Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


The Murder of James Sheffield

IRWINTON: April 28, 1888: Mr. James Arthur  Sheffield was taking a pleasant stroll down the street near Irwinton's Academy on a warm, fair  Saturday night one hundred and twenty five years ago.  A waning gibbous moon was just coming up in the East casting a pale white glow on  just another peaceful spring  night in the capital of Wilkinson County.  

At the appointed closing time of 8:00 p.m.,  Sheffield, accompanied by Messers Rutland,  shut and locked tight his store doors and set out for home.  The men parted at the fork in the road,  just as they usually did.
Shortly thereafter, the 46-year-old Sheffield left the town's business district. As he was within hailing distance of his home, where his wife Winnie and daughter Minnie were near their front door awaiting his arrival, a shot gun blast rang out in the near darkness. The Rutlands saw the bright flash and heard the loud report of gunfire.  Not hearing any fatal screams, the Rutlands thought not too much of the commotion and went on to their homes in preparation for the upcoming Sabbath. 

The murderer rifled through Sheffield's pockets, grabbed his loot and dashed off into the darkness, crossing the split rail fence at the school house yard and leaving blood stains to mark his incriminating trail.

The murderer rapidly ran across the abandoned campus for nearly 150 yards before stopping to rip open Sheffield's satchel to look for folding money and silver coins - Sheffield's usual cargo on his evening  strolls home.  The gunman sprinted across a pasture to the northwestern corner of town.  Across a freshly plowed oat field, the distinctive footprints  of the killer marked his westward escape route.    

Just as the town's clocks were striking nine o'clock, an older black man and a young white boy came upon Sheffield's bloody, lifeless body.  At first, the pedestrians thought that the man lying in the road was simply intoxicated from an excessive bit of Saturday night revelry. Upon further examination, a fatal, massive wound was found in the back of Sheffield's head.  The boy quickly raced to the nearest home to report the matter.

It was said that early on Sunday morning every male inhabitant of Irwinton joined a posse formed by Sheriff I. J. Fountain.  That may or not be true, but it reasonable to believe that the justice seeking squad was quite large and doggedly determined to find their man, whoever he was.

The posse moved out from the resting place of the abandoned satchel, cut open by a somewhat dull knife, with their eyes focused on the ground and looking for any sign of footprints and blood drops. Sheriff Fountain's deputies followed the trail up to the home of one Martha Collins.  Inquiring of the whereabouts of her son Will Collins, Mrs. Collins, a colored woman not suspected of any complicity  in the matter,  responded that her son had gone up to the home of Shade Coates. 

The posse followed that same trail three quarters of a mile up to Coates home, where they found the barefooted, capitulant twenty-year-old Will Collins. When the lawmen burst into the room, they found Collins sitting on a bed playing his harp as if he had not a care in the world. 

Sheriff Fountain questioned Collins as to his whereabouts at the time of his murder. Collins responded that he had gone to bed early, but after being awakened, he went to the home of Coates.

A search of the Collins' pockets revealed just more than twenty one dollars in cash, over half of it in "V" nickels and silver Liberty dimes - an agglomeration that a retail merchant would be carrying home with him after closing his store.

The investigators found a double barreled shot gun, one of its barrels having been recently fired.  Inside the other unfired barrel were tiny scraps of  newspaper wadding - in particular, fragments from the February 8, 1888 edition of the Wrightsville Headlight.  Bits and pieces of the same issue  were found at the murder scene.   It was surmised that the blood got on Collins' gun when the killer reached inside the clothing and the bag of the victim to retrieve the missing money. A small blood stain was also  found on the Collins' vest. The blood evidence was sent to Dr. Clifton, a renowned microscopist, for analysis.  

Collins explained how he came upon such an unusually large sum of money, at least for him,  by stating that an unknown man approached him and offered to pay him $20.00 for the use of his gun and his shoes for an hour.   His account changed when he claimed that he borrowed $25.00 from his uncle to help him out of a financial "scrape."   That claim was discounted by the uncle, who told law enforcement officers that he could barely put together $2.00 to lend. More seemingly ad-libbed and totally contrary  accounts followed. 

