Will Purvis was mentioned in my Colonel Jones Stewart Hamilton: The Train and the Tragedies post, although the finer details were a bit mixed up. The victim was Will Buckley, not someone named McDonald.
A White Cap to Hang.
Jackson, Miss., January 1. — (Special.) — the supreme court today affirmed the death sentence of the circuit court of Marion count vs. Will Purvis, the young white man convicted of murdering Buckley. Purvis, it will be remembered, was a white cap and killed Buckley, who had been a witness before the grand jury against the outlaws. He belongs to a large family. Every effort has been made to save him. The execution has been ordered for February 2d.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jan 2, 1894
SAVED BY THE CROWD
Purvis Drops, the Rope Breaks, but His Neck Does Not.
THEN THE PEOPLE INTERFERE
Sheriff Magee Is Begged to Spare the Condemned Man.
A POLL IS TAKEN OF THOSE PRESENT
They Shout That They Will Stand by the Sheriff, Who Takes His Prisoner Back to Jail.
New Orleans, February 7. — (Special.) — Will Purvis’s neck was saved today at Columbus, Miss., not by executive clemency, but as Rev. J.G. Sibley, a Methodist minister, explained it, by a divine intervention of providence. As soon as the trap fell Purvis, instead of being hurled into eternity, was precipitated to the ground. The noose had let loose and Purvis’s neck instead of being broken was only slightly abrazed by the rope.
He fell on his back and remained perfectly still for a few moments. The Constitution’s correspondent was the first to reach him, and leaning over to discover if he had been frightened to death, called to Purvis, “Are you hurt?”
From beneath his black cap Purvis replied:
“For God’s sake get me out of this.”
Others came up and Sheriff Magee made ready to conduct Purvis back to the scaffold for a second attempt. There were four of the board of supervisors present and they called the sheriff into the courthouse for a conference. They advised that in the face of Purvis having so stoutly protested his innocence and of his having made a partial confession of what he had known of the Buckley murder, that all these facts be laid before the governor and that further proceedings be postponed to await orders from the governor.
Sheriff Magee said that he would willingly accede to such a proposition, but his orders were imperative. He recognized the authority of the supervisors but they had no jurisdiction over a matter of this nature. Purvis’s statement contained this admission of his belonging to the white cap organization and the iron-clad oaths that each member was compelled to take and the severe punishment by death if the orders of the organization were not observed.
Clergymen Crowd Around.
It also contained the names of a large number of the active members who have terrorized this county for some time past. These parties will be arrested and brought to trial. It was on the importance that would be attached to such a statement that the sheriff would be excusable for disobeying the mandate of the supreme court that Purvis must hang. Prominent citizens and clergymen crowded around the sheriff and sought to interfere with or blink his merciful promptings.
It was a most awful moment for Mr. Magee. Finally he agreed to a proposition made by one of the pleaders — Rev. Mr. Sibley, of the Columbia Methodist church. Gathered around the scene of the expected execution were over 1000 spectators from every section of Marion county. They made up the community that had been outraged by the murder of young Buckley. He went out and laid before them everything in connection with the unfortunate man’s last moments from the time that the party left Lumberton on Tuesday morning, where all telegraphic communication had been cut off; told the people of hte confession that Purvis had made and informed them of his persistence in denying that he took Buckley’s lfe and his maintenance of he same in his last moments.
Polling the Crowd.
The minister then called out for a popular verdict to decide whether further proceedings be delayed until Governor Stone could be heard from. The party again repaired to the gallows and in a most pathetic and soul-stirring address, Rev. Mr. Sibley laid the above case before the populace. In the immense assemblage, black and white, not one dissenting voice was raised. There was lusty cheering for the miraculous interposition that had saved the life of the boy whom every one in that great gathering now evidently believed to be guiltless.
A most unheard-of and unprecedented proceeding had become a matter of record.
Dr. Sibley then informed the crowd that for his action Sheriff Magee had rendered himself liable to indictment and impeachment. He would, therefore, ask if the people would stand by him should action be taken against him.
Pledging Support to the Sheriff.
