Roderick D. Gambrell: Death of a Hip Pocket Reformer

Those temperance folks just didn’t know when to mind their own business; in fact, they made everyone’s business their own. And sometimes it cost them dearly. This is a separate, yet somewhat related incident to the Wirt Adams / John H. Martin double death duel — See link at bottom of post.

A Coroner’s Investigation.

JACKSON, Miss., May 7.

The Coroner’s Jury was still engaged up to 12 o’clock to-day investigating the killing of Roderick Gambrill, editor of the Sword and Shield, by Colonel Jones S. Hamilton, general manager of the Gulf & Ship railroad, in the difficulty occurring about 10 o’clock last night. No facts have yet been obtained, other than that the parties met and began firing. The difficulty has been feared and anticipated for some time, owing to an offensive personal article by Gambrill concerning Hamilton in his newspaper some weeks ago. Gambrill’s wounds, three in number, proved fatal in a few minutes. The result of Hamilton’s two wounds are uncertain. He now rests comparatively easy.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) May 7, 1887

An Inquest — Jury’s Verdict.

JACKSON, Miss., May 9.

The jury in the inquest case of R.D. Gambrell, editor of the [Sword and Shield,] who was shot and killed late Thursday night by Col. Jones S. Hamilton, the lessee of the Penitentiary, adjourned at 11:30 last night after two days almost continuous session. They rendered a verdict as follows: “We, the jury of inquest in the case of the death of Roderick Gambrell, find that he came to his death from a pistol shot and wounds inflicted by the hands of Jones S. Hamilton, as principal, and others as abettors, unknown to the jury.

Reno Evening Gazette (Reno, Nevada) May 9, 1887

THE blood of many abolitionists as well as myriads of slaves cried to the Lord from the ground before the curse of slavery was wiped out. Myriads of victims of the saloon curse have been uttering their cry for many years, to which is now being added the voice of the blood of prohibitionists. Not many months ago Rev. Haddock was foully assassinated at Sioux City, Iowa. A few weeks ago, Dr. Northrup fell in the same way in Ohio. Last week Roderick Gambrell, of Jackson, Miss., editor of a Prohibition paper at that place, was set upon and foully murdered by some of those whose wrath he had stirred up. “Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” Evidences point to the speedy destruction of the rum curse.

The Delta Herald (Delta, Pennsylvania) May 20, 1887

HAMILTON – GAMBRELL.

The Embers of a Tragedy Vigorously Fanned by Partisan Journals.

Special Dispatch to the Globe-Democrat.

JACKSON, Miss., June 28. – The excitement attending the Hamilton-Gambrell tragedy and the trial succeeding had abated considerably until within the last few days, when it seems to have received fresh impetus. The Daily Advertiser of this city, a strong Hamilton paper, is filled every morning with editorial matter favorable to Hamilton, and its editor has very severely criticized the New Mississippian and the Sword and Shield, the latter being the dead editor’s paper, and both strong advocates of Gambrell and the assassination theory. The last few issues of the Advertiser have contained much personal matter derogatory to the character of the father of the editor of the Mississippian and urging that it stood the taxpayers in hand to take some action regarding the utterances of the Mississippian and Sword and Shield, and claiming that they were greatly injuring the city’s prosperity by conveying the impression that misrule was the order of the day and that Jackson was an unsafe place in which to live. A recent issue contains a card signed “Tax-payer,” suggesting a meeting of tax-payers and citizens of Jackson to express condemnation of the course of the Sword and Shield and the New Mississippian, stating:

That their repeated misrepresentations of our people is depreciating the value of our property, damaging business, hindering accessions to our population and even driving our own people away.

The Advertiser indorses the suggestion of “Taxpayer,” editorially, and says:

The patience of this people is well-nigh exhausted and the course pursued by the Gambrellites and Martinites will not be endured much longer.

The New Mississippian of today contains a strong editorial on the proposed meeting, and says:

But we warn them now that all the indignation meetings they may hold, all the sympathizers they may gather here from other places, and all the threats they may make not to tolerate the course of this paper, will not avail. The writer believes in peace, but not when it must be purchased at the price of manhood and self-respect, and if to maintain these and pursue the path of duty, which we have marked out before us, we must encounter the violence at which they hint, we shall encounter it regretfully, but without hesitation. We have no desire for a life saved by an ignoble silence or an unmanly turning aside from a righteous cause.