Highly damning evidence came from eyewitnesses who saw Collins in town during the hours following the murder.  Shade Coates, a shoe maker in Sheffield's store, was initially arrested as an accomplice because of his ability to provide the killer (his friend Collins) with inside information and the testimony of witnesses who saw Coates at the Collins home the night of the murder.  

Will Collins was taken to a Macon jail for his own safety.  While there, witnesses said that he was always at ease, describing the prisoner as "the gayest of the gay."  Not a bit of trouble was brought the way of his captors, who stated that he played sports with his fellow prisoners without a single indication of the villainous crime he was charged with. 

A trial was held in the first week of October 1888.  With no direct evidence to prove Collins' guilt, prosecutors put together a solid, logically connected case of circumstantial evidence sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

After listening to all of the evidence, the jury carefully deliberated and pronounced a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of life in prison, a sentence which began with hard labor in the coal mines of Dade County, Georgia. When Collins, who was constantly complaining of chest pains,  left his prison cell, he was described as "a living skeleton." 
To the unanimous jurors, their decision was solely based on a series of circumstances.  Many of them firmly believed that new evidence would surface to implicate the true killer.  But in the end, none of the twelve  white men wanted to allow Collins to get off scot free and to strike his harp and ignore the trickling tears of little Minnie

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Emissary from Emanuel

William Rountree made his life as he  traveled around the world seeking peaceful relations with the United States.  This native of Swainsboro served for more than a quarter of a century as one of our country's diplomats and  ambassadors to countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America in a time when the Earth was a ticking political, social and military time bomb.  This is his story.

William M. Rountree was born in the capital of Emanuel County on March 28, 1917 - a son of Clerk of County Court William M. Rountree, Sr. and his bride, Clyde Brannan. 

William's father died when he was still a toddler. The Rountrees remained in Swainsboro until 1923, when they moved to Atlanta, where William graduated from high school.  

After graduation, Rountree moved north to Washington, D.C., where he landed a job with the United States Treasury Department -  thanks to the assistance of Georgia Senator, Walter F. George.

In 1941, Rountree was appointed to a task force by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to formulate plans for the creation of an agency to administer the lend-lease program.  To top off his education, Rountree graduated from Columbia University just before the beginning of World War II. 

Rountree made his first major trip overseas in 1942 to Cairo, Egypt, where he worked with the British for the remainder of World War II.  It was during the war years when Rountree began to travel to most of the counties in the Middle East.

"I came back to Washington as special assistant and economic advisor to the Director of the NEA Bureau," recalled the newly appointed diplomat, who began to receive impressive assignments in Greece and  throughout the countries of the Mediterranean Sea as the United States assumed her role as the leader of the Free World. 

"I had not viewed our role as being the world's policeman, nor do I think President Truman did. But I think the responsibilities that were thrust upon us at the end of World War II required that we do many things in many parts of the world that were new to our philosophy," said Rountree in an interview with Niel M. Johnson of the Harry S. Truman Library.

In 1948, Rountree was directed to return to Washington to serve as  Deputy Director and later as Director of the Office of Greek, Turkish and Iranian Affairs. Later as Director of the Office of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs, the Emanuel Countian worked with the British and other countries in stabilizing the region militarily, politically and economically.  In particular, he helped to stabilize the Middle Eastern oil industry from political agitation emanating from within and from outside the region. 

The ascent up the chain of command in the State Department  came quite easy to Rountree, who served as Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission in Tehran from 1953 to '55 and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs from 1955-59. Rountree's region included Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Ceylon.

President Dwight Eisenhower appointed the Georgian as Ambassador to Pakistan in 1959.  After three years, Ambassador Rountree was named by President John F. Kennedy as the new ambassador to the North African country of Sudan.  After another three-year term, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Rountree as our country's ambassador to South Africa, where he served until 1970.  Rountree's last three years of this 15-year tenure as an ambassador were spent closer to home in  South America as United States Ambassador to Brazil. 

