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Old News Stories
Roper Survives to Testify Against kuklux, 1894

From The Atlanta Constitution
November 14, 1894

ROPER'S TESTIMONY

How He Was Buried Alive on the Cohutta Mounains.

DRAGGED FROM HIS BED AT MIDNIGHT

The Long March of the Cavalcade Across the Country.

AT THE YAWNING MOUTH OF THE PIT

Two of the Defendants Plead Guilty–the
Others Stoutly Protest Their Innocence.

From the farm house of Henry Brown, near the old federal road in Murray county, to the mouth of the pit on the side of the Cohutta mountains into which the body of Will Roper was hurled by the whitecaps, is a stretch of nearly five miles through the weirdest portion of Georgia's mountain scenery.

A part of this distance is measured along the old federal highway, the route of the whitecappers, however, diverges from the road at a point about two miles from the pit and makes a bold curve towards the perilous ravine and dreary solitudes of the mountains.

This wild and unsubdued region in the corner of the state, remote from the civilization influences of the western part of the county, still preserve the forbidding aspect of its primeval gloom. It has long been a favorite lurking place for the distiller and for such characters as have figured in the adventurous role of outlawry.

It was past the hour of midnight when the veiled procession started with their victim from the house of Henry Brown. The party reached the pit on the side of the mountain about 2 o'clock in the morning. After saying his prayers on the brink of the pit and taking a rather hasty farewell glance at his murderous companions, he receives from behind a sudden push, simultaneously accompanied by gun shots, and at the bottom of the yawning chasm is left to welter in his own blood and to perish in the solitude of that frightful and unfrequented region.

"He will never report another still," said one of the men as his caught the low, subdued murmur of the wounded man lying at the bottom of the pit.

Five days afterwards, with a bullet wound in the back of his head and bruised and battered from head to feet, but still living, Roper was drawn from the pit. To complete miracle he appeared in the federal court yesterday morning to give his testimony in what is now regarded as one of the most thrilling and sensational trials ever instituted in the northern district of Georgia.

Five citizens of Murray county were jointly indicted on Roper's evidence for this conspiracty. These men appeared in court yesterday morning. They are W. R. Morrison, A. P. Duncan, J. T. Morrison, J. W. Redd and J. M. Morrison.

Of this number, however, two of them, Will R. Morrison and Payne Duncan, were permitted to enter a pleas of guilty, notwithstanding the plan of the court was to try the defendants collectively.

The other defendants, J. T. Morrison, J. W. Redd and J. M. Morrison, were put upon the country and the trial proceeded.

Colonel T. R. Jones, of Dalton, Ga., and Colonel W. C. Glenn, of Atlanta, represent the defendants. Colonel Glenn managed the case and conducted the examination.

For the prosecution Colonel T. W. Rucker, the assistant district attorney, is in charge of the case, with Colonel Joe James at his side.

The features of the trial yesterday morning were the striking of the jury, the pleas of guilty entered by two of the defendants, the speech of Colonel Rucker outlining the testimony and the evidence of W. A. Roper, partially completed.

The trial of the case will occupy the remainder of the week. One hundred and fifty witnesses will be examined during the course of the proceedings and every inch of ground will be stubbornly contested.

Drawing the Jury.

Promptly at 10 o'clock Judge Newman entered the courtroom and Marshal Dunlap wrapped for order and the drawing of the jury was resumed. One of the jurors, J. H. Floyd, of DeKalb county, was drawn the night before and for several hours had passed a very lonely period of anxious waiting. He was brought into the courtroom and given a seat in the jury box.

The number of talesmen summoned was very soon exhausted and only seven jurors were secured. Judge Newman directed the marshal to summon a fresh lot, and as soon as these reported the striking was resumed. As soon as the jury was completed it stood as follows:

J. H. Floyd, of DeKalb county.
Sol Benjamin, city.
W. R. Johnson, city.
W. L. Rice, city.
W. L. Fain, merchant.
R. S. Morris, city.
T. J. Buchanan, merchant.
G. T. Carr, merchant.
J. W. Hughes, merchant.
R. L. Evans, Fulton county.
W. I. Boring, Fulton county.
J. H. Williams, West Atlanta.

