Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why We're Not Razorbacks, Part III

So now you've read Cal Jones's story about his father's departure from Arkansas, and his sister Tommy's response disputing some of the details. Now, we'll look at what the Arkansas justice system had to say. Like Bill Clinton and Scooter Libby, Silas appears to have gotten himself in bigger trouble over perjury than whatever he might have done in the first place.

A few years ago, I wrote to the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville asking for any records they might have involving Silas Matthew Jones. They came up with one thing: a perjury indictment against Silas from November 6, 1903. The story told in the indictment doesn't directly address the killing of the dog at all, but rather some events in its aftermath.

The events in question—apparently an argument over the killing of the dog—took place on July 19, 1903. According to the sworn testimony of H.L. Robbins—that's Zode Robbins, the neighbor whose dog Silas killed—Silas "made use of violent abusive profane and insulting language towards and about one Della Carter and in her presence and hearing which language in its common acceptation was calculated to arouse to anger the said Della Carter and cause a breach of the peace." The exact words Silas is alleged to have said to Mrs. Carter? "You are a liar. I've got a rock for you. I'll hit you as quick as I would the dog."

The indictment, a hand-written document, says that four days later, Silas was in court having been charged with breach of peace. At that proceeding, under oath, he denied saying those words. The grand jury, apparently relying on the word of witnesses (more on that in a minute), decided that "in truth and fact" Silas did make that statement and that his testimony was "feloniously, willfully and corruptly false."

The cover of the indictment names the case ("State of Arkansas vs. S. M. Jones") and identifies the grand jury foreman and the witnesses. Besides Zode Robbins, the witnesses were Della Carter herself, Arizona Largent, J. Cherry, and Charlie Tunstill. I don't know how Tunstill fits in, but Cherry is identified as the justice of the peace at the original proceeding. As for the others, here's where it gets interesting.

In looking at some genealogy sources, I found out that Arizona Largent was the former Arizona Masters—not a desert golf tournament but a woman in Arkansas. She was the mother of Zode Robbins and Della Carter, who were half-siblings.

But the really funny thing is that Zode was a second cousin to Silas's wife Nannie Shumate—something that neither Cal nor Tommy had mentioned. It's possible they didn't know—or didn't remember it sixty years later. It's not a big coincidence; in their town of Durham in the 1900 census, at least a third of the residents appeared to be related to Silas and Nannie. But when Cal described the bad blood between his mother's and father's families, he wasn't kidding!

Was this indictment the paper that Cal remembered the man on the horse reading to his father? Was this what made him disappear out the back door and leave Arkansas for good? Cal says they left in the fall, which would square with the November date of the indictment.

This is all I have on the subject for now. I should say that Silas's grandchildren remember him fondly, and as a good man. The words he said to his neighbor that day—if he said them—might have been in character, or they might have been the meanest thing he ever said. I just hope that the meanest thing I ever said doesn't wind up on record in a courthouse somewhere!

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