Thursday, May 13, 2010

BACKWARD GLANCES by Samuel Wallace Tapscott of Bigby Fork, Mississippi

And Another Account of the Ridings Family Murders, 1880

by Terry Thornton

This week I've had the pleasure of reading some of Sam Tapscott's delightful book, BACKWARD GLANCES, about growing up "in and around Bigby Fork in Itawamba County in the 1880's and 1890's."

But first, let me tell you how this pleasant reading opportunity came about. The telephone rang over the weekend. A reader of the Hill Country blog and of the Hill County column in the Amory MONROE JOURNAL, Mike Loden, was calling to tell me of his connection to a couple of articles I'd written about the Ridings Murders of 1880 in Bigby Ford.
See these links to re-read about the triple murder of Henry Brown Ridings, his wife, and his infant daughter:
A Hill Country Story Told in Stone: The Ridings Family (includes photograph of triple grave marker from Pine Grove Cemetery at Bigby Fork)
The Ridings Family Murders, 1880, Monroe County, Mississippi (includes a transcription of the Chickasaw Messenger's story, The Bigby Fork Tragedy, published January 8, 1881, and a link to J. Brown's family recollection of the murders)
Mr. Loden is a descendant of the Ridings Family through Pleasant Henry Ridings (his great-great-great-grandfather). Pleasant Henry Ridings and David Ridings (the father of Henry Brown Ridings) were brothers.

And Mr. Loden was telephoning to say he had access to another written account of the murders --- the one in Tapscott's book. Mr. Loden was kind enough to offer to photocopy and to mail me the account --- which he did along with several other pages from the now out-of-print book as well as some family genealogy. Below is Samuel Wallace Tapscott's account of the murders (from pages 211 - 213 of BACKWARD GLANCES).

Brown Ridings Family Murdered
Along about the year of 1880, there appeared in the Bigby Fork neighborhood a vagabond job-hunter named Miller. He worked around over the country for wages. It was noticed that he would stay at one place a short while and then move on to some other place, still hunting work, while dark and bloody schemes were working in his depraved mind.

He first secured employment from Mr. Thad Boyd, but worked for him only a short time. He then moved over to Brown Ridings' place. Mr. Ridings, a young man who was married and had one child, an infant, gave him employment and he went to work.

In his confession later, he said that he would hire to a man and make investigation as to whether he kept money around the house. He did this by eavesdropping at night after all the family had retired for the night. He said he soon found out that Mr. Boyd had no money, but came near doing so too late, for at one time he had put his axe near the door to the room where the family slept, intent upon a murder that night, when he suddenly found that Mr. Boyd had no money in the house.

He had worked for Mr. Ridings for only a week when he decided that he had struck his opportunity. He learned, he, said, that about two hundred dollars was kept on the premises. This money he coveted very much, and he was determined to have it at any cost. So, one night, he placed his favorite weapon, an axe, in a handy place, and after all was silent and as still as death itself, he stealthily crept to the bedside of his sleeping victims. With one heavy blow he snuffed out the life of Mr. and Mrs. Ridings. He killed them instantly, he said. The baby awakened, and, not desiring to kill it, he placed it on the ground outside the house. He then ransacked the house for the treasure he sought. He searched in vain for over an hour, he said, but found no trace of any money. Setting the house on fire to cover up the crime, he was preparing to leave the scene of his crime when he discovered the baby was crying at the top of its little voice. He said the baby's cries made him nervous, so he turned on his evil heels, grabbed the infant by its heels and dashed its brains out against the door facing, and tossed it over on the bed with its mother and father. He then left by way of the back gate to make a get away. He said he had not slept any that night, so, when he reached a point called Marstella's crossing, near Shofapotofa Creek, he sat down beside a large tree and fell asleep. This was probably two miles from the scene of his dastardly crime.

"Uncle Davy" Ridings, the murdered man's father, happened to wake from his slumbers to look across the field to see his unfortunate son's house in flames. By some strange trick of fate, the entire neighborhood became aroused and gathered around the burning building. Uncle Davy had to be restrained from entering the burning building, or he too would have perished in the flames.

All decided that a murder had been committed, and suspicion was immediately filed on the late hired hand who had been seen around there the day before.

