Friday, April 1, 2016

March 9, 1892: Calvin McDowell, William Stuart and Theodore Moss

Today we learn about a triple lynching in Tennessee through the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) dated March 9, 1892:


Ringleaders of the Memphis Rioting Negroes Lynched.

Forcibly Taken From Jail at 4 O'Clock This Morning.


Seventy-Five Men Capture the Keys and Hurry the Prisoners Away to Vengeance—The Vigilantes Work Quietly and Effectively—Crowning Act of Sunday Night's Tragedy—Negroes and Whites Arming.

MEMPHIS, Tenn., March 9.—The dawn of a bright spring morning, as it cast its light across Tennessee's metropolis, disclosed the dead bodies of three negroes riddled with bullets and partially covered with brush, lying in an open lot about one and a half miles from the heart of the city. The bodies as they lay outstretched with faces heavenward, were mute reminders of the terrible work of seventy-five masked men in this city at 3 o'clock this morning. The names of the negroes, whose bodies were literally shot to pieces by this mob, are Calvin McDowell, William Stuart and Theodore Moss.

The crime for which this summary vengeance was wreaked upon them was the ambushing and shooting down on Saturday night last of four deputy sheriffs in a bad negro locality, known as "The Curve," while the officers were fulfilling their duty by looking for a negro for whose arrest they had a warrant.

About 3 o'clock this morning seventy-five men, all wearing masks, appeared suddenly on Front street, near the jail. From whence they came no one will this morning even hazard a guess.No one saw them assemble, no office of the law noticed their passage through any street, nor did any person intercept them in their quick and quiet march to the Shelby County Jail.

At this time Watchman O'Donnell sat in the jail office having a chat with a friend named Seat. Suddenly a ring was heard coming from the outer gate. Hastily arising and leaving the office, Mr. O'Donnell walked to the door of the jail.


"Who's there?" demanded O'Donnell, his voice ringing loud and clear in the frosty air.

"Hugh Williams of White Haven," came the reply. "I have a prisoner."

"All right," said O'Donnell; "this is the place and I am always ready to receive them."

With that Mr. O'Donnell hurried to the gate and unlocked it.Two or three men pushed in immediately. O'Donnell did not notice them closely as they shoved through the gates, but a moment later, when he turned to inquire which was the prisoner, he saw that he had been trapped. The men were masked.

"What does this mean?" queried the watchman as he reached for his pistol.

"No you don't," exclaimed the masked men loudly as they seized the arms of Mr. O'Donnell and forced him against the high and thick wall surrounding the jail.

The three men who seized Mr. O'Donnell had spoken loudly as they grasped him. Their voices had scarcely died away when there was a trampling of many feet and fully seventy-five men, all wearing black masks, rushed through the gate and confronted the astounded watchman.

"What do you want?" asked Mr. O'Donnell.

"We want the keys to the cell in which those negroes are confined," came sternly from the leader of the masked men.

"I have not the keys," replied Mr. O'Donnell.

"We will see if you have or not," said the leader, and in a minute two men were going through the watchman's clothes, bent on securing the keys. But they were not in his possession.


There was a hurried consultation among the leaders, a wait of a minute and soon a rope was produced with which the watchman's hands were tied. Two men were then called forward through the gate and were put over O'Donnell as guards, the other two hurrying into the jail office to secure the keys.

All this was going on while Jailer Williams slept peacefully upstairs, totally unconscious of what was going on below. Soon came the cry:

"All right boys, here they are," and in a moment after, making sure that O'Donnell was safely pinioned, the men filed silently and swiftly past him into the jail, and in a minute were in the cell room of the negro department.

Now began a search. There were twenty-seven negroes there, all under arrest for complicity in Saturday night's affair, and it was no easy task for these men to distinguish their much-wanted negroes from the other blacks therein incarcerated in the dark of the night. On they went from cell to cell, the thoroughly alarmed inmates coming to the cell doors and unwittingly aiding them in the search.


Alice Mitchell heard the noise and from her cell in the upper tier peered down on the strange and silent crowd. Not a word was spoken while the men proceeded quickly and cautiously along the rows of cells.

Suddenly the click of a key going into a lock was heard. The men stopped for an instant. There was a little scuffle, a hand was clapped over a negro's mouth until he was bound, and Moss, the mail carrier, was in the possession of the mob.

