Frank James, of the James Gang, acquited in Huntsville

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 24, 2014

On a cold day in March 1881, three masked men on horseback, brandishing revolvers, held up an army paymaster on the banks of the Tennessee River near Muscle Shoals, AL. The paymaster was on his way with the payroll to pay the construction workers digging a canal near Muscle Shoals.

The masked men kidnapped the unlucky paymaster and took him into the woods where they relieved him of the payroll, his horse, and even his gold pocket watch he’d inherited from his deceased father. They then released him to a long walk home and disappeared into the dark woods, over $5000 richer.

Making his way north to Kentucky, Bill Ryan rode into the tiny crossroads of White’s Creek Tennessee, a few miles north of Nashville, and took refuge in a saloon from a gathering thunderstorm. A few shots of whiskey later, he was drunk and disorderly and running his mouth about being an “outlaw against state, county, and the United States Government!”

One local barfly had the temerity to question his outlaw credentials and Ryan pulled his pistols and made a scene. At gunpoint, he extracted an apology for the offense, but his luck, and ultimately that of the James Gang, had finally run out. The bartender just happened to be an off-duty Sheriff’s deputy.

After a vigorous scuffle, Ryan was disarmed and under arrest. He was carried off to the Nashville jail where his identity was soon revealed, and he was asked to explain how he came into possession of a large portion of that army payroll.

Huntsville Courthouse circa 1900Huntsville Courthouse, where Frank James was tried, circa 1900.

Jesse James, and his brother Frank, were soon implicated in the robbery and warrants were issued for their arrest.

Within a year, Jesse would be dead, shot in the back of the head by Bob Ford in an attempt to earn clemency from the government for his own crimes and collect a hefty reward offered by the governor of Missouri.

During the following year, Bill Ryan would be sentenced to a long prison term, Frank would surrender to the Missouri authorities, the rest would scatter, and the infamous James Gang would be retired for good.

With Frank now in custody, it was time for him to face justice. A Huntsville grand jury indicted Frank and he was charged with armed robbery and brought to Huntsville to stand trial.

By this time, the James Gang’s exploits were already the stuff of legend. A whole entertainment industry had been built around their adventures. Dime stores across America carried pulp novels and magazines that thrilled their readers with the gang’s daring exploits.

Frank James received a celebrity trial. A large cheering crowd greeted his train as it arrived at the Huntsville depot. Newspaper reporters from far and wide descended on what was then the tiny town of Huntsville, filled the hotels and boarding houses, and filed sensational reports on the latest developments in the case.

On April 17, 1884, the trial began. Frank entered the courtroom accompanied by his wife, young son, and an all-star legal team headed by veteran Huntsville lawyer, Leroy Pope Walker who also happened to be the former Secretary of War for the Confederacy. The prosecution was headed up by the formidable William H. Smith, US Attorney and a former governor of Alabama during Reconstruction.

The two lead attorneys sparred and jousted in front of a jury made up largely of Civil War veterans. Leroy Pope Walker well understood his jury. He emphasized in his opening statement that Frank had also fought for the Cause, having served with the Missouri irregulars under William Clarke Quantrill during the closing days of the war.

Governor Smith countered with the facts of the case. He brought out witnesses who identified Frank as one of the robbers. Under withering cross examination, Walker got each to recant their claim. As his case looked increasingly lost, Governor Smith saved his ace in the hole for last.

James Andrew Liddel had been a loyal member of the James Gang for many years. He was the one who discovered Ryan had been arrested and even helped Frank and Jesse make their getaway. But Liddel had a weakness for women.

Sometime after they fled Nashville, Liddel became involved with an attractive widow who had also caught the eye of Woodson Hite, a cousin of the James brothers. An argument over money turned violent and Liddel shot Woodson Hite to death.

Liddel was subsequently captured by the law and, realizing the fix he was now in, decided to cooperate with the authorities. Governor Smith made him his star witness against Frank, his former comrade and employer.

Frank James, of the James Gang, 1884Frank James shortly after his acquital.

