Category Archives: crime


Lee S. metcalfe and Jala Guin Metcalfe cira 1889 (2) (780x1024)

Sheriff Lee S. Metcalfe with wife, Jala Guin Metcalfe about 1889.

 THEY ARE GONE – But Not to the Penitentiary

 The two prisoners, WILL COX, white and LUTHER METCALFE, col. who were sentenced to the penitentiary at the last term of the circuit court and were confined in jail here waiting for the penitentiary authorities to send for them, escaped jail Sunday evening about dark.  When Mr. WIMBERLY, the jailor, carried their supper to the jail he placed it inside and closed the door of the cell and pushed the bolt in place, then he closed the outside door, or the door of the corridor and pushed one of the bolts in place, but did not secure either – not thinking there was any possibility of the prisoners being able to reach the bolts – and went into an adjoining yard for a bucket of water, during his absence they succeeded in prizing back the bolt to the inner door with a stick of stove wood, and COX slipped his hand between the bars of the cage and reached the bolt of the outer door and slipped it back., and they were free, as the doors to the building are never fastened.  It was getting dark and no one was near the jail, so they had no difficulty in making their escape.  Mr. WIMBERLY gave the alarm, but it being dark and no dogs to trail them nothing could be done towards capturing them.

One prisoner, BOB LAMPKINS, who was committed to jail late Friday did not try to escape, and was very sensible for not leaving as he was bailed out last Monday.

Since the above was written LUTHER METCALFE has been brought back. Mr. C. W. HALL brought him in and received the reward of $25.00 which was offered for his apprehension.

COX was brought in by Sheriff METCALFE Wednesday evening.  He was caught on the platform at Guin waiting for a train. The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 12, 1888.

Mr. HALEY, traveling agent for the T. C. L. & Railroad Co. was in town Wednesday after the two prisoners, COX and METCALFE, and left for Pratt Mines with them to charge. The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 19, 1888. The jail is now empty. The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 26, 1888.


A DASTARDLY ASSAULT – Unknown Parties Shoot at Sheriff L. S. METALFE in the Dark

On last Friday night, about 11 o’clock Sheriff METCALFE walked up to his stable in town to see about his horse, which had been sick that evening, and as he was returning to the hotel when passing the north-east corner of the court-house yard, he saw two men standing out in the street about ten yards away, and supposing them to be some of the town boys spoke to them and asked “Who is there?” at the same time taking a couple of steps toward them. When he did this one of the parties threw up a pistol and fired, the ball passing through Sheriff METCALKE’S hat brim about one and a half inches from his head. Sheriff METCALFE returned the fire instantly with two shots at the then fleeing parties, who, when they saw he was going to return the fire unceremoniously took to their heels, running down in the direction of the jail. It is not known whether either of his shots took effect, as the parties made good their escape. No cause for such an assault can be given, as Sheriff METCALFE has no enemies who would attempt to take his in the dark. The night was so dark that he could not see the parties well enough to give any description of them A telegram was sent to Pratt Mines for blood hounds to be brought down to tail up the parties but none could be got all of them being in use at Pratt Mines. June 27, 1889 Vernon  Courier Vernon, Alabama.


Wiley Saint Clair Metcalfe born in 1837, married Virginia Ellen Bradley in 1858. Wiley and Virginia were early settlers of what is now Sulligent and Lamar County.

 Mrs. Virginia Metcalfe was known in Sulligent as “grandma Metcalfe”. The Metcalfe’s reared nine children and had 36 grandchildren.  The Metcalfe’s children were: Martha Elvira, who married Perry Evans; Leander Saint Clair “Lee”, married Jala Guin Lee served as Lamar County Sheriff; Henry Franklin married Melinda Shaw. Henry worked for the Frisco railroad; Sarah Anna Elizabeth, married John Bannister. John was Sulligent Marshall; James W. “Jim Buck” married Amanda May; Rosa Ellen, married first William Cobb, second Cannon Richard Weaver, after Mr. Cobb’s death; John Edward “Ed” married Lou Ella Brown. Ed founded the Metcalf Grocery and Market that was in business in Sulligent  for 70 years; Hattie Stella married Rudolphus Brown, a brother to Lou Ella Brown; George Tollivar Carrington “Toll”, married Bessie Lee Stanford. Toll worked as stock broker in Kentucky.

Historical newspapers are transcribed by Veneta McKinney from microfilm. Metcalfe picture is from Rose Marie Smith Collection housed in Mary Wallace Cobb Memorial Library Vernon, Alabama.


Sulligent street

L. D. Byrd Killed. Early Thursday morning even before the sun had risen far above the eastern horizon, the alarm at the telephone rang out and “Hello what is wanted” went from the operator at this place. But how unexpected and how shocking was the reply which came from Sulligent. “Mr. Byrd was shot and instantly killed a moment ago by Burley Johnson of near this place.”

It seems that an old grudge had been cherished between them for some time past, and they were evidently expecting trouble as both were armed and when the fatal combat occurred. It also seems from the best information we can get that Mr. Byrd was using every means possible to escape, when they met for the last time. Details are meager here, notwithstanding the affray occurred Thursday morning.

According to our information, Mr. Byrd, when seeing that he must meet Johnson, said to his nephue that Johnson was hunting trouble and so saying left the side-walk, giving to Johnson the right-of-way. They had not proceeded far when Johnson holding his pistol close to a shade tree took deliberate aim and fired. He continued to fire until he had fired five shots, four of which took effect, Mr. Byrd fired two shots, neither of which took effect. Johnson succeeded in making his escape. Source: The Lamar Democrat Vernon, Alabama  07-23-1898, transcribed by Barb Carruth.

