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Archive for June, 2010

Every family has its less-than-savory branches, and the Lyons (also spelled Lynes and Lines in the nineteenth century) of southeastern Mississippi were no exception. The Lyon family produced noteworthy political reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in 1857, a father and son of that name (spelled Lynes in the published court transcripts) were convicted of murder.

It’s interesting to note the persistence of traditional customs of patriarchal kinship in the following story of that murder.  I’m certain, for example, that the fact that Charles Landrum was married to Thomas Lynes’s daughter helped to fuel the rage that led to his murder. Landrum had testified against his father-in-law in a larceny case, an act that marked him as disloyal to family. Lynes also administered harsh punishment to the daughter who apparently stood by her husband over her father, while he treated another daughter as property to be bargained away when it served his interests. It’s also worth noting that Thomas’s son, Morgan, was only about 16 years old when he participated in the murder of Landrum. Clearly, Thomas Lynes relished the habit of command.

Vikki Bynum, moderator


The Lyons and the Landrums: A Tale of Kinship and Murder

“A more deliberate, cruel, cowardly assassination was never conceived or executed.” (1)

That’s how state attorney general T. J. Wharton described the murder of Charles Landrum of Jones County, Mississippi (2). Less than two weeks before Christmas, 1857, twenty-six-year-old Landrum was shot to death at his own home while playing an ordinary board game with his neighbor, Morgan Lynes (Lyons) (3). Charley had just got up from the game and walked over to the hearth of his one-room cabin to staunch a nosebleed when a bullet blasted through an unsealed crack near the cabin’s chimney. He died instantly.

Morgan, who had made a prescient move toward the door just before the shot rang out, turned to Charley’s horrified wife and exclaimed, “You cannot accuse us of it; we have been too good to you.” In addition to Morgan, “us” included Lemuel Lyons, perhaps a brother, James Hightower, and Morgan’s father, sixty-two-year-old Thomas Lyons. (Old Tom Lyons was the father-in-law of Charley Landrum, which would make “Mrs. Landrum” the sister of Morgan Lyons) (4).  A witness who hurried to the Landrum cabin after hearing gunfire testified that all four men were close to the scene. She first encountered Lemuel, then Morgan. Nearby, she heard the voices of Thomas Lyons and James Hightower, although she saw neither man (5).

Poor Charley had surely known his life was in danger. Just days before the killing, his dogs died; one in a fit consistent with strychnine poisoning. Around the same time, his wife woke in the night to some sort of liquid being hurled on her; something so caustic it blistered her arms and hands by morning. But who was out to get the Landrums? And why?

Upon investigation, a motive for the intimidation and murder of Charley Landrum emerged, and it pointed directly at Charley’s father-in-law, Tom Lynes. Turns out that two months before the murder, in September, Tom, his son Morgan, and another likely son, Lemuel, had been indicted on charges of larceny. The principle witness against them was none other than Charley Landrum. After their arrest, both Tom and Morgan retaliated, accusing Charley of swearing a lie before the grand jury and launching threats against him. The killing of Charley’s dogs and abuse of his wife followed soon after.

Meanwhile, according to testimony, Tom Lynes soon deeded all his property to his daughter, Elizabeth. He then offered James Hightower a deal he couldn’t resist: Tom would “give” Elizabeth to him, with all her new wealth, in exchange for Hightower pulling the trigger on Charley Landrum. At least that’s what Hightower claimed. Tom Lynes, backed by his son Morgan, affirmed that Hightower had indeed murdered Landrum—he claimed he even watched him load his gun at the Lynes home—but Tom denied that he had hired Hightower to do the dirty work by promising him his newly-propertied daughter. (No one seemed to care what Elizabeth thought of this arrangement).