B. Clay King, under sentence of death for the murder of David Posten, heard the scuffle and subdued voices. He appeared at his cell on the opposite upper tier for an instant, but quickly retired.

Soon McDowell was found and then Stuart and then the party was ready to start. The captives being ready, they were dragged, pushed and hustled out of the jail in a hurry. Out into the yard and past O'Donnell, still securely bound, they went, and soon were upon the street. No halt was made and quickly they reached the corner. Turning into Auction street they started toward the Mississippi River, stopping, however, as they reached the tracks of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. A few words in an undertone and the men started north along the tracks. The night was pitchy dark, but no lagging was allowed. The prisoners, securely bound, were kept moving at a hot pace.

In a few minutes the suburbs of the city were reached, and in an open field near Wolf River the negroes met their doom. For the first time they were allowed to speak. As the gags were removed Moss said:

"If you are going to kill us, turn our faces to the West."


Scarcely had he uttered the words when the crack of a revolver was heard and a ball crashed through his cheek. This was the signal for the work. A terrible volley was poured in upon the shivering negroes, who instantly fell dead in their tracks.

McDowell fell face downward, by himself, but Moss and Stuart fell over each other, and when the bodies were found this morning they lay close together.

The bodies presented a horrible sight. McDowell's jaw was entirely shot away and back of his right ear there was a hole large enough to admit a man's fist. his right hand, too, had been half blown away, as if in defense he had grabbed a muzzle of a shotgun.

Stuart was shot in the mouth and twice int he back of the head. His body was riddled with buckshot. His ear was shot off and several bullets entered his forehead.

The mob turned about after it had completed its terrible work and came toward town. At the first crossing they scattered, and all disappeared as silently as they had arrived on the scene. Not a trace of them can be found this morning.


The bodies of the dead negroes were brought to Walsh's undertaking establishment about 7:30 o'clock this morning. In less than fifteen minutes the place was surrounded by about 200 negroes. All were afraid to talk, however, on account of the near proximity of the whites, but on the edges of the crowd were heard many mutterings and curses. One negro aptly expressed the feelings of the majority of his race by saying:

"If these niggers stand we's done up, suah."

The inquest was held at 10 a. m. and the bodies were then sent to their home at the Curve.

At 10:15 o'clock word reached the city that the negroes were assembling in large numbers at the Curve. Judge Dubose immediately equipped 150 men with Winchesters and they left for the locality.


Sheriff McClenden was seen this morning in his office. He said:

"Yesterday afternoon and again last night I was out in the 'Curve' neighborhood with some of my deputies seeing what I could find out and looking for some negroes who took part in the trouble. i did not get home until 12:30 o'clock last night."

"Had you heard no rumors of trouble being expected?" asked the reporter.

"Not a word. I was at the jail late last night, and I never gave a thought to anything like this. It never entered my mind. If it had this would not have happened. My oath of office compels me to protect prisoners under my charge, and I have always done it."

"Are you going to take any steps towards arresting the ringleaders of the mob?"

"I suppose so. Yes, of course; my oath of office demands it, and I will take a posse out and do all I can."

The following jury was impanelled to hold an inquest on the bodies of the lynched negroes: C. McCormack, Isaac M. Simkins, H. S. Parish, A. E. Hewitt, G. H. Guthrie, M. Kehoe, J. Banan, George Holbus, J. H. Peterson.

The following verdict was rendered:  "We find that the deceased were taken from the Shelby County Jail by a masked mob of men, the men overpowered and taken to an old field and shot by parties unknown by the jury."


All quiet at the Curve on Hemand road. Sheriff's posse of 150 armed men on the ground preserving order. Negroes are there in numbers, making no demonstration and but a few threats of retaliation heard. No danger or disturbance is apprehended before night. It is impossible to say what shape matters may take after dark, but the general belief is that the trouble is over. Great excitement prevails among all classes and the lynching incident is deplored. The mob tried to find the wounded negro, Johnson, alias Shang, who fired the shot which struck Deputy Sheriff Harold, but Johnson was in a cell away from the others, and was not discovered, which saved his life.

A meeting of merchant's at the Exchange is called for to-night to give expression to views concerning the unexpected lynching of the prisoners.

Sheriff McLenden has just arrived from the Curve. He says all is quiet, and no disturbance is expected. Officers are there in sufficient force to arrest rioters at a moment's notice, and to preserve the peace. The members of the lynching party are unknown, but efforts are being made by the authorities to identify them and make arrests.

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

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