The five defendants occupied seats directly in front of the judge's desk and immediately in reach of their attorneys. Roper sat by the side of the prosecuting officers, and thus they were situation when the completion of the jury organization was completed.

Two Pleas of Guilty

During the recess that was ordered by Judge Newman to allow the marshal to summon a fresh panel a conference was held in the judge's private office.

The result of this conference was indiated in the speech of Colonel Glenn addressed to the court after the organization of the jury:

"May it please the court," said Colonel Glenn, "It occasionally happens that counsel is pit in a very peculiar and delicate position. Since beginning the trial of this case testimony of such character has been disclosed as to make it apparent that two of the defendants in this case are guilty. It does not affect the innocence of the remaining three, however, who stubbornly deny their guilt. To enter a plea at this juncture in behalf of the two defendants already indicted will be a saving of expense and will also clear the field for the real issue involved in this trial. I represent one of the defendants who declares his innocense, beside the two who are ready tko enter a plea of guilty. My Brother Jones is the attorney for the two remaining defendants. By agreement with the prosecution we are willing to use this present jury in the trial of the defendants who enter a plea of not guilty."

An order was granted by the court allowing the defendants to be severed so that pleas of guilty could be entered against A. P. Duncan and W. R. Morrison. He directed Mr. W. I. Fain, as foreman of the jury, to sign a verdict in accordance with the please of guilty entered by the two defendants.

As soon as this verdict was rendered the two defendants were sworn as witnesses for the prosecution and placed under the rule, requiring them to leave the courtroom during the progress of the testimony. The army of witnesses for both the state and the prosecution was resworn and the trial proceeded on the issue between the government and remaining prisoners at the bar.

Outlining the Prosecution

Colonel T. W. Rucker addressed the jury outlining the position of the prosecution.

He stated at in May of this year Roper, in the exercise of his duty as a citizen, had reported two illicit distillers, Al Flood and Sam Green, to the deputy United States marshals. He also testified against them before Commissioner Hamilton, at Dalton, Ga. Later, in the month of June, the defendants on trial met at Fort Mountain for the purpose of forming a conspiracy among themselves to take Roper's life. It was agreed to commit the crime and to lay the foundation of an alibi. They deliberated as to how they could secure Roper and the best means of getting him out of the way.

"We intend to track these defendants every inch of the way from Henry Brown's to the brink of that well," said Colonel Rucker. "We are going to expose the workings of this foul conspiracy and bring the guilty perpetrators to the bar of justice."

He described the manned in which the whitecappers went to the house of Henry Brown and dragged the body of Roper from the bed in which he was sleeping. He pictured the nocturnal procession as it slowly wended its way to the mountain side and described the manner in which Roper was battered and shot before he was hurled into the pit. He thought it was time for the kukux and whitecapper, who so long menaced the peace and tranquility of the state, to be examined, and he was ready to establish the guilt of the prisoners at the bar beyond the slighted doubt in the minds of an impartial jury.

Roper on the Stand.

Colonel Rucker closed his remarks by calling Roper to the witness stand.

As the witness slowly arose from the seat and moved across the floor the eyes of every person in the courtroom were intently fixed upon him. In his personal appearance he was rather neat, above the medium height by several inches, and possessed an open face innocent of beard. His hair was closely cut and attire was that of a plain north Georgia countryman. Though massively built he scarcely looked more than forty-five years of age. His manner of testifying was rather nervous and disconnected but his mind seemed to be perfectly clear on all the points covered by his testimony and the government's side of the case appeared to be fully support by the witness on the examination. He held a paper in his hands and frequently applied it to his lips during the delivery of his testimony.

"What is your name?" began Colonel Rucker, breaking the silence that waited upon the scene of anxious waiting.

"W. A. Roper," came from the witness in a clear enunciation.

"Where did you I've in May and June of this year?"

"In Murray county."

"How far from Fort mountain?"

"About six miles."

"Had you reported two illicit distillers?"

"I had." The witness here gave the names of Al Floor and Sam Green. He subsequently testified against them before the commission at Dalton, Ga.

"On the 11th day of last June where were you?"

"During the day I was at J. C. Barksdales's, near Fort mountain, cutting wheat."

"Did you see one of the defendants that day?"