Liddel surely regretted his decision to come to Huntsville, for Leroy Pope Walker saved his most brutal cross examination for the government’s star witness. Liddel was portrayed as a liar and career criminal, who was destroying the character and reputation of an upright man like Frank, so he could avoid going to the gallows for murder.

Governor Smith could see his case slipping away. He tried on redirect to reestablish some of Liddel’s credibility, but in the end it did no good. After a parade of witnesses by the defense who swore that they saw Frank in Nashville on the day of the robbery and a brilliant final summation by Leroy Pope Walker, the jury reached its verdict.

Frank James was acquitted of all charges. He walked out of that Huntsville courthouse a free man. It had been the trial of the century.

Source: (originally reprinted from Old Huntsville Magazine)

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Book Excerpt: ‘Images of America: Harriman’

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 23, 2014

John BrownPlease welcome guest author John Norris Brown. Brown teaches political science and history at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN. A graduate of Roane State, the University of Tennessee and Appalachian State University, Brown currently resides in Oak Ridge, TN. His new book, Harriman (Images of America) presents a photographic history of Harriman, a temperance town in the hills of Tennessee. Published by Arcadia Publishing, the book will be available April 28. We’re pleased to present an excerpt of it here:


Harriman has a unique history. Incorporated in 1891 as a temperance town in the Appalachians, Harriman was intended to be “an object lesson for thrift, sobriety, intelligence, and exalted moral character, where workers would be uncorrupted by Demon Rum,” as the historical marker explains. The city’s founders envisioned a model city for the world in which Victorian morality could be commercialized for both the betterment of mankind and for business profit. Harriman’s founders believed so strongly in this vision that many of them mortgaged their futures on it.

Harriman’s founders had big dreams: a city of 50,000 people that would someday rival Pittsburgh and Birmingham in ore production. The 300,000 acres owned by the East Tennessee Land Company (the company that purchased and sold the land on which Harriman was built) was rich in coal and ore. The great land sale, held in late February 1890, in which lots were sold off to settlers, was a major success, drawing around 3,000 bidders from at least 12 states. Over the next two years, Harriman saw rapid growth as the population swelled to 719 by the fall of 1890 and to 3,672 by December of the following year.

Harriman cover

The dreams of the founders would turn into a nightmare for many, however, and the Panic of 1893, coupled with the assumption of major debt and reckless speculating, drove the East Tennessee Land Company into bankruptcy. Their dreams shattered, it appeared Harriman might become a total failure. Many of Harriman’s founders returned to their home states disillusioned and broken.

Harriman, like most proposed utopias, failed to fully realize the dreams of its founders. Nevertheless, the city rebounded from the early disasters and experienced growth in the early 20th century. The East Tennessee Land Company’s headquarters was converted to the American University, then the Mooney School, and finally city hall (a role it retains), known locally as the Temperance Building.

Unfortunately, in 1929, two other disasters struck: a major flood of the Emory River and the stock market crash. The flood washed away much of Harriman’s industry, killed 20 people, and left as many as 200 homeless. Many of the businesses never resumed operation in the city. The economic impact was staggering and was further compounded by the Great Crash of 1929 and the arrival of the Great Depression. The 1930s were lean times for the city, just as they were for the rest of the country.

By the 1940s, the city appeared on the road to recovery. The 1940 Semi-Centennial celebration was a time of renewed optimism. World War II, though certainly a tragedy for the world, brought economic growth to Harriman, as the Manhattan Project in nearby Oak Ridge led to a flood of new people into the city.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Harriman was doing well. With an economy centered on two hosiery mills and a paper mill—the three of which provided the majority of jobs in the city and employment for generations of residents—the city grew.

Downtown Harriman was the social center of the city, with numerous stores, diners, theaters, and other businesses. Commercial ventures that served generations thrived during this time, among them Edward’s, Miller-Brewer, Chase Drugs, and the Princess Theatre.

The Princess Theatre in Harriman.

The Princess Theatre in Harriman.

