Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Back to April, 1910

It's hard for me to comprehend when 1910 was. So often I try and reference facts about the era- like that it was before WWI or after the invention of the telephone. I have to remind myself that the streets were not paved and African-Americans who were over, say 30- were probably born into slavery. They were property.

My car is my property. Truthfully, it is the bank's property because I am still paying on it- but it is mine, nonetheless. Sometimes it gives me a moment to think about what it meant to live in 1910. Women could not vote until 1919-- that's 9 years after where we are sitting on this "fair day with variable winds."

April. 1910. Allergies are rampant in April and Augusta has a thick yellow coating over everything. Those variable winds cause the wicked yellow dust to fluff out of the pine trees in an acrid cloud. April is a transitional month- going from just kinda hot to holy-hell-hot.

Allergies, pollen, and women's suffrage aside- we are watching the demise of a young man following the death of another.

This part of the story starts on the evening of April 2, 1910.

My plan is as follows:

1- I am going to explain the events from the police/newspaper point of view of what happened following the arrest of James/John Mathis.

2- Next, I will go through the side of the story from Mr. Mathis' point of view.

3- Finally, I will present information about the trial, not necessarily going into great detail about the trial itself, as much of the information has already been presented.

4- I'm not sure.

But, let's go ahead with where we left off last week:

James Mathis, Col., Negro who Offered Watch for Pawn
When first arrested negro said he had bought the watch at the georgia-Carolina Fair months before Dr. Hickman was assassinated-- warrants sworn out for negro woman-- negro man undergo "sweating" process by police chief- All night investigation at the barracks- after examination of hours negro put in county jail.

Pause: "sweating" is a term that the newspaper put in quotes, thus I do the same. I did some research on the term "sweating" and talked to a few police officers. Of course, I knew what the word "sweating" presented: a nasty examination of who says what about whatever. It isn't pretty. The police officers I asked used a term we know today-- coercion. Confessions presented through coercion are not accepted in courts of law, nor are they permissible by the law.

Coercion... sweating... water boarding... whatever. You get the idea: Sweating is nothing that sounds like much fun.


April 3, 1910- the first line of the article is straight to the point: James Mathis, a negro, about 25 years of age is under arrest.

After dark on April 2, Mathis offered the watch for pawn. Harry Shapiro, clerk of Tunkle Pawn, was at the counter when Mathis approached. Shapiro appreciated that it was a valuable time piece. As he continued to examine it, Mathis grew restless. Shapiro cross-checked the numbers on the watch with the numbers provided to all the pawn brokers in the area from the police. The numbers, 831329 on the movement and 70735 on the case were a match, but the initials (CWH) had been scratched off.

965 Broad, built in 1865, the location of Tunkle Pawn in 1910

Mathis, a repeat customer, had never pawned something of such value before now. As the clerk "poured questions upon the negro [sic]" he grew more nervous. Upon the the third "where did you tell me you go it?" he became suspiciously restless.

Finally, Mathis said he would come back later. Shapiro told him to wait in the yard. "Mathis, who is of bright color, turned ashy, almost pale-like,  was int he attitude of attempting to run." At this point, Shapiro forcibly took him into custody and police officer M.O. Matthews responded and the negro [sic] was hurried to the barracks. Matthews was not on duty at the time, but was on hand having been just outside the door.

With minimal information being released from the police, Chief Elliott made an order issued to every man on the force and witness to not discuss the case and the officers "are literally caring out those orders."

"The negro [sic] made a statement before this order was issued saying that the watch was purchased as the Georgia-Carolina Fair in November. It was not known if the negro [sic] persisted in this lie under the "sweating" process by the chief of police, which lasted from 10pm to 3am."

"The first arrest other than that of a Mathis was of a negro woman [sic]. Mathis had been sent to the cage and an officer put over him with instructions to no permit any one to speak to the prisoner."

this is where it gets a little... henky.... 
continuing to quote excerpts from a news article: 

"The 'sweating' of this woman was in progress for hours. Chief Elliott denied himself to every one and instructed the officer on the door at his private office to admit no one but the lieutenant of police or others for whom he sent and to not permit him to be disturbed..."

"At 3am Chief Elliott, taking with him the woman that he then had under cross-examination slipped away from the barracks, going out of the back way and leaving the premises without any one seeing him. He also had Mathis with him."

A different paragraph in the same article would allude to it being inconclusive if Mathis was with Chief Elliott and the negro woman [sic] when they slipped away.

Y'all. Does this scream sexual assault to anyone else? As a woman, that sounds horrid. As a black woman in 1910, that sounds like the most intimate kind of fear possible.

When Chief Elliott returned at 3:30am, the only statement he would make was that of "I Have Dr. C.W. Hickman's watch."

Mathis is described as 25 years of age, 5'11, 145 pounds, and clean shaven. He is "ginger-cake" in color and of slim build. On the night of his arrest, he wore a pair of light trousers, dark shirt, and no coat. "If the police knew anything of his avocation or residence, they declined to tell. He has the appearance of a butler, more so than a laborer."

The final paragraph says, "At 4am, it developed that Chief of Police Elliott has had the negro Mathis under surveillance for a long time-- in fact, ever since the murder or directly after the murder."


Several days later, Chief of Police Elliott held a private conference with Mayor Thomas Barrett and Solicitor General Joseph S Reynolds where he laid out the entire record of the Hickman Murder Case.  Barrett and Reynold suggested that minor information or confirmation of a branch of the case which had yet to be secured ought to be secured prior to any public statements by the police department.

Barrett and Reynolds were quick to agree that a statement of progress made and of what had been accomplished would, at that time, embarrass in the further "investigations, however minor" that they deemed should be pursued. They are content to to await the wrap up of these minute branches.


Remember a few blogs ago I mentioned that the Pinkertons were on the scene privately investigating?   In April, they are still in town and pursuing their own leads in their own way. At the arrest of Mathis, there was no "concert of action" between the Pinkertons and the police department. The newspaper felt compelled to note, twice, "there is no friction" between the two parties. "They are on the best of terms both professionally and personally..."


There is but one hint in the newspaper about these "minute" details that need to be tied down. A small piece in the newspaper asks: "Shortly after the crime was committed some one informed the chief of police that he or she had seen on the night of the assassination a person standing at the Gould corner in attire apparently the working clothing of a machinist. The police chief requests that the person who gave him this information again get in communication with him as as early an hour as possible."


Below is a picture from 1905. On the left is the Gould house. The fence is gone, but the pillar at the corner remains today. This is where the person was seen in machinist clothing.

Machinist wear coveralls-- was this worn to cover clothing of high class lady or gentleman or was it truly a machinist? Gould's Corner is close to both the murder scene, Tracy Hickman's house, the Bon Air hotel, and Dr. Hickman's home.

Dr. Hickman had been at the Bon Air hotel just a few hours before- he left there and went to his brother's house... did I not already mention that?

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