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Was this tragedy in Bibb County a result of political revolution talk in the 1890s?

According to an article written by Ben Windham of the Tuscaloosa News on February 22, 2004, a tragedy that occurred in Bibb County, Alabama was the result of revolution talk in America in 1890s. Windham states that: “Torched by the flames of the new Populist movement with its radical social agenda and fueled by the pent-up anger and frustration that had smoldered since the end of the Civil War, rebellion raged throughout the state. Politics devolved into mob violence, vigilantes openly challenged laws-enforcement officers and dangerous outlaws stalked the land.”


Bibb County map

Bibb County, Alabama (Wikipedia)

Bloody Bibb

So many vigilante acts were taking place in Bibb County in the 1890s that The Bibb Blade newspaper coined the phrase “Bloody Bibb” about the county.

“Other newspapers invented their own descriptions. The Blocton Courier called Bibb “The Land of Assassins and Red-Handed Murderers.” The Shelby Chronicle in Columbiana came up with “the Dark Continent of Bibb.” “Lawless Bibb” was the way the Selma Evening Courier described it, while the People’s Reflector in the county seat went it one better with “Bloody and Lawless Bibb.” The State Central Express in Centreville boiled it down to one word: “Hell”1

Far-reaching consequences

It was in this environment that a murder which occurred in the small town of Randolph in Bibb County near the Shelby County line resulted in far-reaching consequences.

On a summer day in 1890, an argument took place between landowner, W. B. “Bud” Head, and his former tenant farmer, James Tate, over the return of a $12 shotgun.  Tate claimed he owned the gun and refused to return it. The argument escalated and Tate shot and killed Head. Tate immediately fled the county after the shooting, one step ahead of the bloodhounds.

Bibb County map2

Location of Randolph, Bibb County, Alabama

How the Sheriff of Louisiana was involved

Head’s family and friends were outraged over the murder and advertised a reward for his capture. Word reached R. H. Jones, a former Bibb County resident, who was sheriff of Jackson Parish, Louisiana which just happened to be the place where Tate fled. Sheriff Jones captured Tate and wired the authorities in Bibb County that he would return him to Bibb County, Alabama and claim the reward. Head’s brother and a friend of the family, Wiley Trott, went to Jackson Parish to identify Tate. Wiley Trott remained with the sheriff in order to accompany Sheriff Jones with the prison back to Bibb County.

Head’s friends did not wait for justice

Somehow word reached Sheriff Jones that a vigilante mob would be waiting at the depot in Randolph and he was advised to get off on the opposite side to avoid the crowd. As Sheriff Jones got off the train, he was mortally wounded by a gunshot. The mob removed Tate’s shackles and took him away to administer their own justice.

A porter claimed that he saw Wiley Trott pull the trigger that killed Sheriff Jones and some of Head’s friends spirited Tate away. It was believed they lynched Tate and threw him down a well.

Bibb County, Alabama courthouse

Bibb County Courthouse ca. 2011

The brief news article below transcribed From Birmingham Age-Herald April 29, 1891 mentions the murder that pushed the small county of Bibb in Alabama into the national spotlight.

THE BIBB COUNTY TRAGEDY

Another Chapter Added by Finding James Tate’s Body

Montgomery, Ala., April 22. (Special)—News reached here today of another chapter in the late Bibb County tragedy. There is great excitement in that county over the assassination of Louisiana sheriff and the subsequent arrest of W. R. Trott, who lives near Six Mile, on a warrant charging him with the murder.

Your correspondent this morning met a drummer who is just from Centerville, Bibb County. He says that Trott is now in jail, and there is little if any doubt of his guilt. There are two witnesses to this terrible tragedy, but they are overawed and afraid to testify in the case.

The excitement throughout the county has been intensified by the finding of the remains of James Tate in a cave, the man who is charged with the killing of Bud Head and who was in the custody of Sheriff Jones when the latter was shot. The handcuffs were on the hands of the deceased when found. It is now said that the sheriff was killed by the friends of Bud Head, who wanted to kill Tate.

I understood here that Governor Jones has been very active in his efforts in assisting the local authorities to …. out the perpetrators of this foul crime and bring them to justice. When asked by your correspondent concerning the reports from Bibb, Governor Jones replied. “I refuse to be interviewed on that subject. I know just what is being done there to bring the …. element to justice. The grand jury will soon meet and will  thoroughly investigate the matter. The citizens offered $1000 for the murderers, and the count is full of detectives.

Sheriff Bates did not arrest guilty parties

It was rumored that many “prominent families were involved in the incident at Randolph” and for whatever reason, Sheriff Bates of Bibb County was slow to investigate the case. Finally, some private detectives from Chicago were sent for and they quickly discovered what took place.

Trott was indicted along with seven other men. He was arrested and transferred to a Birmingham jail, while many of the other men remained at large. Trott first trial ended in a mistrial. He was retried again in 1892 and found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison but managed to escape.

A followup on the story reveals that the trio escaped in 1893.

The following news story was in the Hamilton Times of Nov. 1893.

Willie Trott, Tap Sprouse, and John Worthington, three noted white criminals have escaped from the county jail at Birmingham. They were in the yard bathing and went into the jail hospital after water. They failed to return, and an hour later were missed. It is thought they escaped by means of a false key through the hospital as all the doors were found locked. Trott was under life sentence for the murder of Sheriff Jones of Louisiana, who was killed in Dec 1881 at Bridgeport Ala. Trott had taken an appeal. Spruse was a noted moonshiner who shot Deputy Marshal Jackson in DeKalb county. Worthington was charged with assault with intent to murder Policeman Albright. No trace of the trio has been found.

Click here to read more twists and turns of this intriguing story with names of additional towns people involved: article written by Ben Windham of the Tuscaloosa News on February 22, 2004 to read more.

Compiled records of BIBB COUNTY, ALABAMA PIONEERS VOLUME I


By (author): Donna R Causey
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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me
All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
She has authored numerous genealogy books.
RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE)
is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2)
is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series)
Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1)
is the continuation of the story. .
For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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One comment

  1. Cliff Swanson

    funny James Tate is a name on my great grand mothers side

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