THE SIZEMORE TRIAL
THE HERALD, Rogersville, Tennessee Volume VI
Wednesday, 3 February, 1892
January 30th: The SIZEMORE murder trial consumed the time of the criminal
court yesterday. The testimony was all in by three o'clock and Mr. Charles
NELSON opened on the part of the State. The argument will be concluded this
morning. The trial of James SIZEMORE for the killing of Cicero JOHNSON, in
May, 1891, recalls some interesting events that occurred in the dark days of
terror that prevailed in the north-eastern counties of East Tennessee
immediately after the close of the war. James SIZEMORE is the son of the
notorious Bill SIZEMORE, who terrorized the people of that region by killing
innocent and inoffensive people without even the slightest provocation, and
there are many still living who will remember the bloody deeds charged up to
Bill SIZEMORE and his gang of desperadoes.
At the beginning of the war Bill organized a
company. He was a secessionist, but the union sentiment was so strong that the
company resolved itself into what was known as the federalist guerrillas. They
never mustered in regularly but led a roving, foraging, independent military
life. While Bill was the acknowledged leader he had two trusty lieutenants by
the name of FOSTER and WILLIS. After the war Bill ------ became nothing else but
regular desperadoes, and people ------------tern counties were in---- of them. A
thousand and one thrill-- ------- ------dents perpetrated by Bill SIZEMORE
--------- his followers could be narrated, ------- few will suffice.
At one time, near the close of the war, some
federal troops at Rogersville had with them seven rebel prisoners. Bill and his
gang came to town, and Bill himself strode into where these prisoners were and
shot every one down with his pistols. It was these sort of cruel and
bloodthirsty acts, contrary to the code of warfare, but excused at the time
because of war, that fitted them to lead the desperado life after the war was
It became a war between Bill's gang and peaceable
citizenship, and one by one Bill and his gang fell by the wayside with their
boots on. James ROGAN, who still lives and is a respected citizen, was fired
upon one time, when a boy, by Bill SIZEMORE,
who shot him simply because he was looking at him.
At one time the bloodthirsty demon met a little
boy on a bridge and told him he would have to die. The story is that the
terrified lad fell at Bill's feet, gathered him about the knees, plead piteously
for his life, but the boy was shot. This deed is said to have been the only
killing for which Bill afterwards expressed any remorse. He said at night he
frequently would feel this lad clutching him about the knees, and the sensation
After the war Bill settled in Rogersville and ran
the town and community to his own will. He took possession of a hotel and opened
it, and one day had words with a man on the hotel front porch. He backed the
fellow up against the wall and pumped him full of lead. On the same day, or
shortly thereafter, Ira WILLIS, one of his old war lieutenants came along and
called Bill to come to him from a crowd in front of the courthouse. He said,
"Bill, you seem to be running the town about as you please." Bill replied that
none dared to interfere.
WILLIS then said he guessed this sort of business
had gone about far enough and that he had made up his mind to stop it himself
and at the same time pulled down on SIZEMORE, shooting him squarely in the
forehead. Bill fell forward and turned over on his back, his head next to the
fence between them. WILLIS leaned over the fence and shot him again exactly
through the same hole, although the ball made two holes in the back of his head.
This ended the life of one of the greatest desperadoes in East Tennessee.
WILLIS himself was afterwards waylaid by a man by
the name of BURTON and mortally shot through the body with a Winchester. He was
riding and the horse ran away. BURTON followed up and found WILLIS lying by the
roadside. WILLIS told BURTON not to shoot him again, as he was already dying,
but BURTON said he was afraid he might get well and shot him again. The people
of that county always believed WILLIS was hired to kill SIZEMORE, and it is
known that a boy whom SIZEMORE knocked down once with the butt of a gun, sent
WILLIS $5.00 of his hard earned money. Others sent him money also.
SIZEMORE had a partner by the name of WILLIAMS
who met his death in Knoxville. Officer BRIDWELL, of the present city force, was
then on the police force. He had a warrant for WILLIAMS for horse stealing, and,
finding him in a saloon, went in and told him so. While he was reading the
warrant to WILLIAMS, the latter jerked his gun and shot BRIDWELL in the right
eye, the ball coming out just in front of his ear.
The officer was whirled clear around on his feet
by the shot, and when again facing WILLIAMS, received another shot in the upper
part of the same eye. By this time BRIDWELL had his gun out and WILLIAMS grabbed
it, but the former shoved the muzzel against WILLIAMS' stomach and fired. The
latter turned to run when the officer again shot him.
WILLIAMS died a few days afterwards from the
wound in the stomach. But the brave officer had the constitution of a lion and
is as good a man to-day as ever, although few men would have lived through the
same trouble. Mr. WADDLE, also a policeman at that time, afterwards found
another gun in WILLIAMS' boot. WILLIAMS' partner, the father of the man on
trial, was afterwards killed by one of his own relatives.
Before WILLIAMS died he said that if he had
succeeded in killing BRIDWELL, he would have been the fifteenth man he and
SIZEMORE had killed. Referring back to the present trial of SIZEMORE, the
defense consumed but little time in the examination of its witnesses yesterday.
SIZEMORE took the stand and told his story cooly
and deliberately. He admitted killing JOHNSON and his reason was that JOHNSON
had been bullying around him and threatened to kill him and he had got tired of
it and concluded to have it settled one way or the other. When they met at a
secluded spot mutually agreed upon, he had his hand on his gun. JOHNSON had his
coat off and as they met he threw his coat down and advancing on SIZEMORE told
him to take his hand out of his pocket or he would make him do it.
About this time JOHNSON reached into his back
pocket and SIZEMORE presumed was reaching for his gun said, "Well, if that's
your game, here's at you," and commenced firing. He testified that he shot at
his heart and shot to kill. Willie SIZEMORE, the twelve-year old son of the
defendant, was the only witness to the affair. The little fellow's testimony was
given in a straightforward way, differing in but a few minor details from that
of his father. He stated, however, that JOHNSON had procured a knife of some one
at a saw mill. An affecting scene occurred. He broke down and commenced to
cry, then the father and some of the family all cried.
The KNOXVILLE TRIBUNE of the 2nd, Inst., says:
James SIZEMORE, who killed E. C. JOHNSON near Concord last May is a free man.
The jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" yesterday morning. Judge SNEED was
very much surprised and he issued orders that none of the jurors in the case
should ever serve again in his court. Judge SNEED'S order and the verdict
created a sensation among the members of the bar and the habitues of the
courthouse and were the talk of the day.
EDITORIALLY THE TRIBUNE SAYS:
It is such verdicts as that returned by the jury in the SIZEMORE case that
encourages mob law...
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