As The Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Mr. Rountree was deeply involved in the 1956 Suez crisis and in the 1958 uncivil tumult in Lebanon. Just before Christmas in 1958, a roguish mob threw eggs, mud balls and rocks at him in effort to force him out of Iraq. Of all of situations which Ambassador Rountree had to deal with, the most difficult was the tense relationship with Iran.  

"We always had influence with the Shah, but not a compelling influence. That is, the Shah always valued his relations with the United States, and enjoyed, during his life, remarkably good relations with every American administration," Rountree recalled. 

"Many people overestimate the extent to which American influence can be effective in any given country. Our advice to the Shah over the years could have been better, but on the other hand, if the Shah had adhered to the advice which he received from us, Iran would have been in a much better position at the time of the his demise. In other words, I do not go along with the idea that his failure was the result of the lack of good advice from the United States," the Ambassador concluded.

While serving as Ambassador to South Africa in the late 1960s,  Rountree had to deal with the bitterly divisive issue of Apartheid.

"The United States has strongly opposed Apartheid, and every administration has voiced that opposition in one form or another. Certainly, when I was there during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, part of my duty and responsibility was to make clear United States objection to Apartheid and the principle of that kind of discrimination. We joined with the international community generally in imposing certain restrictions in relationships, and in refusing to ship military or police equipment to South Africa. Our opposition was reflected in the United Nations, at the International Court, and elsewhere," Rountree asserted in the Truman Library interview.

Rountree had favorable opinion of the way in which the United States instantly recognized the State of Israel in one of the more momentous foreign relations matters of the 20th Century.

"President Truman made some of the most courageous and correct decisions of any President dealing with international relations. I have nothing but admiration for his decisions on Greece and Turkey, which we've discussed here, and also on NATO, the Marshall Plan, Point IV, and Korea," said Rountree in reflecting on his career in the 1950s.

After retiring in 1973, Ambassador Rountree, who became a close and trusted  aide of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, retired to Florida.  He died on November 3, 1995 in a Gainesville hospital.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


When my days are too long and the nights are all too short and deadlines approach with the speed of a tornadic cold front,  I often have to scavenge through my files to find a story to bring to you week after week.  And in this, my 850th week of writing "Pieces Of Our Past,"  I had to dash to my computer to pluck out a few snippets, you know "real pieces of our past,"  to fill my space.  I hope you enjoy them. 

THE NIGHT OF THE TWISTER - Rarely and fortunately does a strong tornado ever strike Laurens County.  On April 30, 1953, little Glenn Register, the four year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Register of Dublin, was in Warner Robins.  About dusk a powerful twister struck the city nearly leveling eight city blocks.  Glenn was rushed to an Atlanta hospital but died on the way.  The storm reeked havoc on an area mostly inhabited by Air Force personnel.  When it was over, seventeen were dead and nearly four hundred and fifty were injured. Reuben Lindsey, principal of the elementary school, died as a result of a heart attack he suffered just before the storm.  Dozens of the injured were brought by state troopers to the newly constructed Laurens County hospital.  The city of Dublin sent four trucks to Warner Robins to help in the cleanup. Dublin Courier Herald, May 1, 1953, p. 1.

JACK OF CLUBS - Thomas Randolph Ramsay was born into one of the most prominent families in Laurens County.  His father, Rev. W.S. Ramsay, was a colonel in the Confederate Army, a well known Baptist minister, and founder of our present school systems in Dublin and Laurens County.  His Randolph family was one of Virginia's oldest and most famous families.  His cousins included Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Chief Justice John Marshall.  By trade, he was a businessman involved in automobile sales, crate manufacturing, and a nursery and floral business. Ramsay, like his father, was active in civic affairs, perhaps more so than anyone else in the history of Laurens County.  He was associated with nine fraternal and civic organizations.  Ramsay was a Mason, Knight of Pythias, Odd Fellow, Elk, Kiwanian, Knight Templar, Shriner, Sportsman, and Rotarian. Laurens County History, Vol. 1, pp. 455-6.