Harriman’s Diamond Jubilee in 1965 seems to have even outdone its Semi-Centennial of a quarter century before. Lasting a week, the celebration included a parade, pageant, the return of early settlers, and renewed civic pride. The city had much to celebrate, for it was then that it seems to have reached its peak economically.

The latter decades of the 20th century saw decline for the city, however. By the end of the century, the hosiery mills and paper plant had closed, leaving Harriman with significantly fewer jobs. Partially due to the interstate highway system, many businesses had also moved out of downtown, and some of the buildings fell into disrepair.

In spite of these setbacks, Harriman rightfully remains proud of its heritage, and civic groups continue to work to preserve the city’s history. The annual Hooray For Harriman event, held over Labor Day weekend, attracts thousands each year. The Princess Theatre, one of the city’s greatest landmarks, which had closed in 1999, was recently restored by the city and reopened, providing concerts, plays, and other cultural activities for the community.

Today, the legacy of Harriman’s past remains apparent in the Temperance Building and the Victorian architecture of Cornstalk Heights. With many of the houses built during the time of Harriman’s rapid growth (1890–1893), the city is in some ways frozen in that time period, with homes and buildings reflecting the architecture popular at that time.

The temperance philosophy also lasted a long time in the city. Following the repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in 1933, Harriman passed Ordinance No. 486, outlawing the sale of beer within the city. Temperance for the city officially ended in the 1990s, when the sale of liquor was legalized, a very controversial and divisive issue even then. Today, many residents still hold strong to the ideals of temperance.

Temperance Building (Harriman City Hall) as locals turn out to see men off to serve in World War I.

Temperance Building (Harriman City Hall) as locals turn out to see men off to serve in World War I.

This book is an attempt to bring this history to life through historical photographs of the people, places, events, and institutions that have made Harriman special. It is divided into 10 chapters, each devoted to a certain aspect of the city’s colorful history. The images are presented in roughly chronological order by chapter, though at times they have been organized thematically. As with any historical work, mistakes may have seeped in, for which the author apologizes.

As a native of Harriman it is an honor to work on such an important project, and it is the author’s sincere wish that this book will help reignite interest in preserving the history of the “Town that Temperance Built.” There is much in the town’s past to be proud of, and there is much about its future that looks bright.

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Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area: Appalachian History Preserved

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 22, 2014

This article by Danielle Keeton-Olsen ran April 17 in the Post, a student publication of Ohio University’s Athens Campus. It is reprinted here with permission.


Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area is an organization that celebrates and recognizes the historical depth of Southeast Ohio.

Tom O’Grady’s knowledge and love of Ohio started on the back roads from Cleveland to Athens.

As he drove between his parents’ home to Athens for his jobs as president of the Athens County Historical Society & Museum and professor of astronomy at Ohio University, he would stop and try to learn as much as possible about the buildings on the route.

Tom O’Grady

“The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn, and inevitably, it doesn’t take long before you know a little bit more than the average person,” O’Grady said. “It doesn’t take long until people are asking you to come and tell the story.”

His interest in the area involved him with others who loved Southeast Ohio as much as he did, including Nancy Recchie, an architect specializing in historical preservation, and Pat Henahan, of the Ohio Arts Council.

“I want to find what these communities want, and grant (them) the money,” Henahan said.

What started as social gatherings to tell stories about Ohio turned into 90-person meetings, Henahan said.

In February 1997, the group of people with a shared interest in Southeast Ohio’s history worked with Ohio Arts Council to form Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area, of which O’Grady now serves as president.

The organization aims to establish a “heritage area” in Southeast Ohio which would recognize the region’s history and culture.

Heritage areas are not unique to Southeast Ohio, said Amy Grove, OHCHA’s treasurer and a program assistant at Ohio State University’s extension in Morgan County. Ohio has five heritage areas.

“(The heritage area) is interdisciplinary, it has multiple jurisdictions, it’s all related to heritage and the heritage can be interpreted in many different ways,” Recchie said.

