Tuesday History: The unclaimed body of Will Harris, part IV

KILLED BY A DESPERADO: Ben Addison was the third victim in the Will Harris murders. He was shot dead on Eagle Street, as Harris made his way to present day Pack Square. Photo by Thomas Calder

We continue our examination of the aftermath of the killing of Will Harris, as reported on Nov. 17, 1906 in The Asheville Gazette News. This installment builds on our previous three posts depicting the events leading up to and ensuing from Harris’ actions. For last week’s post, click here.

The material for this article was made available through the courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

Because some readers have questioned the publication of this series about Will Harris, we would like to note that it is our belief that a community can learn from its history, and part of that process sometimes involves looking at the manner in which the events were reported at the time.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, 1906, The Asheville Gazette News reported:

The body of the negro desperado Will Harris … still lies in the undertaking establishment on South Main [S]treet, unclaimed. … It is probable that it will be embalmed and kept here. … The negro has been “identified” as several persons. In addition to giving his name to an express clerk as James Harvey, he has been identified by an Asheville negro as Rufus Lindsey and also by the woman Pearl Maxwell as John Henry, late of Knoxville and originally from Greenville, S.C.

The woman, Pearl, who was with the negro at the moment he killed Officer Blackstock, was released from jail today. Before leaving the bastille she told Sheriff Reed that the negro told her his name was John Henry; that he came here recently from Knoxville, Tenn. And that originally he was from Greenville. … That he has at some time served in the United States [A]rmy is practically certain. This alleged service as a soldier, however, will be investigated and it is not improbable that as a result more pressure will be brought to bear on the [W]ar [D]epartment through Washington influences to keep negroes out of the [A]rmy. When the negro purchased the rifle that did such deadly work from the pawn shop in Asheville he made the statement that he was a discharged soldier. He knew a good rifle, and picked out the best one that the pawn shop people had for sale. He also knew the difference between a soft-nosed bullet and a steel-jacket bullet, and bought the latter. He knew the character of gun he used, and perhaps that he could kill [Officer] Bailey as easily with the officer behind the great telephone pole as with no protection.

The negro evidently knew of the deeds of Will Harris, too, for several times during the evening and also during the fight he proclaimed himself as that noted desperado, and after each shot yelled like an Indian. The dead negro may be or may not be Will Harris. One thing, however, is certain, this country has been rid of one dangerous and desperate negro.

The coroner’s jury that inquired into the death of the negro returned the following verdict late yesterday afternoon, signed by all the jury:

“We, the undersigned jurors, duly summoned by the coroner of Buncombe [C]ounty to hold an inquest over the body of Will Harris, alias Rufus Lindsey, do find the following facts, and record the following as our verdict:

“First, Will Harris, alias Rufus Lindsey, on account of unprecedented murders and crimes had been duly according to law declared an outlaw by his honor, Oliver H. Allen, judge, holding the Superior [C]ourt in the county of Buncombe.

“Second, said Will Harris, alias Rufus Lindsey, came to his death at the hands of public spirited citizens who at the time were in the fearless and unselfish discharge of a public duty, that the law might be vindicated and justice administered; that the said Will Harris, alias Rufus Lindsey, at the time of his death was resisting arrest and attempting to shoot and kill citizens, above referred to, constituting the posse who were attempting, under the authority of law, to effect the capture of the said Will Harris, alias Rufus Lindsey.

“Third, that the citizens above referred to, constituting the posse aforesaid, as well as others who participated in the search and spontaneous efforts to bring to justice this incarnate fiend and desperado, are entitled to the commendation and thanks of the whole community.

Duly rendered this November 16, 1906.

“E.M. Isreal.
“P.C. Cocke.
“James D. Ivey.
“W.B. Wilson.
“J.W. Spears.”


About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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