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January 11, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Buckingham Outlaws: PART XV

Post_15_Daily Press_Disgrace


“The Disgrace in Buckingham”

On October 3, 1908 a shocking editorial ran in Newport News’ Daily Press.

Entitled “The Disgrace in Buckingham” it asked, “What is the matter in Buckingham County, anyway?”

The lengthy editorial was unsigned and raised many interesting questions, as well as offering some stinging criticism. Taking a stab at the news coverage concerning the lack of law and order in Arvonia, the author claimed that the “press reports are wordy enough, but contain little but conjecture and more or less plausible guessing.” He noted that many correspondents left the “scene of action” on October 1st in response to the “tip” that they would be shot on sight.

In addition to unprofessional reporting, the author stated that Buckingham was “afflicted with two ailments — a plethora of politics and a shortage of official backbone.”

The editorial recapped the story of N. M. Gregory, who had been shot, presumably by a member of the outlaw gang. Tired of these “illicit sellers of whisky, petty thieves, night-workers and small marauders,” Gregory had been responsible for the capture of the four ringleaders. They were jailed, and, according to this account, Sheriff Williams became the bondsman for William Thomas. The men broke jail and Gregory was shot in the back. Then came the hard criticism directed against Sheriff Williams.

Up to Thursday last, it is declared, Sheriff Williams, in spite of urgent appeals from many law-abiding citizens and violent denunciation from a still greater number, had made no definite move to find and capture the outlaws. The correspondent of a Washington newspaper states that the sheriff arrived in Arvonia on Wednesday night and promised to lead the posse of citizens against the criminals. But on Thursday morning it was discovered that the sheriff had mysteriously disappeared, remarking before he left that he would “get busy when he got ready.”

A week after N. M. Gregory was shot, Commonwealth’s Attorney Edmund Hubard, executing orders from Governor Swanson, finally pushed Williams to form a posse. The editorial continued somewhat sarcastically:

Rather deliberate, round-about and long range action some people will think. If they believed their safety depended upon it and means were available, the pursued (?) might have reached London, England, from Buckingham county in eight days.

The author went on to say that despite their general undesirableness, the outlaws had many followers and those followers represented many ballots.

Furthermore, it has been asseverated that they know how to shoot. . . .

If the sheriff is afraid that he will be shot in the back if he tries to bring criminals to justice, then he should resign or be suspended from office.

If this officer is restrained from doing his duty by the apprehension that there are not enough law abiding voters in Buckingham to return him to office at the next county election, and is catering to the other contingent, lest he lose his support at the polls, he should be deprived of his office with all possible dispatch and held up to the scorn and contempt that is due to the sworn officer who cravenly shirks his obligation to the people.

Physical cowardice is an affliction which may be pitied wherever found, but never tolerated in a guardian of the public peace. But moral pusillanimity, begotten by self-interest, is a vice for which there is no extenuation.

All things considered, the reported state of affairs in Buckingham county appears to call more urgently for the presence of a bold and fearless commander-in-chief than did the conditions in Accomac county upon the occasion of the so-called race riot.

The next day, the Daily Press quipped: “So long as Buckingham’s populace – including the sheriff – keeps under the bed, the casualty list is not expected to form a feature of news from the front.”

There is at least one other possible explanation for the lack of pursuit of these criminals, one that will grow during America’s national prohibition of alcohol. Was the gang paying protection to one or more Buckingham official who looked the other way and allowed them to continue their operations?

Coming Next: Quiet Reigns Again

Need to catch up? Click here: The Buckingham Outlaws: Part I



Leave a Comment
  1. PATRICK MURRAY SAR No. 94310 / Jan 11 2016 9:08 am

    Be nice to have the years this took place, or do I miss the years?

    • Joanne Yeck / Jan 11 2016 9:18 am

      Patrick, The story begins in the summer of 1908. I have scattered the year throughout the posts. Now I will add it to more! Thanks. Joanne

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