The Time Traveler, during a rather bumpy cosmic journey across the chasm of time and space, recently landed in the dusty street just beyond the gates of the old French-style DeSoto County Courthouse, which was still standing in all its majestic glory on a long-ago summer afternoon.
It was a warm August day in 1903. Teddy Roosevelt, fresh from his famous bear hunt in the Mississippi Delta, was the sitting U.S. President in the White House. The Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates would go on to play in the nation’s first World Series matchup. Cy Young would pitch a nearly perfect series and an injured Honus Wagner would literally limp off the diamond and into the dugout.
And the people of DeSoto County would witness a shootout on the county courthouse grounds that would rival the script of any Hollywood movie.
The DeSoto Times-Promoter of Aug. 7, 1903 blared the headline across its front page: “Williamson Shot by D.H. Moody in the Courthouse Yesterday.”
The newspaper told the story of how a man named W. H. Moody shot and seriously wounded DeSoto County Sheriff Williamson right in front of the courthouse door about 1:30 p.m.
“This shooting was one of the most sensational affairs in the history of DeSoto County and the town of Hernando was thrown into a fever of excitement,” the story began.
The tragedy had its origin in the fact that both men were candidates for the office of Chancery Clerk. Both men already held political office. Williamson had been elected Sheriff and Moody was the County Surveyor.
Apparently, there had previously been no “bad blood” between the two men. However, Moody had a political circular printed up that called into question Williamson’s honor and integrity. The old printing press upon which the circular was printed is now on display at the DeSoto County Museum.
Among the charges made in the printed circular was that during Williamson’s campaign to be Sheriff of DeSoto County that he had made numerous promises of appointments if he were to be elected. Moody claimed that Williamson’s promises went unredeemed.
These unsubstantiated charges angered Williamson and the two men met in front of the courthouse to settle the matter — or at least that was the plan.
Moody referred to the scurrilous charges in Williamson’s presence and sparks began to fly.
Williamson drew his revolver and fired at his accuser. Williamson’s aim was off and he missed his target. Moody ran for cover behind a tree. After seeking cover, he fired his weapon back at Sheriff Williamson. Moody fired three shots and each hit their mark.
A badly-wounded Williamson would win handily over his opponent and eventual assassin.
The newspaper carried a bulletin the next edition.
“A telephone message from Memphis at 12:45 brings the sad tidings that Mr. Williamson had just passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital where he had been carried for treatment. The death of this grand man marks the passing of one of the noblest specimens of manhood that ever lived; a perfect gentleman at all times, and as true as steel to his friends,” the newspaper wrote in a glowing published eulogy. “His removal from the stage of action casts a gloom over the entire county that time cannot efface.”
The newspaper went on to wish expressions of sympathy to his family and friends.
“To his aged and sorrowing parents, grief-stricken relatives and friends, the Times-Promoter joins hundreds of others in extending sympathy.”
ROBERT LEE LONG is the Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.