Even as it grew commercially successful and became integrated into the national and international economies, Vicksburg remained a rootless and unformed place. Plenty of people were drawn to Vicksburg, but few were inclined to remain for very long. In the 1830s nobody was actually “from” Vicksburg. Rather, visitors and more permanent residents alike noted that it was a city filled with “strangers,” itinerants from a wide variety of places who lacked strong ties to each other or to any given community. As a new arrival to Vicksburg put it in 1836, the city attracted “men from every corner of the world” but there was “hardly one native of the place.” Until the Civil War, in fact, Vicksburg’s population was relatively impermanent, with a minority in any given year still present ten years later. From boatmen and businessmen to doctors and lawyers to vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells, Vicksburg was a place people tended to pass through rather than stay.1
The city’s physical and institutional development reflected the transience of its population. British social reformer and author Harriet Martineau, who made a brief stop in Vicksburg during a steamboat voyage in 1835, described it as a “raw-looking, straggling place,” which it was. Vicksburg’s streets were unpaved, and many were “full of dirt and rubbish.” Because the city was built on a series of steep hills, deep gullies and ravines formed during hard rains and were filled in only “very badly.” Vicksburg had a much-admired brick courthouse, but practically all of the town’s hastily constructed commercial buildings were wooden and unpainted, and accommodations for travelers were filthy. Residents had formed a temperance association and a colonization society in the early 1830s, but the city had no regular school and just two churches, though the building housing the Presbyterian church was in disrepair and neither it nor its Methodist counterpart had a permanent minister. Instead, men who practiced law during the week often served as lay preachers on Sundays.2
If any one thing bound together people living in Vicksburg in 1835, it was their insatiable desire to become wealthy. Commerce never stopped in Vicksburg. “The Sabbath,” Virginia lawyer and land agent William Gray noted, was “but little observed.” Rev. Richard Wynkoop agreed. Sundays, Wynkoop wrote, were rather “more like a holliday than a day of prayer. The stores are open, and business is carried on the same as if there was no sabbath.” Such sacrilege was inevitable, as steamboats traveled on Sundays and arrived at the wharves ready to be loaded and unloaded regardless of whether that seemed the Christian thing to do. Not that many Vicksburgers were overly concerned about the impact of their business practices on the state of their souls. Nearly everyone agreed that trying to talk to most people in Vicksburg about salvation or anything else was a waste of time unless it was “connected with making DOLLARS and CENTS.” Gray summed up the state of affairs neatly. “This is a busy place,” he wrote in his diary. “All appear to be intent on making money.”3
Money was why people came to Vicksburg in the flush times, and with good reason. Whether a person was buying and selling land, growing or brokering cotton, dealing in slaves, tending the sick, working at a mercantile firm, or facilitating the endless number of legal transactions and lawsuits, opportunities to become wealthy seemed boundless in Vicksburg, as they did throughout the Southwest. Different people had different plans for getting rich, but the road was less important than the destination. The place was packed with men whom lawyer James Davidson described as “gentlemen adventurers who have dreamed golden dreams.”4
Among those “gentlemen adventurers” were professional gamblers. They were drawn to the Southwest by the same sorts of profiteering impulses as other migrants, and the decision made in July 1835 by the residents of Vicksburg not to countenance their presence had little to do with hostility to gambling in and of itself. On the contrary, not only were Vicksburgers particularly, and southwestern migrants generally, enthusiastic gamblers, but in a very real sense gambling for a living was precisely how people in Vicksburg survived in the flush times. Having flocked to a town that had not even existed twenty years earlier in pursuit of quick profits that booms in land, cotton, and slaves made unimaginable almost anywhere else in the country, William Mills and his fellow “citizens” sought their fortunes in ways any professional gambler would have recognized. They searched for the optimal chance, sized up their prospects, wagered on the future, and occasionally lied, cheated, or stole if it improved the odds.
But Mills, those who rioted against gamblers, and those who supported them preferred not to think of themselves that way. Though they lived in a city that was nearly bereft of well-established institutions and communal networks that composed “society” as the term was conventionally defined, they seized upon the fracas with Francis Cabler at the Independence Day barbecue as an opportunity to imagine community, impose order, and affirm what they maintained were widely shared standards and mores. Not everyone was pleased that matters turned deadly, but there was no looking back. Contrary to all appearances and even their own doubts, the people of Vicksburg maintained they were not unscrupulous speculators and grasping adventurers jockeying on a wild frontier but worthy Americans living upstanding lives in a wholesome and substantive place.
By all accounts, professional gamblers were ubiquitous in the Southwest. Working sometimes alone but often in small teams, they tended to be as itinerant as other whites in the region, moving from place to place along the rivers and in the interior, running faro banks, playing card games like brag and poker, and spinning roulette wheels. A few larger cities such as New Orleans housed permanent and elaborately outfitted and furnished gambling establishments, but professional gamblers plied their trade just about anywhere they could find people with money. They played on steamboats and at hotels, in taverns and at vacation resorts, alongside racetracks, and at public land sales and revival meetings. In every river city and town the interested could find alcohol and gambling tables at businesses clustered along the waterfront, where vice districts such as the Swamp in New Orleans, the Pinchgut in Memphis, and Under-the-Hill in Natchez became so famous that tourists made them standard parts of their itineraries. Even in the smallest villages, though, everyone knew they could gamble at nondescript and innocuously named “coffee houses” or “groceries.” Advertised outside with signs offering baked goods and produce for sale, inside proprietors served the liquor and designated the upstairs rooms and back tables for gambling that earned their establishments the colloquial nicknames of “doggeries,” “tippling shops,” and “devil’s churches.”5
No matter where they worked, professional gamblers seem never to have starved for lack of customers. A preponderance of southwestern migrants came from older parts of seaboard southern states, and southern men were notably willing to bet on almost anything. The risk taking, boasting, winning, and losing inherent in wagering allowed men to express sociability while also subtly maneuvering for rank, thus confirming camaraderie and hierarchy in ways that resonated with a masculinist code of southern honor. Yet even by southern standards, southwestern men were renowned for gambling, their appetites legendary across the class spectrum and among all professions and occupations. In his chronicle of the flush times, Joseph Baldwin was likely being facetious when he claimed to have seen a little boy give an adult ten dollars just to lift him high enough to place a bet at a faro table. But Baldwin was probably serious when he claimed to know a judge who repeatedly canceled court so he could officiate at horse races, and he was certainly both serious and right that every southwestern hamlet had at least half a dozen “groceries” that were “all busy all the time.”6
Gambling’s popularity and prevalence in the Southwest were owed only partly to the pedigree of its residents. The region’s entire economic environment required a gambler’s sensibility. It offered the prospect of making a fast fortune out of nothing but entailed a disposition to borrow money, take the risk that one could make large profits on paper, and then cash out into something tangible and valuable before the bubble burst or the loans got called in. More than a vehicle for substantiating and reaffirming honor’s class-bound pecking order, gambling in the Southwest enabled presumptively equal men to distinguish themselves individually for daring, wealth, and social prowess among unfamiliar male rivals. What people preferred to gamble at was as instructive as the mere fact of their gambling, and while the elite sport of thoroughbred racing supremely popular among white southerners in the East had more than its share of southwestern adherents, it was faro that really captured the attention and the spirit of southwesterners in the flush times.7
Probably originating in France and owing its name to the image of an Egyptian ruler that frequently appeared on the backs of French playing cards, faro was the most widely played game of chance in the United States for much of the nineteenth century. It was relatively straightforward in its fundamentals. Players placed money or tokens on a table spread with a cloth known as a “layout” that was illustrated with images of thirteen cards denominated from ace through king, betting on which card the dealer would draw from a shuffled deck. In each round, or “turn,” of a faro game, the dealer drew two cards off the top of the deck, which was usually kept in a specially designed spring-loaded box. The first card was the banker’s card, and the person or establishment furnishing money for the game won all bets placed on it that turn. The second card, the player’s card, paid to anyone who had bet that card the amount he had wagered on it. Turns continued until the deck was spent, at which point the cards were reshuffled and play began again.8
Although faro’s appeal both predated and outlasted the flush times, the value of the game as a metaphor for that particular economic moment helps explain the fervor with which southwestern migrants played it. Faro was fast paced and easy to play. Any number of people could play it simultaneously, and a player could venture stakes that were relatively small, stunningly large, or anywhere in between. It was a distinctly commercial game designed solely for winning and losing money, and while faro did offer plentiful opportunities for deceptions that helped give professional gamblers who ran it their reputation as “sharpers,” the odds in a fair game were nearly as good for players as they were for the bank. To be sure, the contents of one’s pocket could disappear quickly. But players were drawn to the table because they believed that figuring the percentages could enable them just as quickly to break the bank. Democratic, exciting, nakedly materialistic, and doling out in an instant the highs of victory to some and the lows of defeat to others, faro condensed the siren call of the flush times in each turn of the cards.9
If the Southwest was thus both literally and figuratively filled with gamblers, Vicksburg exemplified the tendency. Its residents were not just profit oriented. In the words of one diarist, they were “run mad with speculation” and did business in “a kind of phrenzy.” And Vicksburgers absolutely loved to gamble. Writing in his memoir, former professional gambler John O’Connor remembered that sales of cotton lands in Vicksburg’s vicinity made the city “the central point of speculation in the Southwest” in the 1830s. Flooded with money and filled with “adventurous spirits of every description,” Vicksburg was also a prime location for professional gamblers. O’Connor claimed that they ran at least fifty faro banks there, “nearly all of which did a thriving business, in spite of the abuse heaped upon their owners by the press of the city.” Similarly, Jonathan H. Green, the “reformed gambler” who became famous in the 1840s and 1850s as an antigambling crusader, wrote in one of his many books that in the early 1830s Vicksburg “was distinguished above most places, even at the south, for bad morals. It might be called an emporium of vice.” By Green’s reckoning, during the flush times “as many as three-fourths of all the citizens of Vicksburg, were more or less addicted to gambling.”10
Both O’Connor and Green penned their recollections years after the gambling riot had given Vicksburg a reputation for having been a hotbed of gamblers, but contemporary sources confirm the flavor of their observations. H. S. Fulkerson, who migrated from Kentucky to Mississippi in the 1830s, claimed that the “better class” of people in Vicksburg “loathed and condemned” gambling. But he conceded that gambling dens could be found “on every business thoroughfare of the city, conducted openly by day and night, and all day of Sundays,” and that gambling was “encouraged by some of the most prominent people” in Vicksburg. Richard Wynkoop, meanwhile, wrote about a man accused of a crime who claimed as an alibi not only that he had been playing cards at the time the crime was committed, but that he had been doing so with the judge presiding in his case. More specifically, Wynkoop wrote that the accused gamblers hanged in the summer of 1835 “were encouraged by a great many of the citizens, and they actually associated with them in their vile practices.”11
Several newspaper editors who commented on the riot suspected as much. One noted that gamblers “did not trouble virtuous, moral citizens. They obtained no money from men who did not gamble with them; and probably their murderers were, in that very particular, the greatest criminals.” Another took Vicksburgers to task for the “laxity of morals” that must have pervaded their city and “permitted an accumulation of vice to such a dangerous mass.” Still others reported that the rioters formed a committee whose job it was to divide money they found inside North’s house among members of the mob who had lost it while gambling there themselves. The rumor was so widespread that William Mills felt compelled to refute it in the Register.12
One of the more comical accounts of how gambling in Vicksburg obliterated expected moral and class boundaries comes from traveling Briton George Featherstonhaugh. Boarding a steamboat in Arkansas en route to New Orleans in December 1834, Featherstonhaugh was repulsed by the company with whom he shared passage. On his first night aboard the vessel, a wealthy, drunk, and belligerent young man threatened him with a knife before staggering away, vomiting all over his own clothing, and collapsing in someone else’s berth. The next morning a party of ten “notorious swindlers and gamblers” embarked. Armed to a man with pistols and long knives, they drank, swore, spit, smoked, fought, and gambled all day and all night long, stopping only periodically to eat and sleep. Irritated and disgusted, Featherstonhaugh looked for relief to those he believed might share his sentiment, to no avail. Two military officers whom Featherstonhaugh hoped would be “on the side of decency at least, if not of correct manners” proved instead to be “familiar intimates” of the men, drinking and gambling with them, and the ship’s captain refused to enforce the posted rules calling for the ejection of anyone annoying other passengers. He told Featherstonhaugh that the men’s behavior was “the customs and manners of the country, and that if he pretended to enforce the rules he should never get another passenger.”13
When the steamboat reached Vicksburg several days later, Featherstonhaugh was tempted to get off and try his luck, so to speak, on a different vessel. He decided to stay, however, when “informed that eight or ten gentlemen, some of whom were planters of great respectability,” would be joining them, including a member of the Vick family for whom the city was named. Certain that there would now be a sufficiency of moral and mannered men to counterbalance “the ruffians in the cabin” and that the captain “would now interfere to keep some order” lest he lose their future business, Featherstonhaugh thought his troubles were over. He was wrong. After the last meal of the day was served, the gamblers set up their faro bank, and to Featherstonhaugh’s “horror and astonishment,” the men who boarded at Vicksburg sat down to play, “gambling, drinking, smoking, and blaspheming, just as desperately as the worst of them.” When the steamboat stopped in Natchez, it emptied enough for Featherstonhaugh and a companion to take refuge in the ladies’ cabin, which they never left except for brief meals until they arrived in New Orleans. But the shocked and bewildered Featherstonhaugh never forgot the “specimens of gentlemen belonging to the State of Mississippi.”14
It is perhaps counterintuitive that Vicksburgers lived in a city prospering on a collective gamble and filled with men who relished their time at the card tables and yet also loathed professional gamblers enough to kill them. Someone, after all, had to provide the faro banks, which few Americans ran for personal recreation. But whatever Vicksburg was, it fell far short of what at least some of its residents liked to believe it was or insisted it would become. The gambling riot became part of an ongoing process by which rioters and their supporters tried wrenching into being a sense of place where there was none and an economically virtuous community where individual self-interest was ascendant if not triumphant. They wanted to see Vicksburg as a city of stability, industry, and sobriety, and it was good for business and their sense of their own moral standing to attest their dedication to honest economic progress and strong communal ties. Where many looked at Vicksburg and saw only speculative fantasies, they declared there was something real.
