coroner’s inquest

Coleman knocked off truck and killed.

James Walter Coleman was knocked off a truck running board and into the road, where he was fatally struck by another vehicle. In the darkness, neither Coleman’s family nor occupants of the other vehicle involved immediately understood what had happened. The terrible details came together during a coroner’s inquest. The Colemans’ truck had been badly overloaded, with furniture protruding out over the center line. With his family crammed inside the cab, Coleman was riding on the truck’s running board when an oncoming truck loaded with cabbage slammed into the furniture, pitching Coleman onto the ground and under the wheels of the cabbage truck or the vehicle just behind it.

Wilson Daily Times, 2 April 1930.

In the 1900 census of Bailey township, Nash County, N.C.: John Colman, 28; wife Fanny, 32; and children Adna, 4, Bessie, 4, and James W., 11 months.

In the 1910 census of Dry Wells township, Nash County: farmer John Coleman, 41; wife Fanny, 43; and children Adner, 15, Bessie, 13, James W., 11, Dessie, 9, William, 7, Theodore, 5, Sallie E., 3, and Lincey, 1 month.

In 1918, James Walter Coleman registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his draft registration card, he was born 7 June 1899; lived at Route 1, Middlesex, Nash County; and worked as a farmer for John Coleman, Route 1, Middlesex.

In the 1920 census of Beulah township, Johnston County, N.C., James Coleman, 20, is listed as a fired man/farm laborer.

On 24 August 1921, James W. Coleman, 23, married Johnnie Ann Keys, 19, in Johnston County.

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coleman, James W lab h 1206 Carolina St

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Coleman James W (c; Annie) cook h 1204 Carolina St

James Walter Coleman died 1 April 1928. His death certificate gives little hint of the horrific manner of his death.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

 

 

The stabbing death of Archie McLean.

The initial reporting of Archie McLean‘s terrible death, in addition to being breathlessly gory, tries and convicts his assailant, “a negro from South Carolina” named Bennett Bethea or Bennett McCarroll or Bennett McNeal. Also, note the third paragraph, in which Officer John Walston fired at a man he “thought” was Bethea/McCarroll/McNeal and instead shot a white woman bystander in the thigh. The reporter laconically noted the target “happened to be the wrong negro,” and Mrs. Davis was all right.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 September 1919.

Benny McNeal (as his name turned out to be) remained on the lam for more than two months before surrendering. He claimed self-defense, and witnesses at the inquest backed him up. After fleeing the scene, McNeal had stopped at his mother’s house, then headed south, finding work on a Hoke County farm.

Wilson Daily Times, 10 December 1919.

The grand jury agreed that McNeal had acted in self-defense and refused to indict him. Witnesses testified that McLean had come at McNeal with a piece of scantling (a small section of sawn timber) studded with twenty-penny (four-inch) nails, and McNeal had lashed out with a trench knife that penetrated McLean’s heart.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 December 1919.

——

In 1917, Arch McLean registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born March 1895 in Raleigh, N.C.; lived at 509 Stantonsburg Street; worked as a laborer at W.L. Russell Box Company; and was single. He signed his card with an X.

Archie McClain died 28 September 1919 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was  born in February 1894 in Wake County, N.C., to John Beckwith and Vicy Jones; was single; lived on Stantonsburg Street; and worked as a wagon driver for a  L.&M. [Liggett & Meyers] tobacco factory. Bessie McClain was informant.

“Stabed to Death by a man”

 

The murder of Maggie Wooten Coleman.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1922.

The “ginger cake colored” woman was Maggie Coleman.

“Struck with stick on forehead and a gash under chin by party unknown (murdered). Sudden Death.”

Per a 26 December Daily Times article, “About noon Jim came into this office and said that his wife had not returned from a trip to Wilson on Thursday where she came to buy her Christmas. He was told that a body of a negro woman had been found and went to the undertaking establishment where he identified the body as that of his wife. It is believed that Jim wanted to get rid of her and took her to the woods and killed her, and then pretended he knew nothing about it.”

Maggie Coleman was buried on Christmas Eve, and her husband James Coleman was arrested for her murder.

The Independent (Elizabeth City, N.C.), 29 December 1922.

On 18 January 1923, the Daily Times reported on the inquest over Coleman’s murder. Jim Coleman did not testify on his own behalf. Maggie Coleman had been found about about two miles north of Wilson near the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. She and her husband lived west of the city “up Nash road.”

June Ross testified that two weeks before Maggie’s death, during a visit to Jim’s store, he had witnessed the two arguing. “Jim told her to shut up and reached up after a pistol.” Ross left. Albert Staples testified that he had seen the Colemans in Wilson on Thursday, but did not know if they had come together. Maggie had been at High’s store and Jim at “the old Mose Rountrees Corner.”

An unnamed witness said he had seen Jim chase Maggie with a knife and said “if she said anything about the other woman he would cut her head off.” “They lived bad together witnesses said.”

Dallas Vail testified that he knew nothing about the killing, but “My wife’s mother bought a pair of shoes, and Jim’s wife wanted them and said Jim would pay for them. Saw Jim who said he would pay for shoes if his wife picked cotton smart. I went later after the money, and Jim said he bought several pair of shoes for her and she had run through them. He said she don’t need any shoes. She has a good pair on now, and the best thing for me to do is to get the shoes and give back to you. He gave me back the shoes. That was Saturday morning when the woman was found dead. I asked when she left home. He replied Thursday. I asked him why he had not looked for her. He said he thought she might have gone to see a relative. He said he and Bill Thorne looked for her. She did not return and they did not go hunting. He said he sent his wife to Mr. Sauls in Grab Neck and Mr. Sauls said he let her have $2.00.” 

