Crazed by Drink

January 23, 1897


A black man, after a wild gun fight, is lynched by a mob of one hundred men.


Sumter SC. Jan. 7- Sumter was aroused this morning when the news flashed over the wires that Simon Cooper had killed old Mr. Ben Wilson, his son Wesley, and Mrs. Wesley Wilson. The first information of the murders was received about 9 o’clock, and shortly afterwards Sheriff Pierson received a telegram, confirming the report, adding further that Cooper had also killed two colored persons, a man and a girl.
A Train Chartered
Sheriff Pierson as soon as possible organizes a posse and, chartering a special train, left for Lyneburg, S.C. When the special reached Maysville the Sheriff received information that Cooper had been seen to pass near town a short time before, so the train stopped at Maysville, and part of the posse left for St. Charles, and the others to the public roar, coming towards Sumter. These two parties, in conjunction with the posse from Maysville, are scouring every foot of the land between Maysville and Sumter.
Wanted to Marry
The fact in regards to the killing of five people, as received in Sumter at 3:34 p.m., are as follows.
Simon Cooper when to Lynchburg yesterday afternoon for the purpose of forcing a young colored girl to marry. The girl and her mother by some means escaped and ran into the swamp as soon as possible after Cooper’s appearance in the town a posse was organized and went in pursuit of him, he having left as soon as he failed to get the girl. The posse came within two hundred yards of him at one time when he shot at them and retreated.
Was Boss of the Neighborhood
He forced some colored persons to go with him and kept them with him all night. He came out of the woods about daylight and went to the house of a colored man named Boyle, took his horse and compelled Boyle’s son to accompany him. From there he went ti the house of the Wilson’s about a mile distant, where the horrible crime was committed.
Mr. Baker, who lives nearby, says he heard considerable shooting and saw Mrs. Wilson go to the buggy house with Cooper to get the harness and then go back into the house, Cooper following.
Reckless With Firearms
Cooper, a short time afterwards, came out on the piazza, shooting in every direction, and forced Boyle’s boy to furnish the horse to Mrs. Wilson’s buggy. He got in the buggy and only went in a few yards, when he met a colored man named Smith. He killed him, and as he passed Baker’s house, shot Baker’s children, who were on the piazza. Where he went no one knows at this time, but he will be found.
A Ghastly Sight
When the bodies of the Wilsons were found this morning the old gentleman, seventy-five years old, was sitting up in the bed with a shot gun in the hand, his son, Wesley, was in another bed, his head split, while on the floor lay the body of the woman, her head smashed in and her throat cut. Smith, the colored man who was killed on the road, was found with an axe still in the back of his neck and his head half severed from the body.
The dead people were inoffensive peaceable citizens.
Sumter, S.C., Jan. 8- Simon Cooper, the colored outlaw who has the murders of a woman and five men to his credit, was lynched near here today. Cooper was captured by the sheriff’s posse and was being taken to Sumter when the mob decided to hang hum. The Deputy Sheriff, aided by two men, resisted the lynchers, but was overpowered.
How They Lynched Him
A rope was thrown over the limb of the tree, and as the man swung upward the body was pierced by more than 150 bullets. The Coroner was presented and he drew a jury, held an inquest and found Cooper had come to his death “at the hands of the persons unknown.” The body, in sitting position, was paraded through Sumter and photographed.
Cooper was captured about noon in a cabin five miles from this place.
A Colored Man Betrayed Him
About 2 o’clock this morning Jake Dargan, colored, went to the house of W S Burkett, a white neighbor, and said that Cooper was in his house asleep. Burkett rode to Sumter with the news and a Deputy Sheriff with a posse of nine men immediately left. A woman and a man were in the house with Cooper. He sent the woman out and later he sent the man to buy him ammunition in Camden, giving him a sample shell. The man rode over the posse and gave them the shell.
Armed With WInchester Rifles
Cooper was well armed with Winchesters and kept up continuous fire. The house is so small and on a hill in the open so that the posse could not at first come within range with any degree of safety.
Finally, the Sheriff returned to Sumter and telegraphing the Governor that it was worth the lives of his men to approach the house, asked that a special train be sent him with a cannon, long range rifles and ammunition.
Could not Secure Cannon
The Governor had no cannon handy and told the Sheriff so. Pierson then got a six pounder in Sumter and started off to Cooper’s fort. He also had sheet iron man shields made by local blacksmith, which he dispatched to the scene of trouble. In the meantime, the shouting had been lively between Cooper and the posse, which had increased to forty men. Deputy Sheriff John Gailard with twenty men made a dash across the open for a log house, near the one in which the doomed man was. Cooper was engaged on the other side of the house and they made the maneuver safely.
Consented to Talk
After firing into his log fort the men called on Cooper. He answered and expressed willingness to talk. A man who knew him told him it would go better with him to surrender, and if he would come out holding up his hands and unarmed he would not have violence done him. Cooper swore he would die before he would surrender, but soon appeared in the yard with a gun was taking aim when a Mr. McCown fired at him.
Struck by Rifle Bullet
Cooper immediately dropped his gun and seemed to be hit. He did not shoot, but returned to the house.
About noon an advance was made and the posse closed in. Several men posted themselves at the door, and as the outlaw stepped out he was seized by the hands. As he stood facing the crowd a shot was fired and Cooper dropped with a rifle ball through his cheek. He was not badly wounded, however, and as he rolled over made an attempt to get his hand to his trousers. In his shirt a razor was found, while beneath his trousers band was a loaded revolver.
Whiskey the Cause
Cooper was drunk, and after the shot became almost unmanageable. A search of the cabin revealed a Winchester rifle, two revolvers, a valise filled with cartridges and a number of flasks, some empty and other filled with whiskey. On a page torn from a blank book was written: “Remember that I killed myself, there never was a man that could take me- Simon Cooper.”
Cooper was placed in a wagon with Mr. McKagen, of Sumter, and Mr. Turbiville, of Florence, and the party started for town. The crowd of nearly 100 men followed. There were mutterings of lynching, but the trouble did not culminate until Green swamp was reached, about two miles from Sumter. Then the mob demanded Cooper’s surrender, the officers were overpowered and the man lynched as related.
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Brian Schrott


“Crazed by Drink,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed January 22, 2020,