounced these vicious acts and volunteered his services toward capturing the outlaws, even if his two sons were in the crowd. His place was carefully watched, and one night their long vigils were rewarded. Two of these desperadoes were captured. One was killed and the other escaped.

In June, 1893, so daring had become the Meachimites that timid citizens abandoned their homes and sought safety in more civilized sections. Bedsole and his active followers, numbering about forty men, were intrenched behind the vines and trees of "Hell's Swamp." They lived breaking out from their hiding places to commit some crime and then quickly seeking their hiding places again. One day, the latter part of July, as a citizens' posse was returning from Grove Hill to Coffeyville, they suddenly encountered Bedsole and three of his followers. The citizens got the drop on them and they were captured. Under the shadow of an oak tree, near where Aaron Burr surrendered to Lieutenant Gaines nearly a century ago, the four outlaws were tried, and in less than an hour four dead bodies lay in a heap on the public roadside. It was three days before their bodies were removed by their friends. Meantime the hogs had mutilated the remains beyond recognition. The remaining desperadoes heard of the fate of their companions. Some of them left the country, never to return. Fourteen asked to be forgiven, and they were. Since that time and until the assassination of Pink, everything has been comparatively quiet.

It is not certain that any of the Meachimites who were captured Saturday were lynched. Jim Pink, a brother of Murphree Pink, the last victim of the gang, said he would rather see the men given a fair trial. That night the officers took the prisoners and started with them to this place. Only George Brunson was jailed here, it was given out that Smith and Brown escaped en route to the jail. It is believed they were hanged. The county is stirred up, and the Meachimite gang has threatened to have vengeance, and more trouble is likely to occur at any time.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.  

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