On Thursday, May 23, 1895, the local weekly newspaper the Union Republican published a spectacular piece that included the following phrase “Drs. Gray, Bahnson, Bynum and possibly other physicians were summoned , the wounds were examined and probed, and all that medical skill could do was exerted…”
The date is Saturday, May 18, 1895. The scene is a couch in a boarding house at the corner of East Fourth and Church Streets. The best doctors in the towns of Winston and Salem, Henry T. Bahnson, Robah Gray and John B. Bynum, who is the official city physician, are involved in some sort of intensive activity.
What is going on? To answer that, we must travel back a bit in time.
In the 1880 U.S. census, we find an entry for a black couple, Charles Tuttle, 53, and his wife, Margaret, 39, living in the Middle Fork township of Forsyth County, just northeast of Winston. Charles is listed as a farmer and Margaret as “keeping house”. They had, at the time, seven children living at home, ranging in age from 17 to 3. One of the children, Walter, aged twelve, was already working in a Winston tobacco factory. He had a younger brother, Arthur, aged five. Within a few years, Arthur would join his older brother as a laborer in Winston.
In July, 1894, there was some sort of disturbance in downtown Winston. Walter Tuttle, 26, got into a shoving match with a white man named John Bradford. Bradford had served two terms as Winston chief of police, from 1886-1887 and 1889-1894. During his second term, he had been disciplined twice, once for failing to control a drunken officer and once for failing to pay debts in a timely manner. In the first instance, Chief Bradford was also accused by witnesses of being drunk himself, but the commissioners decided that that charge was unfounded.
Winston police department, 1893. Chief Bradford is seated to the right. Next to him is Jesse C. Bessent, the tax policeman and the commander of the local militia, the Forsyth Rifles. Standing, 2nd from the left, is police officer Michael Mordecai Vickers. At the moment, we do not know who the others are, but one of them is certainly J.R. Hasten.
During this period, chiefs of police and the policemen themselves were elected twice a year by the city commissioners. It is not clear what prompted the change, but in March, 1894, the commissioners elected J.M. Willson to be chief, and did not include Bradford among the regular policemen, so he was essentially dismissed from the force.
Winston police force, 1894, on the steps of the Winston Town Hall. In the back row are the policemen, in no particular order, M.M. Vickers, J.J. Adams, J.J. Cofer, J.T. Thompson, J.R. Hasten and A.A. Dean. In the front row is Chief Willson, flanked by three men in straw hats who some have speculated might be the police commission, but the man on the chief’s right is clearly Jesse Bessent, who was not a member of the police commission. The others may be S.J. Lamb, the sanitary policeman and R.H. Hensley, whose main job was guarding any prisoners in the calaboose. At the left, brandishing a billy stick, is the photographer, Tom Hege, who may have used a remote device or timer to take the picture. The policemen were required to furnish their own uniforms from their $45/month salaries, but in early 1894 the city commissioners agreed to buy the policemen “nice new hats”, which apparently resembled London “bobby” hats.
A few days after the July incident, Tuttle was hailed into municipal court, found guilty of assault and fined by the mayor, Eugene E. Gray, the son of one of Winston’s founders and a well known local lawyer. Tuttle told the mayor that he did not have the amount of the fine at the moment, but he could produce the money if he was allowed to go and ask his employer, two blocks away, for an advance on his wages.
The mayor agreed and appointed a local police officer, J.R. Hasten, to accompany him. The two walked to Tuttle’s employer’s, tobacco manufacturer T.L. Vaughn, at the corner of Fifth and Trade Streets. For reasons unbeknownst, Tuttle’s employer refused to advance him the money, which meant that he would go to the chain gang.
As Tuttle and Hasten were leaving to return to the Town Hall, Tuttle made a break for freedom. According to Hasten, when he tried to grab Tuttle, Tuttle reached for Hasten’s gun and then his billy stick. Hasten drew his gun and fired, hitting Tuttle just above the right hip. Tuttle died the next day.
The probable route followed by Walter Tuttle and policeman J.R. Hasten from the Town Hall to T.L. Vaughn’s tobacco factory.
In the aftermath, the mayor declared Hasten’s action justified. But witnesses at the scene, both white and black, disagreed. They said that Tuttle made no attempt to grab Hasten’s gun, that he simply ran and that Hasten drew and fired, hitting Tuttle in the side, just above the right buttock. They said that Tuttle staggered on for several more steps before falling to the ground. And they said that Hasten followed, continuing to fire, even after Tuttle was on the ground.
Of course, that came to nothing. The coroner quickly found the cause of death to be justifiable homicide. And despite the fact that Tuttle’s parents were still living just a few miles from the Town Hall, Tuttlle’s body was turned over to the only black undertaker in town and quickly buried at the county’s potters field near what is now Smith Reynolds Airport.
But there was apparently grumbling in the black community that yet another white man had gotten away with murdering yet another black man. Not that Tuttle, nor his younger brother Arthur, were well beloved in either the white or black community. According to the newspaper account, they were known as gun toting drinkers and scrappers, constantly at odds with the law. So that was the end of that, or so it seemed.
In those days, the county superior court met once a month. On the first day, a grand jury was empaneled to consider possible indictments to be heard later in the week. Most months, those indictments plus any other cases already scheduled were disposed of by the end of the week, although some of the more complicated cases were held over to the next session.
In March, 1895, the grand jury summoned some of the witnesses who had watched the Walter Tuttle incident nine months before. Their testimony must have been pretty powerful, because, for the first time in the history of the town of Winston, a white police officer was indicted by an all white grand jury for murdering a black man.
The case was held over to the May session. Hasten was arrested, posted bail and went back to work as a policeman.
His trial began on Friday, May 17. On Saturday, May 18, an all white jury found Hasten “not guilty” of murder.
Shortly after six o’clock that afternoon, Winston policeman Michael M. Vickers was returning to the Town Hall after escorting a prisoner to the jail less than a block away. As always on a Saturday afternoon, there was a considerable crowd of people on the sidewalk and the street in front of the Town Hall. Vickers ordered the people gathered there to disperse.
According to the newspaper accounts, all moved away except for one man, Arthur Tuttle, 19, the younger brother of Walter Tuttle. The newspaper reported that Tuttle said “I will move when I feel like it.” The newspaper reporter tells us that Vickers then pushed Tuttle, whereupon Tuttle took a swing at Vickers. Another policeman, A. A. Dean, happened to be nearby and came to the aid of his fellow officer and a scuffle ensued.
Tuttle is described as “small, but athletic, and very strong.” Tuttle tripped Vickers, who arose and went after Tuttle again. Tuttle struck Vickers in the face and Vickers fell for a second time. Officer Dean then moved in, wielding his billy stick against Tuttle, but as Vickers rose again, Tuttle drew an American Bulldog .38 pistol and shot Vickers twice, once in the neck and once in the side.
American Bulldog pistol manufactured in the mid 1890s by Iver Johnson. It was made in several models, from a small frame .22 caliber to a large frame .44 caliber. The newspaper report says that it was a .38 caliber, which is unlikely, because that would have been a large frame model. It is more likely that it was a .32 caliber medium frame model with a short 2.5″ barrel, which was considered a “pocket pistol”. All Iver Johnson pistols were cheaply made, the “Saturday night specials” of their time, often called “suicide specials” because they sometimes exploded in their owner’s hands.
Vickers went down and stayed down. Two other men, Deputy Sheriff Frank Martin and Jerry Respass, a superintendent at the city water works, then overpowered Tuttle before he could fire again.
Tuttle was hustled into the Town Hall and locked in the small calaboose. Vickers was carried into the police offices of the Town Hall. Once the seriousness of his wounds was realized, he was carried to the back of the building and across Church Street to a boarding house operated by Mrs. Nannie Rierson and placed on a couch there.
Doctors Henry T. Bahnson, Robah Gray and John B. Bynum, who was the city physician, arrived shortly. After examining the patient and probing the wounds, they realized that there was nothing that they could do. Policeman Vickers wife soon arrived and succumbed to hysteria. She was described by the reporter as “frail and delicate” and for some time it was feared that she might die from stress.
Vickers died on Sunday morning. He was a Mason, so the members of the Masonic Lodge turned out for his funeral in full regalia. A fund was begun to support Vickers’ wife and the city aldermen agreed to continue his salary for several months on her accord. They also agreed to employ her eldest son in a city job. Eventually they put Vickers’ widow on the payroll at half wages for over a year. And they voted to compensate the doctors for their work, $50 to be split among them. That might not sound like much, but in 1895 you could get a steak and oyster dinner at one of the best restaurants for $1.50.
