Monday, April 22, 2013

Puzzle Pieces from the News Archives

When I'm asked about what I do I often use the puzzle analogy. I put together puzzles. Not the 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles you purchase at Wal-Mart, but puzzle pieces involving history.

The puzzles I put together involve missing pieces, torn pieces, and ragged pieces, but all are important, and all of them have their place in the story. My job is to find the place where they fit.

I want to share some of my stray pieces of history with you. Some of the pieces add on to stories I've already shared, and some of the pieces present a quandary. I'm not sure where they go. I hang onto them hoping that eventually I'll find the right fit for them within the Douglas County story.

The resources I use in my research involve family histories, published scholarly articles, books, deed records, photographs, interviews and newspapers. Sometimes I run searches through the Library of Congress database just to see if any mention of Douglas County or Douglasville rise to the surface in hopes I might find a missing puzzle piece.

The database contains hundreds of newspapers that were published all over the United States going back to the early 1800s. Of course, my target year for a beginning point with Douglas County is 1870 since that's when the county was born. It is always amazing to me to find a mention of an event in Douglas County published in some newspaper from Arkansas, South Carolina or even California.

Sometimes the news I find mentions things I am already familiar with.

From the Marietta Daily Leader published in Ohio comes this story from April,1896:  Eden Park cotton mill was destroyed by fire at midnight at a loss of $125,000 and one hundred hands were thrown out of employment.

The Eden Cotton Mill was in town before the cotton mill we are so familiar with that finally and sadly succumbed to fire last year. The Eden Mill was located on Factory Street -- today's Church Street. You can read more about it here.

Sometimes far-flung news stories have more information than I was able to find out locally. Take my post regarding the poor unfortunate Italian peddler a few months ago. The Austin Weekly Statement published in Texas on May 10, 1883 advised:

In Douglasville, Georgia, about a year ago, the sheriff of the county, an ex-member of the legislature and several other prominent and enlightened citizens attacked a poor Italian image vendor, spat upon him, rolled him on the floor and then sat upon him, singing ribald songs and [telling] rude jokes. A jury recently gave the Italian $1,250 damages.

In my original post about this incident I didn't get a clear picture of what had been done to the peddler nor had I been able to ascertain if he received any monetary compensation.

Some situations where I find more information just leads me to another mystery. The Memphis Daily Appeal dated August 25, 1873 advised the people of Douglasville had succeeded in capturing and lodging in jail two noted desperados, murderers and horse thieves named James and Robert Seals. The article went on to note that Robert Seals was supposed to be an escaped murderer from North Carolina.

The name jumped out at me because back in January I wrote about a man who was murdered in 1875 by the name of James Seals. Had he gotten out of jail at some point, stayed in the area only to be murdered two years later?

Well, that's a story thread I'm holding open for sure.

Sometimes I find news we wouldn't consider real news, but I don't discount any puzzle pieces. They are all important or might be.

From the Hickman Courier in Kentucky dated March 25, 1887 we discover that Judge Massey of Douglasville killed eleven partridges at one shot. I have already written a little about Judge Massey here.

The Constitution in Atlanta advised on May 10, 1882 via the Douglasville Star Ephraim Pray had a cow on his farm that gave birth to twin calves the week before. One was male and the other a female.

April of 1894 must have been a slow news month because someone in Douglasville figured out there were 40 beautiful marriageable young ladies in town. The problem was that the town also was home to 28 ugly old bachelors and two men referred to in the article as "dudes". This bit of news reporting was also in the Constitution via the Douglasville Star.

Sometimes the news I find is just downright frustrating. The Worthington Advance for August 1, 1889 advised, near Douglasville, Georgia a few days ago a man was arrested on a warrant for whipping his wife. When the case was called for trial he filed a plea that since their marriage, ten years previous, he had only whipped her once, and then with his left hand. The justice of the peace trying the case sustained the plea and dismissed the warrant holding that a husband has the right to whip his wife once in ten years if he does it with his left hand. This decision settles very important marital rights.

Marital rights?  I'm hoping the good judge in Douglasville who was not named was just being funny, but attitudes toward women were a bit off the mark back then.

Another story regarding a judge in Douglas County was published in The Morning Call out of San Francisco on June 20, 1891. The case in question involved a lawsuit for damages to a tobacco crop. The paper didn't advise how the crop was damaged, but did explain the judge took some of the weed [let's keep things straight here...weed refers to the tobacco] and chewed it. He decided that [the crop] was damaged to the amount of 13 cents per pound and gave judgment accordingly.

In 1892, the Edgefield Advertiser from South Carolina ran a story involving the fastest courtship in history on September 15, 1882.  A man stopped at a house in Douglasville and asked the lady who answered the door for a glass of water. When he had quenched his thirst he asked her if she was married or single. She replied she was a widow. The man advised he was a widower in search of a wife. The woman then invited him in the house to talk the matter over. One hour later the twain were made one by the nearest minister.

Who was that woman?

On August 14, 1887 the Constitution captioned a story "Ten Rattles and a Button" which stated..., Mr. S.W. Smith who lives here brought to town a live rattlesnake six feet and two inches in length, and having ten rattles and a button. Mr. Smith captured the snake by throwing a noose over his head. The snake is now at Sweetwater Park Hotel on exhibition.

I have to wonder if the snake still had a noose on its neck when Mr. Smith took it to town, and I would hope he kept it on its leash.

Finally, from the Constitution in December, 1883 came the notice that English sparrows had become residents of [Douglasville] and their lively chirp can be heard at anytime.

Think of that - sparrows in December!

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