Wilson Best testified that about December 1, on Warren Street in Wilson, Jim Coleman told him his wife tried to poison him, and he had been staying by himself for three months and had been eating can goods. “He offered me $100.00 to kill her.”

Hattie Vail (the shoe seller) testified that the report “about the woman Henrietta Knight who lived near them and Jim was bad.” 

Paul Barnes testified that he lived up Nash road about a mile from Jim Coleman and knew Coleman’s [mule] team. He said he encountered a mule and wagon headed toward Wilson on Nash road on Friday night between Lamm’s store and Etheridge. A person standing up in the wagon turned his head to the side and Barnes could not see his face, but believed him to be Coleman. The person was wearing a man’s coat and seemed to be a colored person. 

Tom Coleman testified that there had been much trouble over the past two months between Jim and Maggie Coleman over Henrietta Knight. Jim threatened to kill Maggie before she could testify against Knight [presumably in an adultery action.] Tom was at Henrietta’s house one night in December and asked for a Pepsi-Cola. Maggie also asked for one, and Jim cursed at her. Tom paid for the drink. Jim threatened to hit Maggie with the bottle, and Tom stayed his hand. Jim was Tom’s nephew, and Maggie was Tom’s wife’s half-sister. 

Prosecutor Oliver Rand read a statement by Elam Ross, who testified that he was at his father’s house near Barnes crossing and saw a man and woman going north toward Elm City. The woman was wearing a red sweater. “She went down the embankment and the man followed. Both disappeared in the woods.” Ross stated he went to the jail and identified Coleman as the man he had seen going into the woods.

Jim Baker testified that he lived near Coleman about five years. He saw Jim Thursday night on a wagon coming to Wilson about eleven at night, but did not pay attention. He heard on Saturday that Jim’s wife was dead. 

Jim Coleman was tried and convicted of Maggie Coleman’s murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Three years later, Roy Armstrong was arrested and charged with the same crime. Armstrong had been a suspect at the time of Coleman’s murder, but had escaped prosecution by leaving town. According to “the evidence,” Roy Armstrong and Maggie Coleman argued over ten dollars she found, and he killed her with a blow to the head. Armstrong went to Coleman’s husband, who said “I don’t care,” and demanded twenty dollars for his escape. Coleman, though he had always protested his own innocence, apparently did not implicate Armstrong until Armstrong was arrested. 

Wilson Daily Times, 7 November 1925.

Despite this development, little changed. Nearly a year later, Armstrong was still in jail awaiting prosecution, and I have found no record that he was ever tried. 

In February and March 1930, Jim Coleman’s attorneys published a series of notices that he intended to apply for a pardon for his wife’s murder, having served a little more than seven years.

Wilson Daily Times, 6 March 1930.  

The application apparently was turned down. However, Coleman walked free three years later when the governor of North Carolina paroled him for risking his life to prevent a boiler explosion at the prison camp saw mill. (Note the article states Coleman had served 18 years of a 20-year sentence. In fact, he served no more than ten years. 

Charlotte Observer, 18 April 1930.

——

  • Maggie Coleman and James Coleman

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: Benjaman Wooten, 51; wife Clara, 55; and children Elizabeth, 19, Joseph, 15, Maggie, 11, Eddie, 5, and Willie, 11 months.

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: James Coleman, 15, was a servant in the household of white farmer John F. Flowers, 29.

Jim Coleman, 22, of Taylor township, son of Gray and Harriet Coleman, married Maggie Wootten, 18, of Wilson township, daughter of Ben and Clara Wootten, at Ben Wooten’s in Wilson township. Free Will Baptist minister Daniel Blount performed the ceremony in the presence of Ben Wooten, Eddie Coleman, and Spisey Barnes

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: sawmill laborer James Coleman, 25; wife Maggie, 21; and children Bettie, 3, and Grady, 3 months.

In 1918, Jim Coleman registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his draft registration card, he was born 1 October 1880; lived at Route 3, Wilson; was a farmer [“owns home”]; and his nearest relative was wife Maggie Coleman.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: Jim Coleman, 35; wife Maggie, 34; and children Grady, 11, Sanders, 7, Claydee and Collie, 6, and Leroy, 2.

Perhaps, in the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Tom Wilson, 56; wife Leanna, 50; and children Sarah, 17, Ester, 15, Thomas, 14, Georgia, 11, Nancy, 9, Gola, 7, and Margie, 3; plus sister Nanie, 16.

In the 1920 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Finch Mill Road, farmer June Ross, 40; wife Nancy, 38; and children Sylvina, 14, Nancy Ann, 11, Charles Willie, 8, John Ed, 5, and Marse Robert, 1.

  • Dallas and Hattie Vail

On 8 February 1914, Dallas Vails, 34, of Wayne County, son of Ned and Rachel Vails, married Hattie Barnes, 23, of Wayne County, daughter of Perry and Louisa Barnes, at Turner Swamp church. Primitive Baptist minister Jonah Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Thomas Ayres of Lucama, Geo. Robbin of Spring Hope, and C.H. Hagans of Sharpsburg.

In the 1900 census of Oldfields township, Wilson County: farmer James Joyner, 27; wife Mahalia, 26; and boarders Auston Daws, 28, farm laborer, and Roy Armstrong, 3.