“We will, we will, to our last dollar. He has saved the life of an innocent boy,” were the answers shouted back to him.
The guards and those on the platform crowded around Purvis to embrace and congratulate him. The lad sat in stupified amazement as if trying to make out all that was going on. When he was fiannly made to realize what had been done, he sobbed convulsively and said:
“I asked a merciful God to spare me, an innocent boy, and He did. May He be praised.”
His cousins, who had remained in the background, came forward and with him wept for joy. Sheriff Magee said that he would keep Purvis under a guard at the courthouse tonight and would set out for Lumberton with the prisoner in the morning. He would then wire Governor Stone of the proceedings. Thence h will take Purvis back to Meridian, Miss., there place him in jail again, subject to the governor’s orders. He felt confident that when the matter was placed before Governor Stone fully and properly, that he would approve of the course that he had pursued.
The Journey to the Gallows.
Purvis was taken from his cell at Meridian on Tuesday morning. He was placed aboard a New Orleans and Northeastern train and taken over one hundred miles south to Lumbertown. There the sheriff and party, among whom was The Constitution’s correspondent, disembarked and were met by an armed body of about sixty deputies. This guard was deemed necessary for there had been whisperings about some probable attempt to rescue Purvis by the white caps on the road to Columbia, the point of destination. To reach this place thirty-two miles of pine forest road had to be traveled, either on stage or on horseback, and the journey was made without incident or accident. Purvis was placed in the courthouse under guard. He passed a sleepless night, praying and singing with the clergymen who came to visit him. But he steadfastly professed his innocence of the Buckley murder. He acknowledged, however, being a white cap, and gave the names of parties prominently connected with them. He was shaved and furnished a new suit of clothes, and after being bidden farewell by a few of his cousins, who had come to visit him, he was led to the gallows. There he maintained his innocence up the the very last. Teh drop fell at 12:37 o’clock.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 8, 1894
AT HIS OWN HOME.
His Parents Receive Him as One Risen from the Dead.
Purvis, Miss., February 9. — M.J. McLelland, deputy sheriff, passed through here this evening with Will Purvis, the young white cap. Various opinions are expressed as to Purvis’s escape from death, the story of which was published by no paper east of the Mississippi river except The Constitution. In New Orleans The Picayne was the only paper which published the story, all the other papers announcing that Purvis was hanged.
Some think that the rope was left untied on purpose for him to escape death; others think that is was a clear case of carelessness on the part of the sheriff; others, still more superstitious, think it a special act of providence to save his life in order that more facts in the case might be developed in the future.
Believed to Be Innocent.
Purvis was being carried to Hattiesburg for safe keeping until the sheriff could obtain official information in regard to his disposal. There has been a radical change in the minds of the people in regard to his guilt since the attempt at his execution on last Wednesday. It is believed now by nearly every one that he is an innocent man and that the real murderer of Will Buckley is still at large. When the deputy sheriff arrived here with him this evening the people, in order to get a glimpse of the young man who had escaped death so miraculously, crowded the waiting room almost to suffocation. He was brought from Columbia, a distance of thirty-two miles, today, and allowed to stop at his father’s house, which is on the road. His parents received him almost as one who had arisen from the dead. The prisoner was in fine spirits, looked fat and fine and was well dressed, having on the same suit in which he was dressed when he mounted the scaffold expecting to die.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 10, 1894
OLD MAN PURVIS SUSPECTED.
His Son Went to the Scaffold Rather Than Tell.
Jackson, Miss., February 17. — (Special) — Reports from Marion county tend to confirm the suggestion that Ike Purvis, father of Will Purvis, fired the shot that killed Will Buckley and that Will Purvis, while denying that he committed the crime, refuses to tell who did it in order to shield his father. It is said the conduct of Ike Purvis is highly suspicious.
BUCKLEY HAS A DOUBT.
He Concedes That Will Purvis May Not Be the Assassin.
Meridian, Miss., February 17. — (Special.) — Since the terrible ordeal through which Will Purvis passed last Wednesday, February 14th, Jim Buckley, the brother of Will Buckley, who was shot from ambush, has been heard to say: “That he possibly was mistaken in saying that Will Purvis was the murderer.” Buckley was present when the shooting was done.