The violence of the gambling riot did not come out of nowhere, despite William Mills’s assertion that it was “startling.” What happened in the summer of 1835 grew in part from tensions that had been escalating for some time in Vicksburg. Gambling prosecutions had been on the rise in Warren County for several years, increasing from just one between 1817 and 1822 to nearly thirty during the 1830s, and numerous individuals had been charged in the early 1830s with crimes of faro dealing and keeping a “disorderly house.” Ten men were charged with faro dealing and almost twenty others with “keeping a tippling house” just during the November 1834 term of the Warren County Circuit Court, suggesting that county authorities had been making a concerted effort to crack down on gambling and gamblers for months before the riot broke out.15
Yet some of those charges had already been dismissed by July 1835, and nearly all the rest remained outstanding. When Mills complained that gamblers habitually thwarted attempts to prosecute them using regular legal proceedings, he may have had a point. Among the charges dropped since November was one against Francis Cabler for faro dealing, and for him of all people to act so brazenly during the Fourth of July celebration a few months later must have seemed especially galling. The decision to lynch him likely reflected the unique provocation his behavior presented to individuals who knew him just well enough to neither like nor trust him. The subsequent decision to warn professional gamblers out of Vicksburg altogether bore out the broader anger and frustration that had been brewing in the city, and the hangings represented a spontaneous explosion of that anger and frustration into murderous rage in response to Hugh Bodley’s death.16
But if those who supported evicting gamblers from Vicksburg did not premeditate hanging them, they nonetheless saw immense value in defending what they had done. In the weeks and months after the executions, they folded the specifics of local events into an evolving narrative with expansive cultural meaning and implications, using what had happened to Vicksburg’s gamblers to project a description of themselves as hardworking people trying to make a decent place for their families rather than a bunch of transient opportunists out for a quick buck. It seems clear that William Mills disguised the uglier aspects of the gambling riot and covered up any opposition to it. But he was not wrong about the kinds of people involved in the riot or the wider backing their actions had.
The names of everyone in the mob that carried out the riot and the executions cannot be known. But ten men can be identified with reasonable certainty, having been named in newspaper articles as active participants or as members of the Vicksburg Volunteers. The eight of those ten to whom it is possible to attach significant information shared similar profiles. All had lived in Vicksburg less than ten years, and most had lived there less than five. None was especially wealthy and only a few owned slaves, but seven were on career paths that often led to wealth and status. There were three merchants, including the militia captain, Pennsylvania native George Brungard; two physicians; one lawyer; and one hotelkeeper. Befitting their commercial and professional orientations, and in keeping with the political leanings of many other whites in western and southwestern Mississippi whose counties most benefited from and depended on the market production of cotton, five were active in the Whig Party. In short, they were aspirants to the emerging southern middle class whose members, like their northern counterparts, sought mantles of moral and cultural authority in their cities and towns.17
Examining the public response in Vicksburg in the aftermath of the riot and the hangings reveals that members of the nascent professional and commercial classes also played a central role in explaining and justifying what had happened there, contrasting professional gamblers with the kinds of people they imagined themselves to be and touting the executions as a sign that they were dedicated to protecting the peace and morals of their city. As the editor of Vicksburg’s only newspaper, William Mills saw his role to be telling the rioters’ story to the nation and offering an account of the violence that made it seem rational, just, and something to which all estimable people rallied. But more than anyone else, Hugh Bodley made possible a transformation of the hangings into a source of respectability.