IT also contains a card from J.B. Gambrell, father of the slain editor, in which he states that since the death of his son he has mainly controlled the columns of the Sword and Shield, and has sought to discharge the duty in a conservative spirit. The card concludes:

The threats above made by the Advertiser, which voices Colonel Hamilton and his friends, will not in the least terrorize the Sword and Shield so long as I control it. The time has come for a manly stand for the freedom of the press and right. It is a crisis in our affairs as a people, and now, in full view of all it may mean to myself and my family, I solemnly declare that before the sword and shield shall fail to do its duty in this crisis, I will submit to die as my son died, and he by his side in the quiet graveyard at Clinton, leaving my family in the care of God and the vindication of justice and the punishment of assassins in the hands of my countrymen. I await the issue calmly. If the threats of the Advertiser are carried out, it will be by that element which has so long ruled this city, and it will add another chapter to the bloody records of the city, but it will not silence the press of the Mississippian nor impede reform.

The publications have stirred up the excitement again, and from present appearances it will continue until this remarkable trial is finally disposed of by the courts. The last three issues of the paper named, have little in them except the views of the editors on the case, expressed in the most forcible English. Colonel Hamilton is still in jail, and seems to take a bright view of his prospects. Circuit court is now in session, but until the grand jury takes action it is not known whether his case and those of the accessories will be tried at the present term or not.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 2, 1887

THE MEMPHIS APPEAL has started a subscription list for a monument to young Gambrell, who was killed by Hamilton during the prohibition campaign in Jackson, Miss. The Appeal refers to Gambrell as “the martyr editor,” and heads the list of subscribers to his monument with $100.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 10, 1887

Hip Pocket Reformers.

The newspapers of the southwest are till fighting out the Hamilton-Gambrell difficulty, notwithstanding the fact that the former is in jail waiting to be tried for murder.

The Memphis Appeal fell into line with the friends of Gambrell, and denounced Hamilton and other Mississippi state officials as a gang of ringsters.

But the Appeal was destined to receive a rude shock. It was praising the Gambrells as the apostles of law and order and reform, when to its unutterable surprise Perry Gambrell, of the Sword and Shield, and John Martin, of the New Mississippian, went to the office of the Jackson Advertiser and proposed a street fight with the Lowds.

To do the Appeal justice it turned about and proceeded to abuse Gambrell for this outrageous business as vigorously as it had heretofore praised him. This does not satisfy the Vicksburg Herald and it jumps upon its Memphis contemporary in the following fashion:

It has found out that they are not what it thought them; may it not also have been deceived by them as to the Hamilton case? Is it not probable that the other Gambrell resembled the living one and was also ready to shoot it out? Although his brother died as recently as the fifth of May, Percy Gambrell went with John Martin to aid him in “shooting it out with the Lowds.” Is it not probable that Percy Gambrell is just as good as his brother was, when he went about with his 38-calibre in his pocket? Of course if Percy Gambrell had been killed he might have gone straight to Paradise to shoot Paradisacal things, but our esteemed Memphis contemporary will admit, that we must treat of them as mortals until they are Saints. As a mortal, is not Percy Gambrell in exactly the same boat with John Martin, and would not R.D. Gambrell have been in the same boat with them, if alive?

We think so. We also think it will be a cold day before any very expensive monument is erected to R.D. Gambrell. We are convinced the Appeal is by this time very sorry it contributed to the Gambrell monument.

While the Gambrells and Martins will now be known as sensational frauds, it may be some consolation to them to know their standing among gentlemen has not been lessened, for they never had any.

It is useless to answer the Herald by calling it a Hamilton paper. Such men as Bishop Hugh Miller Thompson have spoken up for Hamilton so stoutly that it will not do to denounce his friends as ringsters and outlaws. The man can not be as black as he had been painted.

The facts all go to show that the Gambrells, the dead one and his brother Percy, must be classed with those doubtful reformers who believe in trotting about with pistols in their hip pockets, ready to fight it out whenever their opponents get tired of being called corruptionists, ringsters and other hard names. It is a tangled piece of business, with so many side issues, that it is difficult to get a clear view of it all. We do not feel like using harsh language about reformers. The mere fact that a man declares himself a reformer gives him many disagreeable privileges, but it seems to us that the reformer with a loaded hip pocket ought to be suppressed. There is nothing angelic about him, and when he gets shot in a row, brought on by himself, we fail to see anything martyr-like in it. The fact is, a reformer should mind his own business and behave himself.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 20, 1887

Another Chapter in a Famous Case.

The decision of the supreme court of Mississippi admitting Eubanks to bail and holding Hamilton in jail until his trial, recalls one of he most deplorable tragedies of the year.

In the month of May Roderick Dhu Gambrell was editing a prohibition paper at Jackson. During the wet and dry campaign Gambrell made a number of publications seriously reflecting upon the character of Colonel J.S. Hamilton, a prominent politician on the anti side. One night the two men met, and after exchanging several shots Gambrell fell dead, while Hamilton escaped with one or two painful wounds. The prohibitionists took the position that Hamilton and Eubanks had waylaid the editor and assassinated him. Public meetings were held, and strong efforts were made to influence public sentiment. The trial of the defendants was postponed until a more convenient season, and the court below refused to allow them to be bailed.