This rumor reached the ears of the district attorney, James H. Neville, this afternoon, for the first time, and he immediately wrote to Jim Buckley to know if the assertion was true. If Buckley claims that he was mistaken in recognizing Will Purvis as the slayer of his brother, then Purvis will be given a new trial at least.
Purvis is at present incarcerated in the new jail at Hattiesburg.
He talks freely about his narrow and miraculous escape from hanging. Hundreds of people from a distance have been to see the “boy wonder” through mere curiosity.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 18, 1894
The Supreme Court Has No Jurisdiction in the Purvis Case.
Jackson, Miss., February 19. — (Special.) — The supreme court has denied the motion of the attorney general to resentence Will Purvis the whitecap, who escaped the death noose by the bungling job of Sheriff Magee in Marion county. The supreme court stated that it had nothing whatever to do with the case, and that it was a matter of the circuit court. Purvis cannot be resentenced until the June term of the circuit court at Columbia unless Judge Terrell shall sooner call a special term of court for that purpose.
The impression grows stronger every day that while Will Purvis was present when Buckley was assassinated, his father, Ike Purvis, did the killing, and that the whitecaps cast lots as to who should do the bloody work. It is reported that Will Purvis has made a fuller confession than has been published and that a great many more people are implicated as whitecaps in Marion county than the public had supposed. Will Purvis is in jail at Hattiesburg.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Feb 20, 1894
PRODUCE HIS BODY.
Will Purvis Must Go Before the Court Again for Sentence.
Meridian, Miss., March 1. — (Special.) — District Attorney James H. Neville made application today to Judge Terrell, asking for a writ of habeas corpus returnable in June next to have the body of Will Purvis produced in the next term of the circuit court of Marion county, there to again receive the sentence of death. A writ of habeas corpus will be sued out by Colonel Hopgood, the train burglar and murderer lawyer, before Chancellor Houston at Purvis tomorrow. Hopgood has a number of friends in Marion county who are quite wealthy and will sign his bond for any amount.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Mar 2, 1894
EXPECTS TO GO CLEAR.
Will Purvis Thinks Some One Else Will Be Convicted.
Meridian, Miss., April 12. — (Special.) — Just an hour before the unsuccessful attempt to execute Will Purvis at Columbus, Miss., on the 7th of last February, a confession was made by him of a conspiracy to kill Will Buckley, but he (Purvis) denied having anything to do with the killing, and gave your correspondent the names of the conspirators.
The sheriff yesterday arrested six of the band, two of whom were in Texas. A requisition was furnished by Governor Hogg and the men were immediately brought to Purvis station, where they will be tried Monday next. It is claimed that the lawless element of Marion county will be considerably shaken up at this trial of white caps. The leader, Houston Bourin, is a well-known man, in good circumstances, while the rest of the outlaws are tenants on his large plantation. The Constitution’s correspondent was in Hattiesburg, Perry county, yesterday, and called at the jail to interview Will Purvis. Purvis says that he has not doubt that at the trial of the other white caps enough edivence will be adduced to show him to be innocent of the assassination of Will Buckley.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 13, 1894
A WHITECAP CONFESSES.
He Described a Midnight Murder and Defends Purvis.
Hattiesburg, Miss., April 24. — (Special.) — Deputy Sheriff McLelland, of Purvis, came here last night with J.D. Watts, whom he arrested a few days ago in Marion county. Watts is charged with killing Jessie Pittman about two years ago in Marion county, which cause the disturbances among the white caps and finally led up the the killing of Will Buckley, with which Purvis is charged.
In an interview today with Watts, who nothing more than an ignorant boy, he said:
“I joined the white caps about two years ago, or just before Pittman was killed. I was persuaded to join by Dr. Joel Goss, of Columbia. The doctor is a minister of the gospel. He told me I ought to belong to the white caps, that it was a benevolent organization and the object and principles were to help each other in sickness or distress. I finally consented to become a member and the doctor administered the white cap’s oath. The oath was that I would obey my orders issued by my leader and if I should ever fail to do so or divulge any of the secrets, signs, passwords or grips my life should pay the penalty.
