Friday, October 09, 2009

Oct. 5 - Oct. 9, 1869

On Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, while Reed hid under the Ely house fearing for his life, Fleishman returned to Coker's store where found an "organized meeting" of "persons of influence in the county" in progress. Coker spoke first and informed Fleishman the attendees were a committee that represented the whole community and that it was their desire that Fleishman "should leave for the good of said community." If Fleishman did not leave, Coker announced, he would "be killed on account of certain expressions" he allegedly made on the day of the picnic shootings. The committee hoped that Fleishman would comply, and they would not to have to kill him. They were concerned, Coker continued, that Fleishman's death would lead to twenty or thirty more killings. His departure, they believed, would "save bloodshed."

Before this large gathering, Fleishman stood his ground. He insisted that he was not leaving. Fleishman now bargained with Coker and the committee over the terms of his banishment. He was informed he had two hours to leave. This deadline was pushed back until 5 p.m. and then sundown. Fleishman still refused to agree to exile. He declared that he would "rather die than leave." If he was accused of a crime, he argued, he should stand trial and accept the punishment. At the very least, he demanded that he be given until January to wrap up his business. With some exasperation, the committee members repeated that they had no desire to take his life, but rather "wished to save it, and to do the best thing they could for the safety of the community." Exasperated, the committee finally declared that Fleishman would be carried off at sundown, "willing or unwilling."

Leaving Coker's store, Fleishmen went straight to Dickinson, "the only officer of the law in the town," to protest the threatened eviction. Dickinson transcribed Fleishman's account and Fleishman signed the resulting statement in the form of an affidavit. A few hours later, Coker entered Fleishman's store and demanded that Fleishman turn over all the arms in his stock "for the men in defense of the town during the present excitement." When Fleishman hesitated, Coker assured Fleishman that he would take responsibility for returning his property. Wilbur Jenkins, Fleishman's clerk who had joined the earlier meeting at Coker's store, handed Coker the key and Coker left with eight guns, eleven pistols, powder, shot, and caps. Fleishman ran back to Dickinson and swore out another affidavit to report Coker's appropriation of his merchandise. At sundown, Fleishman still had not complied with the committee's order, stubbornly remaining in his home. After 9 p.m., four men came to take him from his wife and six children and carried him off to the Georgia border, about twenty-five miles from Marianna.

The night riders continued to terrorize the black community. By now, however, some likely targets took precautions by hiding and were not found in their homes when the anticipated knock came in the middle of the night. Richard Pooser, who had been shot the previous spring, did not show such foresight. Edward Alderman and E. Butler drew him out of his house in Marianna and ordered him to march down a street leading into the countryside. Pooser broke and ran, evading shotgun and pistol blasts, and found refuge under Dr. Theophilus West's dining room. Joseph Nelson, who was Henry Reed's step-son, saw how the Reeds had narrowly escaped with their lives and made his own plans to leave for Jacksonville. He arranged to escape by accompanying Washington Chapman to Gadsden County. Nelson joined a train of Chapman's wagons and managed to get out of Jackson County alive, despite being stopped several times along the way by groups of armed white men. Together with his dog, Sherman, Nelson continued on his journey until he arrived at the railroad in Quincy, where he boarded the train to Jacksonville.

By Thursday, Oct. 7, divisions began to emerge in the white community. At a meeting of white citizens, William D. Barnes, William H. Milton, and James C. McLean "favored peace on all sides" and spoke out against "drunkenness and abuse of power." James Coker, however, took offense at these comments and protested against this abuse of "our young men who had taken a little too much, or had acted a little irregularly." An appointed committee resolved to "use every lawful effort in our power to arrest and punish the guilty parties." They further condemned "all acts of violation of the laws by whomsoever committed," called for exertions "to restore peace and quiet to our distracted county." The committee closed by offering "a reward of One Thousand Dollars for the apprehension of Calvin Rogers, one of the perpetrators of the deed." As an afterthought, a motion was passed offering a one thousand dollar reward "for the apprehension of the murderers of Wyatt Scurlock and child."

On Thursday afternoon, Billy Coker's band committed their most barbaric atrocity. Matt Nickels may have dodged their bullets previously, but Billy Coker, "Pete" Alderman, and Jack Myrick were determined to finish him off. The Courier provided chilling details. The three young men came to Nickels's house and "conversed several minutes, pretending to have an order [from] an officer." They marched Nickels, his wife, Mariah, and his sixteen year old son, Matt Jr. "forward to town but changed their course after getting a short distance from the house." The family was led to a lime pit in the woods about one half-mile away. There, the family was brutally murdered, their throats slit. Only a daughter escaped death.

The slaying of the Nickels family was deemed excessive even by previously silent whites. On Friday, Oct. 8, Justice of the Peace Adam McNealy issued a warrant for the arrest of the suspected murderers. This time an inquest into the killings was held, and after one minute the jury returned a verdict indicting Myrick, Coker, and Alderman. By the next day, all three men were reported missing and were presumed to have fled the county. One legend placed them in France where Myrick's sister lived with her husband, the Comte de Lautrippe. Other rumors located Myrick in Texas years later. The departure of these young men facilitated the reestablishment of calm.

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

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