Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jack Wells

[This is a continuation of my series on the vigilantes at the Cane Creek Massacre.]

During his visit to Cane Creek in 1895, Willard Washington Bean met with a man who claimed to be in the mob at the Condor home. His name was Jack Wells. He met Elder Bean while he was being shown around by his guide, Mr. Simpson. Bean wrote down Wells testimony in his journal later that night.
"Well to be candid with you Simpson, I believe the whole thing was a big mistake. I believe that damn newspaper article started the whole thing. Some fellers from the villiage rode up the creek here letting all read it as could read, and them that couldn't read, they read for them, and got us all excited. Yes I was there and saw all that happened. But me and some of the others, were only in favor of whipping them and giving them a good scare, but when they began to shoot I thought pretty fast, and realized I had made a big mistake; but I had nothing to do with the killin. I didn't even draw my gun. I dodged bullets until I saw a chance to get outside. No sir, I never approved of the killin. I saw Babe Hinson shot down in the yard, and some of us started to beat it, but one of the Hinson boys leveled his gun at us and said - 'come back here you damn cowards and help me take care of this man or you'll get it too.'

I went down,with others, next morning to view the scene of the trouble, and I tell you it was a sorrowful lookin sight. I felt like I would like to help clean up the mess. I have regretted ever since that I had anything to do with it. Blood was spattered over the floor and out in the yard. Nobody would live there after that, and as so many curious came to view the place, that some body set it afire and burned it up; it is rumored that one of the Hinson boys burned it up."

We could easily take Mr Wells at his word. It is not an easy thing to confess to being part of murder. But we do need to sort through his testimony carefully.

First off all, there is an obvious problem with his claim that he saw Babe Hinson shot down in the yard." Of course, it was David Hinson who was shot down. He was the only one of the mob who was killed, and no one in the mob was injured. But the problem has a couple explanations. It could be simply a problem with the transcription. Bean wrote down Mr Wells testimony several hours after it occurred. It would be remarkable that Bean got all of this long quote correct. Another possibility is that Mr. Wells simply misspoke. Oral interviews are a funny thing and people make obvious errors all the time. Another possibility is that Jack Wells was not really there and was ignorant of this particular detail. I find this unlikely, as at least Simpson acknowledged that Wells "probably [knew] more about this affair than" he did. Add to this the fact that Babe Hinson was still living in the area and was well known. It is unlikely that Mr. Wells did not know Babe Hinson.

Second, Mr Wells testimony places him in the house at the time of the shooting, leaving the house as soon as the shooting starts and outside when David Hinson was shot. He is on hand when another of the mob, one of the Hinson brothers, threatens to shoot someone if they don't help move the dying David Hinson. Such specifics make him one of the three or four vigilantes who actually went in the house; a unique and important posiion.

We don't find much more about Jack Wells. We do find a John (Jack) Wells born in 1864 very near the site of the Massacre, still living with his father on the 1880 census. And there are notes indicating he had died by 1945.

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