Saturday, April 8, 2017

July 20, 1897: Holley/Hillery/Jim Speakes

The main issue with tracing lynchings is the confusion of names in the newspaper. Many papers failed to get the names of lynching victims correct. Such as Holley Speakes who could also be known as Jim or Hillery. I've chosen this lynching because this is a clear case where a black man was lynched under the claim of having outraged a white woman. However, as you will see in this first article, it is more likely that he either upset Mrs. Vaughn or attempted to rob her when she refused to give him food. Our first article is from The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama) published July 23, 1897:

TROUBLE AT RIVERTON.
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A Woman Attacked and a Posse Looking for the Negro—A Race War May Result.

Riverton, July 20.—(Special)—Yesterday evening about 4:30 o'clock an unknown negro entered the front door of the home of Mr. S. L. Vaughn of this place. He was accosted by Mrs. Vaughn and asked for something to eat. Being told there was nothing, he attacked the lady with criminal intent, but stumbled over a chair. Mrs. Vaughn ran from the back door and aroused the neighbors. The house was surrounded but the negro had escaped. Citizens were infuriated and formed a posse. They scoured the country all night and tracked the negro out the railroad five miles from town, where he took to the woods and was lost to the crowd. Many negroes working on public works here were carried before Mrs. Vaughn, but she failed to identify them, and they were turned loose. It is thought the negro is hidden in or near town, and every citizen is still on the outlook. The would-be ravisher is unknown. He is described as dark yellow, middle height and weight, well dressed, apparently a stranger. He first asked if her husband was in, and on being answered no, rushed on Mrs. Vaughn fiercely. His intent was plainly evident.

Mrs. Vaughn is in delicate health, and completely prostrated, and for a time it was thought she would die. However, she rallied and is ready to help identify the criminal. Had the negro been caught he would have been summarily executed.

    The white people are aroused against the negroes generally. A large number of those employed by the contractor of the government works talk of organizing and ridding the town of them. This may result in a terrible race war tonight. A few moments ago a negro seriously cut a farmer who was in town. The people have not abandoned hope of yet catching the would-be rapist. Parties are in pursuit. At this late hour many people are firmly convinced the negro was killed by his pursuers last night, but the facts cannot be ascertained, as the searchers won't talk.

THE NEGRO ARRESTED. 

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Mrs. Vaughn Identified Him and the Officers Start With Him to Jail.

Riverton, July 21.—(Special)—The negro, Halley Speaks, was arrested two miles from here this morning at 8 o'clock and was brought into town. He had been searched all night for seriously cutting J. N. Roberson, one of the bosses of the contract work at the lock here. When captured Speaks was found to have been badly shot in the face during the melee yesterday evening. A part of his lower jaw was shot off. Excitement was intense all night, and on account of the cutting of Roberson following so soon after attempted rape of Mrs. Vida Vaugn the people were ready for lynching, but cooler heads prevented.

Later, the negro Speaks was identified by Mrs. Vaughn as the negro who assaulted her. This infuriated the people and they determined to lynch him tonight. He was all day in charge of officers Bryant, Harlan and Griffin. At 7 o'clock the officers left town with Speaks, a small crowd following. The officers were determined to get him to jail; the crowd determined to hang him. At 8 o'clock it is conceded that Officer Griffin has got away with Speaks, bound for Cherokee, where he will take the train for Tuscumbia. The crowd is still scouring the woods for them.

Roberson is a member of the firm of Roberson Bros. Of Hillsboro, who are furnishing county convicts for contractors here. He was seriously wounded and may possibly die.

A crowd of men have left here on horseback determined to intercept the officers with the negro on the way to Cherokeee.[sic] A hundred men have sworn he shall not get to jail alive.

Our next article is from The World (New York, New York) published July 21, 1897:
 
FLORENCE, Ala., July 20.—A race war is on at Riverton to-night, and serious trouble is feared—all the result of the attempt of a negro to assault Mrs. S. L. Vaughn.

