Friday, October 02, 2009

Oct 2, 1869: A small hell on earth

The morning after the slaying of Maggie McClellan, fifty to sixty armed white men patrolled Marianna’s streets. John Q. Dickinson’s diary records the events of this terrible day and his frustration at being shut out from information. Calvin Rogers appeared and was immediately pursued by Coker’s son, Billy, and his friends. For the first time since the Battle of Marianna, and perhaps the last time, the hoots of the rebel yell resounded in Marianna as the young men chased Rogers through the town. Rogers escaped but Billy Coker, Jack Myrick and another man seized two black men, Oscar Granberry and Matt Nickels, ordering them to help track down Rogers. After the two men were instructed to march ahead, Granberry was shot down dead, but Nickels managed to escape into the woods.

Throughout the morning, white men continued to stream into Marianna from the countryside. By noon, Dickinson estimated that at least two hundred men, most armed with double-barreled shot-guns and many mounted, roamed the town and scoured the surrounding area. Dickinson found "wild excitement" with young men "drunk and desperate" and "elder and better men" afraid and keeping out of sight.

Dickinson pleaded for the restoration of the rule of law and proper procedure, but he was threatened by Coker and ignored by everyone else. Eventually, James McClellan agreed to swear to an affidavit and Dickinson issued a warrant for the arrest of Calvin Rogers for the murder of Maggie. Dickinson, however, was warned not to hold an inquest over the killing of Granberry.

The rest of that Saturday, "drunkenness and misrule and excitement abounded" in the streets. In Dickinson's words, Marianna had become "a small hell on earth." After dark, the night riders ventured forth, for the first time since the spring, to terrorize black families in their isolated homes in the countryside.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly.

No comments: