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Jefferson County Tidbits # 36 - The Harriston Oil Works
Fayette Chronicle - 3 Oct 1913
“Sheriff Hammett Killed and Circuit Clerk Gillis Wounded; Two Negro Murderers Hanged.”
Willie Jones, an eighteen year old mulatta boy, started on a murder rampage in Harriston Sunday morning between one and two o’clock and wreaked savage carnage on both white and negro people whom he encountered. He was armed with a double-barrel shot gun and supplied with a quantity of buckshot shells, and the net result of his deadly aim is given in the following summary of killed and wounded:
Groves B. Hammett, Sheriff, Jefferson county
Frank Kinstley, constable at Harriston.
Claude Freeman, citizen of Fayette.
Teller Warren, negro.
Johanna Aiken, negress.
Homer Aiken, negro.
Fayette Grayson, negro.
Joe Weeks, negro.
Edward B. Appleby, conductor on Y. & M. V. railroad, shot through left lung, shoulder and groin.
O. S. Gillis, Circuit Court Clerk, Jefferson county, shot in right shoulder and chin.
Thad Ross, Harriston, flesh wound in hand.
W. D. Dennis, Harriston, shot in hand and leg.
Purnell Lee, railroad yardman.
Wm. McCaleb, shot in the back.
William Bond, flagman on Y. & M. V. road, shot in leg and thigh.
Reynolds Kinstley, railroad clerk.
Al Aiken, negro.
John Wiggins, negro, right eye shot out and scalp wound.
John Nash, negro.
Dewey Haywood, negro, shot in abdomen; may die.
Bob Patterson, negro.
C. S. Hill, negro.
Just how the shooting began and the sequence of events is hard to get straight. Enterprising newspaper reporters have given various versions without much regard for accuracy, and their accounts have been manifestly unfair in many instances, but the range of imaginary facts related in several journals are too wide for specific correction. But the wide-spred impression that the trouble was anything resembling “race war” is about as far from truth as the versatile reporters could have gotten. It is agreed that the shooting began at a negro house, where Willie Jones had some trouble with two other Negroes, whom he shot, at the same time shooting a woman. From there he proceeded to the village proper and shot everyone whom he saw, indiscriminately, with the exception of Shaw Millsaps, a Harriston merchant, whom he called to the door and asked for a drink of water, and whom he warned to stay inside.
After killing the Negroes he deliberately with to the house of Constable B. F. Kinstley, called him to the door and shot him dead, without warning or explanation. Proceeding from the Kinstley home he next encountered Claude S. Freeman, who was on the street, said to have been waiting for a train to come back to Fayette, whom he shot and who lay in the throes of death, with his cries of anguish and pleadings for help unanswered until death relived his agony. After killing Freeman the murder-mad fiend shot into the Kinnison restaurant, killed a negro on the gallery of the restaurant, and shot up Conductor Appleby, William McCaleb, Flagman Bonds, and others, and it is about at this juncture of the trouble that vague statements connected the older brother, Walter Jones, with the shooting, one or two of the parties hurt declaring that shots were coming from several directions at the same time.
After the killings mentioned there was a lull in the fusillade and a special train was made up to carry the wounded to Natchez, and Sheriff G. B. Hammett was advised by telephone of the trouble. Other Fayette citizens were also notified by telephone and through Mr. W. D. Dennis, who came to Fayette on the special train, and returned to Harriston with Messrs. O. S. Gillis and Geo. Cooper; Sheriff G. B. Hammett, Deputy Sheriff T. B. Hammett and Messrs. J. V. Arnold and L. L. Posey also leaving here about the same time.
Arriving at the scene of carnage before daylight, the Sheriff and the gentlemen mentioned waited a short time, until day had barely dawned, before attempting to locate the murderer. Becoming impatient they proceeded toward the negro boarding house kept by Mag Jones, mother of the two boys, with the expectation of finding them there and taking them in custody. When near the house Sheriff Hammett was fired upon and killed by a load of buckshot from the gun of Willie Jones, who instead of being in the house had concealed himself under a corner of one of the buildings of the Harriston oil mill, near by, and who emptied the other barrel of his gun at Mr. Gillis, dangerously wounding him.
Other members of the party fired their guns in the direction from which the shots came, but could see on one; Mr. Dennis, however, ran up the railroad track and concealed himself for a short time and encountered the murderer when he came around the building, both seeing each other at about the same moment, both fired and each of them was wounded, and the negro’s wild murder-career effectually stopped. Mr. Purnell Lee, a Harriston railroad employee, was struck by a single bullet at about this time and it is believed that he was hit by one of the load fired at Mr. Dennis.
At this juncture other citizens of Fayette who had been notified by telephone, headed by Judge Jeff Truly, began to arrive and a cordon of guards was placed in front and rear of the board house, where Walter Jones was believed to be concealed, and a fusillade of shots were fired into the building from behind a pile of ballast rock near the railroad, but without any apparent effect. After the front of the house had been literally riddled with bullets and the crowd had begun to believe that there was no one in the house, an old negro named George Grayson agreed to go in the house and see who was inside; meantime, a special train from Natchez arrived with more men and arms and a supply of dynamite with which it had been intended to blow up the building. It was a tense moment while the old negro was inside, but presently he emerged, calling for Mr. Ewing and followed by the three Negroes, Walter Jones, Robert Patterson and Johnson Prophet, all of the latter with their hands held high above their heads, and the crowd was intensely surprised when it was found that there were three of them instead of one. After a short parley, while leaders questioned the trio, Walter Jones was taken to the coal chute, immediately in front of the negro house and about 100 yards from it, and hanged him to one of the timbers. Many willing hands contributed to his uplift and he went to his end without protest and apparently unafraid.
The younger brother, Willie, had previously been hanged to a signal post near the Little J. track, immediately in front of Kinnisson’s restaurant. He, too, suffered the penalty of his awful deeds without protest.
Immediately following the orderly execution of the two murderers the crowd began to disperse, and before the noon hour the village of Harriston had resumed its normal appearance, except for the congregation of small groups of citizens who discussed the affair.