In the 1910 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: on Wilbanks and Elm City Road, farmer Guston Armstrong, 73; wife Pricilla, 66; and grandchildren John C. Geer, 14, Roy Armstrong, 12, Frank Armstrong, 11, and Paulina Armstrong, 5. 

In the 1920 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farm laborer Roy Armstrong, 23; wife Mary, 22; children Daisey, 3, and Mary, 2; and boarder Gerin(?) Bullock, 21.

The Oliver Marable case.

I happened upon this Notice signed by Columbus E. Artis, one of the principals of the undertaking firm Artis, Flanagan & Batts, in the Wilson Daily Times. Who was Oliver Marable? What was his “case”? What were the “false reports being circulated”?

Wilson Daily Times, 14 December 1925.

Here is Marable’s death certificate:

Filled out largely in C.E. Artis’ bold, readily recognizable hand, it states that Marable died 4 December 1925 in Spring Hill township; was about 55 years old; was married to Bettie Marable; resided at 717 Manchester Street; was born in Henderson, N.C., to Grand and Cornelia Marable. In a different script, Marable’s cause of death: “fracture of base of skull accidentally incurred in a cave-in of earth.” 

Or was it accidental at all?

An inquest held into Marable’s death revealed a bizarre set of facts. On a Friday evening, Marable, who lived on Roberson Street in East Wilson, was miles away in Springhill township digging with a dozen other men for “buried treasure.” Later that night, Marable’s battered body was taken to C.E. Artis and his business partner Walter E. Flanagan, who were preparing to bury him when the police intervened. 

When Artis and Flanagan could not produce a death certificate, the police halted the funeral and contacted the coroner, who went with several county officials to the dig site. Dissatisfied with the accounts of witnesses as to what had happened to Marable, the coroner ordered an inquest. A jury traveled out to Tobe Hinnant‘s farm in Old Fields [Springhill?] township, where they found a “huge hole” in a field near a creek bank. 

The witnesses, who had been digging the hole with Marable, testified that he had been killed when the hole’s sidewalls caved in, but the jury found foul play involved. 

The physician who conducted a post mortem of Marable’s body concluded he likely met his death from a skull fracture, but had also suffered a broken arm, collar bone, and femur and contusions of the back, neck and face.

The police arrested seven people in connection with Marable’s death. Tom Boykin, conjure doctor Richard Pitts and Amos Batts [who was both Marable’s brother-in-law and the third business partner of C.E. Artis] were held without bond; William Edwards, McKinley Edwards, Tobe Hinnant, and John Hinnant bonded out. The story these witnesses told: conjure man Pitts showed up in Hinnant’s neighborhood, claiming that there was buried treasure nearby. Hinnant said he had often dreamed of such a thing, and Pitts said he could locate it. Hinnant pointed out the X in his dreams, and Pitts performed a divination with mineral oil. Though it is not clear how the rest of the treasure hunters were assembled, digging commenced. When the tip of a seven-foot augur embedded itself in a wooden object, the treasure was found. Marable died during the attempt to dig it out. The jury viewed the stuck augur, several shovels, and some sounding rods, as well as a length of white cord festooned about the perimeter to keep out the “haints” lingering in a nearby cemetery in use during slavery. (The jury concluded the augur was more likely stuck in a coffin lid than a treasure chest.) On a side note, investigators also found a large hole, filled in, in Marable’s back yard on Roberson Street, evidence of an earlier search.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 December 1925.

The next day, Raleigh’s News and Observer reported that the jury had adjourned without a verdict, but with a recommendation that Pitts be held pending investigation by a lunacy commission. (Per the Times the same day, Pitts “in his many trips and ‘treasure hunts’ in and around Wilson county had poisoned the minds of many of the negro inhabitants in regards to buried treasure and hidden pots of gold. In many cases sections of the county Pitts has ‘engineered’ treasure hunts, receiving pay for his ‘knowledge’ while honest negroes work in good faith at the task of uncovering the treasure which is never found.”) Everyone else was released. The jury had gone back to the site to find that it had been tampered with. The augur and divining rods were gone, and someone had thrown four feet of dirt into the hole. Several convicts were put to work to shovel out the dirt, but Marable’s pick could not be found. Amos Batts had testified that he did not know about the digging until Marable had died, but when told that Marable had his hand on the money when the pit collapsed, joined the enterprise. (Presumably by agreeing to bury Marable reporting the death or issuing a death certificate.) Someone named Lee Pearce testified, but no details as to what.

Five days later, the matter was dropped. Most of the 20 witnesses had testified to hearsay, Tobe Hinnant’s six-year-old swore he had never accused his father of killing Marable, and county officials gave ambiguous testimony about whether they had seen blood in the pit. The jury was hopelessly confused. Hinnant was freed, leaving only Pitts in jail, presumably for his chicanery.

——

  • Oliver Marable

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Lucas al

In the 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab Robinson nr Stantonsburg rd

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Marable Oliver (c) lab 501 Robinson

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 501 Robinson Street, Oliver Marable, 56, oil mill laborer; wife Betie, 48; and daughter Hattie, 7; plus brother-in-law John Batts, 52, oil mill laborer.