His First Meeting.
“A few nights after I joined there was a meeting of the white caps to make arrangements to kill Jessie Pittman, colored, and the following members were present: Sam and Bill Moore, Authur Ball, Will Barnes, Babe Cook, Calvin Jones, Cassey Bass, Walter Goss, John McDonald and myself. Old man Baker was to be there to make an address but failed to show up. This was the first time I understood the full meaning of whitecapism. Some of the boys suggested that we take Pittman out and whip him and let him go. So this was agreed upon and we surrounded the house. Babe Cook and Calvin Jones were to enter the house and bring him out, but the moment the door was burst open I heard gunshots in the house and was informed that Pittman was shot. Which one of he boys did the shooting I never knew, but it was either Cook or Jones, for there was no shooting outside of the house. This was the first and only time I ever had anything to do with whitecapism.”
In answer to a question in regard to the killing of Buckley, he said:
Purvis Had a Double.
“I don’t think Will Purvis did it. I think John Rogers is the one that killed him. He and Will Purvis look very much alike and at the time Buckley was killed they wore the same kind of hats and it would be very difficult for any one to distinguish one from the other unless in close contact.”
The above statement throws more light on the white cap outrages in Marion county and will very likely result in valuable evidence in ferreting out the crimes that have been committed from time to time. It will be remembered that one Dr. Goss figured very extensively in the murder case of Dr. Varnado at Osyka, Miss., several years ago and it is the supposition of many that he is the same man who administered the white cap oath to young Watts. Excitement is at fever heat in Marion county and startling developments are looked for at any moment.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Apr 25, 1894
ONLY ONE CONVICTED.
Marion County White Caps Escape Conviction.
Meridian, Miss., June 15 — The court at Columbia, Marion county, adjourned today after a two weeks’ special session that was called to indict and try the white caps that infest the county. Only one man, James Newman, was sentenced. He was sentenced to serve one year in the penitentiary on a charge of white capping.
Dr. J.J. Goss, the alleged leader of the organization, was not indicted and was discharged from custody. There was a bitter sentiment against the doctor when he was arrested, but positive evidence could not be produced against him. Will Purvis was not resentenced to death, but was held to go before the next grand jury in December. Public sentiment is strongly in favor of Purvis through this section and the opinion is that he will never again be brought to face the gallows, but will eventually go free.
Colonel E.S. Haygood, ex-train robber and three times a murderer, was also released. He was put under a $2,000 bond to answer a charge of train robbing at Amite City, La.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jun 16, 1894
RE-SENTENCED TO HANG.
Columbia, Miss., Jun 19. — Will Purvis, whitecap, who was convicted of the murder of Will Buckley in August, 1893, and who was put on the scaffold in February, 1894, and failed to hang through the slipping of the noose, was to-day re-sentenced to be hanged July 31.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Jun 20, 1895
WILL PURVIS RESENTENCED.
July 31st Fixed as the Date of His Execution.
Jackson, Miss., June 20. — Will Purvis, the Marion county whitecapper, has been resentenced to hang, and hat ends an interesting chapter of Mississippi history. Two years ago the life of the average negro farm laborer in south Mississippi was made miserable, if not uncertain, by outrages of murderous whitecap organizations in the country. These midnight riders vented their spite on Jews who owned farms by whipping and driving off the negroes and in many instances burning their cabins and corn cribs. In Lincoln county they became so bold that when a score of their associates were jailed they rode into Brookhaven, two hundred strong and demanded their release while Judge Chrisman was holding court, and the National Guard was called out to disperse them. The men under arrest were sent to state prison. In Marion county numerous crimes had been charged to the whitecaps, and a young man who had become offended at one of their acts of villainy, severed his connection with the band and turned state’s evidence. On his way home from the courthouse he was killed from ambush.
Circumstantial evidence was very strong that Will Purvis was the man. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to hang.
