Wednesday, January 27, 2010
A NIGHTMARE IN WINTER
Henry Burney knew the way out of town. Any way would do. The shorter the better. Burney didn't take too long to take his badly beaten bruised body out of Dublin to meet the 48-hour vigilante-imposed deadline and avoid being beaten, stabbed, shot, hung, or a combination of any or all of the above by a violent mob of lynchers.
Henry Burney's nightmare began on the night before Christmas in 1887. Santa Claus had abandoned his sleigh for a boat as cold winter rains transformed the city's sandy sidewalks into a boggy branch.
The Christmas rush was over. It was time for J.M. Reinhart, Jr. to close up the Red Barn and settle down for a cold winter's night. There was no safe in the place. So, the young merchant stuffed $2100.00 in cash in a large wallet and then slid it inside his overcoat. As the clock struck ten, Reinhart turned out the light and set out along a once bustling street toward his home, only some two hundred yards away.
As he approached his house, Reinhart was struck from behind. The heavy blow, softened somewhat by the cushion of his umbrella, was nevertheless, a severe one. He collapsed. In a few moments, Reihart was able to rise from the ground. In the dim light emanating from his front hallway, the victim was able to catch a glimpse of his attacker as he disappeared into the darkness, but not before Reinart managed to fire several pistol rounds in his direction.
Reinhart unequivocally identified his assailant as one Henry Burney, a Negro already suspected of violating the laws of the state. City police officers immediately sought out and quickly apprehended the suspect, whom they promptly threw into a cold damp cell.
While Henry languished in his jail cell on Christmas morning, J.M. Reinhart returned to open his bar. Later in the day, Reinhart felt bad. He went home and straight to bed.
Henry's day in court was delayed long enough for Reinhart to appear as the state's main witness on the following day. David Ware, a Dublin attorney, prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia against the defendant Burney, who was ably represented by attorneys Hightower and Roach. Ware tendered a ten-foot pole the size of a grown man's arm as the weapon used by Burney. The prosecutor maintained publicly that Burney had an accomplice, but never produced evidence to prove his theory.
The defense attorneys pointed out the fact that Reinhart's back and head bore no sign of blunt force trauma which they claimed proved that the purported victim was not struck as alleged. Some doubted that a robbery took place at all. Despite the exculpatory evidence in the day long trial, Justice of the Peace W.H. Walker ruled there was enough evidence to bind Henry Burney over for a trial on the charge of attempted murder and armed robbery, committed him back to jail and set a bond of $1,000. In his main trial, Burney was convicted and sentenced to four years based on the jury's recommendation for mercy.
That's when the most intriguing part of the case began. Burney was worried that he would be lynched. Jailer Arnau assured him that if he would holler when anyone was trying to get to him, he would be protected. Just before midnight on the morning of January 13, 1888, Burney heard voices outside of his cell. He yelled. Some forty-two masked men swarmed into the jail. Burney picked up a board and threatened to take a few of them out if they tried to take him away.
The masked men began to sing in an understandable dialect which appeared to be some sort of Negro spiritual. Henry put his board down and moved toward a corner. Just then, a rope, fit for lynching, was thrown around his neck. As Henry struggled, the avengers threatened to kill him. One tried to do just that by striking Henry with the butt of his gun.
Jailer Arnau, visibly shaken, could not tell the race of the alleged emancipators, first saying that they were all white and later stating that it was a mixed crowd. While Arnau stated that only five masked men entered his jail, other witnesses put the number of liberators anywhere from twenty-five to forty-two.
The mob carried Burney up the Irwinton Road toward Hunger and Hardship Creek and Blackshear's Ferry. There he was hacked and beaten some more. Not a hide nor hare of Burney could be found the next morning, so almost everyone assumed that he had met with Judge Lynch and dumped in the nearby swamp.
Burney escaped to Oconee, Georgia, where he carried a double-barreled shotgun in anticipation of his capture by the law. Capt. G.W. Shackleford, of the Georgia Central Agency, enlisted the aid of J.J. Dunn to receive the $100.00 reward for the fugitive. On the morning of February 2, 1888, the men found Burney peacefully working at the home place of Judge G.J. Elkins. Dunn offered Burney a drink while the Captain drew a bead on Burney's torso and commanded him to raise his arms. Dunn slapped a pair of handcuffs on Burney, who then drank his dram. The officers took Burney to a Macon jail to await his testimony before the next session of the Laurens County Grand Jury.
Burney told his captors that masked marauders had beaten him repeatedly with fence rails and stabbed him numerous times. "They asked me if I knew the way out of town to which I said, 'yes,' " Burney said. He added, "They told me, 'Well then, we'll give you two days to get out of and never come back again.' " Henry showed the officers a piece of rope which was strung around his neck as he was led out of town. He also pointed out a severe gash on his cheek which came at the hands of his so-called liberators.
After being granted a new trial, Burney testified before the jurors that he was innocent and that Reinhart was never robbed. He alleged that the entire matter was a convoluted scheme between Reinhart and his partner, Capt. Louis C. Perry. Arnau and Perry, along with messers Waters, McGowan and Webb, were indicted by Grand Jury for unlawfully releasing Burney from jail.
Don't get me wrong, Henry Burney was a bad man. And, being bad was probably the reason he was convicted. Captain Perry and jailor Arnau were outstanding citizens of the community and no one would believe that they could be involved in such an elaborate scheme. The defendants were never tried, although many others believed Burney was innocent. As for Burney, he seemed to have disappeared from sight, at least from the headlines which told the whole world of his nightmare in winter.