After a careful review of all the facts in the case, the supreme court has decided that Hamilton is not entitled to bail, but that Eubanks may be allowed that privilege. In delivering the decision the court stated that it was not satisfied as to the number of persons who participated in the murder of Gambrell, but it was satisfied that Hamilton was the assailant. One of the judges dissented from this opinion and expressed a doubt of Hamilton’s guilt.

Altogether, the action of the court was about as favorable to Hamilton as he had any right to expect. His alleged accomplice was allowed to give bail, and one member of the court placed himself on record as entertaining a reasonable doubt of the chief defendant’s guilt. This will have the effect of dividing public sentiment, and when the case comes before a jury it is to be hoped that an earnest effort will be made to get at the truth and carry out the ends of justice.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Nov 24, 1887

THE TRIAL OF Colonel Hamilton at Brandon, Miss., for the murder of Young Gambrell will begin its seventh week to-morrow. Some of the witnesses for the defense are doing the tallest kind of swearing. No trouble is anticipated as the judge has notified the spectators and witnesses that they must not bring deadly weapons into the courthouse.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 1, 1888

The jury in the case of J.S. Hamilton, on trial at Brandon, Miss., for the killing of Roderick Dhu Gambrell, in Jackson, Miss., returned a verdict of not guilty.

The Marion Daily Star (Marion, Ohio) Apr 20, 1888

WHEN THE HON. J.S. HAMILTON killed young Gambrell in Mississippi a great outcry was raised and the killing was called a murder. The acquittal of Colonel Hamilton after a trial lasting nearly two months will perhaps convince some people that there were two sides to the case.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 23, 1888

 

Jones S. Hamilton

 

A DISTINGUISHED CHARACTER

Whose Long Trial Has Brought Him Into Notice.

MEMPHIS, Tenn., April 23 — [Special] — Colonel Jones S. Hamilton, who has become notorious by having undergone one of the longest trials in the history of Mississippi, and was acquitted last Thursday of the charge of having murdered Rhoderick D. Gambrell, on the night of May last year, was in the city today. He held quite a levee at the Peabody hotel. A great number of his friends and newspaper men called on him. He remarked to one of the latter that he had given four years of his life defending the confederacy and one year to the defense of himself and he was glad it was over. He was a great surprise in personal appearance, and demeanor to all who say him. He is anything but a ferocious looking terror. He is as mild as a south Mississippi breeze and as polite as a Chesterfield, and not much bigger than a minute.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 24, 1888

WHIPPING A WITNESS.

A Mob Severely Beats a Witness in the Hamilton-Gambrell Case.

NEW ORLEANS, April 24. — A Times-Democrat Clinton, Miss., special says:

A report of a whipping committed Sunday night has been received here and the promise of speedy death prevented a party from making it known sooner. At about midnight  eleven masked men went to the house of Ellis Young, a witness for the defense in the Hamilton cases called him out, tied to him a rope and then severely beat him.

He was told that he was whipping for lying for lying about Roderick Gambrell. Presenting pistols at his head, they demanded to know what amount he was paid for testifying against Gambrell. With death staring him in face, he declared that he did not receive a cent. The mob then released him, and ordered him to leave the county within three days. Young recognized one of his assailants as a divinity student at the Mississippi college.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 25, 1888

A Tragedy Taken to Court.

MEMPHIS, Tenn., July 14 — The Hamilton-Gambrell tragedy had broken out in a new place. Col. James S. Hamilton has brought suit in the United States court here before Judge Hammond for $50,000 damages against The Memphis Appeal company, and has engaged two of the leading legal firms of the city to prosecute it. Col. Hamilton, it will be remembered, was one of the Mississippi penitentiary lessees. The Appeal referred to Col. Hamilton as a depraved “murderer,” an “assassin,” a “conspirator,” “the boss of a gang of corruptionists;” that said voluntary and vindictive work of defendant contributed in a large degree to working up and manufacturing public sentiment against him.

The Daily News (Frederick, Maryland) Jul 14, 1888

 

 

AN OLD SOUTHERN FEUD.

The Story of a Bloody and Terrible Duel Recalled — James Hamilton’s Fight With Gambrell

Colonel Jones S. Hamilton, of Jackson, Miss., is the survivor of the most desperate personal encounter of our time. Hamilton is barely five feet six inches in height, but very compactly built and of surprising muscular strength. He is not a quarreling man at all, being, on the contrary, devoted to the peaceful art of money-making. Besides that, he is nearly, if not quite, 50 years, and since his marriage in 1878 or 1879, of conspicuously domestic habits.

