Sugar and Spice and All That’s Nice

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#1
A dance in rural Georgia, the band strikes up a song.
A lady dancing with a man, what could possibly go wrong?
A wife is watching closely, she’s not “all that’s nice”,
as her anger bubbles over and she grabs a knife.

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Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette. - Kate Southern


February 10, 1877 - A Dance in Pickens County, Georgia

Meet Katherine (Kate) Southern. Born on July 16, 1858, she had been married only 2 months when she attended a dance on that February day. Her husband Robert was 21 years old and made the mistake of dancing with another young lady, 22 year old Narcissa “Sis” Fowler. Some people reported that Sis had been drinking heavily and was insulting to Kate. Town gossip said that Robert and Sis had dated in the past, and perhaps their relationship was not quite over. What is known that in a fit of jealous rage, Kate picked up a knife and stabbed Sis to death.

Robert Southern quickly takes his wife arm and draws his gun. Aided by their families and close friends, they manage to flee the dance and head to North Carolina. It would take 3 months before the “famous mountain tracker” Walter Web Findly and his posse would find them hiding out with family and bring her back to Georgia for trial.

During the trial Sis Fowler would be portrayed as a “wanton woman, intent on stealing Southern's husband”, and of course Kate was portrayed as “a woman whose only crime was trying to save her family's honor, ‘accidentally’ killing Fowler in the heat of the moment.

The verdict was declared in the following passage - - -

“Judge George N. Lester had seen his share of death on Civil War battlefields, but he announced that the verdict he was about to render – the only one that law allowed him to make – was the saddest moment in his life. On Saturday, April 28, he told Kate to make peace with her God, and, while he openly wept, sentenced her to be hung by the neck until dead between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Friday, June 21.”

Just to keep it interesting, it was reported during sentencing she cradled her new-born baby.

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Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette. - Mother & Child

A Confederate General Turns Governor

Alfred Holt Colquitt was born in Monroe, Georgia April 20, 1824. He attended Princeton College and in 1846 opened up a law practice in Monroe. He served as paymaster in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American war. Politics was in his blood, like his father before him, and he served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1853-1855), and would serve in the Georgia state legislature. On January 29, 1861 he voted and signed Georgia’s Ordinance of Succession.

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Alfred Holt Colquitt - Photo Wikipedia

The Civil War Years

Captain Colquitt of the 6th Georgia Infantry, would soon be known as Colonel as he led his regiment in the Peninsula Campaign. At the Battles of South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville he served under Stonewall Jackson. During that time he would be promoted to brigadier general. After Chancellorsville, due to some concerns over his actions at that battle he was sent back to North Carolina. Perhaps the high point of his career was the victory he helped secure at Olustee fought February 20, 1864, in Baker County Florida. He surrendered in 1865.

In time, Colquitt would return to politics and would become governor of Georgia and take over as the 49th Governor on January 12, 1877. Kate Southern was scheduled to be executed June 21, 1877, and there is only 1 person that could commute the sentence.


The Governor Makes His Statement

By the time Governor Alfred Colquitt arrived in Atlanta to assume the “mantle of leadership”, this story had made great news. Much had been made of this young woman holding her newborn baby at sentencing and how she had protected her marriage by killing the “hussy” that was threatening to take it all away. In many ways this was a incident that was going to be played out in the press. The Atlanta Constitution had a photographer take pictures of Kate, her husband and baby. The pictures were copyrighted, and were used by the Constitutions, to be sold to other newspapers.

“A discount was offered if all three photographs were ordered. The Constitution advised that ‘the history of this remarkable case cannot be thoroughly understood until these pictures been seen’.”

Headlines read across the land - “A Woman’s Sin” and “Fatal Dance”. Stories were outrageous in retelling the story. Perhaps most distressing for the in-coming governor was the report - - -

“The Atlanta Constitution ended its coverage of the trial of Kate Southern by pointing out the censure that former Governor James M. Smith had received for not commuting the death sentence of Susan Eberhart {a woman convicted and hung to death in 1873} and that the present “Gov. Colquitt will have to be thoroughly convinced of the justice of the sentence before he will allow her to hang.”

The “ink wars”continued. Governor Alfred Colquitt commuted her sentence on May 22, although stories (that now have become legends) continued even some papers declaring they held a “mock” execution to teach Kate a lesson.

