Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shooting Promiscuously

This week's installment of Douglas County history begins in Lithia Springs.

The time period we are visiting is Summer, 1891. The Sweetwater Park Hotel had been open for awhile bringing hundreds of visitors each season to rest, relax and drink the waters. The Piedmont Chautauqua was also in full swing promoting education and entertainment.

Lithia Springs, however, was riding the fine line between a village yearning to grow into a town with upstanding and hardworking citizens or a frontier rough and tumble collection of buildings and folks...some of them with fighting, drinking spirits and even murder on their agendas.

Dr. C.C. Garrett, pictured below, had been elected mayor of Lithia Springs in 1890 to serve the term of one year most believed...with the town council and the town's marshal, James M. Caldwell.

They served their year, however, when November, 1890 rolled around the election folks were anticipating was postponed. For some reason the election didn't happen. It was surprising news to many including L.W. James who had planned to run for mayor.

James actually showed up on election day at Lithia Springs accompanied by 20-30 friends who intended to submit their ballot for their friend. The would be voters were advised by Mayor Garrett there would be no election until after Christmas.

At this point in my research I'm not privy why Mayor Garrett and the Lithia Springs City Council felt they could postpone an election. I don't know the language of the city charter at the time other than there was no time specified for the terms to expire. I am also not knowledgeable to how candidate James felt about the situation, but once Christmas came and went voters were put off again until January. Finally, the announcement was made there would be no election until November, 1891.

The announcement meant the mayor, the city council and the marshal received an extra year in office. They continued serving in their positions with the same authority.

But did they legitimately have the same authority? 

Could those holding office extend their terms at will?

The question was brought up the next year in a courtroom belonging to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Did candidate James finally have enough of the postponements and file a lawsuit regarding the usurping of power by the city officials?


The whole matter regarding the election only came up as an attempt by a man convicted of assault with the intent to murder to get his conviction overturned.

During the middle of June, 1891 a group of men including brothers Jim and Dock Bohannon, Aleck Garrett, and Jim Hollis had gathered to drink and have a few laughs as men sometimes tend to do.

Today, in 2013, it matters not that the Bohannons and Aleck Garrett were black, but in 1891 reports of the outcome of the group's drinking and "fun" repeated over and over again they were black.

News reports from June 15, 1891 state "a crowd of drunken negro toughs became so disorderly in Salt Springs along towards midnight that Marshal Caldwell attempted to arrest Jim Bohannon."

Jim Bohannon didn't take kindly to the good Marshal interrupting his fun time. He pulled a pistol and per reports began "shooting promiscuously."

Marshal Caldwell saw that he needed help and called on his friend Postmaster John C. Bowden, who I have written about before here. Bowden was 65 years old at the time, so I'm not so sure how much help he could have been, but he was a respected man in the community. Perhaps Caldwell though Bowden could calm the situation down.

Unfortunately, the group of rowdy men continued to be unhappy about being interrupted.

"Knives and pistols were drawn", and per the Supreme Court records "Jim Bohannon fired his pistol at Bowden and then the other Bohannon stabbed Caldwell in the neck and body. Aleck Garrett threw Bowden to the ground and held him while Hollis struck him behind the ear."

Marshal Caldwell received three deep cuts in what the Atlanta Constitution reported was a riot. It was said that Caldwell's injuries were so serious they should have produced instant death.

Mr. Bowden's injuries were seen as "only in the flesh and his recovery would be rapid."

The group of drunken men scattered sending a posse of white men out to scour the countryside for the ruffians. Naturally, given the mentality of the times the white posse was out for blood.

Eventually, those involved were rounded up and taken to jail at Douglasville for safekeeping.

Joseph S. James acted as prosecutor. He understood the volatile climate between the races and instantly sent for John Slaughter Candler to make haste to Douglasville to oversee the commitment trial as the Superior Court judge.

You have to admit that having the middle name "Slaughter" an being a judge is interesting. Candler was the brother to Asa Griggs Candler, founder of Coca-Cola.

The commitment trial was held the next day while "Marshal Caldwell lay at the point of death and Postmaster Bowden was also in bed, badly injured but not dangerously hurt."

"The trial was largely attended, hundreds of people living in Douglasville [stopped] work and [went] to town. Marshal Caldwell was personally known to nearly all and a more popular  man [did] not live in that section. All were his friends, and had his death occurred humanity would have made a trial of the case unnecessary."

By the end of July, 1891 the trial was over with the men convicted and sentenced from eight to ten years in the penitentiary. The appeals process began the next year with the sentences upheld, so it would seem the Georgia Supreme Court felt Caldwell was indeed the authorized and legal law enforcement authority to keep the peace.

I'll keep looking to see when the citizens of Lithia Springs were able to exercise their right to vote again. Stay tuned.....

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