Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fisherman's Fatal Feud

John E. Ezell (1862-1897) was the 2nd cousin 3x removed of my Dad. He was killed on November 9, 1897 in Cortez, Florida and the local story is that he was shot by his brother in law Cornelius Washington Thigpen.

His grandfather, Alexander Ezell was the brother of one of my great grandmothers, Holly Ezell Blanchard. The family was originally from Duplin County North Carolina but moved to Taylor County Florida in the 1850s.

John Ezell was working on a farm in Taylor County on the 1885 census but within a couple years had moved to Manatee County and was fishing in Cortez. He married Julia Thigpen there in 1895.

November 12, 1897
 The story about his death was front page news in the Tampa paper at the time.  The "Sensational Story Suggested" then and later had to deal with a brother in law who didn't like him and a hog killing. There was also a trial against a local man charged with illegal fishing and John Ezell was supposed to testify in it the next week.  The State had to drop the charges when their star witness turned up dead.  My cousin Doris Adams Green wrote about the murder in her 1992 book. Her account and the newspaper articles I found tell the story better than I can, so I am just copying them here.

From the book "Fog's Comin' In" by Doris M. Green:

Cornelius W. Thigpen Family:

Cornelius W. and Mattie Thigpen were the first recorded settlers living on nearby Tidy Island (called Thigpen Island) and were a part of the village.

He and Mattie and three children from his first marriage moved to Cortez from North Florida about 1890 and became squatters on the island. They had eight other children while living there.

Their house was a 20x20 foot building with a separate kitchen, wooden shutters over the windows and mosquito netting instead of screens. "Neil" farmed, raised hogs, cut wood for the steamships, hauling it in his wagon and ox team. Elbert, Sam, Jap and Lola were remembered in the village and attended school here. Mis' Eunice Guthrie told of the children walking to school and wading in the shallow water. In the winter, she would often have Lola come in to warm her bare feet before going to school.

Sid Guthrie remembered the "woods full of his wild hogs" and they would come into the village year round to eat and "pester" people whose yards were not fenced in. The killing of some of his hogs was the final blow that supposedly led to a murder.

There was an on-going family feud between Thigpen and John Ezell, who married into the Thigpen family. Ezell rounded up several of Thigpen's hogs and tied them together and threw them into the bay and they were killed after becoming entangled in a boat propeller.

Thigpen was accused of killing Ezell with his shotgun. His body was found on the "Shell Road" that led to the Indian Mound on the point. Thigpen was arrested and a grand jury summoned. During the fall term of the Circuit Court in 1897, he was indicted for the murder which occurred November 9,1897. He was charged with "force and arms, in and upon John W. Ezell feloniously, willfully, unlawfully, of his malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of John W. Ezell an assault did make; and that Cornelius W. Thigpen, a certain gun then and

Tampa Tribune November 20, 1897
there loaded and charged with gunpowder and divers leaden bullets, with said gun was then and there armed and in his right hand then and there held to, against and upon John W. Ezell, then and there did shoot and discharge the aforesaid gun in and upon the head, did strike, penetrate and wound John W. Ezell. The mortal wound was the breadth of one inch and the depth of six inches and caused him to die instantly." 

His trial was set for the spring term of Circuit Court in 1898. Thigpen was released on bond of $300 on November 18, 1897, supplied by Clarence Harrod, Wiley B. Coarsey and John Page 78 F. Jackson. The sheriff, T. R. Easterling, was paid $1 .80 for delivering the summons to nine witnesses and $2.00 for the mileage. Thigpen's attorneys were Stewart and Curry.

He offered an alibi that he was elsewhere when Ezell was murdered. After hearing all the evidence presented, the jury returned with a "not guilty" verdict. It was signed by John Coker, Foreman.   

Uncle Nate Fulford was called to serve on the grand jury and after dismissal was walking home from Bradentown and was overtaken by Thigpen in his wagon. He offered Uncle Nate a ride but he was afraid of Thigpen!   

Thigpen sold the island in the early 1900's and moved away. Patrick C. Grable paid him $65.84 for the entire property. When Grable and wife and children, Clara, Donovan, James, and Warren moved there, he built a more modern house consisting of several rooms and a separate "dogtrot" kitchen set up on high pilings to avoid flooding. The rooms had glass windows, fireplace and a screened porch."

C W Thigpen Grave in Hendry County

Thigpen moved to Desoto County Florida after selling his land on Tidy Island in 1906 and later to Hendry County where he died in 1946 at age 90. He is buried in the Fort Denaud Cemetery.

I don't know where John Ezell was buried. His wife Julia stayed in Cortez with her sons and died in 1938 at age 79. Her children were buried in the  Fogartyville Cemetery so assume she was too.

No comments: