Prohibition …’Killed by the Blow of a Fist’

A drunken quarrel let to a confrontation just south of Gallatin where just one blow of the fist was enough to cause a death. It was incidents such as this that led to the Prohibition and the damnation of bootlegging in Daviess County.

During Prohibition, the consumption of liquor was illegal from 1920 to 1933 throughout the United States. Jails everywhere were filled with those who defied the “dry crusade” until the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment.

In Daviess County, the small village of Carlow was generally considered the bootlegger capital of the county. A look at the graffiti etched in paint as you enter the Squirrel Cage Jail in Gallatin confirms a prisoner’s lament at the sentence of 135 days in jail for distributing bootleg whiskey.

But sometimes, crime associated with liquor was much the worse.

Killed by the Blow of One Fist

A drunken quarrel let to a confrontation just south of Gallatin where just one blow of the fist was enough to cause a death. It was incidents such as this that led to the Prohibition and the damnation of bootlegging in Daviess County.

George Cox and Bell Clay left Gallatin in a spring wagon about 6pm on Aug. 18, 1914. They had been together drinking that afternoon when differences arose and words exchanged. Marshal C.F. Myers told the men to leave town. They headed south, soon stopping as they approached a party of men returning from working on the road. Since all the men were acquainted, Cox and Clay decided there and then was the place to settle their differences, and no persuasion from any of the road workers could stop the quarrel.

Cox got out of the spring wagon and was standing on the double tree, when Clay started to get out. Clay only got started. When he was climbing down, Cox with a straight forward punch of his fist, hit Clay on the left jaw. Clay’s head gave a quick turn backward and he fell. The blow had broken his neck. He fell near the heels of one of hte mules, and Cox picked him up and gave him two or three more blows, striking him squarely in the forehead.Cox then dropped him at the edge of the roadway.

Clay never uttered a word; the first blow most probably killed him instantly.

Cox evidently did not know he had killed Clay because he got into the wagon and started on towards his home, telling the bystanders to call Dr. M.A. Smith and he would pay the bill. Dr. Smith did arrive, but Coroner A.G. Minnick was called at Lock Springs and the body was taken to the Pettijohn Undertaking rooms in Gallatin.

Cox reached his home located about six miles south of Gallatin, joining his wife and three children. He was brought back to Gallatin the next day to face manslaughter in the fourth degree. Clay was a 58-year-old widower, survived by three sons and four daughters. His burial was in Brown Cemetery, north of Gallatin.

Many people felt sorry for Cox and blamed the abuse of alcohol for the tragedy. The following is an account published by the Gallatin Democrat following the incident: “The man behind the blow that killed Bell Clay was not George Cox. As far as we have been able to learn, Cox is a peaceable citizen when sober. When he left his wife and children to come to town on Monday he had no idea that before his return home he would be chatrged with the awful crime of taking a human life. All the witnesses who saw them testified that the two men were intoxicated. Where did they get the liquor? Who was guilty of “putting the bottle to their mouths,” inflaming their passions and taking away their sense and judgment? Find the bootlegger who sold these men their liquor and you will find the man responsible for the death of Bell Clay. The liquor sellers may not have to answer for the murders committed, the grief-stricken homes, the sad-hearted wives, mothers and children, but there is a day coming when they will have to appear before Him who knoweth all things and who will mete out to them the punishment they deserve. The ‘Man behind the blow’ cannot always escape and there will be no parole in the court of last resort. George Cox will have to suffer for this act, but ‘the man behind the blow’ deserves greater punishment.”

Cox was found guilty by a jury in Daviess County Circuit Court, after a 6-hour deliberation, and was assessed a fine of $500. A large crowd witnessed the trial, and a light sentence was expected. Cox, while on the stand, made a good witness for himself, expressing regret, and corroborated the story as told by witnesses.

— taken from the Gallatin North Missourian, Aug. 20, 1914

Liquor Leads to Newspaper Martyr
1919 — Murder of Publisher Wesley Robertson

Hugh Y. Tarwater entered the office of The Gallatin Democrat on a chilly December afternoon in 1919 and fatally shot its longtime publisher, Wesley Robertson. Missouri history reveals “Uncle Wes” as the only editor shot and killed in the line of duty.

The shooting climaxed a running feud between newspaper publishers Robertson and his partner Robert Ball with Mr. Tarwater, who had been city clerk for four years. Tarwater felt victimized during a crusade by The Democrat to rid the community of bootleggers. An article about Tarwater’s conviction and fine prompted a libel suit by Tarwater who sought $20,000 in damages. There was little concern by the publishers until it was discovered that the police court journal for the day Tarwater appeared in court was missing.

Tarwater was tried for murder in Gallatin on Oct. 4, 1920. Immediately after the shooting of Robertson, Tarwater suffered a nervous breakdown and attended his trial in a wheelchair. The trial lasted eight days. The defense was based on insanity. In failing health heightened by stress, Tarwater was found guilty by a circuit court jury and was sentenced to 35 years.

Robert J. Ball was junior manager of the Gallatin Democrat at the time that outraged city clerk Hugh Tarwater shot and killed Wesley L. Robertson on Dec. 23, 1919. Tarwater also shot at Ball but he escaped without injury during the incident which unfolded in the printing office on North Main Street just off the square. Not long afterwards, Ball departed for Colorado.

Although The Democrat’s campaign against bootlegging in the county never fully succeeded, it seems ironic that a few weeks after Uncle Wes died the following item appeared on the newspaper’s front page, presumably written by publisher Robert Ball. It is entitled, “Good-bye, John!”

“At midnight Friday old John Barleycorn became a fugitive from justice and was outlawed in every state in the Union. National Prohibition went into effect and the entire country is up in arms against John, who reigned supreme for so many years.

“The smiles he brought and the good times he was reputed to have given to so many are things of memory only, but the trail of desolation, heartaches, blasted hopes and ruined lives are the things of reality he has left strewn all over America. They will serve to remind not only this generation but future generations of the curse to mankind.

“Good-bye, John — here’s hoping your likes will never pass this way again.”