In addition to publishing a monthly newsletter, the organization currently works to put on two major activities during the year: the Inspiring Practices Award and the Appalachian Heritage Luncheon.

The Inspiring Practices Award used to be given out every year, but is now distributed when the group sees fit. OHCHA recognizes organizations in four categories — arts heritage, community heritage, business heritage and built environment and historic preservation — for use of history and culture to promote tourism or economic development, O’Grady said.

A scene from Tecumseh Outdoor Drama. Photo courtesy The Scioto Society, Inc. / Tecumseh!

A scene from Tecumseh Outdoor Drama. Photo courtesy The Scioto Society, Inc. / Tecumseh!

In 2011, OHCHA most recently recognized Ross County’s Tecumseh Outdoor Drama with a community heritage award for reenacting treaties and battles relevant to the Shawnee, a local Native American tribe.

To give out the award, the board traveled to the drama’s amphitheater, where they participated in several Shawnee rituals and presented the award on its outdoor stage.

“(OHCHA) gives us an excuse to go to different parts of Ohio and the Hill Country and have fun,” O’Grady said.

While acknowledging those who already celebrate the region’s heritage, OHCHA also tries to expose the entire state to Southeast Ohio through the Appalachian Heritage Luncheon.

The organization tries to put on what it can, but as a nonprofit run by volunteers, they’ve had to take breaks from hosting certain events, such as Roamin’ the Hills, when they would hold several events highlighting one Southeast Ohio town.

Though there used to be constant funding for OHCHA’s executive director from Ohio Arts Council, the organization had to reallocate those funds to some other organizations in the region, O’Grady said.

“You’re competing with all the other nonprofits for the same money in the same region of Ohio, and this is a region that isn’t rich in industry and commerce,” O’Grady said.

Ohio Hill Country Heritage Area has been the fiscal agent for the Ohio PawPaw Festival for the past 4 years.

Ohio Hill Country Heritage Area has been the fiscal agent for the Ohio PawPaw Festival for the past 4 years.

OHCHA is able to pay for the Inspiring Practices Awards and Appalachian Heritage Luncheon through membership fees, small grants and serving as fiscal agent for the PawPaw Festival in Athens every September, Grove said.

“Having that awareness built while we were at the conference between all the entities as to how (we) might work together, it makes that idea of more national recognition more of a reality,” Grove said.

Despite little funding, O’Grady said he takes pride in OHCHA’s board, which has stuck around for more than 15 years and devoted the time it can to the promotion of Ohio’s history.

“What always has fascinated and impressed me was how much of what is done out there is done by individuals and volunteers who have no resources, and when you start supporting those efforts, the great strides that they can make with some financial support,” O’Grady said.

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Belle Boyd: Her visit to Knoxville and Blount Mansion

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 21, 2014

The following article posted April 14 on the site Beyond the Mansion: News, History, and More from the Blount Mansion Association. It is reposted here with permission.


During the Civil War, Knoxville, TN was the host to a southern celebrity. Confederate spy Isabella “Belle” Boyd had relatives living here at Blount Mansion. Her aunt, Susan Boyd, the widow of the former mayor of Knoxville and local judge Samuel Boyd, was living in the house with her son Samuel and her daughter Sue. Sue and Belle were about the same age.

Isabella 'Belle' Boyd

Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd

Belle had left Virginia on the advice of Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. She asked in a letter to him if it would be safe for her to return to her Virginia home to see her family. He advised against it and she left to come to Tennessee to stay with relatives in the Knoxville area, “in town and in the country” as she put it.

When she arrived in the city of Knoxville proper, her celebrity status had preceded her and she was sought out by a large crowd. Belle describes how she went to visit General J; most probably Joseph Johnston commander of the Army of Tennessee, whose headquarters was here in Knoxville at the time. It was during this visit that a large crowd and a Florida regimental band gathered to ask her to speak. Strangely, she was quite shy and asked General Johnston to speak for her. He did so, yet it did not satisfy the crowd. She describes very specifically stepping out of a window onto a balcony and addressing the crowd. After doing so they serenaded her with several songs, and then the crowd dispersed.