  • Tobe Hinnant  
  • Amos Batts
  • Richard Pitts
  • Tom Boykin 
  • William Edwards and McKinley Edwards — in the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 609 South Railroad Street, rented for $16/month, farm laborer William Edwards, 52; wife Lillie, 49; son McKinly, 28, worker at Hackney Body Company; McKinley’s wife Maggie, 25, farmworkers; and his son Bernard, 6.
  • John Hinnant

Struggling and sinking.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 22nd day of April 1872 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz J.W. Crowell, John L. Baley, Elijah Williams, M.G. Trubuthan, J.W. Fryar, W.D. Farmer, B.J. Cogins. R.S. Wells. Jas. W. Taylor, Henry Dixon, W.H. Cobb, William A. Farmer by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and impaneled at Farmer Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Joseph Perry, col and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follow that is to say that the deceased came to his death by accidental drowning.  /s/ J.W Crowell, Foreman, L. Baley, W.A. Farmer, Wm. D, Farmer, Henry Dixon Jnr., Elijah Williams, B.J. Coggins, M.G. Trevathan, W.H. Cobb, J.W. Friar, R.S. Wells, J.W. Taylor.

——

James G. Cobb being duly sworned says that on Sunday April 21 1872 himself, Ralph Faison & Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair together with Joseph Perry Deceased were at Mill Pond of W.D. Farmer in County of Wilson state of North Carolina & Proposing to go in Washing or bathing. There upon said Cobb & Ralph Faison proceeded to swim a distance of seventy five yds or thereabout & parties consisting of the other witnesses Bynum Arrington Crisp McNair & Jos Perry deceased were left on & near the shore, upon being called by Bynum Arrington he the said Cobb looked back & saw Joseph Perry deceased appearantly struggling & sinking under twice after he the said Cobb saw him. Further stating that aid Perry threatened to swim as far as any of the party & that he saw no person or persons interfere with deceased in any way by which he could have been encouraged to go beyond his depth in water. The other witnesses above being duly sworn testified to the facts as above and all agree in the matter that Joe Perry was alone & no person interfered with him while in the water.  /s/ James (X) G. Cobb, Ralph (X) Faison, Bynum (X) Arrington, Crisp (X) McNair.

——

  • Joseph Perry – probably, in the 1860 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: Kinchen Locust, 8, and Joseph Perry, 6, in the household of Henry Dixon, 76, a white farmer. Kinchen was black; Joseph, mulatto. Also, in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: Joseph Perry, 15, farm laborer, living in the household of Eveline Evans, 52. Eveline and her children are described as white; Joseph, as mulatto.
  • Ralph Faison
  • Bynum Arrington – in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County: farm laborer Haywood Arrington, 45; wife Louisa, 35; and children Bynum, 16, Ervin, 11, and Anthoney, 8.
  • Crisp McNair
  • James G. Cobb — in the 1870 census of Joyners township, Wilson County, James G. Cobb, 12, the son of Gray and Martha Cobb. (Though he was still a minor, Cobb, who was white, was the only witness who actually gave testimony.)

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

“Charles, he has shot your daddie.”

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on this the 16th day of April 1901 I, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of Wilson County, attended by a jury of good and lawful men, viz Larry Bass, A.P. Moore, Green Finch, Sam Breme, L.A. Lamm, Gray White by me summoned for that purpose, according to law, after being by me duly sworn and impaneled at the residence of Joe Flora in the County aforesaid, did hold an inquest over the dead body of Dempsey Pool (Col); and after inquiring into the facts and circumstances of the death of the deceased, from a view of the corpse, and all the testimony to be procured, the Jury find as follow, that is to say, that Dempsey Pool came to his death by a gunshot wound inflicted by Stephen Sims, col: and that in our opinion said would was inflicted in self-defense. And that it is a case of justifiable homicide.  /s/ Larry Bass, A.P. Moore, Green Finch, Gray White, L.A. Lamm, Sam Brame, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of Wilson County

North Carolina, Wilson County  }

The examination of Easter Pool, Gracie Pool, Mrs. E.E. Flora, Mrs. Wethly Flora, E.F. Flora, J.S. Flora, Mary Sims, Jane Sims, Will Artis, J.T. Corbett, taken before the undersigned, Coroner of said county this 16th of April 1901, at the house of J.S. Flora upon the body of Dempsey Pool then and there lying dead to wit: —

E.F. Flora being duly sworn says: —

The fussing commenced about 7 oclock, when Stephen Sims came into the yard and got the wagon, and Easter and Annie Pool, daughters of Dempsey Pool objected. Sims went on with the wagon & got a load of guano from an out house. Coming back to the yard, a boy was driving the wagon & Stephen had his gun on his shoulder. The daughters Easter & Annie went home & come back with their father, mother & brother. These were all at the front gate as the wagon come in. Pool’s crowd has cart-rounds, sticks & a pitchfork, this latter held by Pool’s wife. Sims did not come to the gate, but got over the fence before he got to them & went around the field coming into the yard by a back gate. I told him not to come in the ward with his gun. Pool had come into the yard, following Sims along the fence cursing Sims. When Sims got into the yard, he put his gun to his face & Pool kept advancing I never heard Sims say a word. Pool got about 5 or 6 steps from Sims when Sims shot Pool. Pool ran twenty steps or more after Sims, not saying anything, Sims running from Pool around the house. At the corner of the house Pool fell. Sims went around the house & out the same gate & all of Pool’s crowd were after Sims. Charles, a son of Pool & a grown man, was here shot by Sims. The Pool crowd then struck Sims as he jumped the ditch, and broke the gun. This gun (produced) is a single barrel breech loader. As he went out the gate, Sims daughter, said “Pap, don’t put no more shell in that gun,” but Sims loaded it again. After Sims was knocked down he run down the field & fell over the fence. Charles, who was also shot, was 18 years of age. I did not go out of the house at all. After Dempsey Pool was shot, I saw something in his hand as he ran toward Sims, holding it out straight. Could not tell what it was. Don’t know as to their being on friendly terms. When the shooting was going on in the yard Pool’s children & Sims children were fighting along with the wagon.        E.F. (X) Flora