Fresh tracks were found in the plowed ground and these were followed to where the degenerate was found beside the large tree fast and sound asleep. On being awakened, Miller must have decided that the jig was up with him and he began to confess. He told all about how he had eavesdropped his victims, and how he had set the house on fire and how he had disposed of the infant child. But by now an angry mob had him in its clutches, determined to take no chances on a miscarriage of justice. He was carried back to the scene of the crime. Esquire Elihu Young had convened his court at the same time and reached a verdict first. Esquire Young was anxious, as an officer of the law, to uphold the dignity of the state, and called in Major Cason, a school teacher of the community, for advice as to what should be done. The Major told him all he could do was to command the peace. The Esquire mounted a nearby pine stump and cried at the top of his voice, "Gentlemen, I command the peace." An irate mobster picked up a convenient pine knot and knocked the benevolent esquire from his perch.

In the meantime, the mob had decided the case. Miller was found guilty, and condemned to death in its most horrid form. He was hanged to a limb of a nearby tree until he was about half dead and then placed on a pile of fence rails and burned. Miller had paid with his own life for the murder of the Ridings family. Of course, the proceedings were a little out of line with strict ethics, but is satisfied everybody, and thus the murder of the Ridings family was avenged. No one ever knew who Miller was, were he came from, but everyone did know where he went when he left Bigby Fork.
This account by Tapscott confirms many of the details from the others previously cited; all tell of the same gruesome triple murders and of the vigilante action which followed in Bigby Fork on December 17 - 18, 1880.

But this account is slightly different --- it is written by someone who grew up in Bigby Fork and someone who was kin to neither the victims nor of the murderer. Who is Samuel Wallace Tapscott?

Samuel W. Tapscott was born March 31, 1877, son of Lucious Lycureus Tapscott and Narcissa Cason Tapscott, all of the Bigby Fork area. Samuel Tapscott was three years old when the murders occurred and no doubt heard numerous details of the murders over the course of his childhood.

By 1910, when Mr. Tapscott was 33 years old according to the Monroe County Mississippi census, he and his wife were living in Nettleton where he was the manager of the local telephone company. In his household, besides his wife who was a telephone operator, were Narcissa Tapscott, 64, his widowed mother, who did not work, and his sister, Mary E. Tapscott, 36, who also was a telephone operator.

On the 1920 census of Booneville, Prentiss County, Mississippi , Samuel W. Tapscott, 42, Manager of the Exchange, was enumerated along with his wife, 40.

The World War 1 Draft Card for Samuel Wallace Tapscott was filed in Booneville and establishes that he was born March 31, 1877, that he was married to Lyda Bell Tapscott, and that they resided on First Avenue in the City of Booneville. He was employed as the manager of the Cumberland Telephone Company.

On the 1930 census of Booneville, the Tapscotts are shown: Sam, 53, manager of the telephone company, and Lida, 51. In their household resided Jennie Ballard, his sister-in-law, 50, the owner of a variety store and Isabel McLeran, 60, a salesman in a general store.

The Providence Cemetery, Nettleton, Mississippi, inventory done by Jonell Powell in 2004 (and available on the Lee County MSGenWeb) lists the following burials:

March 31, 1877 - June 30, 1946
April 15, 1876 - September 18, 1942

Nearby are his parents with these markers:

July 15, 1838 - August 13, 1905
June 29, 1845 - February 1, 1926

Thanks to Mike Loden of Monroe County for the Tapscott account of the Bigby Fork murders.


Ridings Family Genealogy Summary Sheet, and other information provided by Mike Loden, Bigby Fork, Monroe County, Mississippi, May 10, 2010, in personal correspondence as well as telephone calls on May 8 and 12, 2010 with Terry Thornton.

Tapscott Family Census information 1910 and 1920 from Heritage Quest Online available through the Itawamba-Lee County Library System and 1930 Census information from Both services accessed May 12, 2010.

Tapscott Family Burial information from the inventory of Providence Cemetery, Nettleton, Mississippi, by Jonell Powell, 2004. Available at Lee County MSGenWeb. Accessed May 12, 2010.

Tapscott, Sam W., Backward Glances. Booneville, Mississippi: Booneville Printing Company, 1943, pages 211 - 213.

Tapscott, Samuel W., World War 1 Draft Registration Card, available through Accessed May 12, 2010.

No comments: