The Battle of MacksvillePosted: June 27, 2016
Macksville, at times, took on the aura of a Wild West town. It was a mini Dodge City without the steely gaze of a Matt Dillon coolly surveying its streets for bad guys through a haze of gun smoke. Being unincorporated it had no local law enforcement. The town had to rely on the Terre Haute police department for protection. That is one reason that some Macksvillians had petitioned as early as 1873 to be annexed by Terre Haute.
Criminals from Terre Haute on the lam from police often hid in Macksville or the bottoms, knowing there was little chance that pursuers would come looking for them across the river. They frequented the saloons initiating brawls or committed petty theft. This was a bane to upright citizens like the Mcilroys, Castos and Cassadays. Especially when the brawl led to gunfire.
In the early 1880s the village was plagued with outsiders bent on trouble. Rival groups of traveling horse traders brought an end-of-the=cattle-drive mini-riot in 1884 that was dubbed the Battle of Macksville.
For several months Macksville had been bedeviled by the horse traders. They were a brawling, drunken lot who came to town acting as if it were their own. Townspeople did not want them, but they were too intimidated to ask them to depart for other horse pastures. Macksville “lived in fear” of that the village would be ransacked and their homes burned.
The traders would get drunk and race their horses up and down the streets. Anyone venturing out onto the street was risking their lives. The races were inevitably accompanied by drunken brawls. Even a band of gypsies camped west of town decided it best to load their caravans and move to less dangerous places. Gypsies of this period were also known for horse trading and an additional incentive to head out may have been a fear that competition for the trade heightened the chances of conflict.
In the looming twilight of June 24th men gathered in Webb Bayless’ Paris Road saloon (funny how often Webb’s name came up during troubles). In a scene that presaged hundreds of Westerns, a rowdy crowd gathered in the dimly-lit, hovering smokehaze that shrouded Webb’s place in a grey mistc. All around men clutched beer and whiskey glasses close to their chests. The twittering of cards being shuffled competed with a cacophony of laughter and drink-fueled boasting.
Among those being dealt cards at one table were rival traders named Fred Weiser and a certain Mr. Bryant, aka “Dude” Cooper. Both men were so bleary-eyed from whiskey it was hard to focus on what their hands held. Words were spoken. Both men looked up from their cards. Weiser took deep offense at something Dude said and reached slowly under the table. Up came a “loaded” club studded with nails. Cooper seemed unimpressed by Weiser’s stick. Dude’s eyes told Weiser he was not afraid of the man across from him.
Weiser laid down his club as those watching the scene hushed to see what would happen next. When Weiser’s hand reappeared it brandishing a knife pulled from his boot. In seconds he lunged across the table. The knife cut through the haze and Cooper’s arm. Deep slashes erupted blood that stained the cards. Cooper’s brother John rushed to help him.
All hell, indeed, had broken loose in Macksville.
Soon the dirt streets of Paris Road were filled with angry, shouting men as the brawl grew too large for Bayless’ saloon. Fists flew and the retorts of every reeay guns filled the dark. Pushing and shoving let to a dozen little fights. Weiser was the chosen opponent of many. His young nephew, Fred Smith tried to come to his rescue and pull him away. His attempt failed as a multitude of gunshots rand around him and forced Smith to retreat to whence he came.
A trader named John Crank ran to his wagon and pulled out an ancient rifle. He was going show the mob a thing or two. His only [problem was that he did not have the caps need to fire the weapon. Crank went to Field’s drugstore and and the McIlroy and Hodgers’ groceries in search of caps. All three merchants rightly chose peace over profit and refused to sell the drunken man caps.
Meanwhile hundreds of townspeople cautiously stepped out into the street to see what the hell was going on. Many of the brawlers, upon hearing a messenger was sent off to bring the Terre Haute police, began to slink off to their hiding places in the bottoms. No sense chancing being caught. Town doctor James Hunt was called to Bryant’s, aka Cooper, tent. He found the man gushing blood and set about his work.
Five policemen, including Chief Vandever, sped across the bridge to Macksville. Must of the tumult had subsided by the time they arrived. They found nearly the whole town awaiting them. Now was the time, many argued, to drive out these criminals with the backing of the police. The police arrested a brawler named Joe King and Crank. King’s brother John, Fred Weiser and John Cooper were long gone. They headed to Bryant’s tent to arrest him. What they found was a man with his head bandaged and a large chunk of ice on his arm wounds. Bryant was so drunk and wouldede they left him to recover, returning the next day to arrest him.
The policemen began to “mop up” the scene. Traders still hanging around were ordered to leave town. They were surprised to find that John King and John Copper had not fled town. Instead they had merely their venue. They were arrested in John Snack’s saloon just up the block and sent on their way.
Crank had a child living with his sister in Terre Haute. He asked the police to inform her that he had been arrested and the child was now all hers/ He wanted no more to do with “it” Those arrested paid fines and were sent on their way. Weiser was gone.