If they had it to do all over again, Benton Woods, Neal Canady, Ira Lindsey, John McLeod, and Ben Smith would have stayed home on Saturday nights a century ago. On two consecutive Saturday nights in Emanuel County, Georgia, two Emanuel County sheriff's deputies were shot by their prisoners. And, their prisoners were themselves killed by persons unknown, the usual verdict handed down by Judge Lynch. Dave Blount should have stayed at home too. He was the first to die.
May 13, 1911: John McLeod had been up to no good. McLeod, a known sinister desperado, had been captured just before pitch dark. Under arrest by city marshal Curl, John McLeod had been charged with larceny. Curl was escorting McLeod through the streets to deliver him to Emanuel County deputy sheriff, R. Benton Woods in front of Bell's Drug Store.
Deputy Woods had just taken control of McLeod when the prisoner grabbed his gun and fired point blank into his captor's chest just below his heart. McLeod sprinted in the direction of the Opera House. Marshal Curl gathered nearly all of his wits and fired at the fleeing felon. Bystanders began to fire as well. Four shots hit their marks, one in each hand, one in an arm, and another in McLeod's hip. Curl raced toward McLeod as he laid, bleeding in the main street near the point where two of the nation's major highways now intersect.
Standing over by the Bank of Emanuel was one Dave Blount. When the confusion was over, Blount was lying dead on the sidewalk, the result of a single, but deadly, bullet hole in his chest. Investigators speculate that the bystander was actually an accomplice of McLeod. Their conclusion was based on the fact that a half empty six-shot revolver was found by his side.
Sheriff Fields arrived on the scene in front of the Opera House and took McLeod into custody. McLeod's pistol had only one unfired round in its chamber. Fearing that his prisoner would be lynched by the agitated crowd which had gathered around the jail, Fields set out to find Dr. Chandler to tend to McLeod's wounds before transporting him by car to a jail in a nearby county.
Deputy Woods was taken into the drug store, where he received all the treatment which doctors Chandler and Smith could give. But the doctors efforts proved ineffective when they proclaimed that his wounds were mortal. Woods lingered in subdued agony until nearly all of his family arrived from the Cowford District in the western section of the county.
The rapidly increasing mob discovered that the sheriff had left the prisoner alone. By the time the sheriff and the doctor returned, the mob had already found the cell keys and were taking McLeod to a hearing before Judge Lynch. Sheriff Fields pleaded for the crowd to release the prisoner. Realizing that resistance was futile, Fields retreated. The vigilantes took McLeod and dragged him through the streets for a half mile. To make sure the judge's sentence was carried out, they hung him from a limb of a stout tree. To further vent their anger, McLeod's body was riddled with bullets.
A rare Sunday morning coroner's inquest determined that both McLeod and Blount died at the hands of unknown parties, although the Swainsboro Forest Blade reported, "The mob dispersed as quietly as they gathered and in less than an hour nearly all the white male population of the city had been to the scene of the lynching."
Benton Woods's body was turned over to his father, Judge Isaac Woods. Less than eighteen hours after his death, the popular deputy was laid to rest in the family plot at Bethel Church.
May 20, 1911: Over at Summit, one of the twin cities of eastern Emanuel County, the Rev. Ben Smith had been accused of abuse by his wife. Rev. Smith was well known and admired in his community. His word was considered the law among his people. Deputy Sheriff Neil Canady and his posse went to arrest the elderly Negro. During a moment of inattentiveness, Smith picked up his shot gun and aimed it squarely at Canady's chest. Just as Smith pulled the trigger, Canady managed to push down on the barrel. Canady fell to the ground.
Smith set out on foot, running as fast as he could. Right behind him was a posse of local men led by bloodhounds. Smith was captured at the edge of a swamp, the place where nearly every man running from the law goes when he is chased.
This is where the story changes. The Forest Blade reported that Smith resisted arrest and was shot when the crowd fired into the darkness, only to be found the next morning not far from his farm.
Newspapers in Macon and Augusta reported an entirely different account. Smith was described as a very old, white-haired man with no teeth. During the chase, the Colored Odd Fellows Hall in the area was dynamited into smithereens. The papers reported that Smith was ordered to hang from a tree by Judge Lynch for his crimes. Other Negroes in the area were so frightened that it was reported that a general mass exodus was being planned.
Neal Canady survived the wound to his upper thigh. There was no fifth funeral.
My somewhat feisty and mostly fearless grandmother Claudie Thompson, frequently said, "Stay out of Kite on Saturday night." She knew about such things in Kite and other towns personally. For you see, Benton Woods, who was murdered in the streets of Swainsboro, was her mother's first cousin - a fact unknown to this author when he began compiling this article. Kite, a neighboring Johnson County town just outside the northwestern border of Emanuel County was known for its rowdy behavior. Saturday night, April 22, 1911, was no exception. The Dixon brothers, Cliff and Sherman, had been drinking when Kite Marshal Ira Lindsey requested that they go home and sleep it off. Sherman Dixon cursed and struck the marshal. When the marshal retreated, Sherman shot him once and Cliff fired three effective rounds into the slumping officer.
Bystanders helped the dying man into Eldridge Price's store, where he died in less than five minutes. The Dixons did go home and sent word into town that they would surrender themselves to the sheriff. Sheriff Davis and his deputies took the brothers into custody. Meanwhile at the cemetery that afternoon, Rev. M.R. Little, attempted to comfort Lindsay's widow, orphan and his brothers and their father who came down from their homes in Washington County.
Judge Lynch chose not to hear the Dixon's case. Their fates were left to a jury of their peers.