In death Bodley became a martyr, and his body was barely cold before Vicksburgers began appropriating him to forge a public memory of the riot. On the night of July 6, with five dead men still suspended from the nearby gallows, a group of “citizens” gathered at a hotel. William Benton, who was not only a lawyer chosen to speak at the Fourth of July barbecue days earlier but also Vicksburg’s postmaster and its former mayor, chaired the meeting. Richard Lyons, a merchant, served as secretary. Attendees passed a resolution expressing sympathy to Bodley’s family and proposed building a monument “in commemoration of the virtues of the deceased, and particularly of the enthusiastic public spirit in the exercise of which he met his mournful and untimely fate.” They resolved that Vicksburgers should wear a badge of mourning for thirty days and that all businesses should be closed the following day so that the entire city could attend Bodley’s funeral, which would depart from the home of his friend, Planters’ Bank cashier Robert Riddle.18
The Bodley memorial, erected several years later, took the form of a marble obelisk atop a trapezoidal base. On one side of the base a woman grieves next to an oak tree with a fractured branch, while another side bears an inscription reading that the monument was “erected by a grateful community to the memory of Dr. Hugh Bodley, murdered by the gamblers, July 5, 1835, while defending the morals of Vicksburg.” By the time the monument was built, however, Vicksburgers had long since crafted the story they told themselves about who Hugh Bodley was and why he had died.19
The crux of it appeared in his obituary, which described Bodley as a “beloved citizen” and a “universally” admired man of “sterling virtues and amiable deportment” who participated in expelling gamblers from Vicksburg because of an “enthusiastic public spirit which marked all his conduct.” Bodley had a “susceptible and generous heart” in which “the claims of duty, friendship and benevolence ever found a ready advocate.” That “miscreants” such as professional gamblers had killed him was tragic, but Bodley’s death, the obituary writer concluded, would “ever remain a damning testimony against that infamous class of individuals to whose desperate vengeance he fell a sacrifice.” His name would “be a watchword to rally the friends of virtue against any one of them who may hereafter dare to obtrude his person within the limits of our city or county.”20
Hugh Bodley was in many ways the perfect counterpoint to the men at whose hands he met his demise. Professional gamblers supposedly profited from fraud and preyed on human weakness to the detriment of society, but as a physician Bodley had dedicated his life to healing, and he earned a living by helping communities stay whole. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, the twenty-eight-year-old Bodley was part of a prominent family, and his father, Thomas Bodley, had served as an officer during the War of 1812, a general in the Kentucky militia, and a member of the Kentucky legislature, and was a presidential elector several times over. Hugh Bodley belonged to an American elite that, to those fashioning themselves respectable in Vicksburg, deserved to benefit from America’s progress. Gamblers, by contrast, were the dregs of society, ruthless killers who had cut down a young man on the cusp of a brilliant future.21
We need not doubt that many people in Vicksburg held Hugh Bodley in high esteem to see that memories of him constructed almost instantaneously on his death served to make the riot and the hangings seem virtuous, and Vicksburg a place where communal roots ran deep. The Hugh Bodley Vicksburgers chose to remember may well have resembled the person he really was. A writer for the Frankfort Commonwealth in Bodley’s native Kentucky who claimed to have known him since his infancy described him much as his obituary in the Register did—as “a young man, in the flower of his days, the idol of the society in which he moved, adorned with all the charms which amiable manners, a cultivated mind, a high and lofty sense of honor and indomitable courage can give.” Born to a father known “for his hospitality, for his public spirit, [and] for his pure and ardent patriotism,” Hugh Bodley was mourned in Kentucky as having “just entered upon his professional career, with every promise of honor and profit to himself, and usefulness to his community.” The death of such an individual surely was exceptionally devastating.22
But there is a critical difference between how Hugh Bodley was remembered in Mississippi and how he was remembered in Kentucky. Those who commemorated Bodley’s life and death in Vicksburg wrote and spoke of him as if he was a venerable and long-standing friend to all who knew him, when in fact Bodley had been in the city only slightly more than two years. He was unmarried, owned neither land nor slaves, and before settling in Vicksburg had been something of a wanderer, rambling about the Southwest for so long while deciding where to live that his father started worrying about him. His estate comprised just under two hundred dollars in cash, a grocer’s tab, and a few outstanding bills for subscriptions to some newspapers and medical journals, all published in Kentucky. Bodley’s only real attachment to Vicksburg was that two of his siblings lived there, and his sister had moved there even more recently than he had.23
Bodley may have made many friends in Vicksburg in a brief time, but those friends grounded their assessments of his character on a relatively shallow base of experience. Mourned and memorialized by people who had known him for two years as if they had known him since the day he was born, however special Hugh Bodley was in reality, he was also the person those lamenting his loss wished him to be. If he represented a segment of Vicksburg’s population at its finest, then by extension his virtues were their virtues, his righteous deeds their righteous deeds, his imagined depth of feeling for the good people of Vicksburg the depth of feeling all good people in Vicksburg had for each other and their city. If a man like Hugh Bodley led a mob in breaking down the door of a gambling house, then any worthy person had to stand behind that mob.
And if professional gamblers were so base as to kill a man like Bodley, then surely they deserved to die with as little mercy as they had shown him. Such, at least, was the opinion of the “large and respectable meeting of the citizens of Warren county” that convened at the courthouse three weeks after the hangings. Its attendees unanimously resolved “that the late expulsion of the Gamblers from Vicksburg, by the citizens, was a measure highly necessary for the well-being of the citizens of the place, and to the welfare of the county, and to communities at large.” Moreover, they concluded “that the summary justice inflicted upon the murderers of our late estimable citizen, Doct. Hugh S. Bodley, was justifiable; and that the citizens of the county do, and will sustain the citizens of the town, in that execution of speedy and retributive justice.”24
However large this meeting was, the status of the thirty-six men whose names appeared in the public report of the gathering is beyond doubt. As the meeting represented Warren County and not just the city of Vicksburg, some of those who attended were inhabitants of the countryside, including more than a dozen men whose wealth and slaveholdings placed them firmly in the planter class and several of whom were residents of about as long standing as any white person could be. Russell Smith, for example, owned more than eighteen hundred acres of land and more than forty slaves, and he had lived in the county since at least the 1810s.25
That men like Smith turned out to show support for the rioters in Vicksburg indicates the interdependencies of rural and urban elites on the southwestern frontier. Those in Vicksburg aspired somewhat more to the bourgeois values of city dwellers elsewhere in the United States and those in the countryside somewhat more to the achievement of patriarchal dominance and mastery characteristic of southern planters. But the two groups had overlapping and intertwined economic interests in the development of the cotton kingdom, and both benefited from the elimination of any elements perceived capable of disrupting the smooth production and marketing of cotton, whether they were rebellious slaves, gangs of white bandits, or professional gamblers. Indeed, along with a resolution backing the gambling riot, those gathered at the meeting decided to create a “Committee of Safety and Vigilance” for the county like the one that had been created in Livingston, the job of its members being to arrest and bring to trial “all idle vagrant persons whom they may have good reason to suspect of entertaining or promoting any designs against the peace and safety of the community.” Whether purging professional gamblers or hunting for John Murrell’s “band of vagrant and unprincipled men,” those with the most at stake in Mississippi saw the need to work together and “exercise the utmost vigilance and energy for the preservation of our lives and property.”26