At their joint trial in October 1858, Thomas and Morgan Lynes were found guilty and sentenced to be hung. Under a writ of error won by the Lynes’s lawyer, however, the supreme court of Mississippi ruled that Hightower’s testimony regarding Tom and Morgan had been improperly admitted. In delivering the opinion of the court, Judge J. Harris wrote, “the confession of Hightower, so far as it was introduced to establish the fact that he was the perpetrator of the crime, was competent; but so far as it tended to implicate others, was incompetent, and should have been excluded from the jury.” The case was accordingly remanded, and a new jury impaneled to decide on the guilt of the Lyons, but without hearing the testimony provided by Hightower.

The new jury apparently convicted the Lynes anyway, but did not sentence them to die. The federal manuscript census of 1860 lists Thomas “Lines”, age 65, and his son, Morgan, age 18, as living in a household headed by A. M. Dozier, a doctor. Under the column reserved for idiots, paupers, convicts, etc., the census enumerator wrote “murder” beside both the father and son’s names (6).

It’s interesting that, while labeled as murderers, the Lynes were neither incarcerated in 1860 nor living among family. Perhaps they were found innocent by the second jury after all, and it was the census enumerator who decided to “convict” them for posterity. Maybe there’s a reader out there who can supply missing details.

Vikki Bynum

ENDNOTES

  1. Thomas M. and Thomas Lynes v. The State, Cases Argued & Decided in the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Vol. 36, pp. 617-626. This case may be read online at http://books.google.com/books?id=5z84AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1213&lpg=PA1213&dq=lynes+murder+hightower&source=bl&ots=g3xguESukQ&sig=cJAg1evhaQSR1-4HP39WYuBV5bI&hl=en&ei=wjcnTLiOL5WNnQe8mcW8Bg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=lynes%20murder%20hightower&f=falseAccording to family genealogies, Thomas Lynes (Lyon) was the son of Thomas Lyon, b. 1780, originally from the Abbeville District of S.C., and Lucy Donald. He and his wife, Mary Watters (Walters) were the parents of Elizabeth, Samuel, Obediah, Morgan, Joanna, Naomi, and Bruce Simpson.
  2. The 1850 federal manuscript census for Jones County lists 19-year-old Charles Landrum in the household of Jesse and Jemima Landrum, ages 49 and 44.
  3. Morgan’s full name was Thomas Morgan Lynes (Lyons).
  4. Mrs. Landrum’s first name was not provided. It is possible that Thomas Lynes son, Samuel, is Lemuel. Supreme Court transcripts occasionally miss-reported or misspelled names.
  5. This witness is reported later in the transcript as Susan B. Landrum.
  6. The household of A.M. Dozier, age 27, included Mary R. and  Richard Dozier, ages 17 and 10. Dozier appears to have run a boarding house of sorts, as its members also included two school teachers and another doctor in addition to the Lynes men.

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Here’s a wonderful document sent to me by independent researcher Ralph Poore. It’s a reminder of the vibrant third-party political movements that emerged for a time in post-Civil War Mississippi. I’m especially intrigued by the names “R. A. Welborn,” “Dr. Lyon,” and “C. J.” and “D.A. Lightsey,” as those surnames are all connected in some way with Jones County Unionists and/or Populists. Perhaps readers can help identify possible kinships across county lines.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator


Jasper County Review

October 3, 1894 2:4

Resolutions of Populite [Populist] mass meeting.

Mass meeting of People’s Party of Jasper County held at courthouse in Paulding on September 20, 1894.

J. C. Rodgers chairman of the executive committee elected chairman of the meeting.

John White, secretary.

R. M. Read, Sr.

Committee of Ten: R. M. Read, Jr., A. W. Atwood, A. G. B. Graham, J. J. McNeill, John Simms, F.C. Thornton, R. A. Welborn, Dr. Lyon, W. E. Cook, C. J. Lightsey, D. A. Lightsey.

“Resolved, That we, the People’s party in mass meeting assembled, recognize the fact that the Democratic party has signally failed to carry out its promises. Therefore, be it

“Resolved, That we condemn the action of the present administration as subversive of the rights and interests of the people.

