Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sept 29 & 30, 1869

The morning after the picnic shootings, the investigation of the picnic site continued, but no new evidence turned up. The same morning, Dickinson convened a grand jury in Marianna. Amid speculation about the identity of the shooters, one young white man affiliated with the town's Regulators was named. In the meantime, another shooting was reported. About nine miles outside of Marianna, Columbus Sullivan, a white preacher, and George Cox, black, were hauling cotton when they were riddled with buckshot. Cox was lightly wounded. Sullivan's face was mutilated and he died from his wounds about a week later. The gunman escaped. Dickinson wrote to his friend Congressman Charles M. Hamilton about the need for "a first-class detective" in Marianna or, alternatively, "a few Henry rifles" which, he wrote, "would have an excellent moral effect here." During these tense days, rumors began to spread in the white community that dry goods merchant Samuel Fleishman had made some kind of statement advising a group of African American men gathered in his store to avenge the picnic shootings.

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 28, 1869: the War erupts

The most tumultuous, and tragic, events in Jackson County’s history have taken place in the autumn, including the Battle of Marianna in 1864, and the infamous Claude Neal lynching seventy years later. The shootings and assaults of the Jackson County War lasted more than two years, but the most virulent phase came during several weeks beginning in late September 1869.

On the morning of Sept. 28th, five years and one day after the Battle of Marianna, a party of about twenty African American women and children set off on a picnic outing. Their destination was the Natural Bridge, a few miles outside of Marianna. A few men, including Constable Calvin Rogers escorted the group. Rogers, an African American, had long been resented by Regulator elements and, after the shootings of Purman, Finlayson and Constable Pooser the previous spring, an assault on Rogers seemed inevitable. At about 9 a.m., assailants concealed behind thick bushes fired thirteen or fourteen shots in "rapid succession." Rogers, sitting in an ox cart, had his clothes and wallet torn by three or four shots, but suffered only a grazed arm. Rogers fired back in the direction of the shooters with the one round in his gun. He called out to Wyatt Young, who had gone on ahead, to bring ammunition. Meanwhile, confusion and fright overcame the party of picnic-goers. An ox pulling a cart carrying two-year-old Stewart Livingston panicked and bolted. Wyatt Young grabbed the little boy from the cart just as a bullet passed through the boy's skull and into the left side of Young's chest, killing both of them instantly.

As abruptly as it had begun, the firing ended. Within ninety minutes, news of this tragedy reached Marianna. John Quincy Dickinson, the senior law enforcement authority remaining in Jackson County, organized a posse of thirty men to search for the killers. They scoured the area around the site of the shooting for evidence. "A mysterious buggy-track" leading from Marianna to the Natural Bridge and out toward Greenwood was discovered, but nightfall ended the investigation.

This account is adapted from my forthcoming narrative history, The Jackson County War, to be published shortly. Updates to thejacksoncountywar.com will be more frequent over the coming weeks as the 140th anniversary is remembered.