March 27, 2015

Railroad Contractors Charged With Holding Workers In Peonage, Whitley/McCreary, 1911

Previously:

Click here for a list of my other Pulaski/Rockcastle/Laurel County KY articles

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[July 15, 1911] -

CONTRACTOR HELD ON 
CHARGE OF PEONAGE

(Special To The Herald.)

SOMERSET, Ky., July 14-- Something of a sensation was created here and at Stearns today when Deputy United States Marshal J. A. Coleman arrested A. M. Cook, a prominent contractor, who has charge of the building of the Kentucky & Tennessee railroad extension at Stearns, on a charge of violating the Federal statutes on peonage.

Cook was arraigned before United States Commissioner E. T. Wesley here and was held under $1,500 bond for his appearance at examining trial on August 11. [1]


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[July 15, 1911] -


CHARGE PEONAGE TO CONTRACTOR

SOMERSET, KY., July 15.--(Spl.)--A. M. Cook, contractor, charged with violating the Federal statutes on peonage, was arrested here by Deputy United States Marshal J. A. Coleman.

The arrest followed charges of workingmen employed by Cook, who assert that they were employed from distant towns and were offered free transportation to Cook's camp.  After they arrived, they say, they were compelled to work out their transportation.

They also claim that they were repeatedly fined $10 by Cook for supposed failure to do certain work, and that, owing to the fines, they never received any money.  Cook was held under $1500 bond. [2]









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[July 20, 1911] -


PEONAGE THE CHARGE.


Kentucky and Tennessee Contractor Must Stand Trial.

Somerset.-- A sensation was created here and at Stearns when Deputy United States Marshal J. A. Coleman arrested A. M. Cook, a prominent contractor, who has charge of the contract for the building of the Kentucky and Tennessee extension of railroad at Stearns, on a charge of violating the new federal statutes on peonage. 

Cook was arraigned before United States Commissioner E. T. Wesley and was held under $1,500 bond for his appearance at examining trial on August 11.

The men say that they are brought to the Cook camp by free transportation, and are made to work out the amount of the transportation, and are repeatedly being fined $10 each for supposed failure to do certain work or some infraction of camp rules, and never receive any money at all.

They say that a guard is kept over them, and they are not permitted to leave camp at all without written order. [3]



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[August 15, 1911] -

HELD TO FEDERAL COURT ON CONSPIRACY CHARGE

Alleged Intimidators of Witnesses Are Tried At Somerset

SOMERSET, Ky., Aug 14-- When United States Commissioner E. T. Wesley and Deputy United States Marshal J. A. Coleman opened court for the continuance of the trials of the men charged with peonage at the railroad construction camps of A. M. Cook, who is building an extension of the Kentucky & Tennessee Railroad for the Stearns Lumber & Coal Company, the three men who had been arrested on the charge of conspiracy in the intimidation of witnesses and the obstruction of Justice M. B. Eaves, commissary manager, Dr. Phillips, camp physician and Ed Smith, all waived examining trial and executed bond in the sum of $1,500 each for their appearance at the October term of Federal court at London, Ky., where the cases will be given final trials before A. M. J. Cochran, Federal Judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Five men connected with the construction company near Stearns are now held to Federal Court, the five being A. M. Co[o]k, who is held over in two distinct cases one for peonage and one for obstructing justice by trying to run off some of the witnesses for the government.  Dr. Phillips, held over in two cases, Ed Smith, held in one and Scott Keaton, the camp sheriff is held in two and M. B. Eaves in one.

The government has recognized about placed under bond for final trial about twenty-five witnesses, both men and women, who have been engaged on the works for Cook, and while only a few of them were placed on the witness stand in the examining trials all will testify at the final trials at London in October, and from some their stories which they told on the outside, those who have not as yet testified will give some very sensational evidence.

From the stories of these men who have been at work down there, told on the witness stand by those placed to testify and on the outside by some of them who are yet to testify, it was impossible for any employee to leave the camp as long as he owed the company or the company's commissary anything, and if he did get away they would pursue him, arrest him, and bring him back to camp.  A number said they were in deadly fear all the time least they be given a beating, that when they were ill they were compelled to work anyway and if they refused they were punished severely.  They further said that exorbitant prices were charged at the commissary for all articles purchased and that it was practically impossible to get out of the company's debt, and that they were to all intents and purposes held in as prisoners all the time.

The Cook camp is pitched about ten miles from the little town of Stearns, which is in the very heart of the mountains along the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railroad, about thirty miles south of Somerset, and just over in the edge of Whitley county.  Stearns is a lumber and mining town and now has a population of about 1,000 people, and has one of the largest electric band saw mills in the south.  It is the extension of the road from this town back into their properties which is being built by Cook. [4]


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[October 4, 1911] -

MAN UNDER CHARGE OF PEONAGE KILLED

(Special To The Herald.)