“2nd. That we condemn the action of Grover Cleveland in regard to the silver bill. We favor the government issuing greenbacks and paying the public debt and doing away with national banks, that general bankrupts may be averted.

“3rd. That we have been and still are in favor of Jeffersonian Democracy, and that our faith has never been shaken nor our courage diminished.

“4th. We recognize the People’s party as the only hope for relief, and that we ask all true reformers to go with us in this, the hour of our country’s peril.

“5th. That we are in the fight to stay until the battle for reform has been gained and the people emancipated from the rule of mammon.

“6th. That we are bound by no machine nor governed by no party lash, but believe more in moral honesty and competency in the discharge of official duties than the political epithets with which false men would beguile the people.

“7th. When a party becomes corrupt it is time to abandon it and build upon the ruins thereof truth and honor.

“8th. Believing in the righteousness of our cause and in the integrity of the American people, we invoke the aid of the God of justice on the success of our cause.

“9th. Resolved, That we reindorse the Omaha platform and the action of the Forest convention.

“Resolved, That we ask the Vindicator and all other reform papers to publish the above report, and on motion the Jasper County Review was requested to publish the proceedings of the meeting.”

JASPER COUNTY PEOPLES’ PARTY

Name Party Position Business Location Birth year
Rodgers, J. C. Chairman of the executive committee Juror
White, John secretary Election manager Twist Wood
Read, R. M., Sr. Confederate veteran
Read, R. M., Jr. Committee of Ten Election manager Missionary
Atwood, A. W. Committee of Ten farmer President, Jasper County Farmers’ Alliance 1852
Graham, A. G. B. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Cross Roads
McNeill, J. J. Committee of Ten
Simms, John Committee of Ten
Thornton, F.C. Committee of Ten Leonia
Welborn, R. A. Committee of Ten farmer P. K. 1867
Lyon, Dr. Committee of Ten
Cook, W. E. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Claiborne 1861
Lightsey, C. J. Committee of Ten farmer Election manager Paulding 1841
Lightsey, D. A. Committee of Ten 1894, candidate for Coroner and Ranger Paulding
Heidelberg, W. W. State senator
JASPER COUNTY FARMERS’ ALLIANCE
Name Position Business Location
Atwood, Augustus W. President Farmer TWP 3, Range 13 East
Long, W. P. Secretary
November 6, 1894 5th Congressional District election in Jasper County

Jasper County Review, Nov. 7, 1894 2:3

Precinct Williams (Democrat) Ratliff (Populist)
Paulding 20 6
Missionary 24 7
Antioch 22 7
Palestine 15 10
Twistwood 42 8
Hopewell 14 4
Fellowship 29
Garlandsville 18 1
Randal Hill 6
Montrose 34 2
Mt. Zion 39 10
P. K. 20 16
Cross Roads 27 23
Claiborne 23 17
Heidelberg 47 2
Vossburg 18 1
Rawl’s Mill 17 1
Total 415 115

Ratliff received 120 votes in 1892.

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By Vikki Bynum, moderator

A few days ago, the Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS) published a joint review of two books: Steve Yates’s novel, “Morkan’s Quarry,” and my study, The Long Shadow of the Civil War. As reviewer  Joe L. White notes, “both books dispel the myth of the ‘Solid South.” Yates, he writes, provides a rich story of how “war can expose avarice, cruelty, viciousness, . . . and the opposites of compassion, kindness and humanity.” As a historical work, The Long Shadow shows “how Mississippi families played a major part in maintaining resistance to what many considered an unfair ‘rich man’s war’,” suggesting that the Civil War’s effects are not only “long-lasting, but perhaps never-ending.”

White ends his review by counseling readers to “take a gamble. Either book is a sure bet.” As the author of one of those books, I hope you’ll take his advice!

To read Joe White’s entire review click here:  http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20100530/FEAT05/5300307/1023/FEAT03/Review-New-Civil-War-books-compelling

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