"Mountain" Tom Clark
Contributor: Lee Freeman
From the Official Record of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol. 49, part 1, p. 73.
March 1-6, 1865.—Expedition from Gravelly Springs to Florence, Ala.
Report of Capt. Lot Abraham, Fourth Iowa Cavalry.
Gravelly Springs, Ala., March 6, 1865.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of my expedition in obedience to your orders of March 1:
Starting from camp just before dark that evening, I marched to Rawhide 1 and camped for the night. I found the roads very bad, night dark and rainy, and had some trouble in finding the place. On the 2d I started early, during a heavy rain, and followed your instructions until I arrived at Shoal Creek, which could not be forded, and I followed down on this side, arriving in Florence at dark, where I found the different detachments waiting, and that we had picked up about fifty prisoners during the day, and heard that a party calling themselves Federal soldiers had passed through Florence that day, robbing and plundering. I soon learned that some of the men we wanted were with that party, but it was then too late, dark, and rainy to follow. I received your orders to bring all prisoners to camp next day. Quartered in deserted building in Florence that night, and called on the citizens to feed the prisoners, which they did willingly. Next morning (the 3rd) I started a detachment after Thrasher’s 2 party, and started for camp with the rest of my command and the prisoners, but could not cross Cypress Creek and sent them back to Florence. I worked all day in the rain trying to send a messenger to headquarters. Succeeded in the evening by sending a little flat-boat down the river. Being out of rations and forage, that evening I called on the citizens to divide, which they did willingly, with a few exceptions. I arrested a soldier straggling about, on the 2d, named John Agnes, belonging to Ninth Indiana Cavalry. He said he had been up there sick for three weeks and wanted to return with us to camp to find his regiment. He broke away from the guards that night, and I learned since that he had been engaged in robbing, &c. Several citizens told me they believed most of the robbing had been done by men who were with Lieutenant Thrasher, or men from about Clifton [TN]. They all say Thrasher is an honorable man, but blame him for having such men with him. Tom and Bishop Clark, Tom Dennis, Paul Ketty, Bill Bridges, and Pete Grimes are the names of some of his party. A man calling himself Phillips seemed to be the worst character. I received supplies of forage and rations by the steamer Rosa Sunday, the 5th instant, and returned to camp, arriving at 3 0’clock this p. m.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain Company D, Fourth Iowa Cavalry.
Maj. E. B. BEAUMONT,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Cavalry Corps, Mil. Div. of the Mississippi.
From W. C. Handy’s 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, chapter one, pp. 3-4.
Contrast these characters with that of my maternal grandfather, Christopher Brewer. When his master, John Wilson, had given my Grandfather Brewer his freedom, he preferred to stay near Mr. Wilson as his trusted servant. At one time, nearing the close of the Civil War, guerilla warfare was common in this locality. Three robbers were eventually hanged five miles out of Florence. These thieves had undertaken to rob John Wilson. They stripped him and tortured him to death by burning paper and searing his body to make him tell where his money was hidden. He refused. My Grandpa Brewer likewise knew. They shot him to make him tell. He also refused. But when his wounds had sufficiently healed he went to Nashville and brought his young master, Coonie Foster, back home and disclosed to him the hiding place of the money.
Note: This incident occurred in Nov. of 1865. According to Wade Pruitt’s Bugger Saga, Tom and Dennis Clark , Elias Thrasher, John Campbell, Charles Oliver and Albertie Gallion. were the alleged perpetrators of this crime.
From W. C. Handy’s 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, chapter twenty-two, p. 291:
Returning to New York by way of Los Angeles, my cousin Llewellyn Brewer bade me farewell and invited me to come again. . . .Llewellyn, now in his eighties, had fought with the U. S. Regular Army in their battle with Geronimo. He was at John Wilson’s “Big House” when the robbers shot Grandpa Brewer and hit Grandma Brewer over the head with a gun. From him I learned that Matthew Wilson gave his ex-slaves who headed families one thousand dollars in cash and forty acres of land each.
From the Florence Journal, Thursday, November 1, 1866, p. 3.
SHOOTING AFFAIR.--- On last Monday evening, Mr. Thomas Clark was shot at and dangerously wounded by Mr. Lee Howell. The occurrence happened near the “Baugh Place,” some fifteen miles North west from Florence. Clark is the party who killed Mr. Howell’s father during the war, hence the action on the part of an affectionate son. There is we hear, a slight chance of Clark’s recovery.