SOMERSET, Ky., Oct. 3.--Scott Keaton of Stearns, 30 miles south of here, was shot and killed on the road near the construction camp of A. M. Cook, who is building an extension of the Kentucky & Tennessee railroad for the Stearns Lumber Company, three rifle bullets having taken effect in his body.  The report says the shooting was done by a man named King, who is a brother to a man Keaton is said to have killed a little time ago.  It could not be learned whether the men were in a fight or not, as no one seems to have seen the shooting and Keaton was dead when found.

Keaton was under a $1,500 bond in United States Commissioner W. G. Wesley's court of this place, for his appearance in Federal court at London in November to answer a charge of peonage, having been held over in his trial before Commissioner Wesley here a few weeks ago, when A. M. Cook, contractor, and another person were also held over in the same amounts on the same charge.

It was brought out in the trial here that Cook would not allow any of the men working for him to leave the camp while they were indebted to him for transportation from other states to the railroad camp near Stearns, and several of them testified to seeing some of the negroes working there get severe whippings for trying to run away from the camp.  Keaton was a kind of mine boss or "sheriff," as the other men called him, who guarded the outer dines [mines?] and saw that none left the camp without written permission.  This is said to be the first cases of peonage tried in Kentucky. [5]


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[November 30, 1911] -

RAILROAD CONTRACTORS INDICTED FOR PEONAGE

Nine Men Accused of Holding Negro Laborers in a State of Slavery

(By Associated Press)

LONDON, Ky., Nov 29. -- Nine railroad contractors, accused of holding large numbers of negro laborers in a state of involuntary slavery, were indicted for peonage here today by a Federal grand jury. The nine named in a total of fifty-six counts are Allen M. Cook, Merrett B. Evans, Scott Keeton, Pitney Phillips, Charles Gardner, Joseph B. Elliott, Perry Bird, Charles Flynn and Maxine Lewis. 

The contractors are at work on a branch being added to the Kentucky & Tennessee railroad. A special term of court here, called for February 5 next, will try the cases. A hundred witnesses are named so far. [6]


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[February 7, 1912] -

NEGROES TELL OF ALLEGED PEONAGE

Describe Methods By Which They Say They Were Robbed of Their Due

JUDGE COCHRAN BUSY

He Opens Court At 8 a. m. and Holds a Nine-Hour Session

(By Associated Press.)

LONDON, Ky., Feb. 6. -- No time was lost today in the trial of the seven men on the charge of peonage in the United States District Court. Judge Cochran convened court at 8 o'clock a.m., and put in nine hours of hard work.

Seventeen witnesses were examined by both sides. The theory of the government is being well supported by the evidence thus far.

Seven of the negroes testified today that they were solicited to come and work for the railroad contractor, A. M. Cook, that they were assured by Cook's transportation agent that their transportation would not cost them anything, but after they arrived on the works they were forced to work out the price of their ticket and expenses.

Wages Practically Confiscated.

Several of them testified that after they had worked two or three weeks an called on the bookkeeper for a settlement on payday, they were informed that they had taken up at the commissary the amount of their wages due the company. Some stated that they had not bought anything at the commissary nor received any wages for weeks and yet informed that nothing was due them.

The negroes told of trying to escape by night and being pursued, arrested and taken back and whipped.  These stories were corroborated by several other witnesses, who claimed to have seen the whipping done.

Punished If Not In Shack.

One tall, typical Alabama negro, who said he was now commonly called "Cook," because of the fact that Contractor Cook, one of the defendants, had whipped him, stated that on the coming of darkness each night a certain alarm sounded which meant that each laborer in the big camp must go into his shack or tent and to be caught thereafter spelt punishment by the guards who were stationed around about the camp.

Among the prominent witnesses subpoenaed for the defendants are Congressman Richard Austin of Knoxville; United States marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, James G. Crumbliss, of Knoxville; A. Newland, general manager of the Tennessee Railway Company; Captain Sam Sparks, a banker of Harriman, Tenn., and O. L. Anderson, a member of the Tennessee Legislature. [7]



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[February 8, 1912] -



EVIDENCE IN PEONAGE CASE

Will Probably Be Closed on Thursday.--Big Court Room is Packed With Spectators.

London, Ky., Feb. 7.-- By Thursday at time for adjournment all the evidence in the trial of the men charged with peonage in the United States District Court will probably be before the jury.  Ever since the trial began the big court room has been packed with spectators.  Just before the noon adjournment Wednesday, District Attorney Edwin P. Morrow announced that the Government had closed its evidence in chief.  This was a surprise as there were a large number of Government witnesses present who had not been introduced.  Several of those, however, may be introduced later in rebuttal.

