Monday, August 14, 2017

Let's Talk about Mr. Thomas

Landon Thomas lived at 933 Milledge Ave, directly across from where the shooting took place. A direct descendent of Mr. Thomas still resides in the home today. A grand home, it was often featured on postcards and advertisements for our fair city.

Mr. Langdon Thomas, president of a rivaling mill, John P. King Manufacturing Co at the time of the death of Dr. Hickman, was born in Frankfurt, Kentucky on June 5,1859. He came to Augusta after completing his studies at Bethany College. A little research shows two Bethany Colleges- one in Kansas, founded in 1881 and the other in W. Virginia, founded in 1804. One assumes he went to W. Virginia for his education.

He will take Miss Mary Cecile Fleming as his wife, known as Minnie by her friends. She is a local girl, born to Mr. Porter Fleming and his third wife in January 1861. The Thomas wedding will be small- at the home of her parents on Oct. 21, 1885. With no attendants and only the brothers of the bride standing with the groom and the sisters of the groom standing with the bride, there was much congratulating before the beautiful couple took the Columbia/Charlotte/something train up to Boston, NY, and DC before returning to the home state of the Groom, Kentucky,

Minnie and Landon spend a year in Kentucky before returning to the hometown of the bride.

On June 1, 1886, having been back in Augusta for just a short time, the doors opened on Fleming, Thomas, and Company- a banking establishment. R. A. Fleming, Frank E. Fleming (brother in law and father in law, respectively) and Landon Thomas opened this bank at 813 Broad Street. Frank, a former teller at Georgia Railroad bank, oversaw and trained his son and son-in-law.

In 1887 he will start construction on the family homestead, still standing in 2017.

Landon Thomas home

The Landon family will appear countless times (actually 1,168) in the society section of the newspaper, regaling of golf games, bridge games, travels, entertaining, societal engagements, debutante balls, chaperoning, teas, the stylings of the lace dresses, and all the other things deemed of newsworthy at the time.

Years later, Mr. Thomas will become associated with the King's Mill in 1897 and president in 1898. Upon retirement from the reigns, he would serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the rest of his days.

In the summer months, he would pack his family and take the train up to Atlantic Beach where they would vacation at their summer cottage in Jamestown. I am quoting the newspaper in this regard and am a little hazy on my New England geography- but don't quite think that Atlantic Beach and Jamestown go hand in hand, that being said-- I don't think this point is crucial enough to confirm.

He had four children, the younger two being daughters-- Ellen, born March 1895 and Emily, May 1897. This puts them at about 15 and 13 at the time of the murder. I'll bring this to point in just a minute.

In 1901, the newspaper ran an article about "A Good Cause," referencing the Shiloh Orphanage and written by Mr. D. McHornton, Manager, Shiloh Orphanage. Shiloh orphanage was located at 334 Sherman Street. (There's a lot to say about the Shiloh Orphanage, but that's not the point of this)

For the uneducated, like myself, the Shiloh Orphanage was one of a handful of orphanages in Augusta, but this one catered only to the "colored children, abandoned." The children already at a disadvantage because they were colored, are now in the hands of the Shiloh orphanage- supported by the many colored churches and societies, preachers, teachers, and Christians. "Right here in Augusta, there was good white friends to the negro as there are in the United states. Here are some of the names of friends to these poor unfortunate orphans: Mrs. Judge Eve, Mrs. J C C Black, Mr. T I Hickman, and his dear father, Mr and Mrs Landon Thomas, Mr W H and W B Bingham, Mrs P D Horkan, Mr Walter Clark, Mr Wm. Boyle, Mr T F McCarthy, Mr Mike McAuliffe (?), Mr Hahn, Mr Claussen, Mr Ferber, Mr Vicetto, Mr Plumb, Hon Judge Eve (master of good roads and bridges), Mr D Timm, Mr B Lawrence, Mr P G Durum, Mr Hollman, Mr A J Twiggs, Mr T C Bligh, Col. D R Dyer, Mr C H Cohen, Mr T P Murphy, our good policeman, Mr Tim Lyons, Mr Sheehan, Mr Jacobs, and many other of the good class of white citizens whom I will always feel indebted to in caring for the home..."