J.S. Flora being duly sworn says: —

Am a son of preceding witness. Pools girls come here this morning & Sims was hitching up to wagon. I heard them talking & went out there & found them quarreling over the wagon. I told the Pool crowd that they could use my wagon today. One wanted to come back & wanted to hitch up. The other went on & collect her sister who followed. This was about half an hour or more before the shooting, When I started to the field I met Pool, his wife, two girls, the boy, Charles. I said Dempsey, go & hitch up to my wagon & don’t have no fuss with Stephen Sims. He said, “no” & went out to the lot. I understood some of them to say that they were going to have that wagon and some one had to die. The wagon belonged to the place, none having a special right to it. I went on out to the field and heard Dempsey Pool cussing at Steven Sims, calling him to some on if he wanted to fight. I saw Stephen come down the road & get over the fence about 30 yards from the Pool crowd, who were at the gate, saw him when he come in the yard with the gun on his shoulder. In 5 minutes heard the gun fire next thing saw Pool run after Sims; did not know that Pool was hurt. Saw Sims go out same gate he come in & the Pool crowd were after him, about twenty yards behind him. The girls had sticks. Saw Charles Pool & Stephen Sims point weapons with Charles holding out hand as if presenting pistol & saw smoke when he fired. Both shot about the same time, pistol a short time before. Charles then came back to the yard & the women pursued Sims & knocked him down. Sims then run home & the Pool crowd come back in the yard.  /s/ J.S. Flora

Mary Simms being duly sworn says: —

Am daughter of Steffen Simms. Came on from home with wagon to the main house. My brothers, James Billie & Willie with me. I will be 21 in August. James is 17 years old. I opened the gate, was walking I come on in behind the wagon. The Pool crowd, Easter, Annie, and Gracie, Ella & May, met me at the gate. Dempsey Pool was with them but walked out to meet Pap Easter was standing in the road & told James not to run over her. She hit me on the arm with  a plough-bench. I did not hit her. Dempsey went out to the fence & asked Pap why did you strike at my daughter for Pap said I did not strike at her. Pool then called Pap a lie & a s__ of a b___. The fence was then between them, Dempsey followed Pap down the fence, had a pistol & shot at him once before they got to the gate. While Pool was shooting at Pap, the Pool crowd was following after us to fight, but we did not fight. When Pap says don’t come on me Pool kept coming & Pap shot him. When Pap shot, the Pool crowd went near their father & all making toward my father. Pool certainly had pistol & shot at Pa across the fence.

Don’t know where he got it. After the shooting, Pap ran around the house & out same gate & put another shell in his gun, with the Pool crowd following, Charles with pistol. Some of the Pool crowd said shoot him Charlie & Charlie shot & then Pa shot. Charles did not fall but followed Pa a little way & then came back into the yard. The rest of the Pool crowd followed Pa. When I went to get over the fence, Easter Pool hit me. When I saw Pap, he was down then got up & went home one followed us nearly home. There were seven in the Pool crowd.   /s/ Mary Simmes

James Simms being duly sworn says: —

Me & my brother Bill went & caught mules. Pa was in the yard, we come together when we were currying Easter Pool was taking our traces off the wagon. Pa says let them traces alone. He started toward the wagon. Easter then run to another wagon  flat & pulled a round out she thought Pa was after her. He told her to wait until he carried the load of guano to the field & then she could have the wagon. She called him a ___ rascal & said that her father had sent her after the wagon & she was going to have it. We hitched the wagon & went after the guano & then went by home for breakfast. Then I saw Easter her mother & sister father & brother Charles coming up to the house. We did not wait for breakfast but come on Heard Dempsey call my father & curse him & tell him he was going to have wagon or be killed or kill some body. Pa come down with gun & got over the fence before he got to Pool, Pool went up to the yard fence, had pistol in hand & shot one fence at Pa. Pa come in gate & Dempsey kept coming on him & Pa shot Dempsey & then run around house & back out of same gate.

Charles was on edge first & had pistol, all the Pools were behind Pa & some one of them told Charles to shoot & he shot & then Pa shot. Then Charles walked on a little way, then turned back & come into yard.

Aunt Grace, Easter & Annie followed Pa to the road & struck him as he went over the fence. Aunt Grace had pitchfork. The other girls had sticks. One little girl, Mary, followed us nearly home, other behind.   James (X) Simms

Grace Pool being duly sworn says: —

I am wife of Dempsey Pool. I came in the yard this morning & I went to the kitchen & asked why they allowed so much fussing here, & asked Mr. Flora whose wagon it was. Mr. Flora did not seem to talk much said Dempsey could have his wagon about this time Dempsey come in & said carry team back & [illegible] going to do nothing. I says “yes lets put up fence.” He says “no, Steve Sims wants to fight let him come on out in the road.” He hollowed to Steve who was at home to come on & he would fight. This was after Steve had carried wagon after guano. About this time the wagon come in, we all met, Steve’s crowd & my crowd met in the yard. Steve got over field fence & Dempsey stayed in yard, Steven coming around fence & into gate & Dempsey following him. Dempsey was going toward Steven, & Steven was stepping back & said Don’t come here. Dempsey kept on & Steve shot him. Steve then went on around house & Dempsey following until he fell. Steven went out same gate & all of us after him. Charles was back of us. I says “Charles, he has shot your daddie.” Charles then went for Steve & Steve shot him. Charles had no pistol and was half turned when Steve shot him. If Charles had a pistol I don’t know it. Dempsey did not have a pistol at home of abroad & did not have a pistol when he was shot.     Grace (X) Pool