SODA POP WITH A KICK - The weather was warming up.  Folks needed to quench their thirsts on the warm spring days.  A.H. Cowart, a member of the foreign colony, set up his drink stand on South Jefferson Street near the depot.  Deputy Sheriff E.E. Clark noticed the large crowds which started gathering around Cowart's stand.  The bottles, which appeared to be lemon soda, seemed to be selling well - too well.  Upon further examination Deputy Clark discovered that the bottles did not contain lemon soda, but moonshine.  Much to the dismay of the thirsty customers, Clark took Cowart and his stock to jail. Dublin Courier Herald, May 5, 1919, p. 1. 

THE FIRST CONSUMER WATCHDOGS - Early in 1919 a new corporation was organized in Dublin.  R.I. Stephens, C.P. Ennis, J.C. Moore, H.W. Nalley, and J.P. Tomlinson formed the Producers and Consumers Alliance of America.  The goal of the organizers was to confer on all public questions and to inform the public.  They also planned to inform the public on the conclusions of their conferences.  The organization was a non- profit one and open only to those over sixteen with good morals. Dublin Courier Herald, Feb. 21, 1919, p. 5.

FIGHTING OVER THE AG SCHOOL - The competition was stiff.  Dublin and Cochran were vying for the 12th District Agricultural College.  Each congressional district in Georgia maintained a school to teach the young men of the district in the fundamentals of agricultural techniques.  Cochran was initially awarded the school, but failed to live up to its promises.  Gov. Dorsey opened the competition up again by asking for a re-submission of the bids.  Dublin, backed by all members of the business community, submitted a strong bid.  Dublin had five railroads and was the center of agricultural commerce in the region.  The Dublin Committee headed by E.D. White, President of the Chamber, E.E. Street, M.H. Blackshear, and J.M. Finn promised to raise $95,000.00 within 60 days after the contract was awarded.  Dublin promised 202.5 acres of land for farming, 13.5 acres of land for the campus, one 8 room brick college - valued at $40,000.00, and one 8 room frame dormitory - valued at $4,000.00.  Additionally the city promised $25,000 in cash and free utilities for five years.  Cochran promised an equal amount of land and free utilities.  All of Dublin was shocked when the state awarded the school to Cochran.  Dublin Courier Herald, Feb. 14, 1919, p.1, March 20, 1919, p. 1.

FREE THE TROUT - Fish naturally swim up stream. The men along the lower end of Turkey Creek knew that and knew that they could place traps in the creek preventing them from swimming up the stream.  The men of northwestern Laurens County sought the help of the Georgia Legislature.  On October 24, 1870 a law was passed directing the sheriffs of Laurens and Wilkinson counties to remove any traps or obstructions.  Any officer failing to comply with the directive was subject to a fine up to five hundred dollars. Georgia Laws, 1870, p. 457.

THE GALLIMORE TRAIL - Before the first white men settled in our area, one man blazed a trail across the northwestern corner of Laurens County.  The Gallimore Trail appears on the original survey of the land lots of the 22nd Land District.  The trail originated east of Montrose at Turkey Creek where the  the Old Montrose Road, also known as the Chappell School Road or County Road No. 435 crosses the creek.  From the creek the road ran west along the Old Montrose Road crossing the Chappell Mill Road and passing north of Montrose and running into the current day Montrose-Allentown Road (Co. Road No. 388).   The trail was likely named for the progenitor of the Gallimore family who established a mill along Turkey Creek in central Twiggs County.  In 1811, citizens of Laurens County began the work of improving the trail to Bell Springs Road.  Legal Records of Laurens County, 1833-1857, p. 17; Records of the Surveyor General of Georgia, 1807 Land Lottery, 22nd Land District, Lots 239, 243, 296,  

