Friday, March 5, 2021

Oxford’s Olden Days: City Marshal Kills Oxford Eagle Editor


From time to time old-time Oxonians call or write me about a piece of Oxford history that interests them. The idea for this column comes from my neighbor, Dr. Jerome Leavell. This story concerns the maternal grandfather of William Faulkner, City Marshal Charlie Butler, and the editor of the Oxford Eagle, Sam Thompson (no relation to Jacob Thompson).

Faulkner’s great-grandfather, Charles George Butler, was one of the earliest settlers in Lafayette County. He came to the area that would later be known as Oxford, sometime between 1832 and 1834. Butler was one of the first to record a purchase of Indian land in the county. On April 2, 1836, he became the first sheriff of Lafayette County. He would later build a large hotel known as the Oxford Inn on the north side of the Square. The property burned in 1864 when most of the Square was burned by the Yankees and was rebuilt after the war and took the name the Thompson House. In 1843 he was ordained a Deacon in the First Baptist Church of Oxford, which had been formed in 1842. He also surveyed the 50 acres Martin, Craig, and Chisolm gave for the City of Oxford. He was the person that laid out the grid for the streets of Oxford.

In May 1855, Charles George Butler died. His son Charlie was six at the time. Charlie’s mother was a good businesswoman and she increased the family’s holdings after he husband’s death. Two of Charlie’s brothers would be in the first classes at the new University of Mississippi. In 1868, Charlie married Leila Swift. They would have two children, Sherwood and Maud (Faulkner’s mother). In 1876, he followed in his father’s footsteps in law enforcement and was elected City Marshal.

About the same time that Charlie was elected City Marshal, Sam Thompson had started a new newspaper in Oxford. Thompson had been a cavalry officer in the Civil War. After the war, Captain Thompson had been the editor of the Oxford Falcon. In 1877, he started the Oxford Eagle, a rival to his former employer. During the period from 1876 to 1883, Thompson and Charlie would meet from time to time when Thompson, a person known to like strong drinks, would be arrested for public intoxication. This would all end on May 17, 1883, when Charlie shot and killed Thompson, just off the Square near where 208 South Lamar is located.

The Circuit Court was in session at the Lafayette County Courthouse in May, 1883. Charlie was also the bailiff for the court. It was his duty to go to the north side balcony of the Courthouse and call the name of the person that was to come before the court. On this particular day Charlie went to the balcony to call H. M. Sullivan to present himself before the court. Sam Thompson was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Thompson House. When Charlie called for Sullivan, Thompson, in quite a drunken state, called his name back to Charlie. This went on for a while, and then Sullivan walked past Thompson on his way across the Square to the Courthouse. Sullivan stopped and had a few words with Thompson then passed on into the Courthouse. This was too much for Charlie so he left the Courthouse, then walked across the Square towards Thompson.

Thompson had walked across the Square and headed down South Street. Charlie came up behind him and linked his arm in Thompson’s. When Charlie had linked arm and arm he said, “Sam, I arrest you.” They exchanged a few words and then walked further down South Street until Thompson grabbed Charlie by the lapel. Charlie called for assistance from a young man close by and at the same time pulled his pistol from his hip pocket.

Charlie pressed the pistol to Thompson’s breast and stated, “Thompson, if you don’t let me go, I’ll kill you.” Thompson held fast to Charlie’s coat. Charlie lowered the pistol and then again brought it up to Thompson’s breast and said, “Turn me loose or I will kill you.” Thompson said, “Shoot, you________.” Charlie immediately fired hitting Thompson in the lower part of his heart and he stated, “Charlie, you have killed me.” As Thompson was dying he prayed for his soul, his wife and his child.

Charlie turned himself over to a deputy sheriff who was standing close by. The next day he was indicted by the Grand Jury for manslaughter. He was released on bail of $2,500 and trail set for the November term of the Circuit Court.

There is more to the story about “Why Charlie Shot Sam” and I will report this next week. There is also another story of City Marshal-Town Manager, Charlie Butler, and the theft of the City of Oxford land tax receipts. To some who knew Faulkner, he was more a Butler than a Falkner.

The Butler family history is linked with the town and the country, which Faulkner would use as the basis of his fictional Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County.

Mayfield 34Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.

In addition to his weekly blog in Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.