Will Artis being duly sworn says: —

Don’t know anything about the fight. Took Charles Pool home. Heard him say that after Stefen Sims shot his father that he, Charles Pool, shot at Steffen.    Will (X) Artis

J.T. Corbett being duly sworn says: —

Know nothing of fight. Saw Charles Pool since fight. I was sent down to get his pistol & he said he did not know where it was unless his mother had it. He did not tell me he used it, but said his crowd had one.    /s/ J.T. Corbett

Easter Pool being duly sworn says: —

Am daughter of Dempsey Pool. Pa sent me & Annie to catch mules to haul rails to swamp. Stephen was up here.  About 5,30 oclock. When I went to take off traces Steve says “don’t do that I am going to use wagon. I said “we want to use wagon.” He says “you are not going to use it. He was coming toward me with lines in his hand. He struck at me with lines & I jumped back. I got me a wagon round & Annie says lets go home we went home & told Pa. Annie told him that Steven had struck at me. Pa told me to come back & “let Steve whip me. Then all of us, mother, sister & brother, came up to the house. Charlie went & caught mule Ma asked Mr Flora what was matter. He said he did not know, then Pa came in the gate & Mr Flora met him & told him to take his wagon. Pa refused to take Mr Floras wagon. He went down to front gate & called me & told me to go & have Steve arrested. I said that [illegible] suit was no use, to get & get wagon & go to field. Pa then got on fence & called Steve & said “You have been messing with my children all the year, now come on to whip them.” Steve took his gun & come on up here. When he got to corner of fence got over on field side & Pa come on up to back gate in yard & met at back gate. Pa was going toward Steve & Steve said “don’t come on me.” Steve then pointed his gun at Pa & Pa said “Don’t shoot here” I then heard the gun fire. Next thing I saw was Steve running around house & then followed fight in field. I have never seen Pa with a pistol.   Easter (X) Pool

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On 24 December 1874, Dempsey Pool, 23, married Grace Bynum, 23, in Edgecombe County.

In the 1900 census of Wilson Town, Wilson County: farmer Dempsey Pool, 50; wife Gracey, 45; and children Easter, 22, Elizabeth, 20, Dempsey Jr., 18, Charlie, 17, Annie, 14, Ella, 13, Mary, 11, Alice, 9, Haley, 8, Minnie, 5, and Richard, 2.

In the 1900 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Stephen Simms, 46; wife Zanie, 40; and children Mary, 19, Lizzie, 16, James, 14, Billie, 12, Willie, 9, and Rommie, 6.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Accidental drowning.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 20th day of June 1878 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz S.M. Warren, Ruffin Lamm, J.H. Worrell, J.T. High, J.M. White, L.T. Raper, Frank Farmer, E. Holoway, G.W. Barefoot, Aaron Skinner, Henry Wiggins & Robt. Strickland by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and Empannelled at J. Barefoot Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of William Barnett, col and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follows that is to say that the deceased came to his death by accidental drowning.  /s/ Frank (X) Farmer, S.M. Warren Foreman, E. (X) Holoway, Ruffin (X) Lamm, G.W. Barefoot, J.H. Worrell, Aaron (X) Skinner, J.T. High, Henry (X) Wiggins, G.M. White, Robt. (X) Strickland, L.T. Raper

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State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on the 20th day of June 1878 I, H.W. Peel one of the Coroners of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, viz S.M. Warren, Ruffin Lamm, J.H. Worrell, J.T. High, J.M. White, L.T. Raper, Frank Farmer, E. Holoway, G.W. Barefoot, Aaron Skinner, Henry Wiggins & Robt. Strickland by me summoned for that purpose according to law after being by me duly sworn and Empannelled at J. Barefoots Mill Pond in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Thos Hooks, cold & his son Al. Hooks and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured the Jury find as follows that is to say that the deceased came to there death by accidental drowning.  /s/ Frank (X) Farmer, S.M. Warren Foreman, E. (X) Holoway, Ruffin (X) Lamm, G.W. Barefoot, J.H. Worrell, Aaron (X) Skinner, J.T. High, Henry (X) Wiggins, G.M. White, Robt. (X) Strickland, L.T. Raper

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  • William Barnett — in the 1870 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Virginia-born farm laborer William Barnett, 21, and wife Rosa, 30.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

Drunk and froze to death.

North Carolina, Wilson County } The examination of Elisha Barnes, Roscoe Morris and Mima Barnes taken before the undersigned Coroner of said county, this 25th day of Feb’y, 1907, upon the body of Robert Barnes (col) then and there lying dead, to wit:

Elisha Barnes sworn says: He saw Robert Barnes (Col) about 4 P.M. Saturday or a little after, as he was passing Demus Harriss’ house about a ¼ mile from where he died. He appeared to be drunk. He was a drinking man. He was staggering & I saw him fall down. He started to come into the house but was advised to go on home. He had a bag on his shoulder. He made no complaint of being sick. The next time I saw him was Sunday morning about 9 oclock lying in road dead about ¼ mile from where I saw him the evening before. It was snowing very hard & was very cold Saturday evening. I know of no one that I think would have injured him and my opinion is that he fell down on account of being drunk & froze to death.   /s/ E. Barnes

Roscoe Morriss sworn says: Robert Barnes came with my & my brother from Wilson Saturday evening riding in our wagon. Didn’t complain of being sick. He was under influence of liquor when he left our house but could walk very well. He had about 2/3 of a pint of liquor with him when he left us. /s/ R.O. Morris

Mima Barnes sworn says: I am the wife of Robert Barnes, dec’d. He left home Saturday morning to go to Wilson. We lived about one mile from where he was found dead Sunday morning. He has had some trouble with Eddie Coleman (col), but I don’t know when it was. Mima (X) Barnes

/s/John K. Ruffin, Coroner.