“Gov. Colquitt had made a tough decision, despite the pressure by the news media and letters from the public on Kate’s behalf. His term came near the end of what historian E. Merton Coulter characterized as “the golden age of Georgia hangings’.” Colquitt maintained his decision was based upon additional written testimony by respected Pickens County citizens… testimony which was not used in the trial. He also noted a petition signed by all of the jurors which stated that they would not have found Kate guilty had they known she would be sentenced to die.”

Gov. Colquitt ultimately reduced the original sentence to ten years in prison.

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Alfred Colquitt as the Statesman - Photo Wikipedia Public Domain

Kate Goes to A Georgia Prison Camp

Kate headed off to prison. Thousands of supporters came out to watch her train as it passed by. According to one newspaper - - -

"at all the towns through which the train passed, the people (ministers, gamblers, women, and all classes) crowded to the depots to see and express their sympathy for her, and at Atlanta, where a large purse was collected for her benefit, the excitement was so great that the car windows were broken."

Kate’s husband found work nearby his wife and she gave birth 2 more times while incarcerated. She was granted a pardon after serving 3 year, and returned home.

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Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette. - Mother & Child in Prison

Life Must Go On

The Southern’s eventually returned to Pickens County and had at least 8 children. Sadly, 2 of her children would die before the age of 7, and one was killed when she discovered a pistol under her father’s pillow and it accidentally discharged. It was reported that Kate was trying to get it safely away from her daughter when the tragedy happened. Her husband died in 1930 at 74 years of age - he outlived Kate who passed away at 68 years in 1927. They are both buried in Posey Mill Cemetery in Alabama.



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Images from an 1878 edition of the National Police Gazette. - Mr. and Mrs. Southern

Former Confederate General and Georgia Governor served two 2-year terms as Governor and and then went on to serve in the Georgia State Legislature. In 1892 he suffered a stroke. Although partially paralyzed he resumed his duties as a state senator but soon suffered a 2nd stroke. He died two weeks later on March 26, 1894 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia.

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Photo - Find a Grave - Burl Kennedy




*** This was a difficult story to research. It was such a sensation that there are various dates as to when the actual incident happened. Narcissus Fowler’s tombstone gives her date of death as February 10, 1877 so that is the date I worked with {4}. They all agree that Governor Alfred Colquitt did commute her sentence and as he took office in January 1877, that is a firm date. There are also some question of Katherine Southern’s name. Some articles called her Kath Sothern, but others discount the spelling. Whatever the correct date of the murder, the outcome never changes.


Sources
1. http://news.wallacestate.edu/2015/10/22/wallace-state-professor-tells-murder-tale-on-halloween-eve/
2. https://drvitelli.typepad.com/provi...laws-and-the-freedom-to-kill-part-2-of-2.html
3. https://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/holbert/512/
4. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14565257/narcissus-a._m.-fowler
5. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14710052/katherine-southern
6. Wikipedia - Alfred Holt Colquitt
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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#2
Whoa. What a story!! It's hard to wrench your head back to poor Sis and the fact yes, she was murdered then pretty well vilified. Things haven't changed, where creating a common enemy is handy in a variety of situations.

Hate to like this aspect because it feels like getting on a 150 year old bandwagon but weirdly, find myself at least admiring this husband's loyalty to his wife. Talk about two people facing things down together.

That's an eye popping story, gee whiz. Thanks for posting.
 

Cavalry Charger

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#4
Another excellent thread @DBF . One wonders how long she was able to keep the children with her after their births, and strangely how she managed to become pregnant again (not just once, but twice)! They must have had very lax visiting rules or conjugal visits were actually in place back then :unsure:

TBH, I think the husband bore some responsibility in the situation in the first instance before the killing even took place. The young woman did not deserve to die, but how many times does someone die because of their own or someone else's irresponsible and reckless behaviour? Why was he dancing with her and not his wife? Was she drunk and insulting his wife? He was obviously willing to defend her in the end, but not before it was too late.