The day for the execution came and thousands assembled at Purvis to witness the hanging. But the sheriff was not equal to the emergency, or he had been bribed to let Purvis live. The rope was tied so that when the drop fell the noose slipped and Purvis went to the ground like a chunk of lead, instead of dangling in midair. The sheriff made as if he would try it again, but the crowd sured around him ad prevented, so that the condemned man was taken back to jail, where he has since remained. He still protests his innocence and his lawyer got the case before the supreme court again and argued that Purvis had been hanged one and the law vindicated. The court held otherwise and ordered him resentenced, which was done yesterday by Judge Terrell, July 31st being fixed as the date. Meanwhile whitecapping is one of the lost arts in Mississippi. The courts have been so prompt in bringing offenders to justice that what was two years ago a frightful menace to people of the state is now extinct or will be when Purvis has paid the penalty.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jun 21, 1895
DODGING THE HEMP.
Will Purvis, of Broken Rope Notoriety, Has Secured Another Respite.
Jackson, Miss., July 17. — (Special.) — Will Purvis, the Marion county whitecap whose miraculous escape from the hangman’s noose when the sentence was being executed, and who was resentenced to hang next Wednesday, will not hang then. He has taken an appeal to the supreme court, which acts as a supersedeas without action on the part of the governor. The supreme court meets next October.
It will be remembered that when the trap was sprung the first time the rope broke. The sheriff then took a vote of the crowd and no second attempt at hanging was made.
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Jul 28, 1895
It Is Thought the Governor Will Commute His Sentence.
Jackson, Miss., March 7. — (Special.) — The first information that Governor McLaurin had of the surrender of Will Purvis, the noted Marion county whitecap who so mysteriously escaped the death noose at the hands of the sheriff, was conveyed to him by your correspondent. Purvis was recaptured, resentenced and broke jail several months ago, since which time he has been a fugitive. The governor declined to state what action he would take until officially notified of the surrender. The consensus of opinion is that any man would break jail when his neck was in peril, and no man could blame him for such escape. The sentiment of Marion county in this case is such that it would do no good to inflict capital punishment against Purvis. There is no doubt that the governor will take this view and it is safe to say that he will commute Purvis’s sentence to life imprisonment. It is believed that Purvis has not been out of that vicinity since his escape.
From reliable information it is ascertained that not a dozen men perhaps in Marion county believe that Purvis killed Buckley or was in the blind when Buckley was assassinated; that the head and front of his offending in this matter is, as now popularly and reliably understood, that he was at a whitecap meeting at which it was agree that it was necessary that Buckley should be killed, but disagreed as to the time. Before the assassination there was a second meeting of the whitecaps, which Purvis did not attend, and at which the agents of the assassination were designated. Of those selected at the second meeting and the time and place fixed for the assassination, Purvis was ignorant. Hon. N.C. Hathorn, representative from Marion county, when told of the surrender, said: “I believe that 95 per cent of the people of Marion county will sign a petition for his absolute pardon, believing him innocent of the charge, which he denied both before and after the trap door fell, when grewsome preparations were being made for his rehanging. Purvis was only nineteen years old when this killing occurred three and a half years ago.”
The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Mar 8, 1896
WILL PURVIS, UNDER SENTENCE OF DEATH, SURRENDERS TO OFFICERS IN MISSISSIPPI.
HIS STRANGE CAREER.
Sentenced to Death, He Declares His Innocense and Is Saved by Slipping of a Hangman’s Noose.
RESCUED BY HIS FRIENDS.
After Long Defying Arrest He Voluntarily Gives Up Under a Promise of Commutation.
[excerpt from lengthy article]
Will Purvis is a young man not more than 23 years of age. He is small of stature, not over 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighs about 130 pounds. Like the people of the country in which he as been reared, far from civilization influences of the current world, he has grown up impregnated with all the superstitions of a people who live within the narrow confines of self. The result is that he is a fatalist to an advanced degree.