Throughout the article, a white person cannot be recognized without calling that person a "good white gentleman" or "good white friends," etc. Apparently, all whites in 1901 are good people.

Thomas will live another 34 years after the 1910 murder, dying in the family estate on the hill in 1944- one year before the conclusion of WWII. Off the top of my head, Mr. Thomas will see the Civil War, The First World War, and the Second World War before his death. Surely there are more- but, gracious what kind of changes this man saw in his life.

Quoting from his obituary:

"His understanding of God was the dominating force of his life, for he was a profoundly religious man. His convictions were his own, and they were based on an open-minded investigation, a wide reading, and a prayerful lie. With singular devotion he investigated the life of the Spirit." 

"His religious convictions were strong and clear. There was nothing of the sectarian about him. He claimed for himself the right to worship the Lord God Almighty as he understood Him, and at the same time, he freely granted the same right to all others."

---

But, why am I spending so much time talking about a guy who was lived across the street from the murder (and didn't hear the gunshot)? On May 3, 1910, "Mr. Thomas testified to finding bullet hole on his front porch directly after the shooting, being in a direct line from where the body was found. Shortly after finding this hole, said that his little daughter picked up a bullet on the font porch and it exactly fit the hole."

His "little" daughter was either 13 or 15 years old, depending on which daughter found it.

As I started writing this blog, the name "Fleming" sounded familiar and I chalked it up to Fleming Street... in Wrens? or Fleming Complex.... or something. Fleming was just sticking with me and finally I went back and reread some of the past few blogs. Does Fleming sound familiar to anyone else?

Poor John Mathis, he was represented by two very capable lawyers- one being William H. Fleming, Thomas Landon's brother in law. William H was Minnie/Mary's older brother born in 1855, six years her senior. The Honorable Fleming made speeches at Confederate Monument dedications about race relations. While many of these speeches were published as he was a fantastic orator, I have yet to research these, so I can only assume that they weren't favorable to our darker skin companions on this marble we call earth.

William H Fleming

Finally, the way his obituary concluded: His convictions were his own. What does that mean? His convictions were his own? Aren't all of our convictions our own? I have asked a couple of friends what this means, seeing if they thought the same thing I did. Is there a hidden meaning in there? He could be ruled by no law but his own? And then... what was that law? {putting a pin in this, I'm going to circle back to it-- don't worry.}

There is so much more to say about Mr. Thomas and the rest of the Fleming brigade, but I don't have enough information yet to more than speculate, thus we will have to leave it right here for right now.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Don't Go Thinking

Don't go thinking that I have lost interest or have moved on to something else. I'm just at a dang standstill. There's more to tell, but I have kids who have avoided nap time and another who started school yesterday. If you're still listening, I'm still here.

Just a moment, please.

PS- Got a book in the mail which cites Hickman. What's it about? Prohibition in SC/GA.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Defense

The defense presents the following:

- There were no witnesses that saw Mathis at the scene of the crime nor can anyone place him in the neighborhood on the evening of the killing.

- The defense also an expert to testimony in regards to the pistol found in the wood stack. He will state that it will "not having been fired but three times." (If anyone cal explain that sentence to me, I'd greatly appreciate it.) In "Modern 1910" no expert can tell that any pistol had been fired only three times.

- Two witnesses Fanny McCoy and J.P. Casey saw a man coming from the scene of the crime. They will testify that he did not resemble Mathis in stature or color.

[pin in this, too-- we need to talk about this further]

- Credibility should not be placed solely on Mathis' shoulders as he is a shift worker switching from days and nights with no concept of a weekend/day of week or month in place.

- Quoting from the article: "Mathis had protected his innocence steadfastly in the face of every effort on the part of the authorities to get him to confess him complicity. In it though every known means had been used to force a confession from him: that even when the chief pointed a loaded pistol in his face and ordered him, under fear of death, to confess he had stated he knew nothing about the murder."