BUCKEYE "SKEETERS" - Dr. Charles Hicks spent 25 years of his life observing the cases of malaria in the southeastern United States and especially in Laurens County.  At the 52nd Convention of the Georgia Medical Association, Dr. Hicks, President of the Association, spoke to his fellow physicians on the subject of geology, mosquitos, and malaria.  A line following a vein of limestone rock forms the dividing line between the occurrence of malaria cases.  A line that runs from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to Texas runs  through the center of the county striking the Oconee River near Dublin.  The line is also characterized as dividing the red clay lands covered with oak and hickory from the light sandy soil lands filled with yellow pines.  Dr. Hicks charted the occurrences of malaria which were confined to the area of cretaceous formation where wells were only 30 to 80 feet deep.  Most of the cases of malaria were confined to the Buckeye District, while no permanent residents of Dublin ever reported a single case of the hemoglobic form of malaria.  Dublin's water comes from 250 to 500 feet deep artesian wells.  The mosquitos of the Buckeye District were of particular interest to Dr. Hicks.  In the western part of the district plain and hemoglobinuric fever was found.  In the eastern part only the plain type occurred.  In the northern part both types were found, but in the south only the hemoglobinuric fever was found.  Dr. Hicks found that many of the early settlers, especially the men along the river flats, died prematurely from malaria.  Those persons living away from the rivers and streams seemed to have a longer life expectancy. Transactions of the Medical Association of Georgia, 1902, MAG, Atlanta, 1902, pp. 171-183. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


The Killing Game 

On almost any day of any baseball season, a team gets killed.  No, not literally, but figuratively.  And, over the last century and a half in the history of baseball in America, many people have been killed by pitched, batted and thrown balls, as well as by player collisions and flying bats.   Some are even killed by Mother Nature and bad boys up to no good.  

My interest in players getting killed in a game came when I read a 1920 issue of the Macon Telegraph. My grandfather, Irving Scott of Macon, was sitting among 21,000 fans  in the grandstands at the Polo Grounds in New York watching the August 16, 1920  game between the New York Yankees and the visiting Cleveland Indians.  There were no lights in those days. It was late in the afternoon. when Cleveland's Ray Chapman walked up to the plate to lead off the top of the 5th inning.  Babe Ruth, on his way to his first 50 plus home run season,  was settling down to his usual spot in right field.

Yankee submarine-style pitcher, Carl Mays,  (LEFT) threw his third pitch of the inning.   The ball hit Chapman, the Indian shortstop,  squarely in the skull.  The ball bounced quickly back to the pitcher. Thinking that the loud pop was the sound of Chapman's bat striking the ball, Mays threw the once white, but then slightly brown, ball  to first base. As the Yankee infield was throwing the ball around the diamond celebrating an easy out, first baseman Wally Pipp noticed that something wasn't just right.  In his score book, the official scorer would simply note that Mays hit Chapman with a pitch on that fateful day.

The prevailing thought today is that Chapman never saw the tobacco-stained, dirt-rubbed ball in the oncoming twilight.  Scott, known as "Great Scott" on Lanier High's 1919 Southern High School Basketball Championship team, saw it differently.

"From where I was sitting, I could not say whether Chapman crowded the plate or not," Scott recalled.  The ball that Mays delivered was not a "bean ball, but not more than waist high, said Scott, who postulated, "If Chapman had  stood up or not moved at all, the ball would have not hit him any higher than the waist line.  As it was, he was fooled by the break the ball took, and instead of getting out the way, dodged right into it." A United Press reporter, who somewhat corroborated Scott's account, wrote, "Chapman  was crouching down and crowding the plate and moved into the sharply breaking curve ball."  

Chapman (LEFT) stumbled a few steps and fell to the ground.  After medical help arrived, Chapman was able to stand and walk, if only briefly, before once again collapsing before he made it to the dugout.  Ray Chapman, to this day, remains the only player ever killed by a pitch in a major league game. Cleveland scored a fourth run that inning and held off a last at bat comeback by the Yankees, 4-3. Mays, understandably devastated, never fully recovered from that horrible day.