Be it remembered that on this the 25th day of Feb’y 1907 I, John K. Ruffin, Coroner of the county of Wilson, attended by a jury of good and lawful men, viz: S.J. Watson, Jesse Taylor, W.R. Bryant, Jas. D. Barnes, G.W. Walls and J.M. Leeth, by me summoned for the purpose, according to law, after being by me duly sworn and impaneled, in the county aforesaid, did hold an inquest over the dead body of Robert Barnes (Col); and after examination into the facts and circumstances of the death of deceased, from a view of the corpse, and all the testimony to be procured, the said jury find as follows, that is to say,

That Robert Barnes came to his death Saturday night, Feby 23rd, from exposure to cold while under the influence of liquor. /s/ J.K. Leath, W.R. Bryan, J.D. Barnes, G.W. Walls, S.J. Watson, J.M. Taylor.

  • Robert and Mima Barnes — on 3 June 1892, Robert Barnes, 26, married Mima Barnes, 25, at Dr. Woodards’ in Black Creek, Wilson County.
  • Demus Harris
  • Eddie Coleman — perhaps, in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer Gray Coleman, 28, wife Harriet, 26, children Henrietta, 4, Lear, 2, and Eddie, 9 months, plus Molly Strickland, 7. In the 1900 census of Taylor township, Wilson County: farmer Eddie Coleman, 20, and wife Emma, 22.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

They got into a play.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County   }

Be it remembered that on this the 28th day of July AD 1871 I, H.W. Peel, Coroner of said County, attended by a Jury of good and lawful men, (viz) W.S. Dun, John Baily, Timothy Wheeler, Jim Bass, Rober Gardner, Gray Web, George Best, Willy Ellis, J.W. Amerson, P.A. Whitley, Jos. Edmundson, Jos. Peacock by me summoned for that purpose according to Law after being by me duly sworn and Empanneled at the house of Sol Woodard in the County aforesaid did hold an inquest over the dead body of Charles King (col) and after inquiring into the facts & circumstances of the death of the deceased, from a view of the corpse and all the testimony to be procured, the Jury find as follows, that is to say that the deceased came to his death by aixdently discharge of a loaded gun of the hands of Wm Woodard. /s/ J.M. Amason Forman, W.S. Dunn, Robt. Gardner, John (X) Baily, Timothy (X) Wheeler, Wiley Ellis, James (X) Bass, Geo. D. Best, Gray Webb, J.W. Peacock, Joseph Edmundson, J.A. Whitley

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I Jas. T. Graves being sworn do testify that I examined the body of Charles King col and find that he came to his death of a gun shot wound entering his head in the left eye & penetrating the brain which was the cause of death. James T. Graves M.D.

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Raford Newsom being solemly sworn says as follows. Namely that Wm Woodard Charles King Raford Newsom & Caroline King All the above names were at work on the farm except Caroline who went down to carry Charles King breakfast her husband. While eating his breakfast Wm Woodard came along and he and Charles King got into a play with the gun and while in the play the gun went off axidentily and shot Charles King near the left eye which instily killed him Raford (X) Newsom

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Caroline King the wife of the deceased being solemnly sworn says as follows. The facts stated by Raiford Newsom as above are true the best of her understanding. Caroline (X) King

——

Neither Charles nor Caroline King appears in Wilson County records, but the jurors of the inquest are listed in the 1870 census of Stantonsburg township.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives

Whiskey hurt him. (Or Tab Baker.)

I H.D. Lucas being duly sworn did examine the body of Alex Godwin & found a contusion of the left knee a lacerated wound of the right knee & fracture of the femur near its lower end, a lacerated wound on right side of face above the mouth, a wound above right eye & another on posterior part of head, & think them suficient to produce death

I saw him dead in Wilson County   /s/ H.D. Lucas M.D.   /s/ H.W. Peel

——

P.S. Hicks being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Mr Godwin in Wilson about two oclock & sold him some medicine I saw him again about half an hour by sun and he was somewhat intoxicated though seemed to be quiet. I stoped at Mr Williamson that night & Mr Amerson come there about three quarter of an hour after dark and said he had found a man wounded on the tract of the Lattice he wanted help to get him off the tract & I went with him in company with col’d man & found Mr Godwin on the tract groaning but speechless Lying(?) with face down with his neck across the rail of the Road we got him soon as possible about twenty minutes he called for water I ask him who hurt him he answered Tab Baker hit or hurt him sometimes he spoke rational at others talk at random we found some apples bottle cologne & cartiges in coat pocket & pocket Book also with no money but a tax Recpt given on that day I ask him where his pistol was he said he had thrown it away sometime he would answer qestion refuse at other Ice water complained of being very cold frequently I helped to get him off the Road & get him in a cart this took place on Saturday & Saturday night of the seventeenth Decb AD 1881 On Tuesday morning the 20th of same months I come by Lattice & found a pearl handled pistol & a piece of Iron broken from RRoad tract at the southern end of Lattice & below the Road the Iron was stuck in ground about 9 feet from pistol Iron look to be freshly broken from RRoad tract I found Mr Godwin near the midle of Lattice all the blood we saw was where we found him  /s/ P.S. Hicks