The story of Purvis’ life is stranger than the strangest fiction. Marion county, Mississippi, where he was raised, is forty miles from a railroad. Columbia, the county seat, was once the capital of Mississippi, but is now a little hamlet of not more than 300 people. It was here that whitecapism ran riot several years ago. The merchants would advance money to the white farmers wherewith to raise their crops. The crops would fail and the merchants would foreclose mortgages on the farms of the white people and rent them to negroes as tenants. The result was that a fierce hatred of the negro sprang up in the breast of the simple people, who had been dispossessed of their homes. They could not understand the justice of negroes supplanting them by the simple hearthstones which they constructed.
Then came the organization of the white caps. These people banded themselves together and were bound by oaths written in blood squeezed from a wound pricked in the thumb of the left hand. They used all the incantations of their peculiar witchcraft and were carried away with their fanaticisms. Leaders sprang up among them, who fired their passions by appealing to their prejudices. The secret order spread throughout southeast Mississippi and threatened destruction to the civic government of the country. At first the white cappers confined their acts to midnight raids, in which negroes were taken out and scourged and warned to leave the country. The negroes fled, leaving their homes behind them. The whole country was in a state of unrest. The local officers were powerless to stay the current of popular passion. Governor Stone was then chief executive of Mississippi. He understood that such a condition meant the ruin of the fair name of the state. He made every effort to suppress the lawless bands,. But the sympathies of the people were with the white caps. Those who did not feel this sympathy feigned it, as the torch was applied to the homes of those who dared to criticise the midnight raids of the marauders.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Mar 8, 1896
ON HIS DEATHBED, CONFESSES CRIME
Slayer Clears Innocent Man Nearly Hanged Many Years Ago.
Columbia, Miss., March 10. – It was revealed by the sheriff’s office here today that Joseph Beard, who died of pneumonia last Sunday, aged 60, on his farm near this city, confessed on his deathbed, that 25 years ago he and two other men murdered William Buckley, in this section, for which crime Will Purvis, who now resides in Lamar county, Miss., escaped death by hanging only because the noose about he neck slipped after the trap had been sprung. According to the story, Buckley and a brother revealed to the authorities information concerning a secret band of “white cappers” that operated in this section more than a quarter of a century ago, and William Buckley, shortly afterward was shot to death from ambush. This was in 1892.
Purvis was convicted of the murder and sentenced to be hanged. The execution was to be public and hundreds were present to witness it. But after the trap was sprung, the noose slipped and Purvis fell from the scaffold unharmed. Many of the spectators, superstitious over the twarted execution, induced the authorities to place Purvis in jail and an appeal to the governor resulted in the commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment. Several years afterward, Purvis was pardoned.
Washington Post ( Washington, D.C.) Mar 11, 1917
The breaking of a noose which had been slipped around his neck by the sheriff saved Will Purvis, a Mississippi farmer, from death at the hands of the law, and the legislature of his state has just voted him $5,000 as “salve.” An astute attorney fighting for Purvis’ life, contended that the drop from the gallows was punishment within the eyes of the law ans that a second attempt could not legally be made. The court took the same view of the incident and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Two years later a neighbor of Pulvis confessed on his death bed that he was guilty of he crime for which Pulvis had been convicted.
Circumstantial evidence, it seems, sent Pulvis to prison and but for a flaw in the rope would have sent him to his death. It is one more indication that even in law, things are not always what they seem.
Adams County Free Press (Corning, Iowa) Mar 20, 1920
MAN SAVED BY SLIP EXPIRES
HATTIESBURG, Miss., Oct. 13. — (AP) — Will Purvis, 66, who cheated the gallows in 1894 by a slip of the noose and later proved his innocence of crime, died today at the Lamberton hospital. Death was attributed to a heart ailment.
Purvis was convicted of slaying Will Buckley and sent to the gallows. As he went through the trap at a public hanging in Columbia, Miss., the rope slipped and he was dropped to the ground unhurt.
Several years later Joe Beard confessed to the slaying in a statement made to District Attorney Toxie Hall, who is now United States attorney in Mississippi, and exonerated Purvis.
Purvis later was given $5000 by the state legislature.
Since the case was cleared up Purvis had resided in Lamar country about seven miles north of Purvis. He is survived by his widow and 11 children.
San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Oct 13, 1938