Most of those at the courthouse meeting were not planters, however. They were men much like the rioters themselves. They were, on average, somewhat better established financially and of somewhat longer residence in Vicksburg or Warren County than the rioters. But few had lived there longer than a decade, and they were occupationally typical of a small antebellum city’s prominent classes. Seven were merchants, nine were lawyers (including Warren County sheriff Stephen Howard and Vicksburg mayor Robert McGinty), two were physicians, and one was a minister. Seven were running for office and had recently served as county or state officials, and of the twelve with identifiable political affiliations, ten were Whigs. “Citizens” all, they offered their “hearty approbation” for the measures rioters had taken against gamblers and their “aid hereafter in similar measures, should it be required.”27
The effort to prove that violence could create respectability in Vicksburg culminated six months after the riot with a ceremony that served as an appropriate if less contested bracket to the Independence Day celebration of the previous summer. On New Year’s Day 1836, in front of the Planters’ Bank, a group of women known only as “the ladies of Vicksburg” publicly presented the Vicksburg Volunteers with a flag bearing the unit’s insignia. Speaking before what the Register described as a “very large concourse of ladies and gentlemen,” a young woman named Mary Ann Fretwell praised the Volunteers for their “gallantry and courage,” singling out their actions of July 1835. With the militiamen still touchy about criticism they had received in the national press, Fretwell noted that the “uncandid and censorious” could have their say but that the ladies of Vicksburg knew the Volunteers’ actions were grounded in “noble and virtuous motives” and had inspired “improvement in the moral and social condition of the community.”28
George Brungard received the flag on behalf of the Volunteers he commanded. Expressing his gratitude, he assured the donors that their gift would motivate the unit’s members to fulfill their duties as “citizens and soldiers,” particularly since it came from women, whose “approbation … we find more than a recompense for all the probable toils and perils incident to our station.” Like Fretwell, Brungard reflected on the gambling riot. He insisted that the Volunteers had acted as they believed necessary, that the passage of time had only further convinced them of the justice of their actions, and that those actions would be repeated should the “moral pestilence” of gamblers reappear in Vicksburg.29
Brungard acknowledged that even “a few of our own citizens” had condemned the riot, a rare concession that opponents of the mob violence could rightly be called “citizens” or that there were opponents in Vicksburg at all. But Brungard maintained that such people were not really part of what he considered the community. Instead of rallying around the rioters, local critics were liars who undid the project of respectability by “adding fuel to the flame, and by misrepresentations exciting citizen against citizen and friend against friend.” For Brungard, July 4, 1835, had been a moment when people living in Vicksburg had to decide on which side of a moral line they stood. The rioters and their supporters had chosen virtue and could consequently claim a place among the decent in the city. Critics might still reside in Vicksburg, but they were entitled only to “the contempt of the friends of morality, and the good wishes of those excrescences of all communities, the professional gamblers.”30
Brungard’s rhetorical division of the moral from the immoral in Vicksburg reflected the rioters’ demarcation of the boundaries of respectability. Their line was not predicated on a categorical divide quite so rigid as the one Charles Caldwell laid down between gambling and legitimate economic activity, but they saw a related division between different types of gambling and different types of gamblers. Vicksburgers do not seem to have been especially troubled that the prospects of speculative money-making had initially attracted so many of them to the city. But professional gamblers were men whose devotion to making money knew no bounds, who cared only for themselves, and who neither produced nor contributed anything useful to the society in which they lived. They came, they fleeced whom they could, and when they stopped making money or went bust, they vanished. Anyone trying to stop them might not live to tell the tale. Professional gamblers were speculators too. But in speculating on the lust for easy winnings, they represented and exploited what many Vicksburgers feared were their worst inclinations to greed without the constraints of social obligation, gain without the imperatives of productive labor, and riches without any substantive economic or moral foundation.
Moreover, they did it with so little sense of propriety. Part of what incited Vicksburgers to riot was that professionals either did not understand or did not care that even as many “citizens” gambled they also viewed gambling as a vice, and that indulgence of that vice was supposed to be contained within a particular space and time. That men gambled was no secret, but where professional and amateur gamblers might mingle promiscuously on steamboats, at racetracks, and in “coffee houses,” men who considered gambling a pastime rather than an occupation preferred to leave sordid things behind them when play ended. A witness to events in Vicksburg told the Richmond Enquirer, for example, that it was professional gamblers’ failure to recognize limits that had driven Vicksburgers from exasperation to rage. “Not content with carrying on their ‘dreadful trade,’ in the silence of night and apart from public observation,” they had begun dealing openly and everywhere around the clock and were thus guilty of “break[ing] down the barriers of society.”31
So long as gamblers did their business after dark, stayed near the waterfront, and let customers come to them, they were merely a “nuisance” and could “receive the benefit of the laws.” Confronting amateur gamblers and their families by daylight, however, brought supposedly worthy community members face-to-face with their own abandon in an especially disconcerting way. People already wondering whether they could be both scrupulous and speculators could tolerate confrontation of this kind for only so long.32
Such an understanding of the relationship among time, space, and vice makes Francis Cabler’s offense on the Fourth of July all the more clear. Even before he arrived on the scene, the planners of the day’s events had intended them implicitly to confirm the uprightness of Vicksburg’s “citizens” in particular contradistinction to professional gamblers. As the Lexington Intelligencer reported hearing from one witness, Vicksburgers “had determined to discountenance a gang of black-legs, that infested their society, and … made arrangements for peaceably excluding them, by a use of tickets, from the public festivities for the occasion.” But Cabler showed up anyway, stood his ground when confronted, and later intruded again into a celebration designed to demonstrate that he and his sort specifically were unwelcome. By the time he fully grasped that Independence Day in Vicksburg was for citizens and not for gamblers, he had become an unanticipated part of the day’s revelry.33
Attempts at establishing these sorts of divisions did not convince everyone. At his plantation home near Centreville in Amite County southeast of Natchez, William Winans read about what had transpired in Vicksburg and failed to see on what basis the rioters could effectively declare that the city belonged exclusively to them. A Methodist minister, Winans had lived in Mississippi for more than twenty years when he wrote to the Reverend Benjamin Houghton, a colleague then living in Vicksburg, with profound concerns about the supposed moral character of the people among whom Houghton lived. “The gamblers,” Winans wrote, “had just as much right to order the citizens to leave Vicksburgh, and murder them in case [of] refusal, as the citizens had to give them such orders, and murder them in case of refusal.” The riot and executions, as Winans saw them, were “clearly a case of wanton usurpation and tyranny—of lawless power against right.”34
