Shootout in Wilson, 1911: The West Gang

 

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Wilson County Sheriff Sharp is on the left, his deputies behind him and the captured West Gang in front with the tallest being Lewis West and the shortest Ed Stallings- aka Stetson. All photographs were taken by F. Marchant.

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The Mary Young house was where the shootout occurred and Wilson County Sheriff WDP Sharp points out where Deputy Mumford was killed.

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Ed Stallings and Lewis West in profile. Judge Adams of Asheville is holding the two weighty tomes.

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Lewis West and Ed Stallings aka Stetson

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Wilson County Courthouse at the time of the trial.

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The jurors of the case.

On February 3, 1911 in Wilson, NC a notorious gang out of Cumberland County stops by a house owned by  Mary  Young after perpetrating robberies in Dunn and Lucama when they notice two men coming up to the house.

Wilson County Sheriff WDP Sharp received a telegram from Cumberland County Sheriff McGeachy stating:
Fayet’eville, N.C,Feb.3, Sheriff of Wilson
County: Look out for three negroes, guns and pistols,
one a mulatto’ robbed Dunn Hardware Store.
They are headed your way.  Arrest them and notify.

     According to the court testimony found in the March 17, 1911 edition of the Wilson Daily Times, Sheriff Sharp sent Deputy Sheriff George Mumford into Wilson to try and locate the gang.  After Mumford gets into town he finds Chief of Police Onnie A. Glover and Officer H.A. Warren at about 10:30 am on the bank corner (not sure which bank, but all four banks were on Nash Street in 1911). Chief Glover and Warren go with Mumford,  first to the depot and then to Spring Street near Greene Street where they locate a group of men,  with one of them being tall and wearing a red sweater and a black cap, Lewis West, and another one fits Stetson’s compact frame.  They lose them until the early afternoon when   Officer Wynne, in plain clothes, carrying a shotgun, spots them in a near-beer saloon.  He goes to notify the other officers and when he returns to the saloon he finds the the gang has gone up Lodge Street towards Norfolk Southern (corner of Spring and E. Barnes Street).  Wynne finds them at Nan Best’s Eating House (According to the 1912-13 City Directory of Wilson it was located on 400 S. Spring Street, now Douglas Street) and actually passes them, hearing one of them say, “There goes the man with the shotgun.” To which West replies,  “I ain’t afraid of no damn man with a gun.”  Wynne keeps them under surveillance until he witnesses the gang  go into Mary Young’s house then retreats to get backup.
     Chief Glover goes up to the front door of Mary Young’s house with Officer Wynne while deputy Mumford approaches the back door with Officer Warren.   Mary Young answers and Chief Glover asks where the man with the red sweater is.  She replies that she hasn’t seen them and Chief Glover retorts that there is no use lying as he saw them come in (I suspect he meant Officer Wynne saw them).  Glover pushes open the door and sees Arch McLean and others, as well as Mumford at the back door. Mumford shouts “Look out Glover, they are in this room.”  Glover pulls his gun as West appears and slams the door in his face.  The door is also crashed on Mumford and he responds by going out in to the yard and returning with an ax.  After only one hit on the door, the firing commences from inside and the officers rush in.  They said it sounded liked firecrackers as 20-25 shots are fired.  Mumford says, “Oh Lord, Warren, I am shot.”
     Glover and West fire at each other at close range.  Glover is hit in the shoulder and puts his pistol in his other hand and fires again, hitting West.  Glover starts spitting blood and retreats to the porch of Nell Walker’s house next door and calls Officer Lonnie Lyon to assist him to the Sanatorium. West flees into a room where Wynne, from outside, sees his head in the window and fires his shotgun at him.   Stetson runs upstairs while the Young family barricades themselves in their rooms.
     After Mumford is shot, Officer Warren takes hold of Mumford’s arm and helps him out the door and to the steps.  Mumford slowly walks around house out of sight of Warren as warren goes over to Wynne  and hears more shots then someone yelling out that the chief is shot. He runs around the house and sees Mumford down as West escapes down Spring Street. Warren fires three shots at him, but he’s gone.
     Glover, from next door, sees West come out the house and approach Deputy Mumford, but is too weak to give  warning as he observes West point his gun six inches from Mumford’s face and fire.
     Witness Lou Artis is walking up the Norfolk Southern railroad when she sees a man come out of Mary Young’s house holding his abdomen and Stetson behind him.  Then Lewis West appears, approaches Mumford saying: “God damn you ain’t you dead yet? You came here to kill me and I am going to kill you.” Mumford pleads for him not to shoot him any more but West fires three times at his head.  Stetson comments from the porch, “That man Lewis West is a thorough man.”
     In the aftermath of the shootout, all of West’s gang escapes, but is slowly rounded up throughout the surrounding counties over the next few weeks.  Deputy Sheriff Mumford dies at the Wilson Sanatorium and is found to have ten bullet wounds in his body.  He was a widower and  survived by six children. Chief of Police  Glover survives his shoulder wound and later testified in court. Lewis West is caught in a restaurant in Maxton trying to pawn a pistol for a dollar after hiding in Robeson County swamps for a week.  He is found to have bullet wounds in his chest, hand and leg.  Stetson is captured in Selma, although some accounts say Kenly.
    The trial in Wilson, which begins on Wednesday, March 15, 1911, is one of the biggest spectacles the town has ever seen.  People pack into the courtroom to hear the testimonies of the law men, the witnesses and the West Gang.  In the end, Judge Joseph S. Adams sentences Lewis West to death by electrocution after a conviction of first degree murder and Ed Stallings, aka Stetson, is convicted of second degree murder and  sentenced to 30 years hard labor.  Other members of the gang get lighter sentences and Mary Young receives a year in jail.  After sentencing, Lewis West is overheard speaking to the bar saying that drinking and bad company was the cause of his deeds and he was sorry about it.
    In the wake of the trial, the newspapers, especially the Kinston Free Press, gives the white population a big pat on the back for not perpetrating a pogrom of revenge against the black population of Wilson for the murder of  Deputy Sheriff Mumford.  The tone is couched in paternalistic terms about the good African American citizens of Wilson.  But race relations were better in Wilson at the time than many places in North Carolina and a lot better than states in the lower south.  But it was a low bar and race relations would explode in 1930 with the lynching  of 29 year old Wilson County tenant farmer Oliver Moore by 200 white men.  But for now the West Gang was seen as interloping vagrants from Cumberland County and the black population of Wilson County was spared any blow-back from the robberies and murder.
West Gang members:
Lewis West
Ed Stallings, aka Stetson
Mathew Mebane, aka Brodie
Will Lane
Arch McLean
Dave Young
Tom Smith
Ed Purcell
Wade Williams aka George Brown
Jumbo Taylor
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Possible location of Mary Young’s house across from the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  From a 1908 Sanborn map.