After a long conference of the attorneys for the defendants a motion was entered for peremptory instructions upon the showing of the Government.  This motion Judge Cochran overruled as to four of the defendants, but sustained as to Dr. Pitney Phillips, Charles Gardner and Ed. Smith, who were discharged by the court.

The other three defendants were introduced and all denied that the negroes were whipped or held because of alleged debts due the contractor, but assigned various reasons for whipping and returning them.  Their theory was that those who were brought back on leaving were returned to answer some misdemeanor charges and that those who were whipped received their punishment for violations of the contractors' rules and misconduct of one kind or another.

Judge Cochran has permitted no delays or quibbling, but has punished the trial as rapidly as possible. [8]



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[February 8, 1912] -


GOVERNMENT RESTS IN PEONAGE CASES

All Evidence in Trial at London Likely to be in by Time Court Adjourns Today.

LONDON, Ky. Feb. 7. -- By tomorrow at time for adjournment all the evidence in the trial of the men charged with peonage in the United States District Court will probably be before the jury. Ever since the trial began the big court room has been packed with spectators. Just before the noon adjournment today District Attorney Edwin P. Morrow announced that the Government had closed its evidence in chief. This was a surprise, as there were a large number of Government witnesses present who had not been introduced. Several of those, however, may be introduced later in rebuttal.

After a long conference of the attorneys for the defendants a motion was entered for peremptory instructions upon the showing of the Government. This motion Judge Cochran overruled as to four of the defendants, but sustained as to Dr. Pitney Phillips, Charles Gardner and Ed Smith, who were discharged by the court.

The other three defendants were introduced and all denied that the negroes were whipped or held because of alleged debts due the contractor, bu assigned various reasons for whipping and returning them. Their theory was that those who were brought back on leaving were returned to answer some misdemeanor charges and that those who were whipped received their punishment for violations of the contractor's rules and misconduct of one kind or another.

Judge Cochran has permitted no delays or quibbling, but has pushed the trial as rapidly as possible. It is likely that all the evidence will be in by time for adjournment tomorrow and probably earlier. [9]



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[February 9, 1912] -

PEONAGE CASES

This week there are being tried in the Federal Court at London, cases that are very unusual, and are creating interest over the entire State.  A number of railroad contractors have been indicted for peonage, and a large number of witnesses, mostly negroes, have testified that they were detained by armed guards and forced to work out their transportation which had been promised them free, and a deputy sheriff has testified that he received $5 each for every man who tried to escape and was captured by him.

A large number of prominent men will be put on by the defense and the trial will probably not be closed before next week. [10]









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[February 10, 1912] -

Acquitted of Peonage

LONDON, KY., February 9th--The trial of [...] charged with peonage, in the United [States] District Court before Judge Cochran [...] to a close late this afternoon when the [jury] returned a verdict of acquittal as to each [of] them.  Judge O. H. Waddle, for the defense and his son-in-law, District Attorney Edwin P. Morrow, for the United States, argued the case for three hours each today.

The Jury was only out forty-five minutes.  The trial was begun last Monday.

[Judge] Cochran arrived home this morning over the L. & N. to spend Sunday with his family. [11]








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[1] "Contractor Held on Charge of Peonage." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. July 15, 1911. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[2] "Charge Peonage To Contractor." Cincinnati Post, Cincinnati, OH. July 15, 1911. Page 10. Genealogybank.com.

[3] "Peonage The Charge." The Citizen, Berea, KY. July 20, 1911. Page 3. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85052076/1911-07-20/ed-1/seq-3/

[4] "Held to Federal Court on Conspiracy Charge." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. August 15, 1911. Page 2. Genealogybank.com.

[5] "Man Under Charge of Peonage Killed." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. October 4, 1911. Page 6. Genealogybank.com.


[6] "Railroad Contractors Indicted for Peonage." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. November 30, 1911. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[7] "Negroes Tell of Alleged Peonage." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. February 7, 1912. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[8] "Evidence in Peonage Case." The Winchester News, Winchester, KY. February 8, 1912. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069133/1912-02-08/ed-1/seq-1/

[9] "Government Rests in Peonage Cases." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. February 8, 1912. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[10] "Peonage Cases." Mountain Advocate, Barbourville, KY. February 9, 1912. Page 1. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87060032/1912-02-09/ed-1/seq-1/

[11] "Acquitted of Peonage." Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, KY. February 10, 1912. Page 4. LOC. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86069117/1912-02-10/ed-1/seq-4/

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