Some tow or three years ago, however, says a correspondent of the N.Y. [Tribune,] the Prohibition party, which, in Mississippi at least, is composed largely of, if not practically identical with, the Baptist Church, undertook to launch a propaganda of special and peculiar violence. They began through their newspapers, and, having in this way and by pulpit fulmination lashed public sentiment into something very like fury, they bore down on the Legislature in great numbers.

Colonel Hamilton was at that time a member of the Mississippi Senate, a straight-out, old-fashioned Democrat in his political and an Episcopalian in his religious practice. Being a strong man, a popular man, and a legislator of force and influence, he was naturally the object of the Prohibition efforts, first by persuasion and importunity, afterward by threats and denunciation. Among the means employed to coerce Colonel Hamilton, or, failing in that, to destroy his influence by detraction and aspersion, was a paper issued in Jackson and edited by a young man named Roderick Gambrell. The paper was an organ of the movement, and its editor was the son of a Baptist preacher who figured in the vanguard of the crusade. For weeks the paper reeked with abuse of Colonel Hamilton, aspersing his character, attacking his honor, denouncing his motives and his acts until the man’s very home was rendered miserable, and his friends began to wonder whether he had not endured more than enough.

At last the tragedy culminated, but under such circumstances of mystery as lent it a strange and fearful horror. One night, about 10 o’clock, immediately after the arrival of the southbound train of the Illinois Central Railroad, Colonel Hamilton started homeward from the depot in a hack, which had been sent to meet him. The town proper lies half a mile or more to the east, and it is the general custom of residents to cover the distance in a vehicle. Gambrell had arrived by the train;but had left the depot immediately on foot, and those who were lingering about the platform and who knew the parties thought there was no danger of a collision, at least that night. A few hundred feet from the depot, going toward town, there is a bridge, and as the loiterers at the station heard Hamilton’s hack rattling over the resounding wooden structure they turned with sighs of relief to disperse to their homes. Suddenly, however, a shot rang out from the direction of the bridge. The hack was heard to stop, and there was a sound as of some one jumping from it. Then another shot and another and then the hack started off at a furious pace, the terrified driver lashing his horses to their top speed. were the antagonists separated? No; the firing began again, and for a few moments assumed the magnitude almost of a fusilade. And now other, and still more dreadful sounds were heard — the sounds of furious men locked in a death-struggle, beating and tearing at each other’s throats and faces like two madmen.

NOTE: This one section was of poor quality and difficult to read:

Scores of people had by this time gathered, but none dared go too near. They hung a?????? on the outer rim of the darkness ???……. piercing cries had faded into silence and the last groan had died away did the listeners find courage to approach, only to find Grambrell lying dead; and Hamilton dead, too, as they thought, lying across the corpse. They were drenched in each other’s blood, both bore frightful wounds, and they had torn and beaten each other with horrible fury until insensibility overtook them.

It was a strange trial — a trial without witnesses to the fact. Nobody knew the details except the one survivor, who lay for weeks hovering between life and death.

Cambridge City Tribune (Cambridge City, Indiana) Feb 13, 1890

The rest of the Roderick D. Gambrell biography (written by the anti-liquor crusaders, so not biased at all) can be read online:

Title: The Passing of the Saloon: an authentic and official presentation of the anti-liquor crusade in America
Editor: George M. Hammell
Publisher: F.L. Rowe, 1908
Pages 123-125

Jones Stewart Hamilton biography can be read online in the following book:

Title: Mississippi: Contemporary Biography
Volume 3 of Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form
Editor: Dunbar Rowland
Publisher    Reprint Co., 1907
Page 311

This incident is also mentioned in the following book:

Title: Editors I Have Known Since the Civil War: (rewritten and reprinted from letters in the Clarion-ledger)
Author: Robert Hiram Henry
Published: 1922
Pages 134-135 Hamilton-Gambrell
Pages 135-137Adams-Martin

My previous post about the Wirt Adams-John H. Martin incident.

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2 Responses to “Roderick D. Gambrell: Death of a Hip Pocket Reformer”

  1. Colonel Jones Stewart Hamilton: The Train and the Tragedies « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] Read more about the Gambrell incident in my previous post, Roderick D. Gambrell: Death of a Hip Pocket Reformer. […]

  2. J. Gambrell Says:

    I cannot thank you enough for your articles and compilations. What an extraordinary, bizarre, and tragic story….such vehement emotion that is almost difficult to fathom at over a century’s remove.
    Roderick Dhu Gambrell’s Great-Niece.

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