The Davis family has been in these parts for generations. Members of their clan have intermarried into most of the familiar surnames of Chickasaw County and their descendants in this area number in the hundreds, if not thousands. This story is about two Davis brothers and their letting politics bring hatred and violence into their midst.
It all began with the county election of 1907. For Chancery Clerk two candidates topped the field and from the information I could gather, either of them would have been a suitable choice. Thomas W. Hamilton was the winner and his obituary on findagrave.com reads as if he is practically ready for sainthood. His death in January, 1910, was sudden and unexpected. A good friend, J. M. Haley, had visited Hamilton in his office the day before Hamilton died. Haley wrote a glowing and heartfelt piece about his good friend. Hamilton was described as having a ‘bright, incisive mind and strong convictions of the right; born a gentleman, always being on the moral side of any question”. Hamilton had told Haley that he appreciated all the past kindness the people of Chickasaw County had given him but he would not run for re-election in 1911.
The losing candidate in the 1907 race for Chancery Clerk was John Wesley Hill. Born in Chickasaw County in 1857, he was the son of William and Malinda Ausley Hill. John Wesley Hill never lived anywhere except in Chickasaw County. His obituary states he was a faithful member of the Houston Methodist Church for more than 65 years. John Wesley had served Chickasaw County in several elected offices. His obituary states that he served as a supervisor in 1902 and 1903, as sheriff from 1904 to 1907. Apparently after losing this 1907 election for Chancery Clerk, Hill made the decision to get out of politics altogether and was in the hardware and furniture business until 1943.
So, one wonders how could the outcome of this 1907 election for Chancery Clerk bring about a deadly feud between brothers? Apparently in that day and time, the Davis brothers took politics quite seriously, serious enough to cause a split in the family and ultimately death in the family.
The Davis brothers were born in Greene County, Ala. John Henry or “Rip” Davis was the third child of John Henry Davis, Sr. I was unable to find a verifiable wife for Davis, Sr. John Henry, Jr.’s, first wife was Mary Susan Neal. She was about 16 or 17 years old when she gave birth to William in 1859, and possibly died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. She is buried in the Macedonia Methodist Church Cemetery, east of Houston. The story goes that Rip joined the Confederate Army and left his son, William, in the care of the child’s maternal grandmother, Eunice Neal, and maternal aunt, Malinda Neal. To add another kink in this tale, Malinda Neal became the wife of Rip’s brother, Reuben Davis, after the close of the Civil War.
At 17, Reuben Davis also joined the Confederate Army and was wounded in a skirmish in Baton Rouge in August of 1862. The wounds were severe enough that he was crippled the rest of his life. Reuben returned to Chickasaw County and through pure grit and guts, became one of the county’s most successful farmers, as well as one of the largest land owners in the county. It was said he carried many bales of cotton to the village of Memphis via ox wagon.
Nothing in this background would alert you that these two brothers would be in a ‘blood feud’ later. Perhaps Reuben held a deep resentment toward his brother for passing his child off on relatives or perhaps it was just the fact each of them supported a different candidate. The crux of this feud was political – Reuben Davis supported John Wesley Hill for Chancery Clerk in the race of 1907, while John Henry Davis, Jr. supported Thomas Hamilton.
The story is related that the two brothers met totally by accident the day before the actual killing at a house out in the country. John picked up a chair and tried to hit Reuben with it. Onlookers finally quieted the two after Reuben, in trying to protect himself, had pulled a knife on John. Supposedly John then informed Reuben that he would ‘whip’ him the next time he saw him.
Well, that next time was the next day. It was a Monday, Jan. 23, 1911. John was walking along in front of Dr. Gus Evans’ home (I believe on Madison Street and perhaps next door to present day Memorial Funeral Home) holding a milk pail in his hand. Reuben was walking the opposite direction with a walking stick in his hand. When they met, Reuben asked John if he was ready to give him that whipping he had promised him to which John replied in the affirmative and proceeded to take off his coat. As John threw off his coat, Reuben pulled out his pistol and shot three times, with one ‘taking effect’ and bringing about almost instant death. Perhaps had John been armed as well as Reuben, the outcome might have been totally different. According to an article in the Tupelo Journal on Jan. 27, there were two witnesses, a Mr. Nabors and a Mr. Pope.
Reuben immediately gave himself up to a Deputy Sheriff by the name of Moffat and remained in custody through an initial hearing before W. F. Buchanan, County Attorney. Reuben gave bond in the amount of $7,000 for his appearance in the April term of Circuit Court. His defense was self-defense, but apparently the jury did not wholly go along with this as there was a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, with recommendation for mercy. Reuben was sentenced to a fine of $1,000 and six months in the county jail. Sometimes during the term of Governor Earl Brewer, 1912-1916, Reuben received a pardon.
Reuben died in November, 1937, and was, at the time of his death, Houston’s oldest citizen. He was a member of the Concord Methodist Church in Chickasaw County and is buried in the Concord cemetery. A list of his pallbearers reads like a Who’s Who of the county at that time – T.J. Lowry, Hosea Abernethy, Jodie Davis, Evans Goza, Edward Shearer, Fred Dulaney, Ben Woods, Dr. J.R. Priest, Dr. Sid Evans, Dr. J. R. Williams and others.