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In 1911 Mary Young was living at 434 Spring Street, which could be the location of the shootout. Accessed from Ancestry.com.

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Financial Ledger for the Wilson County Negro Library now Online

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ledger july 1953

Page from July, 1953

A stark reminder of the segregation era in North Carolina, the Wilson County Negro Library ledger can now be perused online at DigitalNC.  It is an informative window into the  sometimes separate economy that existed during that period.

Here is what it contains (as listed in the metadata):

Categories include checks, bank (deposits and checks), general ledger, salaries, income tax, social security, N.C. Department of Revenue, books, periodicals, binding, audio visuals, library supplies, furniture & equipment, rent & building maintenance, insurance, bookmobile operation, travel, postage, miscellaneous, book processing charge, and cast surplus.

Black Wide Awake: The Roots of Wilson’s African American Community

Black Wide Awake Wilson Program 4

Burn the date, Tuesday, February 9, 2016, into your brains because there is going to be a sublime program here at WCPL with a powerhouse of eastern NC, African American history and genealogy by the name of Lisa Y. Henderson.  That was a long sentence.

Racial Violence in North Carolina

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Tomorrow at five in the assembly room I am hosting two JD candidates from Northeastern Law School in Boston, MA.  They are giving a presentation of their findings on the 1940’s era murders of 3 African American men in Wilson, NC.  Their work is a part of Northeastern Law School’s ongoing Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, a program that tries to shed light on Jim Crow era murders of African Americans in the South who were killed due to racial violence but no one was convicted of the crime.   They contacted me a couple of weeks ago to see if I could help them find family members of people in involved in the murder trial of Otis Newsome, a WWII vet and funeral director who was killed in cold blood in 1948 while trying to buy a bottle of brake fluid.  I was able to find and interview the son of the prosecutor who was able to give the law candidates access to his father’s files on the case.  It should be a very interesting presentation and I am honored to be a part of it.