Meanwhile, fearing that Tuttle might become the object of mob violence, Sheriff R.M. McArthur had Tuttle transferred by train to the Guilford County jail on Monday. But Guilford County sheriff Joseph Hoskins was not comfortable with that arrangement. The 1890s were known as the time of a lynching a week in the South. And there had been cases in which lynch mobs had ridden the train to nearby towns, taken the prisoner back on the train and lynched them. So Sheriff Hoskins petitioned the local Judge Bryan to have him transferred again to the Mecklenburg County jail in Charlotte, which was done. And there he remained until his trial date came up in early August.
Before 1894, North Carolina law regarding murder was pretty straightforward. If you killed somebody, unless you were a female, you were almost certain to be hanged. But in 1894 the state legislature added gradations. First degree murder still brought an automatic death sentence. But Arthur Tuttle was to be tried for second degree murder, which carried a maximum sentence of thirty years. That increased the chances of a lynching.
On the Sunday before his trial in August, with Arthur Tuttle back in the Forsyth County jail, rumors began circulating at the black churches that a lynching was being planned. So around 9:30 that night, about twenty young black men grabbed their shotguns, most loaded with bird shot for hunting, and went down and surrounded the jail. Mayor Gray appealed to them to disperse, to no avail.
Sheriff McArthur soon arrived from his livery stable a couple of blocks away on Church Street. He asked the young men to disperse and promised that Tuttle was safe in his jail. But the young men had heard that one before, so weren’t buying it. Other dignitaries, including Cyrus Watson and John Cameron Buxton, Winston’s preeminent lawyers, and Judge George H. Brown, who would be hearing Tuttle’s case, were summoned to address the crowd.
All the time, more and more black citizens were joining the original group of young men. The Union Republican later claimed that the “mob” eventually grew to “several hundred”, which is unlikely. Sketchy articles appearing in newspapers across the country to as far away as the Deseret News in Salt Lake City indicate that the Union Republican was exaggerating.
Judge Brown ordered the sheriff to begin arresting the armed members of the crowd. By then, the mayor had summoned the local militia, the Forsyth Rifles, a well trained paramilitary unit. As the arrests began, the Rifles were ordered to take aim. At this point, according to the newspaper, some of the young black men began firing their shotguns at the militia. At that, the militia were ordered to “fire to hit”, which they did. The crowd ran for their lives.
Forsyth Riflemen march in a funeral cortege on Main Street near Fourth. The picture was taken prior to 1895, because the street had not yet been paved, which was done in 1895 to accommodate the extension of the streetcar system north on Liberty Street. Brown’s Tobacco Warehouse is at the right. In the center background is the Forsyth County Jail, site of the 1895 “riot”.
The Union Republican reported that a few militiamen received superficial wounds in the skirmish. As to the “mob”, it was “impossible to learn of the fact”. They did report that the “skirmish” continued until about four in the morning. It was later determined that a few members of the crowd had been hit, but not seriously injured. Over the next couple of months about twenty people were convicted of unlawful assembly and carrying firearms within the city limits. Most paid fines, but a few were sent to the roads.
Monday morning, city officials asked the Mecklenburg County militia to lend them one of their Gatling guns, which was sent to Winston by train the next morning. But by then the incident was over and the Gatling gun was not needed.
A few days later, Arthur Tuttle got his day in court. His lawyers argued that he had shot Vickers in self defense, that he was standing on the sidewalk minding his own business when assaulted by Vickers, then attacked by two policemen at once, one wielding a billy club. Some details that had not previously appeared in the newspaper were revealed. Witnesses said that the reason that Vickers had asked the crowd to clear the sidewalk was that a white woman had been struggling to get through the crowd.
It did not take the jury long to find Tuttle guilty as charged.
At his sentencing, Judge Brown took pains to remind him that had he committed his crime a year earlier that he would have encountered the hangman’s noose. He was sentenced to 25 years in the state penitentiary.
Tuttle appealed, but the appeal was refused.In 1898, a petition for a pardon was circulated, but came to nothing. Tuttle served about ten years of his sentence, then returned to the Twin City. In 1908 he was accused of firing a shotgun at another man but apparently left the area before he could be arrested.
All photos are from the Digital Forsyth Collection.
Maps are based on the 1895 Sanborn Insurance Map, http://www.lib.unc.edu/dc/ncmaps/
The Union Republican was scanned from our microfilm
The 1880 Census record was copied from Ancestry.com
The American Bull Dog pistol image was created from two different pictures from the website detailing the history of Iver Johnson pistols