The next morning she describes the events being featured in the paper and how pleased she was to be referred to as the “Virginia Heroine” rather than as a “rebel spy”. It is then she says “I now became a guest of my relative Judge Samuel Boyd”, meaning she arrived at the Blount house on Hill Avenue.

The Boyd Family. Sue is the third from Left, Aunt Susan is the fourth from left.

The Boyd Family. Sue is the third from Left, Aunt Susan is the fourth from left.

Belle did live here for a number of months with the Boyds. Sue Boyd was around the same age as Belle and they became quite close while she was here. Writing in 1932, Sue Boyd fondly recalled the time she spent with Belle riding horses, going to parties and balls, and entertaining young officers and gentleman.

In the spring of 1863 Belle left Knoxville to continue her tour of the South with the intention of eventually returning to Virginia to be with her family there. So, even though she was not in Knoxville long, she made a big impression on the local people and left a mystery behind as well.

Local legend has always held that Belle gave her speech from the Blount Mansion. But there are some issues with that legend. Belle is very specific that she stepped out of a window onto a balcony to address the crowd. The problem is there has never been a balcony at Blount Mansion. There have been porches on both the front (Hill St) and back of the house at times but never anything that could be considered a balcony. Also there are no windows that would open in a way to allow you to step out onto a porch or a balcony. So what is going on with this story?

There are a few key details to consider. Joseph Johnston had his headquarters at Lamar House on Gay St. (This is the Bijou Theatre today.) If Belle was just arriving in Knoxville it is entirely possible, given the fact she was acquainted with Johnston, that she went to see him there, or was staying there as a guest. The front of Lamar House, facing Gay St, has a balcony one can walk out onto from large windows. As this photograph (below right) from after the war shows it was quite possible to stand and address a crowd from that balcony.

Lamar House, Gay St., Knoxville

Lamar House, Gay St., Knoxville

Also, if Belle was already staying with her Aunt and cousins at the Blount Mansion, why would she describe the night’s events and the morning’s paper and then describe arriving at the house?

It is hard to say whether or not we will be able to say 100% for certain that she was or was not here when she gave her speech, but given the available evidence it seems more likely that she was just up the street at Lamar House when she spoke briefly to the people of Knoxville.

Either way, Belle Boyd was a guest here at the Governor’s House during the winter and spring of 1862 and 1863. She is one more of the people who make Blount Mansion a fascinating historic site, and her story adds to the colorful drama which has played out inside of its walls since 1792.

One Response

  • Mike Boyd says:

    For Michael Lynch
    In 1863 Belle Boyd was a Captain in the CSA, attached to Jackson’s staff.

    Contact Berkeley? County, Historical Society
    President: Don C Wood

    She was then made Captain in the regular Con-federate army and wore a
    riding costume. As Captain she was aide-de-camp on the staff of
    Stonewall Jackson on detached services. In the winter of 1863 she was
    sent to Knoxville on secret service also making a tour on government
    business to Montgomery, Mobile, and Charleston. In this last place she
    was a guest for a week of General Beauregard. She then returned, in the
    summer of 1864, to the valley of Virginia.

    I am not sure if is covered in the Book The Boyd family including the allied families of Bell, Braken, Cullar, Cunningham, Finley, Gaut, Hoover, Hough, Markle, McGrew, Parrish, Perry, Pinkerton, Scholl, Speer, Warfel, Welday, Williams, with special reference to Mercelia Louise Boyd … Genealogist Katherine Cox Gottschalk. Compiled and published by Scott Lee Boyd. Santa Barbara, Calif., 1935. 330 p. 36-6743 which details wit part of her family back to a William Boyd b 1705- d 1767)

    Mike Boyd
    Historical Committee
    House of Boyd Society
    Brisbane, Aust.

    PS I have some more references and material on her

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Happy Easter!

Posted by Dave Tabler | April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

No Appalachian History Weekly podcast today. We’ll be back next week with a fresh new episode for you. Happy Easter!

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