In his response Houghton tried clarifying for Winans the way those in Vicksburg saw the matter, explaining in the process exactly how the rioters set their collective enterprise on the cotton frontier apart from that of their victims. “Many of them,” Houghton conceded, “doubtless do all in the way of gaming, that gamblers themselves do; but at other times, they pursue an honest avocation; and if they are fleeced, it is amongst one another; but they will not again soon suffer those to live and game it here who are dependent wholly on that business for support, and have no other visible means of subsistence.” The problem with professional gamblers, then, was not that they gambled, or even that they cheated. At least as Houghton understood it, the problem was that professional gamblers did not do anything but gamble and cheat. To those considering themselves “honest,” speculation so shameless, so unrestrained, and so single-minded was unacceptable. Vicksburg may not have ended up being their home for very long either. They too may have understood the city as a way station where gambling helped pass the time and perhaps make some fast cash while they assessed economic opportunities elsewhere in the Southwest. But as they proved at the gallows, at least they pretended to be “citizens” while they stayed.35
Ultimately, it is debatable whether those who purged the men they claimed transgressed the limits of acceptable economic behavior differed fundamentally from the purged, even discounting the rumor that the rioters turned to violence as much to retrieve betting losses as to uphold morality or administer justice. Little information can be gleaned about the four men dragged out of the house by the mob on July 6. William Mills identified them only as “Hullams, Dutch Bill, Smith, and McCall.” But it is likely that the house’s owner and the fifth hanging victim, a man named Truman North, was a professional gambler. The same can be said of Francis Cabler and of another man named James Hoard, whom Mills described in his reports on the gambling riot as a perpetrator of “shameless profligacy” and as having escaped Vicksburg ahead of the mob’s wrath. Both North and Hoard were charged in 1834 with “keeping a tippling house,” and Hoard, like Cabler, was charged with faro dealing as well as with “indecency and fornication.” Hoard, Cabler, and North were certainly associates, as Hoard both repeatedly posted bond for men, including Cabler, accused of these sorts of crimes, and he owned a building adjacent to North’s house at the corner of Washington and Grove Streets, one block from the city landing.36
But Truman North, Francis Cabler, and James Hoard were not itinerants who came and went as the financial winds blew. On the contrary, all had lived in Vicksburg longer than Hugh Bodley, and all owned property in the city, investments that provided them—despite William Mills’s claim that gamblers were “unconnected with society by any ordinary ties”—with the most ordinary tie of all to an American place. Arguably, property ownership made their stake in Vicksburg and its future more concrete than Bodley’s was. Truman North even owned a slave, a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Cherry, and North’s eight-year-old son Alfred, who became an orphan on July 6, 1835, had depended on his father more than anyone in Vicksburg had depended on Hugh Bodley. To the rioters, however, what separated Truman North from Hugh Bodley was unambiguous. Through riot, rhetoric, and public ritual, the mob and its supporters made clear that whether or not professional gamblers had families, and no matter how much property they acquired, the way they made their living meant they would never be legitimate members of “society.”37
People in Vicksburg were not the only Americans in 1835 who felt that professional gamblers embodied a disreputable speculative impulse that had to be checked lest it produce social decay and economic disorder. In the immediate wake of events in Vicksburg, Americans across the country became terrified that they were about to be inundated with members of the “blackleg gentry.” Through the summer and into the fall they turned to legal and extralegal means to evict gamblers from dozens of cities and towns and to ensure that any others considering locating there would think twice and keep moving.
The effect of the Vicksburg riot was especially pronounced in Mississippi. William Mills had called for “all our sister towns throughout the State” to help in “exterminating” gamblers, and many were happy to oblige. East of Vicksburg in Clinton, notices were posted warning that all gamblers found in the town “after 12 o’clock, will be used according to Lynch’s Law,” adding particularly that “the importations from Vicksburg will look out.” Townspeople in Pontotoc and Columbus, northeast of Vicksburg, held meetings, passed resolutions, and formed vigilance committees to expel gamblers by force if necessary. To Vicksburg’s southwest, in Washington and Woodville, crowds raided gambling houses and engaged in fistfights as they chased supposed gamblers out of town. In Grand Gulf, nine men accused of being gamblers were beaten and tarred and feathered.38
In Natchez, where Vicksburgers had sent a special delegation to ask for assistance “in the expulsion of professional gamblers from the country,” people gathered at a public meeting in the courthouse, expressed condolences for the death of Hugh Bodley, and promised their cooperation. Residents soon gave gamblers twenty-four hours to evacuate the city. When the deadline passed, a mob went to the Under-the-Hill district, drove out all those who had refused to leave, and destroyed faro tables and roulette wheels in the streets. In short order the Columbus Argus could brag that the example set in Vicksburg was “being carried out by almost every town and hamlet in the State.” The Jackson Banner, published in the state capital, concurred, asserting that “ever since the memorable movement in Vicksburg against this class of men, the Gamblers have been routed and expelled from almost every city” in the vicinity. By September, anyone suspected of being a professional gambler had nowhere safe to go in Mississippi.39
But they had to go somewhere. In the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys particularly and the western United States generally, people became convinced that hordes of exiled professional gamblers were heading their way, and they were determined not to sit by and watch the anticipated influx. In New Orleans and Mobile, in Little Rock and St. Louis, in Memphis and Nashville, in Lexington and Louisville, in Cincinnati and Wheeling, and in innumerable smaller places throughout the region, residents sometimes warned gamblers out with deadlines and promises of lynching, sometimes physically assaulted them and destroyed their equipment, sometimes arrested and jailed them, and sometimes convened public meetings where attendees formed antigambling societies and vowed to help enforce local antigambling and vagrancy laws.40
Hezekiah Niles concluded in his Weekly Register that “all the river towns are alarmed at the fearful introduction of a ‘legion of devils’ amongst them,” but he missed the larger reality by limiting his observations to those spots only. In truth, it seemed no place was big enough to absorb the swarms of gamblers imagined to be floating western rivers and traipsing western roads, and no place was too small to fear being the next target of gamblers’ supposed depredations. If the reaction against gambling did not produce the fatalities elsewhere that it did in Vicksburg, surely that was in part because it began in Vicksburg, giving authorities in other places a chance to act ahead of lynch mobs and giving gamblers fair warning that taking a stand as the men in Truman North’s house had done would be ill advised.41
The mayor of Cincinnati, for example, made aware that city residents were contemplating “strong and violent measures” against gamblers they believed were headed their way, co-opted the gathering anger before it became uncontrollable. He issued a proclamation assuring the public that he had one hundred citizens ready to aid police in evicting gamblers and knew five hundred more he might call on in an emergency, thus making “a resort to violence, by well intended assemblages of the inhabitants … entirely unnecessary.” In Natchez, meanwhile, the mob that determined to clear the Under-the-Hill district had to resign itself primarily to demolishing gambling equipment after finding that most of the area’s occupants had already “fled upon the reception of the news from Vicksburg.”42
