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The Marion Brick Yard Gunfight

 

An East Mississippi Shoot-out.

A Lauderdale County Web Exclusive
by Bill White

 

Aunt Muggies' Dilemma.

The expression "wild and woolly" seems to have originated in the old American West. That's not to say, however, that "wild and woolly" things didn't happen in the great American South. Of course, Lauderdale County never had a "Gunfight at the OK Corral" but, perhaps, only because there was no OK Corral. In Lauderdale County, thirty-five years earlier than the well-known 1881 gunfight that pitted the Earps against the Clantons, there was the "Gunfight at the Marion Brickyard".

In 1846 there was much activity in old Marion, at that time the county seat and a center of local government activity, as young men lined up to volunteer for the militia in hopes of a chance at glory, fighting in the Mexican War. According to former slave Frank Durr in writing his memoirs of the period, the brick yard at Marion was the mustering point, a place where the would-be soldiers reported to enlist and participate in drills and inspections.

The apparent owner of the brick yard, S. S. Shumate and his wife, a long time resident of the county know as "Aunt Muggie" Warbington, had a disagreement with a man named Fisher. The precise reason for the falling out has been lost to time but Durr seems to suggest that it was over Shumate's claim to ownership of the brick yard. On at least one occasion the dispute became heated to the extent that the town Marshal Jubal B. Hancock felt a need to intervene in the interest of, perhaps, keeping the peace.

"Old Uncle Jubal", as he was referred to by Durr, was a prominent citizen of the area. He was said to have been both the Mayor and Marshall of the town of Marion. He later became an attorney and served as a probate judge for the county. Perhaps one of the first residents of the county, Jubal Hancock is quite an interesting character in his own right, you can learn more about him in the Lauderdale County Web article Jubal B. Hancock - One of Lauderdale County's First Citizens. Although marshal and primary peace officer of the town, Jubal never carried a gun but always carried an umbrella and a rattan stick. If a prisoner threaten trouble, Jubal would simply offer to use his stick on the offender -- apparently this approach worked well for him; he had a long and prosperous career in Lauderdale County.

Jubal approached the quarrel at the brick yard and, his only weapon the rattan stick, arrested the participants. In the course of events, Jubal fined the individuals a dollar each, which, since he was also the Mayor, he took as his fee. Apparently the group was released from custody and dispersed because, for the time, at least, the dispute was ended.

However, peace had not come to the brick yard. Some time later the Fishers, the "Old Man" and his two sons, again appeared at the brick yard. This time they were armed.

Being "armed" in eastern Mississippi in 1836 wasn't quite as "wild and woolly" a proposition as being armed in the streets of Tombstone. Between the Earp brothers and the various "Cowboys" involved at the OK corral, there were a number of different weapons including revolvers, repeating rifles, and at lease one shotgun. All, even Virgil Earp's shotgun, were repeat fire weapons -- the shotgun had two barrels. However, in 1836 repeating weapons, although in existence in some form, were not generally available and wouldn't be for years. The Shumates and the Fishers were armed with Flintlock weapons, each a single-shot gun.

Loading and preparing a flintlock gun for firing involves pouring a certain amount of gun power down the barrel, wrapping a projectile (usually a small lead ball) in a piece of cloth (or paper) and compressing these together inside the barrel. Then the flash pan must be primed and the "cocker" is brought to full cock before the weapon is ready to be discharged. This may be much more than one wants to know about antique weapons, but imagine the difficulty in preparing these weapons to fire and reloading after discharging the round.

When the Fishers arrived and made their presence known at the brick yard, one can imagine the hurried preparation of Aunt Muggie and her husband to meet the challenge. However, when prepared, they stepped out into the brick yard. Durr says that they walked out and "...when the word was given..." they fired. To some this suggests a duel. However, although duels were still in style in the country at this time, the events seemed to follow no rules of order, especially not the Irish Code Duello generally used with some modifications even in the U.S.  A more classic duel would not be fought in the area until some years later when well-known newspaper man Con Rea would square off against Bill Evans at Ross' Ridge, Alabama.

In any event, when Aunt Muggie and Shumate stepped out to confront the Fishers, Aunt Muggie had two guns, Shumate had one. Apparently, each of the Fishers had a single gun. Aunt Muggie was the first to fire and her shot "cut down old man Fisher." One of the Fisher boys, William, fired at Aunt Muggie and missed. Aunt Muggie discarded her empty gun, picked up her second gun and fired again, this time dropping William Fisher. Aunt Muggie's husband, S. S. Shumate, terrified by the fighting and, perhaps feeling the hand of the Grim Reaper upon his shoulder, immediately dropped his weapon and fled, running away from the confrontation.

Aunt Muggie, furious with Shumate for his cowardice, picked up his unfired weapon, wheeled and shot him down. This was, perhaps, not the wisest choice of targets, since at least one Fisher continued to hold a charged weapon. This remaining Fisher aimed and shot, killing Aunt Muggie before she could reload her weapons. As it turned out, although her shot, fired after the retreating Shumate, did strike him, it failed to be a killing blow and he eventually recovered.

Although the fight in Tombstone was more widely reported and involved more people and faster weapons, eastern Mississippi had its' own version of those "wild and woolly" times.

Although several readers have asked why Aunt Muggie wasted her last shot on Shumate when an armed Fisher was still a danger before her, the answer to that question is no longer with us. However, not to be overly analytical, Aunt Muggie seems to have been thinking with her "heart" instead of her head.

Her first shot struck (Frank Durr says "cut down") old man Fisher who would likely have dropped his loaded weapon as he fell, so it's probable that neither he nor his loaded firearm, was a continuing threat. William Fisher then fired at Aunt Muggie and missed -- his weapon was now empty and he no other firearms. There was only one live weapon remaining in the hands of the Fishers and it was held by the third Fisher (not William).

At this point, as if enraged that William Fisher would actually fire on her (what should she have expected -- it was a gunfight!), Aunt Muggie fires her last round at William Fisher who was unarmed (having discharged his sole shot at Aunt Muggie) instead of Fisher's brother who still held a loaded gun. Had she shot William Fisher's brother, the gunfight would have been over, the Fisher's having no other loaded weapons, and Shumate fleeing the scene would have been simply a footnote.

However, when Shumate decides to "advance in another direction" (as General MacArthur might have put it), Aunt Muggie retrieves his still loaded weapon and, instead of directing her fire toward the enemy -- the last Fisher standing -- she, perhaps again thinking emotionally, shoots Shumate resulting ultimately in her untimely death at the hands of the Fisher brother.

There is much about Aunt Muggie and the dispute that one may wish to know. She must have been a colorful and interesting character of the early days of Lauderdale County. Unfortunately, some things simply cannot be told.

"Chronicle of Old Marion for 1838 to 1865" is the account of former slave, Frank Durr (possibly owned by E. A. Durr) of the events discussed here and other events and people of the times. The document, in letter form, was apparently published in the local area newspapers about 1908 (this may have been the Meridian Star which began its' publication in 1892.) It was reprinted in "Bits and Pieces Volume I, Studies in Lauderdale County Lore" by Jim Dawson, Published by the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History in 1995. A copy of the book is available from their web site.

Visit The Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History

 

Page Last Updated:   Friday, 22 September 2017

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