From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, January 11, 1871, p. 3.
Charles Jackson, Thos. Simpson, and Robt. Pool, colored persons, will appear before the Mayor this morning charged with Burglary. A few nights since the smoke house of Mr. Melvin Miller was entered and about five hundred pounds of bacon carried away. A portion of that bacon was found on the premises of Thos. Simpson, who cannot account for its presence in that locality. - Much credit is due to Constable Ed Blair, John Blair, and Willie White, for their diligence in finding the stolen property, and arresting the parties. Quite a number of burglaries have been committed in Florence lately, and the thing must be stopped.
From the Lauderdale Times, August 18, 1872, p. 3.
Thos. Clark, a notorious tory 3, was [a]rrested in Jackson county, last [w]eek by process from Lauderdale [c]ounty Circuit Court, and lodged in [j]ail Sunday. He is charged in sep[ar]ate indictments with murder, assault [w]ith intent to murder, fornication and [a]dultery.
From the Lauderdale Times, September 10, 1872, p. 2.
From the Lauderdale Times Extra of September 5.
GREAT EXCITEMENT IN FLORENCE.
Summary Punishment Visited Upon the Guilty!
Crime and Punishment.
Three Men Hung on One Tree!
Thos. Clark, the Notorious Outlaw, Executed!
Robbers captured and Hung by outraged Citizens!
We give below the facts as we gather them, of the hanging of Tom Clark and the two Burglars, in our town last night.
Tuesday evening, a gentleman of Athens came to this place and brought information that on the night previous, nine houses had been burglariously entered in the town of Athens and much valuable property stolen therefrom. He stated that the parties supposed to have committed the burglary were coming towards this place, and advised the citizens to be on the alert--- But no one thought anything of it; and all retired as usual, little suspecting burglars in our quiet town. During the night, the houses of Judge Allington, Jas. Hancock and R. T. Simpson were entered, gold watches stolen from the latter two.
About half past two o’clock that night, two men were seen on the streets driving a sorrel mare to a buggy.--- Suspicion was at once fixed upon these as the guilty parties, and at sunrise yesterday morning four men went in pursuit. It was ascertained that they had gone in the direction of Waterloo.
The Capture of the robbers was effected by Messrs. Wm. E. Blair (City Marshal), Wm. Barks, Wm. Joiner and W. E. Warson. The robbers had stopped for dinner, and were about unhitching their horse near the residence of Esq. Pettypool, a few miles below Gravelly Springs. They offered little resistance, but expressed much surprise as Mr. Blair and others rode up, and the Marshal demanded their surrender.. A search of their persons discovered nothing, but on examining the buggy, the pin of a breastpin was observed sticking through the lining of the buggy top. The party immediately went “up stairs,” in the language of one of the gallant gentlemen, and found there eight watches, and handful of breastpins, &c, [sic] On opening a drummer’s 4satchel, which was in the buggy, files, saws, and other burglarious instruments were found, amongst which was a murderous slung shot [sic].
At this part of the game the countenances of the robbers fell. They seemed to give up all thought of escape, and to make up their minds to suffer the penalty of the law, (if they could not by some ingenious trick manage to break jail). Their arms having been taken, they were placed in the buggy and with their captors, before and behind, turned towards Florence.
Just above Gravelly Springs, the party was joined by one of the many ubiquitous candidates, now canvassing the county, and further on, by the marshall [sic] of Athens and his companion.--- The prisoners, who were elegantly dressed, experienced much annoyance at the heat and dust, seeming not to care much for anything else.
Florence turned-out en masse, as the party rode in town much excitement prevailed.
At night it culminated in
The jail being insecure, Sheriff Hudson had summoned eight men, in addition to the jailor, to guard the prisoners. About midnight a great crowd came to the jail and demanded the keys. The guard refused to give them up, and fired on the mob. It is said that the fire was returned. At any rate, the jail doors were broken open, and the guard disarmed. The cells wherein Tom Clark and the robbers were confined, were also broken into, and the three men taken out and carried immediately to an adjoining square, and hanged by the neck until they were dead. The three were suspended from a tree, which stands in the rear of the site of the old Masonic Lodge.