The negro attacked Mrs. Vaughn this afternoon, but she fought him off and aroused the neighborhood. Searching parties were formed, and the entire section was scoured for the negro, who had fled. It is known he was captured and shot, although the searchers will not admit it.

The whites are preparing for serious trouble, and there may be startling developments before morning. Mrs. Vaughn is delicate, and the shock, it is feared, will kill her.

Riverton is a town of 600 inhabitants and is the headquarters of the Government works on the Colbert Shoals Canal. Several hundred workmen are employed; two-thirds of them white men, of the class that fight with desperation. In the surrounding country there are hundreds of negroes employed on plantations, and if they should enter the conflict a race war of no small proportions will inevitably result.

The frequency of the crime which has brought on the trouble has made the white people of this section inclined to take the law into their own hands, and give the severest and speediest punishment in each case. Hundreds of white men from the eastern and central portion will flock to Riverton to-morrow, to assist those who are there.
We have an article here from The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee)published July 22, 1897:
 
PROFFERS OF ASSISTANCE.
______


Men With Arms Ready in Florence to Move.
FLORENCE, Ala., July 21.—(Special)—An unknown negro attempted to assault and outrage Mrs. S. L. Vaughn, an estimable woman, at Riverton, Ala., yesterday. Mrs. Vaughn resisted with all her power and scared the brute away, then gave the alarm. Armed parties were out all night last night and are still out searching for the negro. If caught he will be carried before Mrs. Vaughn for identification and if identified will be hanged or burned on the spot.
Last night excitement at Riverton was intense and it looked as though a race riot would result. A white man whose name could not be learned was severely cut by a negro man.

Reports from Riverton to-day say that all is quiet, but that the white people are searching with determination for the fiend who committed the deed.

The white men are almost at the mercy of the negroes at Riverton, as that town is located near the Government works on the Tennessee River and the negroes outnumber the white by three to one. People in Florence are somewhat excited and there are many men here who are ready and willing to go to Riverton, armed to the teeth and help the white people.

A prominent citizen of this place, whose name had best not be given, wired a friend at Riverton that he had forty guns, as many men and plenty of ammunition awaiting a call for help from Riverton.
Here is another article from The Asheville Weekly Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina) dated July 23, 1897:

RAN NEGROES OUT OF TOWN 

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ONE OF THEM ASSAULTED A WOMAN. 


————— 


This Crime and Bearing of the Criminal's Friends Caused an Uprising of the hites[sic]—Maybe a Lynching.


FLORENCE, Ala., July 21.—An uprising against negro workmen on the government works at Riverton, Ala., last night caused a small race war at the place, and today those negroes who can get away are leaving.

    Yesterday evening a negro attempted to assault Mrs. S. L. Vaughn. Mrs. Vaughn escaped. The neighborhood was aroused and chase was given. The negro escaped, for the time, to the woods.
The negro's fiendish attempt and the insolence of other negroes, several hundred in number, incensed the white workmen and they determined to run them out of town. There were several fights between negroes and whites, and one white was seriously cut. The excitement was intense and many negroes would have been killed had not the counsel of cooler heads prevailed.

The negro who caused the riot was captured, was identified by Mrs. Vaughn, and proved to be the same negro who cut a white man last night. There will be a lynching before night.

FLORENCE, Ala., July 22.—A report from Riverton this morning says the negro caught yesterday was started for Tuscumbia, guarded by an armed party. Near Cherokee he was met by a mob and hanged. Another report, not credited, says he was tied to a stake and burned to death. His identify[sic] was thoroughly established by his victim, Mrs. Vaughn. Mrs. Vaughn's condition is serious.
We have another article from The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) July 22, 1897:

LYNCHING EXPECTED

—————


Race War Precipitated by a Negro's Assault.


FLORENCE, Ala., July 21.—An uprising against negro workmen on the government works at Riverton, Ala., last night caused a small race war at the place, and today those negroes who can get away are leaving.