Love the way you've put this one together @DBF. You've got some real storytelling magic going on there :D
 
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#5
Thanks for your kind words "CC". This story had so many moving parts. I think as it got passed along the "newspaper lines" each editor added a little more embellishments so the truth was hard to ferret out. At least the husband did stay with her, and yes I did read somewhere they had "conjugal visits" and apparently more than once. The judge said it was the "saddest" day in his life when she was sentenced while she was holding her baby. No wonder people talked. What a crazy story.
 

luinrina

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#6
What a story! And you would think you've seen and heard it all. Far from it! I can imagine the sensation that caused. And the state tried making profit with the photos! Unbelievable. :nah disagree:

TBH, I think the husband bore some responsibility in the situation in the first instance before the killing even took place. The young woman did not deserve to die, but how many times does someone die because of their own or someone else's irresponsible and reckless behaviour? Why was he dancing with her and not his wife? Was she drunk and insulting his wife? He was obviously willing to defend her in the end, but not before it was too late.
That's what I was thinking too. Had he not danced with Sis, Kate wouldn't have needed to kill her. But I'm glad he in the end was supportive and even relocated close to where she was imprisoned.

I'm not sure which side to lean to. On the one hand, Kate killed another human being - even if it was a spur of the moment reaction - and deserved punishment. On the other hand, a death sentence when she just had a baby is quite harsh. Proves that things aren't always black and white. I'm glad Colquitt lessened it to imprisonment.
 
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I have to give credit to Candace DeLong the host of “Deadly Women” on ID- TV. I happened to be watching when the Kate Southern and Sis Fowler story was re-created. It was well - jaw dropping!! and when I heard the time period, I knew I could find a Civil War connection in there somewhere. My searching brought me to Governor Colquitt and I was off to research. In addition it was interesting to read about Gov. Colquitt and his legacy as part of the “Bourbon Triumvirate” - Georgia’s 3 most powerful (Joseph E. Brown and John B. Gordon) and influential politicians in the post-Reconstruction period. You never stop learning.
 

Ole Miss

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@DBF what an excellent story well researched and written. Poor Colquitt was wrong which ever decision he made regarding the defendant and victim. The sight of her holding her baby while being sentenced was a powerful image and a great legal decision by the defense. Anyway what a great story and looking forward to more!!:bounce:
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Cavalry Charger

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a great legal decision by the defense
That would be my guess. Play on the jury's sympathies. Definitely a win for the defense, but also a win for the child who otherwise would have had to go without their mother. Jail time at least ensured some recompense for the death of the victim, but to the victim's family I'm sure there can never be enough time served.
 

lelliott19

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What an interesting story @DBF and so well-written. The way you sequenced it was masterful and compelling. I found it simply captivating! I've done a bit of reading on Colquitt during the war and would have guessed that he would have commuted the death sentence - even if she hadnt been a woman and even without the pressure from the press and the citizens.
 

Cavalry Charger

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@Cavalry Charger wrote "Play on the jury's sympathies" which tickles me. Women have played on men's sympathies and everything else since time began!:bounce: And most of the time we don't even know we are in a game!!!
Regards
David
And evidently we like it
:bounce::bounce::bounce:

Ah, what game would that be :sneaky: :D ?

I once heard a great tale told which pretty much ended with the saying that 'a man is the head of a family, but the woman is the neck'

:laugh:

Perhaps there is some truth to that ...
 
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Lubliner

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#18
Ah, what a travesty of justice it could have been. Did she deserve an eye for eye? Where did she find a knife at the dance, and how many times was the victim stabbed? It was a dance in Georgia. Was it a Plantation Ballroom or a barnyard fiddle picking group, and how many were in attendance. And the Mister carried his gun to the dance! Sounds to me like trouble was apprehended before it occurred. Oh, such things that are hidden away by testimony or excuse. It was a shame to leave it at "She was asking for it...". Great story, and the worst of it is I can never get enough!
Lubliner.
 
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#19
Let’s see if I can help clear up some of your questions Lubliner - I found only 1 report that stated she “brought the knife with her” (but could not find a 2nd) - but you must remember her husband pulled a gun to get her out of there. How many times was “Sis” stabbed - enough to kill her (never found a number). I found 1 source that said her sister was with her in "some manner and she also served some time in prison" - but here again, I never found another source to confirm. There were several reports of what kind of a “dance” it was - some reports said it was a celebration for the Southern’s wedding (2 months prior) - so I just left it at a dance. Apparently many of the Southern family members were there as they helped the couple escape. I hope this clears up some of your questions.

The story reads like it was the night the “the Wild West” came to Georgia.

I once heard a great tale told which pretty much ended with the saying that 'a man is the head of a family, but the woman is the neck'
CC - that is one of my favorite quotes from the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" - but her mother ends it by saying - "and the woman turns the man's head any where she wants it to go". -

(but let's keep it just between us girls!!!):wink:
 



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