In the morning the citizens found them there. One was identified as Tom Clark; one was a short, stalwart man, with the initials F. R. and a star, in Indian Ink, on his right arm, and two hearts pierced by an arrow on his left hand; and one is supposed to be Gibson. We understand that one of the robbers directed his portion of the $365, in money, which was found on their persons, to be sent to his sister, Miss Kate Schilee, of Indianapolis, Indiana. The same man attempted to escape, was shot by some person, unknown, recaptured, and hung with the others. It is the opinion of Dr. Hannum, who examined his wound, that death would have resulted from the pistol shot. The younger robber marched up boldly to the tree and requested the executioners to hold him up and drop him, instead of drawing him up. The prayers of Clark were agonizing, and were heard by the citizens living near. Clark is said to have killed sixteen men during his life.
The indignation of citizens at the outrage of these men, was so great that, the ladies of the community, and many of the colored people requested the Mayor to have the bodies buried outside of the cemetery. Esq. Rice, in accordance with this request, has ordered that the bodies be interred in one of the old fields near our town.
Messrs. Hancock and Simpson identified their watches among those found in possession of the burglars.
We hope that people at a distance will not accuse our citizens of lawlessness for this act. We are as lawabiding as any people in the land; and only when driven by the highest law of natures [sic] God, self preservation, would our community take the law in their own hands, and mete out to these murderers and robbers, the just punishment for their enormous crimes. If ever Mob Law was justifiable, it was in this instance. Tom Clark, who boasted that he had murdered, in cold blood, sixteen men, deserved hanging sixteen times over. The others, no doubt, would have slain their scores if they had found it necessary to cover their villiany [sic]. They were murderers at heart, and entered our dwellings with the formed design to slay every man who might be awakened and attempt to defend his house-hold.
These men have only met their deserved end. Let all such take warning. This was no Ku-Klux affair, but simply the legitimate effect of an indignant and outraged public feeling. Fearfully and quickly has the hand of retribution overtaken them, but it was only justice asserting her claims upon three of the most heartless villains that ever cursed the world.
We are opposed to mob law, but these men met a death richly deserved, and over their fate we shed no tears.
The thanks of the community are due Messrs. Blair, Joiner, Barks and Warson, for their prompt action in making the capture.
Coroner Ed Brown, summoned a jury and held an inquest this morning. The verdict was that the parties came to their death on the night of the 4th inst., by strangulation by hanging at the hands of persons unknown.
Messrs. L. E. Powers, John T. Petty, [J]oseph Milner, Andrew Brown, J. T. Westmoreland and A. W. Porter, composed the jury.
From the Lauderdale Times, September 17, 1872, p. 2.
WINCHESTER, IND., Sept. 13, 1872
SHERIFF HUDSON.—Dear Sir: -- I see in the papers an account of the lynching of three men in your county. I want you to send me a description of the men. We had two men to break jail here, that the description given in the papers, suits them pretty well. One was a man about 5 feet 10 inches high, rather slim build, swarthy complexion, dark hair, and a little curly. The other was about 5 feet 7 inches high, fair complexion, round face, heavy built, about 30 years old, his right arm was badly crippled from a gun shot wound in the rist [sic] extending to the elbow. They were committed to the jail here, for burglary in April last, and on the night of the 29th of May, as I went into the jail to shut them up in their cells, they struck me with a club and come near killing me, I did not get out of my house for two months. They were caught before they got out of town, and returned to the jail. But on the 2nd night of August they broke the door of the jail, and made good their escape. I would be glad to know that they are the same men, for they deserve it much.
D. F. FORA,
Sheriff of Randolph county
The description given in the foregoing letter suit the parties that were hung here on the night of the 4th inst. We hear of these burglars first at Glasgow and Scottsville, Kentucky, then at Lebanon, Nashville, Columbia, Pulaski and Fayetteville[,] Tenn., then at Athens and this place, in Alabama, where the ball ended---but have not been able to find out the names of either of the burglar[sic].
---In all the places mentioned more or less robbing was committed.
1 Rawhide: Now Cloverdale
2 2d Lieut. Elias Thrasher (c. 1823-1900), of Co. B, 2nd Tenn. Mounted Inf., USA, a native of Laud. County, and said to be an outlaw, with Tom Clark, in “the Buggers.”
3 Tory: A Union sympathizer.
4 Drummer’s: Drummers were traveling salesmen, so-called because they often beat a drum to announce their coming. A drummer’s satchel was a salesman’s case.
5. New Castle - The coal mines. Prisoners were contracted out to work off their sentences.