Let's read that one more time: That even when the chief pointed a loaded pistol in his face and orders him under fear of death to confess he had stated he knew nothing about the murder.

In another article, Chief Elliott "admits he put pistol to Mathis' head and threatened to blow brains out if he did not tell truth about watch."

Pause.
The Chief of Police took a loaded gun, held it to a suspects head, cocked the pistol and said, "Confess or die," ... and Mathis did not confess? That's right. He did not confess.
Un-Pause.

Actually, let's just leave that there for the moment. I'm leaving today to pick up Birdie from camp and then we are heading to the beach for a few days before school starts.



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back to the Mathis Trial

I talked to Husband yesterday and there was a moment where I realized I had touched a nerve.

"Woah- don't go messing with my boys," was the exact comment. He laughed, but I knew...Whoops. Sorry, honey.

But, he did have a good point-- if theses guys were fraternity brothers, friends, and comrades from youth, they-- like us-- want justice served and served quickly.

Honorable Wiliam H Fleming and A.L. Franklin, Esquire are the defense team for the negro [sic] Mathis and his trial is schedule for five days later.  FIVE DAYS-- talk about speed! It was reported that "Mathis seemed nervous and unstrung and glanced about uneasily."

Mathis is described as a "ginger colored negro [sic] and known by the nickname, 'Cockeyed Johnnie' because of a peculiar cast in one eye." At his arraignment, he pled not guilty and a jury was secured with little trouble. Seven men were excused and the state objected to four while the defense objected to 14. The final jury was as follows:

George W. Wright
John Moore
H.K. Lowery
Evans Redfern
L.A. Dorr (?)
Thomas J. Vaughn
A.B. Saxon (?)
George R. Tommins
W. Doughty Miller
Henry D. Bain
J.S. Nixon
Thomas B. Robinson

(FYI-- none of these men are in the 1904 locality index for SAE. Score one for the good brothers of Old Gold and Lions)

"As the case proceeded, Mathis seemed to grow more and more nervous. His head kept constantly moving and turning from side to side, while his eyes were everywhere and seemed to set upon nothing."

The prosecution's case rests solely on circumstantial evidence:

- Mathis was in possession of Dr. Hickman's watch. When asked how he came into possession of the watch, his story changed from buying it back in November at the Georgia-Carolina fair to he was holding it for a friend, Henry Hampton also a negro [sic].

- When Mathis' house was search, a number of pistols were found together and one hidden  separately under a pile of wood, outside. The pistol found outside had three chambers fired once. Inside Mathis' house was a cartridge containing a bullet of the same calibre as that found on the lawn of Mr. Landon Thomas' house. Mr. Thomas resides directly across the street from were Dr. Hickman met his demise.

[Put a pin in Mr. Thomas, we need to talk about him.]

- At Mathis' arrest, he wore a pair of shoes that were almost identical to the tracks in the soft dirt found at the murder scene. The heel is not identical, but the state charges the tMathis had taken the shoes to the repair shop the Saturday following the murder and had the heels lowered and rubber heels put on.

          - quoting from the article: "That when he was told the shoes were those worn by the man who had done the shooting he said no one could tell that as rubber heels would have left the imprints of the tack holes in the rubber in the earth, this statement being made by him without his being told there were no evidences of tack holes int he imprints."

- Mathis' conduct in jail: Immediately after his arrest, he stated that he fully expected to be convicted of the crime. Mathis sent a message through "a trusty" to his "paramour," Gussie D'Antignac, to the effect of she must keep her mouth shut; they did not have enough to get anything out of him."

          - moment of commentary here: these two statements seem to go in direct contrast of each other,
          unless Mathis knows something we don't.

- It is believed that Mathis left his home about 7pm on the night of the shooting and returned home about 9:30; he denied hearing of the hulling until he was arrested, though his mother stated she read him this account and his wife read it to him the Sunday following.