Yesterday evening a negro attempted to assault Mrs. S. L. Vaughn. Mrs. Vaughn escape from him, as the negro in pursuing her fell over a chair. The neighborhood was aroused and chase was given to the negro, who took to the woods. The negro's fiendish attempt and the insolence of several hundred other negroes incensed the white workmen and they determined to run the blacks out of town. There were several fights between the negroes and whites, and one white was seriously injured. The excitement was intense, and many negroes might have been killed had not the counsel of cooler heads prevailed.

The negro who caused the riot yesterday was captured this morning. He has been identified by Mrs. Vaughn, and proves to be the same negro who cut a white man last night. There will be a lynching before night.

Riverton people are sending to neighboring towns for men, guns and ammunition. The most serious trouble is feared. Many negroes are leaving the town. Others are sullen and defiant. As the morning train passed Riverton Junction 100 panic-stricken negroes boarded it, many without money to pay fares. They were all taken to the next station.

Florence, Ala., July 21.—Jim Speaks, the negro who caused the trouble at Riverton, is probably swinging from a convenient limb between Riverton and Cherokee tonight. Speaks was captured near Riverton this morning, and at 8 o'clock this morning officers started for Tuscumbia for him. An armed company started after the officers, swearing they would hang the negro before he could be taken five miles. They undoubtedly carried out their threats. It develops that the negro accomplished his purpose, and that his victim is 60 years of age. She is said to be badly injured. Riverton is intensely excited, and reinforcements are going into the town from every direction.

Once again we here from Montgomery. The Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama) dated July 30, 1897 writes:

GREATLY EAXGGERATED.[sic]
————
The Officials Say There Has Not Been Any Danger of a Race War.

Tuscumbia, July 23.—(Special)—The negro, Hillery Speakes, who outraged Mrs. S. L Vaughn and inflicted a knife wound in contractor Bud Robinson's side, at Riverton, this county, Monday evening, was brought to Tuscumbia yesterday afternoon by Sheriff Gresham, who met the negro at Cherokee in charge of Constable R. E. Harland of Riverton, and lodged in jail. He has a pistol shot would in his chin which was inflicted at the time the negro plunged his knife into Robinson.

Mr. Horland says the reports about the affair, furnished the newspapers, are very much exaggerated and have been highly colored. He denies that ay[sic] race war was at any time likely to be precipitated, the trouble being confiened[sic] to Robinson and the negro. It is believed, however, that he raped Mrs. Vaughn, and she identified him among thirty or forty negroes carried before her. Mr. Horland further says that he, having in charge the prisoner, was overtaken between Riverton and Cherokee Tuesday night, while en route to Tuscumbia, by a mob of fifty men, and although they could easily have taken the negro from him, as he was unarmed, and swung him to a convenient limb, they did not do so, possibly for the lack of a brave and determined leader. At no time was the negro outside of the mob's reach, and why he was not lynched is to him inexplicable. There is no further trouble anticipated since the incarceration of the scoundrel and the law will probably be allowed to take its course.

Our final article is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) July 23, 1897:

SPEAKES NOT LYNCHED

The Riverton (Ala.) Negro in Jail at Tuscumbia.
FLORENCE, Ala., July 23.—Jim Speakes, the Riverton negro, escaped lynching. The officers eluded the mob and placed the negro in jail at Tuscumbia.

It is unknown whether or not Speakes was actually lynched. Since blacks were working on a canal for the Government there were most likely repercussions for the lynching of Speakes. So the Montgomery Advertiser and Riverton or Florence papers could have had a good reason for saying that Speakes was not lynched. There were no further reports of him going to trial, however, since he was shot in the face, it is possible that he died before they could even take him to trial. Its also entirely possible that he isn't the man who supposedly outraged Mrs. Vaughn. We leave you with the evidence to make up your own minds as to what happened in this case.

Thank you for joining us, and as always, we hope we leave you with something to ponder.

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