The Ku Klux Klan Trials in Oxford court and L.Q.C. Lamar, Part 2
By Jack Mayfield
Last week I gave you a little information on the Ku Klux Klan Trials that occurred in the Oxford Federal District Courtroom of Judge R.A. Hill. If you will recall, during Reconstruction on June 22, 1871, Federal Court was being held in the temporary courtroom on the southwest corner of the Square. An incident happened with an armed carpetbagger and local attorney, L.Q.C. Lamar.
The incident which involved Col. Lamar and U.S. Marshal J.L. Pierce, would cause Lamar political trouble for the remainder of his life. I ended last week’s column with the carpetbagger, Whistler by name, drawing a pistol and Lamar swinging a chair at Whistler before the marshal stepped into the fray. As Whistler stepped back, Col. Lamar put down the chair amid calls from the courtroom to arrest Lamar.
One of the officials of the Federal Court said to one of the guards of the prisoners in the courtroom said to some of the soldiers present at the incident, “By virtue of the authority of the United States I order you to arrest that man (pointing to Lamar); to which one of them replied ‘We are not under your orders.’” Col. Lamar protested that he had done nothing to justify arrest.
As Col. Lamar was protesting that he did nothing wrong, one of the deputies reached where both men were standing, and as the deputy was about to lay hands upon him, the colonel waved him aside without touching him, saying, “I am committing no disorder.” Then Chief Marshal J.L. Pierce came running up and jumped between Lamar and Whistler.
Marshal Pierce’s purpose was pacific, “but the Colonel neither recognized him nor knew of his purpose, and struck him with his fist a quick, severe blow upon the jaw, which dislocated the jaw, and sent him sprawling. Then there was a great excitement and the U.S. attorney demanded that the Colonel be arrested.”
The foreman of the grand jury, Emory by name, rushed out of the courtroom and returned in a very short time with another squad of soldiers, with guns in hand and cocked. With the arrival of the armed soldiers the confusion became “greatly intensified.” Two local men who were friends of Lamar sprang to his side. Attorney E.O. Sykes of Aberdeen and one of Lamar’s former law students, Maj. Thomas Walton, who was a Republican and later the U.S. attorney, with pistols in hand, came to Lamar’s side to defend him or fall with him.
Edward Mayes, in his 1896 biography of Lamar, states of the incident, “Matters assumed a most dangerous appearance; the ominous click of the military rifles sounded through room, and had the soldiers not behaved with great discretion bloodshed might have followed. Meanwhile the Colonel had become greatly exasperated. He continued to address the Court, saying in substance that he had seen Whistler commit the assault, and that he would not sit quietly by and see an unoffending citizen struck down without raising his voice.”
Lamar denounced the parading of soldiery in the courts in times of profound peace. Judge Hill then threatened to have Lamar arrested and sent to jail, to which Lamar replied, “that he considered jail now as a more suitable place for gentlemen than most others.” Lamar was then standing on his tiptoes with his clinched fists shaking over his head, and his face blazing with wrath, he declared that if the court undertook to put him in jail the streets should “swim in Blood.”
The news spread out of the courtroom on to the streets of Oxford and the town Square. Men started to make their way to the courtroom and two of Lamar’s friends were among the onlookers. Col. Manning and Gen. Featherstone, who had heard the news on the town Square, prevailed upon Lamar to come with them into an adjoining room, which he did. After a short absence, the three men then returned to the court.
Lamar then spoke to Judge Hill after Marshal Pierce called for his arrest. He stated, “I am sure the Court will not make that order. I did not strike him until he tried to arrest me unlawfully.” Marshal Pierce replied, “I did not approach you for the purpose of arresting you; I only wanted to give you friendly counsel.” Lamar replied, “I regret very much that I struck you. I hope you are not hurt.” Besides, he did not know at the time that it was the marshal.
In open court the two men “entered at once into a amicable explanation, and Col. Lamar repeated his apology to the court.” After the incident, two soldiers in the courtroom discussed the matter with some of the citizens. A sergeant stated, “We didn’t want to hurt him; we never saw a better fight or heard a better speech. He hadn’t broken any law.”
This is not the end of the story. The incident would haunt Lamar for the remainder of his life. Next week a little fallout from the incident.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a local Oxford historian and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.