- Mathis has not maintained work from November until February 7, being supported in the interim by his "hunchback mistress, Gussie D'Antignac."

        - Um.... don't oversell it, Augusta Chronicle- okay? Hunchback Mistress? Paramour? Geeeeeez,      
         this broad sounds like a real special lady.


Kids are awake-- tomorrow we will talk about the defense and their case.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Who are these people?

The names of these people get me. They attack me sometimes. I look at W.F. Eve, for example and have driven down the street that our fair town named in his honor many times. Who is this guy?

I start digging into W.F. Eve and find his name on a roster with the Clinch Rifles. Jump over to Solicitor Joseph S. Reynolds who was part of the 2nd GA Volunteers, Company D, CSA- which would also be known as the "Clinch Rifles."

Clinch Rifles... Clinch Rifles.... where have I seen that before? Righhhht... Charles F. McKenzie, member of the grand jury and- Knights of Pythias and Clinch Rifles.

Georgia Railroad Bank and Trust stockholders, members of societies, and cotton mill owners or officers-- the small circles these men ran kept getting smaller and smaller.

But, names keep swirling and as I read them, I can't help but think not of the men they were, rather their descendants- the ones that I know today. Who were these dead guys? Have I jumped down a rabbit hole to disgrace the good names of people I call friends? Lord, I hope not. Because that would be aw-querd.

But, surely not impossible. These men were just that-- men. And we foolish humans are capable of many dastardly things. While I still hold that Mathis didn't do it, I have to find tangible proof to give an idea of doubt.

So I dig.

I dig into the names and get quick glimpses of their lives and I have to make notes upon notes of who is whom because I can't keep it straight anymore. Common themes start making their way to the surface and I have to stop digging in one direction to move in another--

And here I sit:

At the 1904 Locality Index of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity.

What did it mean to be in a fraternity at the turn of the last century? How did they value their brotherhood? These are questions I have not an answer. What I can say is that there area an awful lot of coincidences that are piling up....

Mental note-- query Husband, SAE alum, and see if he has any input.

In 1904 there are a little over 60 men that know the secret handshake of SAE in Augusta Proper, as my friend Caleb put it. Of these 60+ men, at first glance, 11 are somehow associated with the murder of Charles Hickman.

ELEVEN.

Let's look at it another way: on the scene 10 men were reported being there in addition to the police, the coroner's jury held another 6 and the grand jury was an additional 30-- total ~46 men. Almost 25% of these men were of the same fraternity. And I haven't even started looking at this connection until about two hours ago.

While there were siblings or fathers also of the fraternity- I did not count these in this number. (For instance, there is John W. Reynolds in the 1904 Locality Index- member of the Clinch Rifles and, I think, a lawyer. His home is located at 413 Greene Street and is the brother of Solicitor Joseph S. Reynolds, home located at either 411 Greene Street or 414 Greene Street-- either way... neighbors.)

Just how valuable are these SAE men to the case? If they were cursory witnesses or finger pointers to nefarious hooligans on street cars-- surely those men are not valuable.

But what if one of them found the body? One was the city attorney? Or the attorney for Mathis? What if they were:

James H Phinizy-- also known more commonly in his older years as Hamilton Phinizy; the same Hamilton that identified the body and stayed with Hickman while Doremus and Fraser went for help.

Carleton Hillyer-- Member of the Grand Jury who indicted Mathis

Tracy I Hickman-- Brother to the victim

Charles W Hickman-- Our victim

William H. Fleming-- "Able young attorney" who was one of the two that represented Mathis, the other being a former congressman

Leon H. Charbonnier-- Member of the Grand Jury who indicted Mathis

Henry C. Chafee-- The murderer rested at the edge of the Chafee property/house line, lying in wait for his victim.

Julien P.A. Berckmans and Robert C. Berckmans-- both friend, county commissioner who summoned the dogs in from McBean, usher at wedding, and honorary pallbearer

William H. Barrett-- City Attorney at the time of the Hickman death


It's certainly worth a moment to consider that there is something bigger at play than a robbery gone awry.