That the West saw the most marked reaction against gamblers is unsurprising. It is impossible to determine how many Americans made their living as gamblers in the 1830s, but an exceptionally large number of them seem to have been in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Drawn by abundant cash among a fluid population of risk takers, by river and steamboat systems facilitating movement, and by the inability and unwillingness of legal authorities to take concerted action against them, gamblers found the region fertile ground for their enterprises. Not without justice has one scholar referred to the antebellum Southwest as “the headquarters for the emergence of the professional gambler.”43
The Vicksburg riot in particular reflected cultural characteristics that were not only western but southern as well. William Mills sprinkled his reporting on the riot with allusions to how gamblers threatened the honor of other white men in the city, and the use of music and ritual humiliation in chasing gamblers from Vicksburg suggests the charivari that some historians have argued was peculiarly southern. Violence in general seems to have been more prevalent in the Southwest than elsewhere in the United States too, even excluding the violence of slavery that undergirded settlement of the region, the prevailing consequences of which remained all too clear in the Mississippi interior as events in Vicksburg were unfolding.44
Travelers reported large numbers of short-tempered young men carrying weapons in every southwestern town they visited, and most concluded that given the ferocity of economic competition, the impotence of criminal law enforcement, and the consumption of voluminous amounts of alcohol, interpersonal violence broke out with less provocation in frontier areas than elsewhere in the country. Henry Foote recalled about the Southwest in the 1830s that between widespread drunkenness and “the deplorable fact that nearly all classes of the population went habitually armed, the number of scenes marked with personal violence … [was] really astounding to contemplate.” One need only read William Gray’s accounts of two very prominent and very drunk lawyers fighting in Vicksburg’s muddy streets and of the corpse of a man shot dead on Christmas Day that still lay in one of its thoroughfares the next morning to sense that the city was an extraordinarily and even casually violent place.45
Whatever the regional tendencies manifest in the antigambling movement of 1835, however, the movement was national. Efforts and calls to evict or arrest gamblers appeared not just in cities such as New Orleans and Natchez but in urban areas along the Eastern Seaboard as well. In Norfolk, police raided a gambling house and piled and burned the equipment they found there in the public market on orders from the city’s mayor. In Richmond, the Enquirer reported that “every considerate man hears with indignation the whispers of threats to lynch the Gamblers,” and the offices of the Richmond Whig were threatened with destruction after its editor refused to publish what he considered “inflammatory papers, inviting the young men of the City to assemble to extirpate the gamblers.” The chief justice of the City Court of Baltimore received an anonymous communication that hundreds of gamblers were flooding into the city, that the police had been bribed not to arrest them, and that he ought to encourage “any energetic means that may be devised to get rid of the population that is odious to all but the profligate and abandoned.” Philadelphians feared that southern gamblers were invading the city, as did New Yorkers, while on Long Island a judge, a sheriff, “a large corps of constables, and a posse of the most respectable of the citizens” attacked more than half a dozen men who belonged to a gang of gamblers that had been drawing off attendees at a revival meeting.46
One can empathize with Americans’ fear of professional gamblers. Men who made their living that way could be dishonest and dangerous. Even granting the sensationalism, bias, selectivity, exaggeration, and embellishment that compromised the accuracy and objectivity of newspaper accounts, travelers’ diaries, and narratives penned by former gamblers, the evidence is overwhelming that professional gamblers marked cards, colluded in confidence games to gull the unsuspecting, resorted to violence and sometimes to murder, and associated with thieves, counterfeiters, and other criminals of varying stripes. By and large, professional gamblers were not the sort most people would ever want to cross.
But worries about professional gamblers in 1835 were well out of proportion to any conceivable reality, betraying an apprehension that crossed the boundaries of reason into absurdity. Americans who lived hundreds of miles from the Southwest dreaded not merely that gamblers were about to swarm into their cities but that gamblers chased specifically from Vicksburg would do so. However credible that concern might have been in New Orleans, where steamboats that had passed through Vicksburg routinely docked, the emergence of seemingly earnest news stories out of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that exiled Vicksburg gamblers could be spotted by the kind of hat they wore or the watch they carried indicated that the targets of the Vicksburg riot struck an especially sensitive nerve in American culture.47
That nerve was fully exposed for anyone to see in the very same newspaper reports that excoriated the residents of Vicksburg for having hanged Truman North and the men in his house. The horror most editors expressed about the hangings in Vicksburg was not disingenuous. But if few of them supported the extralegal violence of the Vicksburg mob, even fewer defended professional gamblers, and the language they used to describe them spoke to concerns and fears similar to those articulated by William Mills and his fellow Vicksburgers. All across America, professional gamblers were not just dangerous criminals. They were “vampyres,” “blood-suckers,” “vultures,” “harpies,” “living ulcers,” “plague spots,” and “blood-gouts”: seductive men who alternately fed off and introduced toxic impurities to the healthy energy and vitality of others. They left their victims dead or desperate shells of their former selves, inestimably damaging the larger society. As the New York Sun put it, somewhat mixing the corporeal metaphor through which Americans made their revulsion known, gamblers were “bullying blackguards … who have long been draining the life blood from the moral walk of the community.”48
Most specifically, editors everywhere lamented that gamblers ruined enterprising and industrious young men—men like Hugh Bodley. Aspiring to join the ranks of professionals, clerks, and other white-collar occupations, young men drawn to cities by economic opportunity were hungry to make their fortunes, optimistic about their futures, in possession of some cash, and hopelessly naive, making them easy marks for gamblers who would undermine their morals as they took their money. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, noting that “the recent scenes in Vicksburg have induced hundreds to contemplate” gambling and gamblers, argued that the “merchants and wholesale dealers” in every city on the Atlantic seaboard ought to consider remedies for the problem. Merchants in particular had “young men in their service as clerks, book-keepers, and so forth,” and “in nine cases out of ten” it was young men in such occupations who were most “tempted to the gaming table.” They were “ardent, unsuspecting, and inexperienced,” susceptible to the wiles of professional gamblers who disguised themselves as “gentlemen” and who would in short order unburden the credulous “of every thing worth taking.” By forming antigambling societies, breaking up gambling halls, and publishing the names of known gamblers in the newspapers, the Inquirer argued, “citizens” could collectively prove that “the public mind was never more alive to the horrors of gambling.”49
Tellingly, while the editor of the Inquirer mustered outrage enough to call for a crackdown on professional gamblers and their havens, he neglected to link that call to the larger economic temptations that many young American men found impossible to resist in the 1830s. The editor of the Inquirer, William Mills, and the ministers, advice writers, and others who devoted their energies to condemning gamblers and the gambling that took place in the demoniac “hells” of Jacksonian America found it easy to see a class of malevolent villains and deceivers who connived against the upstanding and virtuous and left them morally and financially bankrupt. It was harder and required more abstract vision to see that gamblers’ seductions worked because they offered sudden fortunes for nothing more than a readiness to take a risk on a hand of cards or a spin of the wheel. Professional gamblers may indeed have presented false fronts, plied customers with alcohol, and cheated, but it was the prospect of easy money that pervaded American economic life in the flush times that got young men to sidle up to the faro table.