“Lucian David Byrd, son of John K. and Elvira Moore Byrd, was born September 26, 1861, near Detroit, Alabama. Later, the Byrd family moved to Splunge, Mississippi. On November 27, 1878, he married Mary F. Collier who died when their son was born. Their children were Lillian Byrd, who married R.C. Paul, and Haston Byrd, who married Donnie G. Nichols.

Later, L.D. Byrd married Lula Duncan Guthrie. They had five children, but only two lived: Gertrude Byrd, who married Byron Woods, and Annie Mae Byrd, who married Jake Green.

In the early days of Sulligent, this family moved to the new town where Mr. Byrd established a mercantile business. He owned farm land where the Hyster Company now stands. Through the years this land has been called the

Byrd Place. The old Byrd home is still standing on Vernon Street in Sulligent.

L.D. Byrd was a strong leader in First Baptist Church from its beginning. He was a charter member and soon was elected church clerk, a position he held for eight years. Many times, he served on church committees and often was sent as a messenger to the Sipsey Baptist Association. When he died on July 21, 1898, the church lost a valuable member.” Source: First Baptist Church Sulligent, Alabama 1890 – 1990 Our Heritage Our Hope a History of 100 Years, written by Mrs. Virginia Woods Gilmer.



Pratt Mines

Smith Brothers sent to Pratt Mines. “Their friends paid up the cost in all the case which leaves them to work out only the penalties which is, JOHN 115 days and JEFF. 155 days.”

The quiet streets of Vernon presented a very excitable scene Tuesday night.  Two wild-catters, brothers, by the name of John and Jeff Smith, from Marion County, were overhauled in Yellow Creek Swamp about a half mile from town, dishing out the pure and unadulterated juice to the boys.  They were captured by Constable Haley and posse, they showed fight when the officers walked up on them, and in the tussle Jeff discharged his pistol the ball striking Mr. Tom Moore on the left arm, but being a very small pistol and at such close range the ball did not break the skin.

They were brought to town and warrants were issued by Judge Young on the charge of violating the revenue law and prohibition law, and a charge of resisting arrest was placed against Jeff.  Not being able to give bond they were committed to jail, and when the officers started with them to jail the fun commenced again.  John jerked loose from two men, one holding each arm, and started for Yellow Creek Swamp at a lively rate, with Constable Haley close behind.  Several shots were fired in the chase none of which took effect, he was soon overhauled, however, and brought back and the cell doors closed on him.

Their trial came of Wednesday in the county court.  They plead guilty to retailing and accepted the lowest fine, $375 each, and Jeff was fined $10 for the assault.  Up to going to press they had not confessed judgment but are expecting their friends from Marion county to come to their relief. Source: The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 12, 1888.

Up to the time of going to press no disposition has been made of the Moonshiners.”Source: The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 19, 1888.

The friends of JOHN AND JEFF. SMITH were in town Monday seeing what could be done towards securing their release, but while they were seeing what they could do, Mr. HAYLEY, agent for the T. C. I & Railroad Company arrived in town as soon had them dressed for a trip to Pratt Mines, and left for that place with them in charge.  Their friends paid up the cost in all the case which leaves them to work out only the penalties which is, JOHN 115 days and JEFF. 155 days. Source: The Vernon Courier Vernon, Alabama October 19, 1888 transcribed from microfilm by Veneta McKinney.


To meet the pressing demand for labor in the early days, the Pratt Coal and Iron Company (later TCI) employed state convicts. The practice of working convicts outside the prisons, begun in Alabama in 1866, was common across the South well into the 1900s. Private companies paid state and county governments a certain amount each month for each convict. The company built prison facilities and clothed and fed the men, who were required to work 10 hours a day and fill a quota. TCI continued the practice until 1914, and other District mining concerns worked convicts until 1928.

In 1883, a new Alabama law required the state penitentiary physician to reside where the greatest number of convicts were confined. Thus Dr. Russell M. Cunningham moved to the prisons at the Pratt mining camp to take care of some 1,000 inmates a year. His attention to sanitary conditions, hours of work, diet and recreation resulted in the reduction of the mortality rate from 18 percent in 1881 to two percent in 1884. In reports to the state inspector of mines in 1883 and 1884, Cunningham recommended a stockaded convict town be built, with 50 cabins, a hospital, adequate bathing arrangements, guardhouses, a cook room, kitchen and space for outdoor recreation, so that the welfare of the prisoners would approximate that of the free miners. His findings and recommendations created a stir among lessees of convicts and led to improvements in sanitation and living conditions at the mines.

Prison facilities were enlarged in 1888 after TCI signed a 10-year contract for 500 to 600 convicts with the State of Alabama. An 1888 Sanborn map of the Pratt mines shows a complex of frame structures including a prison, convicts’ kitchen, convicts’ dining commissary, bathhouse and kettles to boil clothes. By August 1906, probably the era of maximum use of convicts at the Pratt Mines, 906 state convicts (described as able bodied males, age 16 and over from 23 county and state prisons) resided here. Of these, 300 worked at No. 1.

Until January 1914, Cunningham retained charge of medical services for convicts employed by principal mining contractors throughout the state and served as company physician for the Pratt Company and TCI, At Ensley he constructed a private infirmary, the Cunningham Hospital, to serve his large industrial practice. During this period, he also launched a successful political career, serving as state senator (1896-1900), lieutenant governor (1901-1904; 1905-1907), and acting governor of the state (1904-1905). Throughout his political career, Cunningham worked for reform of the convict lease system, inspection of coal mines and regulation of mine sanitation.

Source: HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING RECORD National Park Service Department of the Interior P.O. Box 37127 Washington, DC 20013-7127.

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