In the spring of 1913, an anonymous Lucama resident, a woman, wrote a scornful letter to the editor, complaining of blind tigers operating with impunity nearby. Two of the five on Route 1, she noted, were operated by African-Americans.
This article is fascinating both for its details of Jim Watson‘s medical condition and the sophisticated operation of his “blind tiger,” or illegal bar. A search of digitized newspapers found a little more about Watson’s exploits in Wilson, but nothing about how he wound up in a Richmond jail.
Wilson Times, 14 November 1911.
Watson first appears in available newspaper records on 24 May 1910, when the Times reported his acquittal on retailing (i.e. unlawfully selling liquor) charges.
Two weeks later, on June 7, the paper reported that Watson had again been charged with retailing.
On 13 September 1910, the Times reported that a hung jury had resulted in a mistrial on Watson’s retailing charges. He was again a free man.
On 30 June 1911, per the paper, Watson was fined $9.50 on a reckless driving charge.
In September 1911, a man (presumably, an informant) entered Watson’s store and asked to buy whiskey. Watson pulled a pistol and said, “This is the strongest thing in the house.” The man reported Watson to the police, who charged him with carrying a concealed weapon. His defense: he was in his own place of business, and the gun was not concealed. Verdict: not guilty.
On October 23, William Anderson, allegedly a trusted friend, went into Watson’s place and put down two quarters for a pint of whiskey. Watson purportedly sold him a half-pint, which Anderson took outside to share with his pals. A police officer swooped in and, after some pressure, Anderson admitted he’d bought the liquor from Watson.
The Daily Times‘ coverage led with a reference to Jim Watson’s physical condition. While locked up in the Richmond (Virginia, presumably) jail, Watson allegedly had slit his own throat. As a result, he now breathed through a tube inserted in his windpipe, an astonishing example of an effective, long-term tracheotomy in an era in which surgery was still relatively crude, and antibiotics were nonexistent. It was also, apparently, Watson’s super-power.
Then, a description of Jim Watson’s set-up. In Watson’s otherwise legitimate restaurant, he raised a curtain in a corner. A customer would lay down his (maybe occasionally her) money, and a trusted accomplice would disappear behind the curtain and return with the liquor. No one other than Watson’s confederates saw Watson handle the goods, and they were allowed entry only one at a time.
As Jim Watson’s trial neared, things got busy for him and his “systematic coterie of dispensers of the ardent.” Watson’s wife Cyndia Watson was arrested after slashing at Coot Robbins with a knife. Notwithstanding, Robbins joined Junius Peacock and Mark Sharpe on a visit to the police station to seek her release, unsuccessfully. Later, a mysterious hack appeared at the chief of police’s home, and an unseen man yelled threats and imprecations if his wife were not released. Robbins admitted to the police that he driven a man to the house, but claimed he did not know him and the man had only politely inquired after Chief Glover.
This incident seems to have exhausted the paper’s patience (and even admiration) for this “touch character.”
Wilson Times, 12 December 1911.
Watson’s day in court came on December 21, and he was finally convicted. The principal witness against him was his former friend Will Anderson, “a notorious negro of Georgia and a murdered who served then years on the chain gang of that state.” For his efforts, Anderson, too, was convicted of retailing. The paper noted with satisfaction that there were several more charges pending against Watson, and his attorney was expected to advise him to throw himself at the mercy of the court.
Wilson Times, 22 December 1911.
However, as the same edition sourly noted, court had adjourned unexpectedly due the judge’s family emergency. “… Jim Watson, … convicted but unsentenced, remains out on bond, and will probably have a good time during the holidays supplying his friends with blind tiger booze.”
We have seen Ellen (not Ella) Clarkhere, in a post about her headstone, discovered in Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Ben Wootten — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on West Walnut Street, Ben Wooten, 45, restaurant proprietor; wife Georgia, 36; and Rosina, 16, and Russell, 11. Ben Wooten died 18 October 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 77 years old; was married to Georgia; lived at 119 West Walnut; engaged in farming; and was born in Pitt County, N.C.
Lonnie Hopkins — in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Hines Street, Rhesa Moore, 45, laundress, widow; daughter Ethel Moore, 15, factory laborer; lodger Mary Lumford, 23, cook; grandson Willie Lumford, 7; and lodgers Alfred Cook, 28, and Lonnie Hopkins, 26, guano factory laborers. On 24 September 1916, Lonnie Hopkins, 28, of Wilson, son of Jim and Julia Hopkins, married Ara Blount, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Daniel and Sue Bynum Blount, in Wilson. Disciples minister J.B. Kornegay performed the ceremony in the presence of Millard Grady, Ellar Blount, and W.M. Edwards.
Coot Robbins — on 18 March 1912, Coot Robbins, 29, married Hennie Harris, 27, in Wilson.
Junius Peacock — in the 1912 Wilson city directory: Peacock Junius cook h[ome] Chestnut
Mark Sharpe — likely, in the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Nash Road, tobacco factory laborer Mack Sharpe, 43, wife Katie, 29, and children Harvey, 12, Willard C., 10, Earnest, 8, Samson, 6, Nellie B., 3, and Elexander, 1. In the 1912 Wilson city directory: Savage Mack butler h[ome w Nash ne Lucas av