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Richard Johnson being duly sworn testifies as follows I found the deceased on RR bridge over contentnea creek in a wounded condition myself & Isaac Amerson carried him off the bridge, he called for water was asked who had hurt him & answered whiskey hurt him, myself & Warner Darden placed him upon a cart & started with him to his home, he died near the Town of Black Creek    Richard (X) Johnson

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Warren Darden being duly sworn Testifies as follows I first saw Tobe Godwin in the shantie house for the RRoad bridge gard Mr Winstead ask me to go see if I knew who he was I did not know him at first then Mr Winstead hired me to carry him home he was badly hurt I then put him on a cart and started to Black Creek with him he called for water several times continued to groan seemed to be Rational he cease to groan when I got near Howell Dardens & when I got to Mr Bun Lucas tenant house south & near the mill swamp I found he was dead I carried him to Black Creek & then carried him to his house at J L Newsom this was all on Saturday night the 17th Decb 1881   Warren (X) Darden

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Benjamin Moore being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Mr Godwin a few minutes after he was taken off RRoad his first words were he called for water Mr Hicks ask him how come him hurt he said it was a damned negro Tab Baker we ask him his name he answered Alex Godwin we ask him if the train hurt him & he said no he seemed to speak Rational at intervals saying Tab Baker hurt him said he was not on the train this was all on Saturday night the 17th of Decb 1881 Benjamin (X) Moore

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E.T. Lucas being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Alex Godwin in Jo Lamms shop in Wilson on Saturday night the 17th Decb 1881 about six oclock seemed to be somewhat intoxicated he ask me to loan him a quarter to come to Black Creek on the train I did not Loan him any money when the train past Jo Lamms shop he turned back toward Jo Lamms shop when the train started off from the depot he then run of to the train & took hold of it I did not see him get on the train. He took hold of train at the hindmost part I did not see him after the train past was the passenger going south. E.T. (X) Lucas

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Jordan C. Winstead being duly sworn Testifies as follows I was sent for to go down to contentnea bridge to look after a man supposed to be killed but on getting there found the man Living I ask him his name he answered his name was Alex Godwin he had been removed from R Road tract I ask him if he was a man with a family he said he had a wife & three children I ask him if the train hit or hurt him & he said no I ask him if he did not want to go him [home] he said yes and ask me to please send him home first I saw Godwin was between 8 and 9 oclock Saturday night 17th Decb 1881 /s/ J.C. Winstead

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Isaac Amerson being duly sworn Testifies as follows I was sitting on fence about seven or eight Hundred yards from the Lattice I went up to Lattice & saw something on it I suppose it to be a newspaper I found it to be a man struggling struck a match a went to him. I called him and ask his name he did not speak. I went up to Penina Williamson a got Phis Hicks & a negro we went to the man found he was not dead the negro took him from the Lattice it was five or ten minutes before he spoke his first words were cursing called for water said his name was Alex Godwin he said next he lived at Stephen Woodards had a wife & three children we ask him what hurt him answers were the train did not hurt him. I found him about twenty or twenty five minutes after the train passed this was on the seventeenth at six oclock P.M. Isaac (X) Amerson

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B.C. Campbell being duly sworn Testifies as follows I saw Alex Godwin at Jo Lam shop Saturday night 17th Decb 1881 he left Lams shop. I saw him again Just before the south bound passenger train come up about dark when the train stoped he wanted money from E.T. Lucas to come home on he did not let him have any money Just as the train started he run up as though he was going to get on did not see him after the train left he was somewhat intoxicated. /s/ B.C. Campbell

——

State of North Carolina, Wilson County } Know all men by these presents held and firmly bound unto the State of North Carolina in the sum of Two Hundred Dollars to make our personal appearance at Wilson on the first Monday in March next and not depart without Leave. Otherwise the bound to remain in full and effect given under our hand & seal thus the 20th day Decb AD 1881 /s/ J.C. Winstead, Isaac (X) Amerson, P.S. Hicks, E.T. (X) Lucas, N.D. Lucas, Warren (X) Darden, B.C. Campbell, Benjamin (X) Moore, Richard (X) Johnson

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A “lattice” is a form of truss bridge. The railroad crosses Contentnea Creek about 2 miles southeast of Wiggins Mill reservoir and just above a spur leading to the town of Black Creek. Lattice Road still marks the area.

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  • Alex Godwin — in the 1880 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: Elexander Godwin, 23, common laborer, with wife and three daughters.
  • Warren Darden — Warren Darden, 24, married Louisa Dew, 18, on 1 May 1873 in Wilson, before witnesses Amos Dew and Raiford Dew. In the 1880 census of Black Creek township, farmer Warren Darden, 30, wife Louisa, 25, children Warren, 3, and an unnamed infant, and farmhand Wilie Lee, 14.
  • Howell Darden was Warren Darden’s father.
  • Jordan C. Winstead — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County, age 35, listed as an overseer on the railroad.
  • Benjamin Moore — in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, age 45, listed as farm laborer.
  • Isaac Amerson — in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, age 25, listed as a farmer.
  • B.C. Campbell — perhaps, in the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County, Bennet Campbell, 21.

Coroner’s Records, Miscellaneous Records, Wilson County Records, North Carolina State Archives; image courtesy of Google Maps.