Now run the clock forward 45 years.  That's the day when I saw a pitcher get hit square in the middle of the chest with a batted ball.  It was my chest.  In fact, it was in that same grandfather's front yard when I threw my best fastball to my father, a pretty fair country boy, baseball player.  As he always taught me, Daddy met the ball as it crossed the plate. He blasted the ball right at me, some forty or fifty feet away.  I still remember the  ball coming at me some forty-eight years ago.  A few moments later I woke up.  My father was standing over me.

I only ever saw my Daddy cry twice.  Once, when his 16-year-old great-nephew drowned and on that day when thought he had killed me.  You see, Daddy knew that hitting someone in the heart between beats can often be fatal.  Most of the deaths which take place on the baseball diamond come from players being hit by batted or thrown baseballs in the chest or in the head.

Catchers have been killed by pitchers too.  W.H. Williams, brother of Dublin attorney G.H. Williams, was catching for the Soperton team on the afternoon of July 25, 1906.  He wasn't wearing a chest protector that day.  A fast ball struck Williams above the heart.  The catcher collapsed, dead before he hit the sandlot. No one remembered what the score was that, nor was it noted who threw the pitch  or if the teams even finished the game. The score wasn't important that day.  Williams, a popular young man, was dead on the diamond.

Ephraim Jones was struck and killed too.  In southwestern Cordele on July 3, 1912  the outfielder was practicing baseball when a fly ball slipped through his hands, struck him just over the heart and killed him dead.

A Negro convict was not watching when another convict threw a ball in anger at another convict.  The errant ball missed its target, striking the bystander and causing a fatal injury at McRee's Convict Camp near Valdosta in the summer of 1899.

Flying bats are often dangerous and can be extremely fatal.  Sometimes they inexplicably fly out of the batters hands in the direction of a player or sail randomly into the stands.  In 1908,  Little Willie Watson, of LaFayette,  was playing with his friends, when a bat slipped and struck the ten-year-old over the heart, killing him on the spot.  And, sometimes, players get so angry that they pick them up and whop another player up said their head.  This was the case in Fitzgerald, when in a late spring game at Pearson's Mill, Cato Mack walloped Melvin Wilson in his head with a bat and immediately left the diamond for parts unknown.

Teams from Evans and Sandtown were playing a game when Fred Dozier and Russell Morton converged toward a line drive in right center field.  So intent on stopping the bounding ball, Morton, quite smaller than his teammate, never saw the sprinting Dozier. Morton's head struck Dozier's upper abdomen.  No serious after effects were noticed until later that night when Dozier, 17, began to have violent attacks of pain. He died within two hours.  

Fans are not immune from being killed as well. Four-year-old William Evans, of Sandersville,  was standing close to a batter when a pitched ball hit him in the head, paralyzing and killing him instantly.   Ironically, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George C. Evans, were attending a funeral at the time of the incident.

With today's technology and more stringent rules, umpires and game managers suspend ball games when there is any hint of lightning in the area.  Such was not the case in the early 1900s when  a bolt of lightning would strike with no warning and kill anything within its path.  Dan Harrell and a Negro man were victims of a savage strike in lightning  a 1908 game at Bullards, in northwestern Twiggs County.

Five people were killed in New York City alone in 1910.  In 1914, there were an estimated 35 deaths in baseball, 20 from pitched balls, 5 by flying bats, 4  from collisions, 4 from heart attacks and 1 from fighting.  Three hundred and fourteen  limbs were broken, 13  skulls were fractured, and 317 lower extremities were sprained. And,  that was only what was reported.

So as you see, America's pastime can be and has been somewhat deadly. Most of us rightly think that the most deadly major sport is football, but now you know baseball can be deadly too.   So as you watch your favorite team this season, keep your eyes on the ball and the bat all the time.  And, by the way, watch the skies too and don't' get into any brawls.