The anxieties present in Vicksburg in 1835 were thus like those in many parts of the United States. Residents of the city were not unusual in finding the consequences of an expanding market economy confusing and sometimes maddening. Americans everywhere struggled with uncertainty and ambivalence as they confronted life amid transient and anonymous populations. Americans everywhere tried forging new forms of community and respectable morality in unfamiliar environments. And though optimistic, Americans everywhere wondered whether the desire for individual gain unleashed in a world of speculative capitalism inevitably produced what Thomas Dew, professor of political economy at the College of William and Mary, saw as a “reckless profligate gambling spirit … spread through the country.” If some in Vicksburg found deadly violence against professional gamblers who crystallized their misgivings as appropriate a way for negotiating with the new realities and moving forward as sermons and advice manuals, that decision was brutal, but it was a deeply American impulse understood throughout the nation.50
One person who did not understand what was happening in Mississippi was the Reverend Duke W. Hullum, who followed events in Vicksburg as closely as he could from his home in Hardeman County, Tennessee. His son John was one of the four men trapped in Truman North’s Vicksburg Coffee House on July 6. Shot several times as the mob launched its final assault, and insensible to his ultimate fate, he had been noosed and thrown unconscious from the gallows. The elderly Rev. Hullum grieved and waited for some indication that members of the mob would be tried for their roles in his son’s death. Surely they could not get away with murder. But late in September 1835, having neither seen nor heard any sign that officials in Mississippi intended to take action, Hullum wrote a letter to Mississippi governor Hiram Runnels and released the text of it to the press, where it appeared first in the Liberty Hall and Cincinnati Gazette before being reprinted in papers all across the country.51
Hullum wanted Runnels to do his job. Virtually every newspaper in America had published reports of what had transpired in Vicksburg. Surely Runnels had heard and read enough to be convinced that known killers were walking the streets of the city with impunity. Yet he had done nothing about it and seemed content to continue to do nothing about it, putting Hullum in the flabbergasting situation of having “to ask that justice as a favor which the laws of my country entitle me to demand as a matter of right.”52
Hullum saw nothing complicated or unclear in the circumstances surrounding his son’s death. John Hullum had been inside a house. He had been charged with no crime, and no warrant had been issued for any legal authority to enter the premises. A mob had surrounded the house, and those inside had warned that they would shoot at anyone who approached the building. The mob attacked the house anyway, John Hullum opened fire in self-defense, and he had consequently been hanged without ever seeing a jury or a courtroom. Duke Hullum told the governor that he would have come to Mississippi himself to help prosecute his son’s executioners but had been cautioned that he would be killed if he tried to do so. “This,” Hullum wrote to Runnels, “is an alarming state of society, and which, if not shortly corrected by an energetic and efficient administration of the laws, we may bid adieu to liberty and justice, the wisdom and purity of our boasted institutions, and all those constitutional rights and privileges which are the pride and glory of every virtuous American citizen.”53
Duke Hullum recognized that the question of whether his son had been a “virtuous” American citizen was at least partially at issue because it was “alleged he was a gambler.” As a minister, the elder Hullum offered no extenuation for what may or may not have been the vices of the younger. To Duke Hullum, gambling was “a great and growing evil, and should receive the pointed reprobation of the civilized world.” But if John Hullum had been a gambler, “it was susceptible of proof, and he was amenable to the laws.” And if the citizens of Mississippi had not figured out how to criminalize gambling effectively, then they had a responsibility to address such a systemic flaw.54
Hullum, though, suspected that the problem in Mississippi was less a matter of administration than morality. To Hullum, a “greater distinction is drawn between the professional and the occasional gamester, than comports with my ideas of moral philosophy. … [O]ne act of gambling is as much an evidence of an evil propensity, as that one theft distinctly marks the rogue.” For Vicksburgers to be so outraged and disgusted by the presence of professional gamblers in their city was hypocritical and disingenuous, because “notwithstanding the apparent shock of the moral sensibility of the citizens of Mississippi, there is no part of the United States where the despicable vice is so generally practiced, among the officers of the law, from the supreme judge down to the constable.”55
In fact, Hullum had heard that “one of the principal actors” in the mob “was in the constant habit of visiting gaming houses” and had “by his seductive arts, contributed perhaps more than any other man, to lead the unfortunate victims of his personal vengeance into those sinks of iniquity.” Duke Hullum did not believe that his son had been killed because he was a gambler, or that he had been killed because he had murdered Hugh Bodley. Rather, given the habits and temperaments of Mississippians, Rev. Hullum could only conclude that “the recent crusade at Vicksburgh was not so much the result of a deep and abiding sense of justice and virtue, as it was of wicked hearts, bad passions, personal revenge and a reckless spirit of insubordination to the laws.”56
If John Hullum had been a gambler, his father failed to see how the men who had killed him were any different than he was. Perhaps they were worse. And if Runnels needed evidence before he took action, Hullum enclosed the names of sixteen men who had participated in the mob and nine witnesses to the riot, all of which he hoped Runnels would “forward without delay to the attorney general or other officer at Vicksburgh charged with the prosecution of the defendants.” Hiram Runnels did not reply to Duke Hullum’s letter. Instead, Hullum waited for prosecutions that never came. No one was ever criminally charged with his son’s murder.57
But he was not alone in wondering what was going on in Mississippi. By the end of the first week of July 1835, months before Duke Hullum’s letter became public, the whole country started hearing about dead gamblers, dead bandits, and dead slaves in the state, and no one could offer a thoroughly convincing explanation as to why, venture a guess as to when it would cease, or account for authorities who seemed to be doing nothing to end it. White Mississippians could not have understood with clarity how the social, cultural, and economic currents of their times produced the violence they perpetrated, any more than we can glean real wisdom or gain perspective on our own historical moment while also living inside it. But as the violence in Mississippi continued past July 6 and spread ever further beyond Warren and Madison counties, some of them finally realized that it had to stop.