My father recently gave me a copy of the Encyclopedia of South Carolina, edited by USC historian Walter Edgar. While there are a few things here and there I wish were included, overall the book is outstanding and a must read for anyone who wants to understand the history of our state.
One of the incidents recorded in the book came to mind with the recent story about our current Lt. Governor being deemed at fault in his airplane crash last year. Couple that story with the seeming endless stories about the Governor's clashes with legislature, and one would think SC politics was at its worst.
Well, Edgar's book shows it is not. In it, he mentions the death of The State's co- founder and editor, Narsico Gonazales at the hands of the current Lt. Governor, James Tillman.
Edgar's encyclopedia entry inspired me to do some research of my own.
It seems that Gonzales was an editor who strongly disliked the Tillman politics of the day, and especially the politics of Pitchfork Ben Tillman's nephew, then Lt. Governor James Tillman. James Tillman, by most accounts, was a notorious gambler, heavy drinker and just plain mean man. James Tillman ran for Governor in 1902, but lost his bid, and he blamed that loss on the editorials of The State.
On January 15th, 1903 with just a few days left on his term as Lt. Governor, Tillman shot Mr. Gonzales in broad daylight at the intersection of Main and Gervais, in front of the state capitol building. Mr. Gonzales died four days later from his wounds.
What transpired later was the stuff of legend. The Lt. Governor's lawyer was successful in moving the trial to Lexington County. There, after much controversy, the jury acquitted the Lt. Governor for the murder of Mr. Gonzales, basing its decision upon their belief that the Lt. Governor acted in self defense. The jury was packed with Tillman loyalists.
Lt. Governor James Tillman would never serve in public office again,and was an outcast in his own family. But, he did, to some people, get away with murder.
That little nugget of history ought to be considered by those of us who think that our politics today are so bad. At least people are not dying.
Take the time to read Walter Edgar's South Carolina Encyclopedia. It will educate you and give you some perspective on things if you take the initiative to research the stories of SC life the book opens one to.
While we may complain about out current officials not getting along, at least they are not shooting one another.