In the summer of 1874, the contradictions of Edwin W. Mooring, a man of great refinement subject to bouts of uncontrollable fury, are shown most dramatically. Mooring, now about 45 years old, could compose and publish a lovely, pastoral poem, but was also capable of the most outrageous violence. We’ll let the Marianna Courier tell the story of Edwin W. Mooring’s heinous conduct on July 24, 1874: “On Saturday last, about 5 o’clock P.M., while our young townsman and merchant Charles Nickels was attending the wants of one of his customers, and no doubt little expecting his time of earth so near its close, Mr. E. W. Mooring, formerly of this place but now of New York City, and brother-in-law of Mr. Nickels entered the rear door of the store fronting on the street north of the main business street, armed with a double barrel gun, got within a few feet of Mr. N., and fired, three shots striking him, one passing obliquely through the bowels from which he died in about six hours.” [Marianna Courier in Atlanta Sunday Herald, Aug. 9, 1874]
The Columbus Enquirer, which took great interest in the matter, adds further details, informing us that Mooring then set out kill his father-in-law, William Nickels, “but could not find him as he was behind a door in the store.” According to the Enquirer, “Mooring then proceeded to Mr. Nickols’ [sic] house, where his own sister was spending a vacation, and cursed and abused her terribly, and threatened to kill her.” [Columbus Enquirer, July 31, Aug. 1, 1874].
Mooring was then arrested by the sheriff (probably young James A. Finlayson at this point). There is no indication that he resisted in any way.
Who was the victim, Charles Nickels? Nickels was about twenty three at the time Mooring killed him. As an adolescent, Charley had already made a name for himself, participating in the Battle of Marianna where he was seized by the federal troops and then released in Vernon during the column's withdrawal to Pensacola. [Dale Cox, Battle of Marianna, 127]. At the time of his death, Nickels was following in his father's footsteps in entering into the mercantile trade. According to the Courier, he had been in business for nearly two years "and having been an active and energetic young man acquired a good trade, continually increasing and was making rapid strides to being the first merchant of our town." [Atlanta Sunday Herald, Aug. 9, 1874].
Next, we'll review the reaction to the murder, including Mooring's defense.