The witness stated that he has seen Wash Red and Payne Duncan. He saw them while he was talking to Barksdale. Later in the day on his way to Fort mountain he passed a blacksmith shop and met up with Samps Morrison, Wash Redd, Bud Morrison and Payne Duncan, engaged in a conversation. He observed the men and noticed that several times they cast their glances at him. He returned to Barksdale's and resumed his wheat cutting. The men shortly afterwards passed him along the road going to Dalton. This was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

Pulled From His Bed.

As soon as night set in the witness stopped work and went to Henry Brown's, on the other side of the road.

About 12 o'clock that night he heard a rap on the front door. Henry Brown answered the summons and the witness heard his name mentioned. The men forced an entrance through the huse and came to the witness' room in the rear of the building. Bud Morrison was armed with a gun. Duncan, Redd and Bud Morrison all three entered the room and Will Morrison and Samps Morrison remained on the outside. They told the witness he had to go with them and gave him barely time to get into his clothes. He knew it was foolish to resist and without knowing what was to follow blindly consented. Leaving the house he was tied to a mule, the reins of Payne Duncan's horse being used to fasten him tightly to the animal. Samps Morrison rode with him in front. The other members of the party mounted their nags and the midnight caravan commenced to move along the road.

The witness here described the route of the procession. They began to move in a northerly direction towards the house of a man by the name of O. Brown, the road then curved until it entered the federal highway and the cavalcade took a southeasterly direction. In a few minutes they reached Peek's ford, at a point where Holly Creek crosses the road. Here the horsemen stopped and one of the men inquired:

"Which one shall we take him to?"

"To the one on the hill. It's the shortest," came the answer from one of the gang.

It was suggested by one of the number to drop him in the creek, but the proposition was lightly regarded. The witness was completely mystified by the conduct of the men. He feared the worst, but thought it wise to remain silent. On they traveled in silence, not a word being spoken by the member of the ban. Presently they reached a point from which an open road diverged from the highway. One of the members of the party, Duncan, left the caravan and presently returned with a lot of whisky. They commended to grow jovial at the sight of the whiskey and forced the witness to try a sample of it. The witness refused.

"You had better take it," said one of the men, recognized as Will Morrison, "it is the last you will ever drink."

The witness drank the whisky.

On the Brink of the Pit.

In a few minutes they began to climb the steep declivities of the mountain and soon the mouth of the pit was reached. The witness described the manner in which he was abused. They took his watch and rifled his pockets of the money they contained, $6.52. Then leading him to the mouth of the pit one of the Morrisons said:

"This is a serious time with you, Roper, you had better say your prayers."

He had no power to defend himself and was merciless in the hands of his persecutors.

"We are going to bury you among these mountains," said Morrison, "and this is your grave. How do you like it?"

The witness begged for his life and entreated the men not to kill him. At this juncture one of the men called attention to the fact that time was passing by rapidly and in the same instant he was hurled into the open mouth of the pit. As he entered the fierce opening two bullets entered his head and body and he was unconscious at intervals from that moment until his recovery from the pit five days afterwards. He was brought to the pit on Monday night and was not drawn from it again until Saturday.

Examined by Colonel Glenn as to his ability to identify the defendants as the members of the band, the witness stated that he was familiar with their characteristics and that they had token their disguises from their faces along the way to the mountain. Redd stuttered in his speech and Morrison coughed. They called each other by name at the pit, and along the road.

Roper was drawn from the pit by means of a rope. The pit was between fifty and sixty feet deep. He was taken to Jap Reed's, and nursed for several days after which he was brought to Atlanta. A piece of bone was taken from his skull and the skin had grown over it. The wound on the head was shown to the jury. A map was placed against the wall and the route of the procession from Henry Brown's to the pit was traced by the witness.

Judge Newman announced that he would suspend the hearing of the case until the afternoon. Colonel Glenn stated that he would be occupied with a contest before the legislature in the afternoon and asked the court to adjourn until Wednesday morning. After a brief discussion of the matter the court decided to accommodate Colonel Glenn and the jury was turned over to the marshal to report for duty this morning at 10 o'clock.

The examination of Roper by the defense will be resumed this morning. The trial of the case will occupy the remainder of the week.

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